Gia de Cadenet’s dream of living in France began early, at the age of seven, when she had her first French lesson and fell instantly in love with the language. She fulfilled that desire several times over, as a tourist, then as a graduate student, an expat, and now in Paris with her French-American family.
It was in France that Gia honed in on her passion for writing. Her first book, Getting His Game Back, was published in January 2022 with Penguin Random House. INSPIRELLE caught up with Gia recently just as her second book Not The Plan was published in February 2023, to get her thoughts on her lifelong love of France, where she finds inspiration, and how writing has been a personal and creative journey for her.
You’re a native Floridian, how did your desire to live in France come about?
I had my first French lesson when I was seven years old. I don’t know if it was just the language, or having a great teacher (great teachers can make such a difference in children’s lives!), but I was hooked on all things *France*. I didn’t shut up about coming to France until I got the chance to do a study abroad program when I was 21 during my undergrad. By that time, my parents were so sick of me talking about it that they practically packed my suitcases for me.
How did you realize that dream to live in France?
My first trip here was in 2001. And it was a wonderful and terrible experience. I was trying to stuff down too much culture shock for the first half of the trip until it finally exploded and I couldn’t wait to go back home. When I did, I figured I’d checked that box off on the list of things I wanted to do. But after graduating and starting to work in politics, the inkling to return and stay for at least one year came back.
After working for a couple of years, I realized that I was getting very comfortable in my career. Pretty soon I was probably going to meet someone and get married. I didn’t want to wake up one day and look at my husband and kids with regret that they’d kept me from that dream of staying longer. I’d also always wanted to get a master’s degree. Oddly enough, the subject had never been important. So, I found an American master’s program in Paris — because my goal was always to return to the United States. That would give me two years in Paris, letting me kill two birds with one stone.
You wrote about Bordeaux as a gastronomical city on par with Paris through the experience of your father for INSPIRELLE. How has living outside of Paris in different cities given you another perspective of France and the French?
It’s funny, when I told my friends in Toulouse that we were moving back to Paris, they all felt sorry for me. It was a separate reaction from their disappointment that I was moving away. Even though the country is so centralized, everything in terms of governance has to go through Paris. For example, when the people want to make political change, they only have to strike hard in Paris, very many young people come to study in Paris, and if you buy a magazine in Biarritz, they’ll tell you about cultural events happening à Paris!
The French are resolute in telling you that Paris is not France. And that’s certainly been my experience.
The pace of life is slower. While people keep to themselves more in Bordeaux than in Toulouse for example, I found them easier to talk to and friendships easier to make in both places than in Paris by comparison. There was still something I missed about Paris, though. I’m happy to be back.
Intercultural relationships come with challenges. Do you think these relationships are even more tested living abroad where culture and values are different?
Living outside of one’s own culture forces you to ask some questions about pretty much everything that seemed natural or second-nature when you were at home.
If you’re doing that sort of questioning while you’re in a relationship, it can cause a degree of strain, simply because you’re reevaluating who you want to be in the world. You may decide to make some changes that the other person didn’t expect. On the flip-side, it can cause rigidity, a desire to cling to your own culture, especially when children are involved. To say that these relationships can be tested is an understatement.
How do you juggle your work as an English teacher, raising two children and writing novels?
I started writing as a child. I remember winning a class competition for creative writing when I was thirteen. But I didn’t get serious about it until I was living here. I picked up a bit of wisdom online – as a working mom, when trying to juggle all the balls of responsibility, figure out which ones are rubber and can bounce. As a young teacher, I made individual lessons for each student or class. Now I “bounce” that ball by teaching the same theme to everyone each week and altering the lesson plan.
When I first started writing, I had to be at my desk, on my computer, alone in my house, using specific software. Now I “bounce” by writing on Google docs so I can do it on the metro, in the teacher’s workroom at school, or on my beat up old laptop sitting in bed. I don’t bounce my kids. We take the time necessary for homework, stories at bedtime and having fun on weekends.
Where did your inspiration come from for your first novel Getting His Game Back?
Honestly? It showed up in my kitchen and started talking to me while I was emptying the dishwasher. The male lead, Khalil, was a character who appeared briefly in my first manuscript so we were familiar with each other, but he had a lot more to share with me. What he was sharing was interesting, so I just followed along at first. Then I got to thinking about it, playing with the idea while I was doing other things. I had a different project going, but the problem was that it wasn’t going. I was forcing it along. Khalil’s story was flowing. Sometimes faster than I could keep up with. I stopped fighting and just went with it.
How much of your own experiences flow into the couple in Getting His Game Back?
Into the couple, not that much actually. As I was in an interracial relationship, one might imagine that I pulled a lot of what I know and put my experience into theirs. But because Khalil already has a lot of experience dating black women, there are many things that Vanessa does not need to say to him. In terms of them as individuals, I drew from my personal experiences a lot. Particularly for Khalil’s battle with depression.
I wanted the descriptions on the page to be as honest and palpable as possible, so I had to be as transparent as possible about what I’ve experienced.
For Vanessa, she and I share the experience of being othered — treated as a thing — an oddity in certain spaces, because we are both black women.
A couple of the things that happen to her have happened to me.
Tell us about your second book, Not the Plan, and any future projects?
My new book is actually my oldest project. I started it because I missed my old job in the States and the people I worked with and wanted to spend more time with them. The story has changed a great deal over time, but the setting of a state Senate where rivals within the same party are vying for power is still there.
Isadora Maris, Chief of Staff to the Senate Majority Leader has her life mapped out. She eschews romance. All she needs to do is manage one more legislative session and get her boss elected Senate President and everything will fall in line for her to reach her goal of becoming a Congressional Aide. What she doesn’t understand is that her perfectionism (and well-masked anxiety) are actually lingering effects of growing up with a mother with an undiagnosed mental illness. It isn’t until she meets Karim Sarda, newly arrived to the Senate and working for her boss’s rival, that her determination to stay single begins to weaken. Especially as he recognizes that Isadora’s relationship with her mother is actually abusive – he’d gone through the same with his borderline personality disordered ex-wife.
As for future projects, I’m on contract for two more books right now. I’m a little behind on my schedule, but the next book will be about a neurodivergent man with sensory processing sensitivity, also known as being a Highly Sensitive Person. He comes across as gruff, but he’s really a sweetheart. His love interest is a woman pushing down her grief from the death of her sister. My publisher is billing it as a grumpy-grumpy romance – a little different from the common trope of grumpy-sunshine!