Often, the truth is stranger than fiction. Sometimes it’s so strange that it inspires fiction. At least that’s what happened to me. The origin story of my first novel is full of unexpected twists and turns. It’s a romcom called Will There Be Wine? about the dating misadventures of an American expat divorcée in Paris. Yes, she is me.
I am from a multi-generational Texan family, with no ties to France, but at the tender age of 13, I chose to study French because everyone else took Spanish and I was feeling rebellious. Between my studies and two short trips to Paris and Tours in the subsequent years, I fell so in love with France that when it was time to declare my major at UCLA, I chose French. I even spent my junior year abroad studying in Lyon.
After graduating during the late 90s tech boom, French degree in hand, I accepted a job with PricewaterhouseCoopers in San Francisco as a junior software developer. Makes so much sense, right? My 22-year-old logic for taking the job was that they had an office in Paris, so maybe one day I could get here? Their logic was that every company in Silicon Valley was desperate for programmers, and if I could learn one language (French), I could learn another (code). And so began my career in technology.
French + Technology = Paris
Coding SAP apps quickly turned out not to be my dream job. I liked technology but decided that storytelling about it sounded much more fun than making it work. I joined a tech PR agency and was suddenly a fish in water, thriving professionally. It was there that I met my first husband.
Shortly after the wedding, he got a job at Microsoft in Seattle. A year later, I too was working there. When I joined, I told my boss I eventually wanted find a job in the Paris office and transfer. He said skeptically, “Yah sure. That could happen.” Three years later, in late 2009, the husband and I landed in Paris for my dream job as the Executive Communications Director for the President of Microsoft International.
It was a two-year expat gig which was the ride of my professional life. Meanwhile, my seven-year marriage was falling apart. We divorced at the end of that second year in Paris, and I dug my heels into the city and the job, desperate to stay and have the beautiful Parisian life I’d long dreamed of, albeit as a divorcée.
A free woman in the City of Love
My initial foray into dating French men found me swilling champagne at Cartier looking at watches with a hunky waiter I picked up one night while dining out with girlfriends. Is this what dating is like in Paris? I wondered. Little did I know, but that heady experience was the start of my book. Suffice it to say that things didn’t work out with that guy, nor with a long string of guys that followed.
I started Internet dating on the website Attractive World before apps even existed. I’ve since tried every app there is, and the result is three chapters in the book called “The Internet” (rounds one – three) which I’ll admit are 95% true, with names changed to protect the guilty! They are presented in the form of a blog penned by the main character which introduces some real charmers.
More wine please! Tales of dating disasters
“Pierre the Mansplainer” explained what ravioli is (“you know… the pasta with stuff in it”) and that there were natural redheads in the world, upon discovering mine was dyed. “Simon the Snoozer” told me he went to the cinema almost every day. When I expressed some surprise that he was able to find a movie every day that he was interested in seeing, he replied “well sometimes I just go there to take a nap.” What? Guess what “Guillaume of the Gym Shorts” showed up to our date wearing? He also did a magic trick on our date – something very odd with playing cards.
Then there was “Xavier the Sexist” who was so incredulous that I wasn’t interested in a second date that he said, “No one walks away from me like that. No wonder you’re alone. You must have a crazy collection of sex toys.” And that’s just the tip of the oh-so-charming dating iceberg.
My search for love in Paris has been one tragically hilarious misadventure after another – so much that I had to write a book about it.
I left Microsoft last July to finish the book, after 16 years with the company. Many people ask what kept me there for so long. There were two reasons: First, I never ran out of new things to learn. Second, I always felt like I had headroom to grow my career. When COVID hit, I’d been running comms for Western Europe for five years, which was starting to feel long. There was only one job left in communications in Europe above mine, and the guy who held that role showed no signs of leaving, so I’d started to feel stuck. COVID created even more inertia. No one was going anywhere.
Before COVID, I was on a plane almost every week, traveling to visit my teams in one or more of the 14 countries I oversaw. My insane travel schedule filled me with energy. Long pandemic-days sitting at home alone behind a computer screen drained me. Then in October 2021, just as the COVID restrictions started to lift, I lost my dad to cancer.
The cumulative impact of those events put me on sick leave for three months. I needed some time to breathe and recover, and when I posted on LinkedIn about the decision to take indefinite leave from my job, it became clear I was not the only one who was suffering. The post went viral, generating 5.7 million impressions and nearly 68,000 likes. It was a hard time for a lot of people, and I was no exception.
Time for reinvention
Those months off from Microsoft allowed time for real reflection about what I needed and wanted in my life to bring back the JOY that had been missing for too long. I’d started writing Will There Be Wine? about five years earlier and by this time, I’d already finished a second draft.
It was a story that I believed deserved to be told – of the often bumpy and comical quest to find love in a foreign country but more importantly, of the value of friendship and knowing oneself well enough to seek out and create a life that you love.
So I took the leap. I worked with an amazing editor who helped me immeasurably, and as I completed re-writes this past Fall, I jumped out of bed every day so excited to keep writing. The process of finishing the book, which is dedicated to my dad, brought back the joy I’d lost.
Will There Be Wine? is a genuine and tragically hilarious novel about an expat woman’s journey of self-discovery through a string of disastrous dates, relationships forged in a deep cultural divide, world travels, and wine. A lot of wine. It came out on January 16, 2023, and is available for purchase via Amazon.