Anne Trager grew up in Ohio, loves the south west of the US, and calls France home. She founded Le French Book. This publishing house just released The Bleiberg Project, which was published on April 30. Anne met me at The Slaughterhouse where we talked about flavours and culture.
Tell us about Le French Book.
I’m always happy to talk to people about Le French Book. Thank you for this opportunity. I recently described the venture as a “crime of passion,” because we translate and publish crime fiction and thrillers from France, my personal favorite kind of book to read. I’ve lived in France since 1985 and truly love the unique Gallic way of combining creativity and pleasure seeking. If you’ve ever shared a meal with the French, you know what I mean: three hours enjoying several courses later and over coffee you are still talking about food. Well, there is a lesser-known creative world in France, which is just as enjoyable and takes the form of the many great reads being written in that country. I woke up one morning, after many years working in translation, publishing and corporate communications, and I couldn’t stand it anymore. Too few of these well-written entertaining reads were making into English. The rise in e-book reading means there is now a perfect medium to showcase these authors and their work. So that is the genesis of Le French Book. We focus on crime fiction and thrillers, although we also just launched a really fun collection of short stories as well. Our motto is “If we love it, we’ll translate it.” We are fortunate to work with France’s top publishers and all of our authors are prize winners and bestsellers. Our English translations are available through all major e-book retailers for now.
Would you say there is a particular flavour to the stories?
A flavor? Chocolate, considering the huge quantity I eat to keep me going. Dark chocolate, of course, chocolat noir. No, seriously, the whole impetus to this venture is that there is a very vibrant creative culture in France that we wanted to share with new readers, which means there is a lot of diversity as well. We are focussing on crime fiction and thrillers, but our books are all very different. One is an edge-of-your-seat police procedural with a serial killer in Paris. Another is more of a classic whodunit with deceit and treachery in a wine estate, another is a legal procedural with rolling countryside, hidden secrets and a quest for the truth. One upcoming thriller has a self-pitying trader thrown into a race to save the world from a horrific conspiracy straight out of World War II. Another has freelance French spies, Arctic icecaps breaking up, and a merciless war for control of discoveries that could change the future of humanity. So no, there is no one flavor, but a multitude of them. They are all written by French authors, yes, but each has his or her own style and story to tell.
Defining French culture and literature is as complex as describing the versatility of French cuisine. How relevant is the rallying cry of the French decadent poets like Baudelaire and Rimbaud: ‘épater le bourgeois,’ and is the best food decadent?
To be honest, I think people tend to mix the good with the haute. French cuisine is not as complex as that. The French cuisine everyone is really raving about is what you find in that small unsuspecting bistro, or in a French family home, or at a local open-air market. It is cuisine that is made from high-quality ingredients, simply prepared, and thoroughly enjoyed. It is made by men and women who work full time at demanding jobs, who have kids in school and busy schedules, but who bother to get that really good chicken from one of their uncle’s friends who has a farm, who stop at a local vineyard on a weekend away, who make their own pie crust for quiche, which they serve up with salad from the market, a few fine cheeses and maybe some dried sausage. It’s not complex. It’s not decadent. But it is good. Even French haute cuisine is not as complex as everyone makes it out to be: it is mostly about pushing those principles I just talked about to an extreme. You could say the same about haute couture, and then there are those French women who manage to be elegantly dressed always and everywhere. Similarly, with French literature, there is the haute literature, which is highly praised for good reasons, and then all those other writers with good stories to tell and recognized for that. That’s what the best literature is all about anyway: telling a good story. And just as with cuisine, France is lucky enough to have a very lively literature scene in all genres. One of our translators, Julie Rose, is best known for her translation of Victor Hugo’s classic Les Misérables. She describes it as “one of the first great detective novels of our time.” She is currently working on a global warming thriller for us. Ultimately, the connections with the haute are really interesting. It is wonderful to discuss with French thriller writers, who almost inevitably slip in something about some Age of Enlightenment philosopher, or some pressing social issue, alongside their inspiration for writing about serial killers and forensic detail. It makes for rich conversation and stories. But I would not describe it as complex or as decadent.
What do you make of the e-book revolution?
When the iPhone first came out, I was living in France. My husband went to the Champs-Elysées and stood in line for hours to get one. And, because I am a little bit of a geek at heart, I told him he had better bring two of them home, or I would change the locks and send him divorce papers. He did, I assure you, bring one home for me, and then, from one day to the next I started reading e-books. In fact, for a long time, even after I got an e-reader and a tablet, I read on my phone. Just as easily, I did eventually start reading on my tablet. I tell this story because I had no trouble shifting over to another technology for reading. Personally I am more interested in the story than in the technology I use to access the story. I do think, however, that e-books are liberating publishing from its arcane traditions and ways, and are forcing the industry to reconsider how it goes about getting stories to readers. This is a good thing. It is creating opportunities. I think there are also a lot of falsehoods circulating. For example, if you produce a digital-first or digital-only book, you still do have all the costs of producing the initial book, with the exception of the paper. It can be very cost effective for backlists that have paid themselves off, but that’s about it. Otherwise, you just have the same cost and a less expensive product, so it is harder to make ends meet. Another example, as many self-publishers are finding, is that publishers really do play a role in advocating their books and attracting attention to authors. So, I’d say that publishers have a future, as do e-books, for their convenience and ease of access and cost. I also believe that there will be people who continue to read stories in all types of formats, including paper. So ultimately, I’d say that it is less of a revolution than an evolution.
What makes you passionate?
I suppose there are two answers to that question. What in me makes me passionate about the things I do and what am I passionate about. For the first, I think I’m just made that way. When I get interested in something, I get excited about it, then I get very involved and quite passionate about that thing. I tend to go all the way. When I became interested in good food, I learned French and went to Paris to train and then work as a chef (that was a long time ago!). When I took up tango dancing, I ended up dancing five nights a week and making a pilgrimage to Buenos Aires, where I did nothing, literally, but dance. I’ve always loved mysteries and thrillers, ever since I read Nancy Drew and Ian Fleming as a kid. So I was living in France, I was reading French crime fiction and realized I wanted to share that passion with others. And now we have Le French Book. For the second part of this question, my long-standing passions are mysteries and thrillers, France in general, food and wine—and chocolate in particular—and martial arts.
What advice would you give to yourself as a younger woman?
That’s a hard one. I’m fairly satisfied with my life so far. I’ve done a lot of different things, all by choice, and that is because as a younger woman I always believed I could, and I opened my mind to new experiences. I suppose I would recommend to that younger me to pay more attention to that old Chinese tai chi master I met in Taipei when I was too distracted to be interested enough in tai chi to do it seriously (I swear that’s a true story). That and generally just to chill out a little bit.
Do you think we live in a restless age?
I suppose we do. I’m amazed by the incredible energy of restlessness. It’s quite stimulating, in fact, and certainly makes you stay on your toes. I am, however, reminded of something I heard on the radio in France some time ago. I believe it was the French author Daniel Pennac, who was talking about an essay he wrote about his experience as a poor student in school who then later became one of France’s best-known authors and who also teaches. He mentioned an exercise he gave to his students, which was to do nothing, absolutely nothing for twenty minutes a day. I think that is an interesting exercise for all of us, and one that is particularly difficult. Try it. I find it a good way to keep up with the restlessness. You know what they say about opposites, and how you can’t have one without the other.
Are you working on any future publications?
We are working on two new thrillers, some sequels to our currently published book, and hope to be introducing another police procedural series in the near future. We are also looking into bringing our books out in other formats.
Our most recent release, The Bleiberg Project, was published just yesterday, April 30. This prize-winning espionage novel was an instant success in France, catapulting its author into the ranks of the country’s top thriller writers. It reaped in the superlatives—”spellbinding,” “exceptional,” “staggering,” “captivating,” “brilliant,” “astounding”, “fascinating”—and has already sold over 100,000 copies there. The movie is in the making. It’s the fast-paced story about self-pitying Wall Street trader Jeremy Corbin who finds himself thrown into a race to save the world from a horrific conspiracy straight out of the darkest hours of history. Could human experimentation be carried out worldwide? What actually is happening? Can it be stopped? Publishers Weekly called it “a solid thriller.”
After that, we are bringing out the global-warming spy novel by Bernard Besson. In it, the Arctic ice caps are breaking up. Europe and the East Coast of the United States brace for a tidal wave. Meanwhile, former French intelligence officer John Spencer Larivière, his karate-trained, steamy Eurasian partner, Victoir, and their bisexual computer-genius sidekick Luc pic up an ordinary freelance assignment that quickly leads them into the glacial silence of the great north, where a merciless war is being waged for control of discoveries that will change the future of humanity.
Oh, and we have ten more volumes of our 52 Serial Shorts short story collection that we are getting ready for publication (two volumes are already available). We will also put out all the stories in a single volume.
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Do you think much fiction sanitises crime?
I think that good fiction changes the way we perceive the world, it shifts our awareness, at least for the period of time we are reading the book. I would say that crime fiction is one way to process and deal with senseless violence that is all around us. It’s a little off topic, but I’m reminded of something one of our authors said. David Khara said, “The idea for The Bleiberg Project came to me after listening to a woman who survived the death camps. Three things struck me. The first was her sharp sense of humor. She said that prisoners inside the camp made jokes whenever they could. Humanity cannot be destroyed as long as laughter is possible. It becomes an act of resistance. The second thing was her will to survive, no matter the obstacles, no matter the horrors. And finally, she was living proof that to remember and understand History is the best, and maybe the only way, to avoid repeating our mistakes.”
Tell us something about yourself few people know.
Being as focused as I am, I’m fairly unaware of the world around me. My husband always makes fun of me, for example, because until just a little while ago I didn’t even know who Céline Dion was. I have to admit that I’m still not exactly sure why I should know that, but I smile politely every time this fact about me comes up in dinner conversation. In any case, forget making references to celebrities in my company, because I’ll get a lost look on my face and, well, just smile politely.
Thank you Anne for a informative and observant interview.
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‘The Bleiberg Project’
An adrenaline-pumping conspiracy thriller and the first in the Consortium Thriller series by the French writer David Khara. The book was an instant success in France, catapulting the author to the ranks of the country’s top thriller writers. It was published in English by Le French Book, a digital-first publisher specializing in best-selling mysteries and thrillers from France.
Visit the website and read an excerpt.
Buy a copy at Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.