One of the greatest joys of writing historical mysteries is the chance to visit the sites of your story. A contemporary novel set in NY or cozy Puddletown can afford interesting opportunities, but you’re less likely to see the gleam of delighted envy in your friends eyes when they say, “Of course, you had to do research, poor thing.” You can smile coyly and answer, “Yes. Such a pity. So time consuming. And I’ll just have to go back—there’s still so much to photograph…”
Because, of course, you’ll wander about with your camera at the ready. For general research, most any photo you take may help. You’ll discover it’s often frustrating that most tourist sites are besieged by actual tourists trying to photograph the exact same scene at the same angle you want to capture. Even though it’s Paris, they won’t be wearing Dior, much less Worth—those shorts and tee shirts will be especially annoying if you want your photo to capture the feel of a different era. You probably won’t be as lucky as I was and stumble on a movie crew filming in period costume, like these characters gathered by a bouquiniste on the Left Bank. These book selling spots are still highly coveted.
Sometimes I get lucky and the light is right, I get the detail, and the photo isn’t lopsided. But if you want photos to add a certain je ne sais quoi to your website, there are public domain or photos free with attribution on Wikimedia Commons and other sites, most likely taken by far more expert hands holding far better equipment.
The other thing I’ve discovered is that Photoshop or similar programs can help you transform photos into intriguing artistic images. Even if you aren’t writing about Impressionist Paris or an artist protagonist, a playful photo can add pizazz. I’ve played with all these pictures a little or a lot. Most just have a smidgen of pencil texturing from the Art Media Effects tab, others combine multiple techniques to become even more like drawings or paintings. I’ve had the most luck with Colored Pencil or sometimes with Chalk Effects. The photo then needs to be intensified with more contrast, color saturation, perhaps sharpness. But you can try Artistic Effects like Colored Foil, Enamel, or Neon Glow to see what new image emerges. Glowing Edges was an effect that created this Vampiric view of the Seine from the Ile St. Louis.
In planning my days in Paris, I arrange to visit the settings in my book, as well as keep an eye out for something new and intriguing. Most of central Paris is as it was about a century and a half ago, when Haussman turned the cramped medieval city into the modern showplace of Europe with its public gardens and grand boulevards like the Champs Élysées. The grand boulevards were to permit the easy movement of cavalry and cannon, in case of revolution, as well as to allow the fashionistas of the period to show off their finery. I’m lucky that most places I plan to use still exist, but there are always disappointments—buildings that are gone, or so altered they are unrecognizable. My heroine lives in Montmartre, and much of that formerly bucolic village was being torn apart and gentrified at the fin de siècle. I decided the homey building with a garden that Theo lived in was later torn down. But the view out her studio window would have been something like this, though I’ve given her some flowering trees to brighten the spring.
At the fin de siècle, the police detective’s bureau was here in the medieval fortress of the Conciergerie which is part of the Palais de Justice, a short walk from Notre Dame. The law courts on the other side are still active, but what you see here is now a museum—Marie Antoinette spent her last days imprisoned within these walls.
My detective lives on the nearby Ile St. Louis. He can look out on the Seine from his window.
Wandering the streets of your city, you’ll decide where your characters lived and worked. To learn more of the history, museums are of course invaluable. In Paris, several homes of famous writers and artists, like Victor Hugo and Rodin, are now museums which you can visit. Of the big museums, the Orsay is my favorite, since it focuses on the art of my period.
The Carnavalet has numerous exhibits showcasing many eras. And small, quirky museums can yield treasures, like the marvelous Police Museum, which displays photographs and newspapers, uniforms and weapons covering many decades. Even tinier, the charming fan museum displays an array of the favorite accessory of the era.
The most deliciously delightful part of a Paris trip is eating in restaurants. There are a few restaurants, like Le Procope, that have been around for centuries. There are many that have kept all or portions of the exterior and interior of my era, the Belle Époque. I love the Brasserie Julien and Le Train Blue. You can see Maxim’s in the films, Gigi and Midnight in Paris. Below is La Fermette Marbeuf. In surroundings like these, it’s easy to project yourself into another era—perhaps with a peacock fan.
FLOATS THE DARK SHADOW is a literary mystery set in the dynamic and decadent world of Belle Époque Paris. Aspiring artist Theodora Faraday and Detective Michel Devaux clash in their search for a mysterious killer who has already claimed too many children. Classic detection and occult revelation lead Michel and Theo through the dark underbelly of Paris. Following the maze of clues they discover the murderer believes he is the reincarnation of the most evil serial killer in the history of France—Gilles de Rais. Whether deranged mind or demonic passion incite him, the killer must be found before he strikes again.
Yves Fey has an MFA in Creative Writing from Eugene Oregon, and a BA in Pictorial Arts from UCLA. She has read, written, and created art from childhood. A chocolate connoisseur, Yves has won prizes for her desserts. Her current fascination is creating perfumes. She’s traveled to many countries in Europe and lived for two years in Indonesia. She currently lives in the San Francisco area with her husband and three cats, Marlowe the Investigator and the Flying Bronte Sisters.
Visit the world of Belle Epoque Paris at http://yvesfey.com/