Interview With Author Keith Van Sickle

Please introduce yourself and your books

I’ve always loved to travel—studying in England in college, backpacking around the world—and now my wife Val and I live in France part of the year. I’ve written two books about our life in France and the many, many mistakes we’ve made. Both books are funny and lighthearted and show a deep love for France and its people.

What is the story behind your books?

Val and I were once expats in Switzerland. Living in a new country and traveling around Europe was a wonderful experience that really gave us a new perspective on life. After our expat assignment ended and we returned to California, we longed to be back in Europe. We missed all the different cultures and the joie de vivre—it was like our life in Europe had been in color and now it was in black and white.

We tried to find another expat gig but couldn’t, so we finally decided to invent our own. We quit our jobs (that was scary!) and became consultants in order to give ourselves the flexibility to travel more. Then we began living part-time in France. Oh, and we didn’t speak French at the time—what were we thinking?

My first book, One Sip at a Time, describes our first few years in France, when we just learning the language and culture and making fools of ourselves pretty much every day. My second book, Are We French Yet?, takes a deeper look at France and what we’ve learned from our bi-national life.

How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?

I try to learn something from every review, even the negative ones, because I am always trying to become a better writer. So the feedback I got for my first book, especially the negative, affected the way I wrote my second book. I don’t always enjoy getting bad reviews but I try to make the best of them. Of course, sometimes a reviewer is just being nasty and I let reviews like that roll off my back.

Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?

I think you want them to be both appealing and reflective of what’s in the book. In my case I wanted titles and covers that conveyed the humor and whimsy of my books and I feel good about how they turned out.

For titles, I suggest that you run your ideas by a lot of people to get their reaction. This is especially true for titles you think are clever, because you may find (as I did) that nobody “gets it.” So keep trying until you find one that works.

As for covers, think of the cover design as an investment, rather than a cost. People really do judge a book by its cover and you want to avoid the mistake of a cheap but mediocre cover.

Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?

It’s a combination of the two. If I’m writing something that isn’t interesting to me, I won’t do a good job of it. At the same time, if it’s not interesting to my readers, they won’t read it! But in general I figure that if I entertain myself then I’ll entertain others as well.

One important lesson I keep in mind is that I can sometimes get too detailed in how I describe something. So when I edit I remember the dictum “that which doesn’t add, subtracts.” This helps me strip out the extraneous detail and leave just the good bits.

What are your plans for future books?

I write articles for some of the leading France-themed publications like France Today, The Good Life France, My French Life and Frenchly. I incorporated some of these into my second book and before long I should have enough material for a third.



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