Meet Michelle Paris, and read more about her and her debut New Normal (May 2023, Loyola College/Apprentice House) that’s loosely based on her experience of becoming a widow at a young age.
After the sudden death of her husband, Emilie Russell just wants to feel normal. But being a middle-aged widow doesn’t come with a how-to manual. Her well-meaning friend, Viv, believes the cure to all that ails is simple: a new man. So, she sets Emilie up with her handsome and charming new neighbor, widower Colin. There’s only one problem with the plan-Colin is gay.
Emilie embarks on a rollicking journey of self-discovery with Colin as her mentor and best friend. From learning to swipe right without cringing while midlife dating in constricting shapeware to cougar moments in Key West, Emilie reenters the dating pool with both humorous and soul-crushing results.
With the encouragement of her friends, including a new furry one, plus a little therapy, Emilie begins forging a new life, one where she exchanges tears for laughter, and one that maybe-just maybe-includes the courage to find love again.
Michelle, thank you for stopping by and sharing with us your journey as a young widow and debut author!
Tell us about your debut novel, New Normal.
New Normal is loosely based on my own life after a sudden heart attack took my first husband’s life…he was 42 years old, and I was 40. At the time of my husband’s death, I was really lost. Becoming widowed at middle-age was hard. I knew I had so much of my life ahead, but everything seemed so uncertain. Grief was at times, all encompassing, but I had to admit, I was lonely; so, I felt so conflicted. I searched for middle-aged main characters to help me cope and assist with moving on and make me feel better. But I found most were about divorce…so I decided to write a fictionalized version of my own story.
It was a long but very cathartic process—some excerpts make me tear up even when I read them now. Much of the book is a fictionalized account, but there are some scenes based on what really happened to me. It was kind of fun to invent characters and scenes to tell my story. My ultimate goal is to let readers know, even when life is really hard, never give up hope.
When did it dawn on you that you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve always enjoyed writing. Even at a young age, if I had a pencil or crayon, I was writing. (I was the kid that wrote on walls.) I also have a vivid imagination. To help myself fall to sleep, I would make up characters and storylines.
In college I became an English major because I found that writing papers was more fun and easier than taking tests. After college, I got a job in the public relations field—so I wrote a lot of press releases. Occasionally, I would start and stop manuscripts but honestly, I never got too far. It wasn’t until I had the goal of finishing New Normal that I actually became serious and believed enough in myself to see the project to completion.
These days, I am very much at home sitting in front of my laptop hearing the keys click. It was so validating when Apprentice House Press decided to publish New Normal. And I’m thrilled that we collaborated to bring New Normal to life.
What are some things that inspire you to write?
I write about hope with humor. I’m fascinated by quirky personalities and situations of everyday life…it is certainly true that truth is stranger than fiction. People like to share their stories with me, and I am a good listener.
Most of my characters are composites of people I know who find themselves in funny, and often times, poignant situations. When something strikes me as interesting, quirky and/or funny, I say to myself, “now that is book-worthy.” I change the stories enough so that it won’t make the person who shared the story uncomfortable. In most cases, my friends have been supportive and find it flattering that I include some things that happened to them in my writing.
What is your typical writing routine like?
I try to write to devote at least one day to writing each weekend. I set aside at least an hour to write or edit. Sometimes I get on a roll and will write for hours. Other times, it’s a struggle.
My best ideas seem to come at the worst possible time…because I’m not near a computer! Like in the shower, driving, working-out, shopping. And then I pray I won’t forget the idea by the time I get to my phone to e-mail myself.
Also, I’ve been a part of a writer’s group for more than fifteen years. We all met while taking a novel writing course at Howard Community College. We meet once a month and have met virtually for the last two and half years. Being a part of the group has made me accountable and helped me hone the craft. It’s a safe place to get feedback on first drafts. They’ve provided valuable feedback on scenes and characters that have helped polish the final draft. I always leave those meetings feeling so inspired and eager to write!
If you could have lunch with any writer(s) who would you invite?
Definitely Jennifer Weiner and Kristan Higgins—my two all-time favorite writers. I enjoy their senses of humor and think they’d be fun to hang out with. I think we’d hit it off. Jennifer Weiner actually inspired me to write. Her stories are told expertly with heart and humor and that’s what I strive for, too. I pre-order all of their books and can’t wait to read them.
Any advice you’d like to give for aspiring writers?
Believe in yourself and your story…if you don’t believe in your story, nobody will…and never give up hope. It took me about ten years to find a Publisher interested in New Normal. I queried more than fifty agents and would occasionally get some bites, so I knew I had a good idea. I took any feedback and made the manuscript better. I think the final version may have been draft seven or eight, and I am proud of the end product.
Another invaluable resource for me was my writer’s group. I think every writer should have trusted and supportive critique partners.
What’s next for Michelle Paris?
I’m making some final edits to my second novel, Eat Dessert First. It’s a light-hearted women’s fiction with a touch of romance. The main character, Abbey, struggles with self-esteem issues because of her weight. I believe romance should come in all shapes and sizes. And plus-sized main characters are underrepresented. Once I finalize the manuscript and submit to Apprentice House for consideration, I’ll begin work on book number three.
I keep an ongoing list of plot ideas. All it takes is a germ of an idea, an overactive imagination and discipline to get them on paper.
Do you have any last words?
I am so grateful for the staff at Apprentice House Press for helping me to bring New Normal to life.
Contact Michelle here on her website:
Michelle Paris is a Maryland writer whose essays about grief and mid-life dating have appeared in multiple editions of the Chicken Soup for the Soul book series. Her personal journey to overcome grief was highlighted on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. She is member of Romance Writers of America and the Maryland Writers’ Association. She is currently enjoying chapter two of her life with her second husband, Kevin, who keeps her from being a cat lady—but only on a technicality.