Q&A With Janet Skeslien Charles

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Q&A With Janet Skeslien Charles 

Janet Skeslien Charles is the New York Times Bestselling author of the novel The Paris Library. I have the honor of doing this Q&A with her today. 

A: The honor is mine! Thank you for inviting me.

Q: How did you come across the idea for The Paris Library? Is it based on a true story and did you go to France or speak with anyone who lived during the World War II era to write the story? 

A: Here in Paris, I used to work at the library as the programs manager. One day in 2010, colleagues were discussing the history of the courageous librarians during World War II. I knew it was a novel and sat down to write it. I wanted the world to know about Dorothy Reeder and her belief in books as bridges. 

In 1998, I came to France to teach English. One of my students was an 80-year-old Jewish woman. During World War II, she was a Resistante. I appreciated listening to her stories. Later, I joined a program that matches volunteers up with elderly neighbors. My neighbor had lived through the Occupation of Paris. So I was very fortunate to be able to talk to them about their experiences. I also interviewed the descendants of my real-life characters.

Q: What do you enjoy the most about writing historical fiction?

A: To be honest, when I was writing this book, I didn’t think of it as historical fiction. I thought of it as a story I needed to tell. 

I loved the research, especially interviewing the descendants of my real-life characters. It was incredible to spend time with them and see family photos. I love the thrill you get when you unearth a document after years of looking.


Q: If you’re writing anything new right now, can you reveal any details?

A:  One incredible librarian leads to another! While researching THE PARIS LIBRARY, I stumbled upon the real-life heroine of my new novel, another American librarian who worked in France from 1918-1924. During World War I, this librarian of no man’s land worked just miles from the front. After the war, she transformed ambulances into bookmobiles. I can’t wait to share her story with you in THE LIBRARY CARD, which comes out in 2024.


Q: What is your advice to anyone on writing great historical fiction?

A: When I first started writing THE PARIS LIBRARY, I thought that Dorothy Reeder, the real-life librarian who defied the Nazis during the Occupation of Paris, would be the main character. Unfortunately, I felt such reverence for her that I had a hard time putting words in her mouth. Thus, I created the character Odile, who was easier for me to write.

In my new novel THE LIBRARY CARD, I jumped right in and created the voice of my real-life character, librarian Jessie Carson. I accept that she is not the Jessie Carson, but my version of her.

So my advice is to not feel inhibited about recreating historical figures. Do as much research as you can and enjoy creating your version of that person. 


Q: What historical eras would you want to write about in the future?

A: My first novel was set in Ukraine, and I’d love to return to writing about an incredible woman I knew when I lived in Odessa from 1994-1996.

I’d also like to write a book set in Paris in the early 1990s. That time period doesn’t feel so far away, and yet everything was so different. 


Q: Does Hollywood have the rights to The Paris Library? Hollywood is long overdue for creativity. 

A: I wish! I’m afraid that no one in Hollywood has acquired the rights. If they ever do, you’ll know about it because you’ll hear me screaming from the rooftops. 

Thank you again for taking the time to interview me!