We are thrilled to have author Kristy Cambron with us today. Ms. Cambron is the author of historical novels Castle on the Rise, The Painted Castle, The Illusionist’s Apprentice, her bestselling novel The Butterfly and the Violin, and many more!
Ms. Cambon has agreed to answer our questions about her spectacular historical fiction, The Paris Dressmaker.
I’m a massive WWII history reader. I grab every book I can get my hands on that pertains to this period. Though exceptionally dark, as your book clearly depicts, it also shows the resiliency on the other side. Did you ever find the weight of the darkness overwhelming as you researched for the book?
Absolutely. Researching and writing about one of the darkest points in history—WWII and the Holocaust—it stays with you. That’s regardless of whether the story includes this kind of evil within the barbed-wire walls of a concentration camp or right in the city streets of Paris. Wherever people were forced to make life or death decisions that darkened their own humanity and impacted their survival or the survival of others. . . it makes you want to find the stories of resilience and light even more.
Prior to Nazi occupation, Paris was the place for couture, and Parisienne women were known as the world’s best-dressed. During occupation, the fashion houses closed, but fashion survived. There is much controversy about Coco Chanel’s role during the occupation—was she a collaborator or resistor? What are your thoughts?
This is where readers prove how smart and savvy they truly are. I’ve read the books and seen the evidence (some compelling) that Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel’s wartime associations hint at best, that there was apathy to the Nazi regime’s activities. And at worst, they may imply active collaboration. But as a reader, a researcher, and a history-lover myself. . . I always ask readers to do the hard work, to learn history as it was, and uncover their own conclusions of a historical figure based on the factual evidence they find.
Which of your two heroines would you say was your favorite and why?
I’m going to be totally mean and vote both. 😊 I admire Lila de Laurent for her fierce defense of those she loves. But she’s also flawed—without compassion or true understanding for the plight of Jews at the start of the war. Because of it, she’s forced to take a hard look in the mirror and confront her own shortcomings in the years that would follow. She discovers that there are many shades of gray in life, and in war, those decisions aren’t always as straightforward as we may think. Now that’s opposite to Sandrine Paquet, who is willing to risk everything from day one, but it’s the journey along the way that ends up being her great test. Hers is more of an internal battle—will she hold to faith when everything around her is falling apart?
Sandrine and those who worked with her, were, in a sense, Monuments Women. How many estimated precious art pieces had been saved by these fictional, though based on actual brave women?
Pause here and go research names like Rose Valland and Josephine Baker. And scores of others you can read about in books such as ‘Les Parisiennes’ by biographer Anne Sebba. There’s the answer. And while 148 crates (containing some 967 works of priceless art by the likes of Picasso, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne and others) were in fact saved on train 40044 in August, 1944, it’s the human impact that often goes most unsung. How many Resistance messages were concealed in the clothing of and delivered by everyday women? How many Jewish families reclaimed some memory of their lost loved ones because of their sacrifices? How many masterpieces have we looked on, generations later, because of their courage? It’s those stories that are unearthed—sometimes decades later—that paint the larger portrait of what women did in this war.
I was especially moved by the scene of Lila’s father dressed in his WWI blues on his balcony singing while the Nazis marched down the Champs-Élysées. When you wrote this scene, was this from your imagination, or did this come from something you had read that actually happened?
While Lila’s father is fictional, the emotion his image evokes came from history. There is an iconic scene in the film Casablanca (1942), where French Resistance fighters vehemently defy the Nazi officers present in Rick’s Café by singing a powerful rendition of the French Resistance anthem ‘La Marseillaise’. A similar scene occurred in real life in August, 1944, as ‘La Marseillaise’ could be heard drifting up from the western Paris commune of Neuilly, urging Parisians to fight for liberation. . . I knew this novel had to create a link from the Great War to show the next generation who would carry on their fight, and that this imagery of defiance in Lila’s father would be a moving way to show it.
I found the friendship dynamic between Lyla and Amelie quite compelling. While I think it was commendable that Lyla was so forgiving to Amelie, given who and what she had become, I wondered if she deserved Lyla’s compassion. I feel there was a distinct purpose for writing this part of the book. Can you expound?
We’ve heard it said that it’s far more likely we could forgive an enemy for his crimes than it would be to forgive the true betrayal of a friend. It’s the personal nature of that kind of loss that I wanted to explore. How would I answer if I were in Lila’s shoes? Would I forgive? And when you look at compassion through that kind of personal lens—that we ourselves have been forgiven so much—you see how powerful mercy and sacrifice really are.
There was a great deal of collaboration with the Nazis during the occupation. After the liberation of Paris, you describe the reprisals Parisiennes took out on those they viewed as collaborators—primarily women. For those who survived retribution, did that stain continue for years later, or were many collaborators able to continue on as if nothing happened?
Paris emerged from WWII a resilient city, but still a broken people. As I researched the time shortly after liberation when Paris (and the rest of the world) would attempt to pick up the pieces of occupation, I came across photographs of the ‘épuration sauvage’—or, “the wild purge”. It was horrifying. This vigilante justice was set upon those who’d suddenly become the definition of the pain people had endured at the hands of the Nazis for four long years—many of whom were women. Often regardless of guilt in collaboration, it was the women who were publicly humiliated (some estimates around 20,000) with heads shaved and paraded in the streets. But it was the social shame, accusation without trial, and even oppressive laws that could shadow an accused—even if she were truly innocent—for perhaps the rest of her life. It’s a topic I’d love to explore further. . . maybe in a future novel!
Sandrine was most assuredly a woman of faith. It was that faith that sustained her through the dark days of occupation and working alongside her Nazi overlords. What can we learn from her unwavering faith?
I wrote The Paris Dressmaker in the midst of a wildly unpredictable and painful 2020. It was Habakkuk 2 that I turned to during this time of uncertainty. And I wrote into Sandrine everything I was feeling at the time. . . To cling to God when our hearts are shaken. To trust Him with our future. And to wait for an answer to the deep questions of faith that cause us to doubt, especially in our daily lives. I wrote into Sandrine what I hoped to become one day; she was strong and steadfast in ways that are still teaching me. And I hope readers will look inside and see that same strength is there in themselves.
Was there something you wrote in your manuscript that didn’t make it through the final edit that you wish had?
Oh, how I love this question! I’m always so taken with the “behind the scenes” look at story development. And I can share that there’s one thing that didn’t make it off the cutting room floor, and I’m so glad that’s where it stayed. . . René Touliard and Carlyle were originally the same person! I’m thankful for brilliant editors who are clever enough to tell the author when her character and his spy-ish alter-ego is actually two people with stories going in completely opposite directions. 😊 It’s because of them that we ended up with TWO memorable characters who made their stories weave together in a seamless way.
Can you tell us a little bit more about The Paris Dressmaker that isn’t in the synopsis?
This story started with French fashion and the vivid imagery of Elsie de Wolfe’s notorious Parisian Circus Ball in July, 1939. But from there, it evolved into a story that surprised even me! We see two women who survived in Paris under the most incredible circumstances, from the bookends of occupation in 1940, to liberation in 1944. They walked the same streets during those years and saw many of the same atrocities. But the war they lived through was completely their own. Their stories became the voice for every Parisienne who did the same.
What’s next for you? Are you working on another book?
Yes! I’m moving from The Paris Dressmaker story of “Resistance meets runway” in France to. . . Rome, 1943. This new story is based on true accounts of an invented plague—“K-Syndrome”—and one hospital in the heart of the city that served as a front to save hundreds of Italian Jews during the Holocaust. Our story pairs the brave hospital staff with a displaced ballerina from the Royal Ballet, and two American GIs who must come together to save the life of one little girl and in the process, find a reclaimed faith and forgiveness for themselves. Look for this still untitled novel to hit store shelves in spring, 2022!
Thank you so much, Kristy, for coming to Novels Alive today and answering all of our questions. Your answers are so fantastic and give an ever better insight into your fabulous novel.
Keep a close eye out for our 5-Star Review of The Paris Dressmaker coming soon!
Based on true accounts of how Parisiennes resisted the Nazi occupation in World War II—from fashion houses to the city streets—comes a story of two courageous women who risked everything to fight an evil they couldn’t abide.
Paris, 1939. Maison Chanel has closed, thrusting haute couture dressmaker Lila de Laurent out of the world of high fashion as Nazi soldiers invade the streets and the City of Lights slips into darkness. Lila’s life is now a series of rations, brutal restrictions, and carefully controlled propaganda while Paris is cut off from the rest of the world. Yet in hidden corners of the city, the faithful pledge to resist. Lila is drawn to La Resistance and is soon using her skills as a dressmaker to infiltrate the Nazi elite. She takes their measurements and designs masterpieces, all while collecting secrets in the glamorous Hôtel Ritz—the heart of the Nazis’ Parisian headquarters. But when dashing René Touliard suddenly reenters her world, Lila finds her heart tangled between determination to help save his Jewish family and bolstering the fight for liberation.
Paris, 1943. Sandrine Paquet’s job is to catalog the priceless works of art bound for the Führer’s Berlin, masterpieces stolen from prominent Jewish families. But behind closed doors, she secretly forages for information from the underground resistance. Beneath her compliant façade lies a woman bent on uncovering the fate of her missing husband . . . but at what cost? As Hitler’s regime crumbles, Sandrine is drawn in deeper when she uncrates an exquisite blush Chanel gown concealing a cryptic message that may reveal the fate of a dressmaker who vanished from within the fashion elite.
Told across the span of the Nazi occupation, The Paris Dressmaker highlights the brave women who used everything in their power to resist darkness and restore light to their world.
“Woven within this beautiful historical tapestry of WWII from Cambron (The Painted Castle) is the stark reminder to keep friends close and enemies closer . . . Based on true events, this exquisite tale impresses with its historical and emotional authenticity. Historical fiction fans won’t want to miss this.” —Publishers Weekly Starred Review
“Unimaginable heartache, unforgettable romance, and cheering defiance against the oppression the Nazis inflicted on Paris; readers will be swept away into a story where battle-scarred good at last rings victory over evil.” —J’nell Ciesielski, author of The Socialite
“Stunning. With as much skill and care as the title’s namesake possesses, The Paris Dressmaker weaves together the stories of two heroines who boldly defy the darkness that descends on the City of Light.” —Jocelyn Green, Christy Award-winning author of Shadows of the White City
“A thoroughly satisfying blend of memorable characters, evocative writing, and wartime drama that seamlessly transport you to the City of Light at its most desperate hour.” —Susan Meissner, bestselling author of The Nature of Fragile Things
“Kristy Cambron deftly weaves multiple timelines to craft a story as complex and romantic and beautiful as a couture gown. In addition, Lila and Sandrine’s strength and courage in a troubled world inspire us to live likewise. Tres magnifique!” —Sarah Sundin, bestselling and award-winning author of When Twilight Breaks and the Sunrise at Normandy series
“With real-life historical details woven in with her fictional tale, the story popped off the page. Readers will be thinking of this book long after they’ve read the last word.” —Rachel Hauck, New York Times bestselling author
“A well-researched and beautifully interwoven treatise on courage and conviction in the midst of oppression.” —Rachel McMillan, author of The London Restoration and The Mozart Code
We have 5 paperback copies of The Paris Dressmaker up for grabs!
The giveaway is open to the US only and ends on February 26th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
Kristy Cambron is an award-winning author of historical fiction, including her bestselling debut The Butterfly and the Violin, and an author of nonfiction, including the Verse Mapping Series Bibles and Bible studies. Kristy’s work has been named to Publishers Weekly Religion & Spirituality TOP 10, Library Journal Reviews’ Best Books, RT Reviewers’ Choice Awards, received 2015 & 2017 INSPY Award nominations, and has been featured at CBN, Lifeway Women, Jesus Calling, Country Woman Magazine, MICI Magazine, Faithwire, Declare, (in)Courage, and Bible Gateway. She holds a degree in Art History/Research Writing and lives in Indiana with her husband and three sons, where she can probably be bribed with a peppermint mocha latte and a good read.
Tuesday, February 9
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