Mary Bly Talks New Book: “Paris in Love”


Fordham professor and writer, Mary Bly, talks about her new book, life with breast cancer and her life in Paris. (Sara Azoulay/The Observer)

Mary Bly’s mission in life is to remember. And her biggest fear is forgetting. The romantic novelists and professor of English at Fordham College at Lincoln Center is releasing her memoir, “Paris in Love,” on April 3. It is delicate, funny and yet fragile. It begins with her breast cancer treatments—with Bly on sabbatical from Fordham University—and then relocating to Paris, France with her husband and two children. The Observer had the chance to sit down with Bly, discussing everything from Leonard Cohen, being a hypochondriac and most of all, her writing.

Observer: You print under Eloisa James, but you’re really writing as Mary Bly. Do you think your readers will experience a revelation about who the real Eloisa is?

Mary Bly: The memoir is a crafted piece of writing. So who is the real Eloisa or Mary? It’s not a memoir like “Running with Scissors.” A lot of writers create a persona and it’s needed nowadays with social media. I’ve got 33,000 people following me on Facebook, which originally made me post the stories to my wall. My followers felt that they had an intimate connection with me. The thing is the intimate reach. If I was writing “Running with Scissors,” my writing would have been more raw. What I decided to bring out was very different from what I could have expressed. Anytime a person writes about his or herself, they specifically choose to bring something particular forward. My memoir, “Paris in Love,” is an Eloisa production of Mary’s life.

Observer: You always end chapters on a descriptive/illustrative passage. Is that something you arranged in order to end the French scene on a French note?

M.B.: The passages moved until I hoped the book had rhythm. When it went up for auction, a couple of publishing houses wanted me to write in essay form, and I said no. I wanted someone who was working hard to pick it up and fall into the story and then put it down without falling into anxiety. I wanted them to read it the next day and not lose the thread to the story. I aimed to get that rhythm to be right so you didn’t fall down in the middle of a chapter or become too depressed. It all had to flow so that the charm was diluted by grief or by reality in some sense. That took me forever.

Observer: Are you worried you will lose your capability to express yourself with words?

M.B.: Yeah, I’m almost certain I will. I have a terrible memory so I’m basically halfway there already. On the practical side you could say new drugs are constantly being developed, so by the time I get there hopefully they have some fabulous medicine. But on the non-practical side, you can spend all the time worrying about what you’re going to lose, or you can just try to write as much as you can now. That’s what my father did. He lived his life in order to write. It is very sad to watch him unable to write, but I think that if he looked back, he wouldn’t change anything. So, that impulse in Paris to write my life down, a lot of that came from the double diagnosis: my dad’s dementia and my breast cancer.

Observer: As a result of your breast cancer, did you develop a minor hypochondria?

M.B.: I am a Googling addict, but I don’t think it gives you a qualification as being a hypochondriac. You can’t Google any medical symptom because you will always end up with cancer. There is something about sitting across from a doctor and if he says the biopsy is positive, it gives you the awareness that it’s not going to be great forever. This road goes in only one direction and that’s towards death, basically. It makes you more fragile; it makes you more frail. That’s one reason why I stopped Googling medical terms. You don’t want to spend the time you have freaking about Huntington’s.

Observer: Do you think that all writers have some preoccupation with their mortality?

M.B.:  I think all people do, especially after they’re out of their twenties.

Observer: Were you a different person when you were in Paris?

M.B.: I don’t think I change very much when I’m in a new place. I feel happy when I think about it, though. Let’s say I get dementia, but I captured that one year from my family. And I think I caught them growing up. Luca, my son, can remember our year in Paris in a really clear way. Same for Anna, and she was only 11. But I think that year will be really vivid in her memory. I can’t even remember my 11th year at all, really.

Observer: How do you run to Leonard Cohen in Paris? That isn’t music you typically run to!

M.B.: It was all part of observing stuff. I wanted to have a soundtrack that I liked while looking at Paris, although I was running. I preferred Leonard Cohen to The Rolling Stones.

Observer: What does Leonard Cohen sound like in Paris? Do you think there are particular artists that are for France only?

M.B.: I wouldn’t say that they’re for France only, but I would have to say that Leonard Cohen suited Paris perfectly. He’s not American; he doesn’t feel American.