THE VIP LOUNGE
Novelist Juliette Fay on Paris, raincoats, and the worst weekend of her life
We caught up with the Wayland author to talk about all things travel.
By Juliet PenningtonUpdated May 4, 2023, 10:00 a.m.
Juliette Fay (left) with her sister, Jennifer Allen, in the gardens at Claude Monet’s former home in Giverny, France.
It’s not often that the main characters in a novel are in their late 50s, but that is the case with “The Half of It,” the latest release by Wayland-based author Juliette Fay. “You get a lot of older characters — 70s, 80s, and even 90s — and most main characters are in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, but there are very few books with main characters who are this age,” Fay said in a recent phone interview. The book, she said, has “suspense and romance, but it’s not a romance novel.” It’s about a woman who looks back on her life and finds that many of the regrets she has stem from one romantic night with a teenage boy four decades earlier, Fay explained. “The Half of It,” which was released in April, is the 60-year-old author’s seventh novel.
Fay said she often incorporates her travel experiences into her books. “I think as writers, we are always trained to look for stories, so you see them everywhere you go,” she said, noting that a recent trip to Paris, where she visited the archeological crypt beneath the courtyard of the Notre Dame Cathedral, is part of the storyline for her next novel — her eighth — that she recently completed. The author, who was born in Binghamton, N.Y., and raised in Lexington, has several book signings scheduled, including one on May 8 at The Sea View in Dennis Port, and another at the Reading Public Library on June 5. We caught up with the mother of four adult children, who lives in Wayland with her husband, Tom, a lawyer, to talk about all things travel.
If you could travel anywhere right now, and money was no object, where would you go?
Greece. I’ve wanted to go since I was a little kid. I think it was the colors that first grabbed me — the linen white buildings and the crystal cobalt sea. Now, of course, I’d also want full immersion in the history, culture, and art. Plus I could eat stuffed grape leaves every day of the week.
Where was the first place you traveled to after COVID restrictions were lifted?
My husband and I never did much traveling. With four kids it just seemed like a lot. But my parents had planned this trip to Paris with my sister and me and our husbands for May of 2020. Obviously, that didn’t happen. We eventually went in April of 2022, and I fell completely in love with the city and with travel in general. It was also really cool to go with my sister and brother-in-law. You get to know people in a very different way when you experience new places with them. We started planning a trip to Italy together as soon as we got home.
Do you prefer booking trips through a travel agent or on your own?
I love to do all the research and a lot of the booking myself. I feel like you get to experience the trip twice — once in the planning, and then again when you get there. That being said, a travel agent can be so helpful, especially when snafus crop up with canceled flights, etc.
Thoughts on an “unplugged” vacation?
I’m all for the occasional sit-on-the-beach-with-a-pile-of-books trip, but right now I’m just desperate to soak up new cultures. I use my phone to look up local information, take pictures, post to Instagram, and take notes. Every night before I go to sleep, I write a quick travel log entry on my tablet, so I don’t forget anything. But I stay away from news sites and e-mail if I possibly can.
Do you use all of your vacation time or leave some on the table?
As a writer, I don’t have set vacation time. I work odd hours — weekends, evenings, early mornings, the occasional middle of the night, as well as weekdays — so by the same token, I feel no qualms about taking time off to travel. Seeing new places can also be work, but in a good way. When I went to Paris last year, I decided that the characters from the novel I was working on should go there, too.
What has been your worst vacation experience?
I spent a summer in my 20s working at a hospital for the poor in Antigua, Guatemala. I really wanted to go to the Pacific coast, but it wasn’t safe to go alone, so I went with a boyfriend I was actively breaking up with at the time. We got bamboozled into staying in this shack on the beach that had rats running around at night. I remember thinking, “this is the worst weekend of my life.” It still holds the title.
Do you vacation to relax, to learn, or for the adventure of it all?
I vacation to experience new places, and that can be relaxing, educational, and adventurous all at once. My husband and I generally gravitate toward two things: history and nature — bonus if it’s both. We did plenty of theme parks when our kids were little, but that was never our bag.
What book do you plan on bringing with you to read on your next vacation?
I do not plan to have time to read. I plan to suck the life out of every moment and fall into bed exhausted at night. That sounds bad for a novelist, doesn’t it?
If you could travel with one famous person/celebrity, who would it be?
Rick Steves. Didn’t even have to think about it. He just seems like such a pleasant, affable guy who would easy to get along with. And it would be like having your own personal tour guide.
What is the best gift to give a traveler?
Kid sleepovers and rides to soccer practice. Plant watering. Pet sitting. Mail and package pickup. Make it easy for them to go and not worry.
What is your go-to snack for a flight or a road trip?
Pretzels and salted nuts. No mess, no sugar crash, lots of crunch. Just make sure you bring a full water bottle, too.
What is the coolest souvenir you’ve picked up on a vacation?
I’m not really a souvenir person. Taking pictures is my favorite way to bring a little piece of the experience home with me.
What is your favorite app/website for travel?
Take Walks does great small-group walking tours that really give you a sense of place. They operate in most major cities. The guides are incredibly knowledgeable — be sure to tip them well.
What has travel taught you? That the history of the world is full of an infinite number of unique stories, and yet somehow it’s all familiar: the human condition, what we long for, what we try century after century to create, how devastatingly hard it can be, and yet how beautiful, too.
What is your best travel tip?
Invest in a top-notch hooded raincoat. Don’t let anything keep you inside.