I bought Anna and the French Kiss in a WH Smith bookstore across from the sprawling, brilliant Jardin Du Tuileries. I knew I wanted to read a book set in Paris while in Paris as I always try to buy a book in every city I find myself in. I couldn’t have chosen a more magical, whimsical, perfectly romantic book. When I wasn’t looking at the book through the lens of my camera or with wide open eyes, I was imagining Anna and Etienne and sighing happily as I went.
Every one of my close friends who are readers has been touched by Anna this way—after ten years, its hard to imagine that this book isn’t known the world over. It’s just that iconic to me, that ingrained in my reading life. Getting to speak to Stephanie Perkins about the collector’s edition was a treat.
For fans of hers, you’ll know Stephanie to be an incredibly kind, wonderful author who has her finger on the pulse of YA. Enjoy this interview (including a glimpse of what Anna and Etienne would be doing during the pandemic!), and then go out and get a copy of this gorgeous collector’s edition at your local library or bookstore. It also will make an excellent gift for the holidays!
TYF: For many readers Anna and The French Kiss has been a cornerstone of our reading experience, a beloved favorite for new YA readers and established ones. How has the reaction to this story changed over the decade and is it what you imagined when you set out to write Anna?
Stephanie Perkins: I thought that I had written a quiet love story just for me and a few other people who might stumble across it in a library. Never—absolutely never—could I have anticipated that readers would still be finding it a decade later. It’s never been on a bestseller list in America, but, from the beginning, it’s always had a steady stream of readers recommending it to their friends. Word-of-mouth is everything to an author. I can’t imagine anything better. I feel outrageously fortunate.
TYF: Anna is the perfect blend of romantic escapism and realistic YA contemporary. Like a modern fairy tale, it’s a lovely mix of hope and sweetness—I still get happy chills when I think about the scene at Point Zero. How did you strike the right balance?
SP: Thank you. It makes me happy that you said “modern fairy tale” because that’s how I see it, too. I wanted a realistic story that had an over-the-top, happily-ever-after ending. Paranormal romance was the big thing when this book was written and published, and they had all those huge, epic endings. I wanted a real story—filled with complicated emotions and mistakes—but I also wanted that epic ending. I always say that my books are like real life but better.
TYF: Anna actually makes up one of my most favorite reading memories, I actually got to read the book in Paris. Have you been to the City of Lights since Anna first came out and how did writing the book change your perspective of the city?
SP: Oh, I love that! I would love to know where you were, specifically, while you were reading it!
I haven’t been to Paris since the book was published, but I went there around the time it was being copyedited. I was there to research my third novel, Isla and the Happily Ever After, which is also largely set in Paris. It was surreal to step into the real city. I always compare it to C.S. Lewis stepping into Narnia. It was so familiar that it somehow felt like I had created Paris. The experience was pure magic.
Before Anna—and the research that came along with it—I was an Anglophile who was a bit afraid of French culture. It was so beautiful and sophisticated, and I’ve always felt so clumsy and gawky. It felt a little cold, perhaps. But, like Anna, I went from being frightened of Paris to falling head-over-heels in love with it. The city became so vibrant and warm and real.
TYF: National writing month is upon us, which I know you’re an advocate for. In a recent interview with Buzzfeed, you mentioned that your NaNo draft for Anna looks nothing like the final version. Can you describe in what ways it changed during the writing and editing process?
SP: NaNoWriMo is an incredible tool for writers, but I absolutely consider those drafts to be the roughest of rough drafts. Not even first drafts. Zero drafts! They’re all about throwing ideas onto the page and seeing what sticks. So, between my zero draft and first draft of Anna, the characters were (mostly) the same, and the setting was (mostly) the same, but the plot morphed from being an art heist into a romance. It went from high concept to low concept, and I realized that’s actually where my strengths are as a writer—in those small, everyday moments.
TYF: This Collector’s Edition cover really captures the beautiful whimsy of the book. It also contains an annotated map of Paris. How involved were you in the redesign for the collector’s edition and what particular addition or new design detail are you most excited about?
SP: Thank you. I’m so happy with the Collector’s Edition, too. Genuinely, it’s one of the most gorgeous books that I’ve ever seen. My editor, Julie Strauss-Gabel, consulted with me about the basic idea—I wanted it to be more of a pretty object, rather than something stuffed with a bunch of new material—and then she and the designer, Lindsey Andrews, went wild. Nick Misani, an artist who actually lives in Paris, did the lettering. Anna Booth created the map, and, as a contemporary author, this was a thrill! Usually only fantasy authors get maps! But the detail that I’m the most excited about is the sprayed edges in a Point Zéro pattern. I’m still gobsmacked.
TYF: A question, I have to ask: how do you think Anna and Étienne would be coping with the pandemic? Do you ever wonder about your characters after you’ve finished their book?
SP: Ha! I love this question! I think a lot about my characters after their books are over, and I know what happens to all of them later in life. Anna and I both have a manageable form of OCD, so she would be feeling the same stresses that I am. It would devastate her that Americans have been so irresponsible about wearing masks. She wouldn’t be leaving the house except for unavoidable appointments. Étienne, like my husband, would be running the errands.
TYF: For readers just discovering Anna, what do you hope they’ll get from the book?
SP: I hope it will provide some warmth and escape during this very dark year.
TYF: Is there a book you recently read that sparked the same happy and warm feelings that Anna has left so many readers with since it first came out?
SP: What a great question! (These have all been such thoughtful questions. Thank you, truly.) I’m currently reading Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series, and the town that she’s created falls under the “real life but better” category that I always respond to so strongly. I’m such a fan of a cozy setting and characters who love each other but talk over each other, and these books are hitting that sweet spot for me.
Anna and the French Kiss Collector’s Edition is now available wherever books are sold.