Wednesday, June 22, 2016

When Life Trumps Fiction

By Morgan Tarpley
I know I’m not alone. There are some times that our novel-geared, what-if-thinking-constantly writer brain imaginings can actually be surpassed by real life. I just experienced one of those exact moments.

Last month, my husband and I took a road trip up the U.S. East Coast. (We live in Louisiana, so it was quite the long drive – but very enjoyable.) I was pumped because I’ve never been to the East Coast, and more than that I’ve never been to New York City. We were only there for a few days. And as I marveled at the massive skyscrapers and all the locations I’ve seen in favorite movies or TV shows other things struck me as well like who are all these people around me? What’s their story?

I couldn’t help but let my writer’s brain take over wondering if the man passing me in a three-piece suit near Wall Street could be a millionaire or a woman I sat by on the subway might be a famous author. I mean how can I not think about these type of things! (lol) Well, at least, I know there are people on this blog who get it, right?

Back to the story at hand though, one of our must-do things in NYC was to dress up and go out for a fancy dinner, and that’s exactly what we did. I even got my hair done at a salon for the occasion. It was hard to narrow down where to eat but we finally decided months prior and made our reservation. The restaurant is called Wallsé and features modern European cuisine specializing in Austrian. They were awarded a Michelin star this year, so we knew between that honor and our love of Austrian food it would be great. And it was.

The place was small but well spaced, the ambience elegant and relaxed with dim lighting overhead and the soft glow of tea lights on each linen-draped table. We were seated at a table for two. He took the chair and I sat on part of a velvet-covered wall-length bench. Our closest table neighbors were less than a foot away to my left – two women beside me on the bench and a man across from them, all in their mid to late 60s I’d say.

We ordered and I noticed the woman closest to me had also ordered Wiener Schnitzel, so I remarked that it looked lovely and authentic and I was glad I had chosen it. She gave an elegant nod in agreement with a slight smile and informed me it was very good and authentic. Then, they had their entrées and dessert; we had our appetizers and entrées.  

While we were in the middle of our entrée though, a man came over to greet them. We were so close I could not help but overhear what was said. (Convenient too. I can always use fascinating conversation for future book fodder.) He congratulated the seated man and then was introduced to the lady across from him (the lady with the Wiener Schnitzel) who he said was his cousin and he named the book she had written.

Wait, right there! There’s a published author sitting right beside me! (See, this story did have a point.) But that wasn’t all. The book title rang a bell in my mind. It sounded so familiar. So, what else could I do at this point but discreetly retrieve my cell phone from my handbag to search for it.

Lo and behold, I actually own her book – and I had wanted to read it for a while. I couldn’t believe it. I had her book right there on my Kindle. And I knew I just had to talk to her! So, when the opportune moment arose after the visiting man left, I claimed it to remark on if they enjoyed their dessert. Then, I ever so carefully said I could not help overhearing about her book and that I have it. She was surprised and flattered.

We chatted a few minutes about the story and how I would start reading it that very night, which I did, of course. She is very nice. (I also purchased the audiobook which Leslie actually narrates herself.) The reason for the dinner was that her cousin (the man) had just published his book that day, and it was a celebration. Two published authors. Wow! I told them about my novel involving WWII and Leslie graciously offered if I had any questions in my research to send her an email. She gave me her card and I got her to sign the back of it. I also took a photo with her.

Leslie Maitland

On a pier in Marseille in 1942, with desperate refugees pressing to board one of the last ships to escape France before the Nazis choked off its ports, an 18-year-old German Jewish girl was pried from the arms of the Catholic Frenchman she loved and promised to marry. As the Lipari carried Janine and her family to Casablanca on the first leg of a perilous journey to safety in Cuba, she would read through her tears the farewell letter that Roland had slipped in her pocket: “Whatever the length of our separation, our love will survive it, because it depends on us alone. I give you my vow that whatever the time we must wait, you will be my wife. Never forget, never doubt.” 

Five years later – her fierce desire to reunite with Roland first obstructed by war and then, in secret, by her father and brother – Janine would build a new life in New York with a dynamic American husband.  That his obsession with Ayn Rand tormented their marriage was just one of the reasons she never ceased yearning to reclaim her lost love.  

Investigative reporter Leslie Maitland grew up enthralled by her mother’s accounts of forbidden romance and harrowing flight from the Nazis. Her book is both a journalist’s vivid depiction of a world at war and a daughter’s pursuit of a haunting question: what had become of the handsome Frenchman whose picture her mother continued to treasure almost fifty years after they parted? It is a tale of memory that reporting made real and a story of undying love that crosses the borders of time.

Leslie's mother, Janine
Later that night, I looked more into her story and I found her bio on Amazon. “Leslie Maitland is an award-winning former New York Times investigative reporter and national correspondent who covered the Justice Department. She appears regularly on the Diane Rehm Show on NPR to discuss literature. She lives with her husband in Bethesda, Maryland.”

Oh my! She is also a former award-winning journalist for the NY Times! I’m a journalist as well. It was just so fascinating and unexpected. Certainly greater than the scenarios I had been dreaming up for two days. And for sure the story of Leslie’s mother was greater than fiction too.

Leslie and I at Wallse
And the Library Journal agrees with me since their starred review of her book read: “Sometimes the truth is not ‘stranger than fiction’ but more compelling than fiction, and that’s the case here… Well written and captivating, its story will stay with readers well after the book is finished.”

So have you had any better than fiction moments? Have they made their way into your novels? A hint of a story is already forming in my mind surrounding this event. Want to share any of these moments? I’d love to hear from you!

Morgan Tarpley is an award-winning newspaper reporter and photographer in Louisiana. She is also a novelist currently seeking representation. Besides writing and traveling to over a dozen countries, her interests include acting in her local theater, genealogy, photography, and singing. She resides in Louisiana with her husband.

For more information about Morgan, visit her website ( You can also connect with her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or Goodreads.


  1. What a wonderful story, Morgan. I'll have to find Leslie's book. I agree with Library Journal that truth can be more compelling than fiction. But if it were fiction, I would want them to find each other again late in life. Or at least find someone who knows what happened. I guess I'll have to read the book!

    1. Thanks LeAnne!! Yes it's a really well written and intriguing book!!

  2. What a lovely story, Morgan. The things one hears when our for dinner.

    So pleased for you & your hubby that you had a delightful time visiting the Big Apple. Did you see a show?

    1. Thanks, Ian! Yes indeed! It was a special experience to meet Leslie in that way. I really enjoyed our time in NYC. We unfortunately were not able to see a show but we were able to attend a function at The Explorers Club which was fascinating!