Americans in the Riviera


By 1985 Andrew Kaplan successfully sold two thrillers. The first, Scorpion, sold well. Kaplan asked the question many writers ask after early success: do I quit the day job and write full time? A wife and two-year-old child made Kaplan reluctant to take that step. Then the day job quit Kaplan and he was unemployed.

Once Upon a Villa: Adventures on the French Riviera, published earlier this year, tells what happened next. Stuck at home, unable to drive due to a broken foot, Kaplan could not job hunt. He was frustrated. His wife Anne asked him what he would do if he could do anything. His dream was to move to the French Riviera for a year and write full time. Anne also wanted to live in France.

He had a severance package. He sent his literary agent an outline of a new thriller asking her if it was marketable. Using his sample chapters and the outline, his agent sold the book to a London publishing house. A sizeable advance along with his savings and selling his Southern California home, provided enough money to move to France and live for a year. All he had to do was write the novel.

The adventures of an American family abroad follow. They rented a villa on France’s Mediterranean Coast, initially in Cap d’Antibes (previously rented by Roman Polanski) and later one in Eze near where Nietzsche wrote Thus Spake Zarathustra. Kaplan settled down to write his book.

The book captures the struggles a Middle America couple experienced living and working in the billionaire’s playground of the Cote d’Azur. Getting the residence permit to remain a year led to a prolonged struggle with the French bureaucracy. The Challenger explosion, the American bombing of Libya and Chernobyl all occurred during their stay, affecting their experiences. Chernobyl created the same anxieties Covid would spawn in 2020, the perils of invisible radiation substituting for invisible viruses.

It also shows the spirit of everyday life in France: searching for the perfect bouillabaisse, learning the intricacies of bicycle racing and finding incredible baguettes baked by an 80-year-old village baker. The Kaplans encounter Americans on the lam, eccentrics of all sorts, and form enduring friendships with the local French. Kaplan also recounts his efforts writing his novel.

 Once Upon a Villa is a delightful read, humorous and poignant. It portrays the dreams, struggles, adventures, and successes of a young American family abroad.

“Once Upon a Villa: Adventures on the French Riviera” by Andrew Kaplan, Smugglers Lane Press, March, 2024,‎ 386 pages, $32.95 (Hardcover) $9.99 (E-book)

This review was written by Mark Lardas who writes at Ricochet as Seawriter. Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, historian, and model-maker, lives in League City, TX. His website is It appeared in a different form in Epoch Times.

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  1. Arahant Member

    Seawriter: searching for the perfect bouillabaisse

    My advice on the subject is that the perfect bouillabaisse is to perfectly avoid it. But then, I’m a supertaster and usually avoid fish.

    • #1
  2. Arahant Member

    Seawriter: Smugglers Lane Press

    Oh, I do like that publisher’s name.

    • #2
  3. Percival Thatcher

    Jimmy Buffett told y’all that you could meet all those people in the Banana Republics (well, except for the French):

    Some of them go for the sailing
    Brought by the lure of the sea
    Tryin’ to find what is ailing
    Living in the land of the free
    Some of them are running to lovers
    Leaving no forward address
    Some of them are running tons of ganja
    Some are running from the IRS

    • #3
  4. Jim Kearney Member
    Jim Kearney

    Thanks. Hated Homeland, but my wife will check this one out. She reads the Provence genre and enjoyed the plotless but atmospheric The Durrells in Corfu on PBS.

    Coincidentally I’d just read a profile of another author whose books are set in a coastal resort (Nantucket) in this morning’s WSJ, Elin Hilderbrand.

    The question of how an author finds his/her audience has always interested me.

    • #4
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