The Road to Paris

The Road to ParisI spent sev­er­al years in and out of fos­ter care when I was a child. Lit­tle won­der, then, that fos­ter chil­dren pop up in my poems and sto­ries. I did­n’t explore the theme in a fuller text, though, until I wrote The Road to Paris.

The Road to Paris is a nov­el about Paris Rich­mond, a young fos­ter child who is sep­a­rat­ed from her only sib­ling, Mal­colm, and sent to live in her next fos­ter home, all alone. She has to come to terms with this dif­fi­cult sep­a­ra­tion, and must strug­gle to find a place for her­self in a house full of strangers. The nov­el explores that jour­ney, and the strengths Paris devel­ops along the way.

Of all the fos­ter homes I lived in, myself, the last and best was in Ossin­ing, NY. I chose that as the set­ting for much of The Road to Paris. And yes, I drew heav­i­ly from my own life expe­ri­ence in cre­at­ing the sto­ry of Paris. There are whole­sale dif­fer­ences, though. The num­ber of homes Paris lived in, ver­sus the num­ber I lived in, is a per­fect exam­ple. Before I land­ed in the good fos­ter home, I had to sur­vive half a dozen hell­ish ones. That was reflect­ed in an ear­ly draft of the book. How­ev­er, my edi­tor strong­ly urged me to roll back that num­ber to lim­it the bad expe­ri­ences to one or two, and to move the sto­ry more quick­ly to the good home. I grum­bled quite a bit, as is my want, but I even­tu­al­ly caved. I would­n’t do that, today. Too much truth and authen­tic­i­ty was lost in the bargain.

Nikki Foster Care
Here’s a pho­to of me when I first arrived at my fos­ter home in Ossin­ing, NY.

One thing I def­i­nite­ly would­n’t change is the end­ing. In it, Paris is faced with the choice to either return to the birth moth­er, who has already let Paris down in more ways than she can count, or to remain in the fos­ter home, where she is well loved and cared for. Read­ers, yearn­ing for the tra­di­tion­al hap­py end­ing, were root­ing for the fos­ter home. Paris, how­ev­er, opt­ed for her birth moth­er, risky though that choice might be. (Her moth­er strug­gled with alco­holism.) Notwith­stand­ing, the choice Paris made is the choice I made, is the choice most chil­dren make. It is the choice that is true.

Sev­er­al old­er read­ers have asked me about the tag line, “Keep God in your pock­et.” I love that line, and it came to me in a moment of pure inspi­ra­tion. I was look­ing for a non-intru­sive way to express the ele­ment of sim­ple faith that sus­tained Paris on her jour­ney. I want­ed some­thing organ­ic, yet some­thing poten­tial­ly pow­er­ful. After all, faith was a crit­i­cal ele­ment in my own sur­vival, and I thought it should be in Paris’s, as well.

Three Children
My fos­ter broth­ers, Ken and Brad, were the mod­els for the broth­ers in The Road to Paris.

I wrote The Road to Paris for all chil­dren, but espe­cial­ly for those strug­gling with prob­lems out­side of their con­trol. They need to know that, despite their cur­rent cir­cum­stance, they can come out on the oth­er side—whole, healthy, and happy.

Here’s one of my favorite pas­sages from the book.

The next morn­ing, Paris was on a plat­form at Penn Sta­tion, wait­ing for the train that would take her to her new fos­ter home.

Paris’ heart beat so loud­ly, the noise filled her ears. For the first time, Malcolm’s hand was not at her elbow to steady her. His arm was not across her shoul­ders to calm her. His smile was not there to tell her every­thing would be all right.

The case­work­er tried to hold her hand, but Paris snatched it back. She need­ed her hand to wipe away her tears. She’d nev­er felt so alone in all her life.

Some­times I wish I was like my name, thought Paris, some­where far away, out of reach. Some­where safe down south or on the oth­er side of the ocean. Instead, she was nei­ther Paris nor Rich­mond. She felt like a nobody caught in the dark spaces in between. A nobody on her way to nowhere.

The train rolled into the sta­tion, and she took one last look around before board­ing, hop­ing to see her broth­er run­ning to catch up.

Mal­colm, Paris asked the wind, where are you?

2 Responses

  1. I tried to leave this com­ment before, but for some rea­son it did­n’t show up. I just want­ed to men­tion that it is hard to know what to say to some­thing like this, but that it is a mov­ing piece. It cer­tain­ly gives new pow­er to the book, which we read short­ly after it was pub­lished. It would be poignant to read again with these new insights. Thanks for shar­ing these back stories.

  2. I love this book. I think because I see so much of you, Nik­ki, in this book. I’ve giv­en this book away and have been giv­en it as a gift. I remem­ber see­ing you and you told me about this book and how you had got­ten in touch with one of your fos­ter broth­ers. Secret­ly, I know Paris found her fos­ter broth­ers again as well. I gave a copy of this book to a lady who runs a cloth­ing “clos­et” for fos­ter chil­dren. I hope she passed it on to some child who needs to know that there is hope and love in this world.

    And I think the “non-tra­di­tion­al” end­ing was per­fect. Of course I want­ed Paris to stay with her fos­ter fam­i­ly, but chil­dren have a bond to the par­ent they have known since baby­hood and there is always that hope that this time things will be better.

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