In April of this year, not only did I publish my first novel, How to Make a Pot in 14 Easy Lessons, but I also had a short piece published in a French book entitled Les Aventures du Concierge Masqué. This book is a collection of 20 short stories, each written by 3 authors, who were called upon to write either the beginning, the middle or the end of a story that had to involve a masked janitor (un concierge masqué). This style of collective story-writing, L’Exquise Nouvelle, harkens back to the 1920s when Andre Breton and the Surrealists in France liked to see where a story would go if it was passed along to other writers. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exquisite_corpse.
Facebook was the reason some French writers picked this ‘pass-the-story’ idea back up 3 years ago and when I was asked to participate, I agreed, even though it has been some 30 years since I wrote and read (or, for the most part, spoke) in French. I decided it would be a good writing exercise for me and I like writing exercises. Years ago, my husband hosted a life drawing group at our house and, before the artists settled down to draw the model, my husband took off his clothes and did a number of poses for ‘gesture drawings.’ He would hold a pose for a minute while the artists sketched furiously, then hold another, then another. When I asked him why he did this, he told me it was a way for the artists to warm up – their hands, their eyes, their focus – before settling down to the bigger task of drawing a nude. That’s the way I view certain writing exercises, as warm ups to the piece I really want to write. And it’s certainly how I viewed the short piece I submitted in English, and very crude French, to Les Aventures du Concierge Masqué.
The collection was published online first, in April, and included the English version of my piece as well as the French translation. Then, on September 20th, the book came out in hard-back.
I watched on Facebook as the other authors gathered at ‘salons’ (book festivals) to sign and sell the book; meanwhile I flitted from place to place in Washington State to sign and sell my novel.
So imagine my delight when I discovered that during a prearranged trip back to England, to be with my family, there would be a salon in France, where many of the Concierge Masqué authors would be signing. I bought a day return on the Eurostar Train and headed over to Lille, France, to sign books in French. Well, all right, I really signed them in English because most of the book buyers seemed enchanted by the idea of having a dedication in English, but I certainly spoke a lot of French. Especially when it appeared that most of my writing companions didn’t know how to take charge of a sale. Although I must admit, I handed things over again and again to my friend and co-author, Frédéric, when I got to the part where I had to explain that the proceeds from the sale of the book went to L’Association des Pancréatites Chronique Héréditaires (some kind of pancreatic cancer research group). You trying saying that after a 10 hour flight from the US to the UK the day before, an 8 hour time change and a very short night’s sleep so you could make the Eurostar Train from London to Lille!
But despite my fatigue and my dietary confusion due to jet lag (I was famished by 11 am and wolfed down a baguette sandwich while all the French – and I mean all the French – disappeared between noon and 2 pm for le déjeuner (lunch)), the day was great fun.
The other authors treated me like a visiting star even though I’m pretty sure that my part in the book must have seemed a tad tame to them. The French love plays on words (jeu de mots) and complicated cultural references in their writing and my piece had none of that. I imagine it was rather like putting the National Anthem in the middle of a collection of free jazz. We all stand for the National Anthem but does it really rock our world? Probably not. But it gave me a great excuse to go to France and hang out with some chic French writers. Oh! la la!