On March 3, which happens to be my father’s birthday, Totally Killer was published in French. Three weeks later, at the invitation of my publisher, Éditions Gallmeister, I flew to Paris to kick off a five-day, two-city book tour.

I expected to visit a few librairies, attempt to read from François Happe’s superb translation of the book without my tongue falling out, and be back in my hotel room by ten every night. I expected to get a lot of reading done. I expected to take long hot baths. I expected to see the sights. I expected no one to have read the book. I expected to be pretty much ignored.

Let’s just say my expectations were exceeded in the best possible way.

I was too busy meeting booksellers, inscribing books, decrying capitalist exploitation, and trying to remember the difference between envie de and besoin de to pay much attention to Twitter. (Plus, Twitterific didn’t work on my iPhone. #twitterificfail)

So here, then, a month late, are tweets I would have tweeted were I tweeting while in France. (Note: My brain does not have a 140-character counter, so if some of these run a touch long…c’est la vie.)

 

 

PREMIÈRE PARTIE: PARIS

 

1. Mardi/mercredi, le vol

 

Can the contrast between the point of departure and point of arrival be more stark than Newark to Paris direct? The City of Lights from the City of Raw Sewage.

 

* * *

 

Boarding the plane, the pre-flight stress behind me, I’m suddenly overcome with emotion. It hits me: I’m going to France—fucking France!—on a book tour! Me! Somewhere my French teacher is smiling. My English teacher, too.

 

* * *

 

No one’s sitting next to me! Cool. I can totally stretch out.

 

* * *

 

This Whiskey Brothers podcast is funny.

 

* * *

 

Air France is not stingy with the vino. Or the Champagne.

 

* * *

 

The flight attendant and the pilot speak French (duh). I shall have to break out my un peu Français soon. Zut alors!

 

* * *

 

Philippe, my editor, meets me at the airport. He identifies himself by waving around a poster of the Totally Killer cover. There is a French word for the kind of cajones it requires to wave around a poster of a gun at an airport. That word is chutzpah.

 

* * *

 

Philippe is wearing a hip t-shirt, jeans, cool glasses, and a corduroy blazer. I am wearing a hip t-shirt, jeans, cool glasses, and a corduroy blazer. This is the first clue that Philippe and I have a lot in common.

 

* * *

 

“There has been a change in the schedule,” he tells me. From the level of apology in his voice, I’m certain the TV interview (which I’d bragged about on Facebook) has been kibboshed—but no. “The interview with Radio RFI is off. She really wants to do it, but she can’t, because they are on strike.” Bienvenue à France!

 

* * *

 

I haven’t slept since Monday night New York time, and it’s now Wednesday morning in Paris. No way I make it through the day without a serious power nap. But what hotel will check me in at nine in the morning? Fortunately, Marie-Anne, my publicist, has thought of this, and arranged for me to check in early. This is the first clue that Marie-Anne is really kick-ass at her job.

 

* * *

 

Snowing in New Jersey, but 68 and sunny here. Paris, je t’aime.

 

* * *

 

The Hotel de la Sorbonne is a small and quiet inn right across the street from the eponymous French university. The Pantheon is a block away. I can walk to Notre Dame from here, easy. Of more exigent importance, there is a bed. J’ai fatigue. J’ai besoin de zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…

 

 

 

 

2. Mercredi, l’après midi

 

 

There’s a bookstore every other block here. I’m not even exaggerating. There are more bookstores than bars, seems like. And in almost all of them, there’s my book, often in the window, usually prominently placed, sometimes with a note of endorsement from the bookseller.

 

 

 

* * *

 

Let me reflect on the enormity of that for a moment: My book is in almost every bookstore in Paris. I honestly don’t even know how to process this.

 

* * *

 

Also of note: how often the word art is used here. So many buildings, museums, streets, shops, all with art or arts in the title.

 

* * *

 

The streets of Paris are named after writers. In New York, city of bankers, the streets are either numbered or bear the surnames of the aristocratic dead.

 

* * *

 

I meet Marie-Anne and Philippe for lunch at a restaurant hidden above a cinema that is said to be owned by Catherine Deneuve. I have a double espresso.

 

* * *

 

Marie-Anne reminds me of my friend Ruth. This means nothing to you (unless you’re Ruth; hi, Ruth!), but to me, it means I can relax and let her do her thing. Both Marie-Anne and Ruth are really really good at Getting Shit Done.

 

* * *

 

Marie-Anne walks really fast. I walk fast, too—I lived in New York for ten years; I don’t mosey—but wow, can she fly.

 

* * *

 

Craig Johnson” sounds funny when spoken with a French accent. (Craig is the author of Little Bird, also published by Gallmeister).

 

* * *

 

To the 16eme Arrondisement, and the broadcast headquarters of France24, a relatively new cable news network in the manner of CNN. “There are 23 million viewers,” I’m told. That’s how many Facebook fans I have, give or take 23 million.

 

* * *

 

I’m getting my makeup done (!) when a production assistant comes in and tells me that the show has been revamped. “Elizabeth Taylor just died,” she said. “I don’t know if you knew that.” I didn’t. My first thought: Duke should write about that.

 

* * *

 

Katherine Nicholson—Kat—is the host, and she will be interviewing me. She’s very nice. She tells me she just finished the book, and she really liked it, especially all the pop cultural references.

 

 

* * *

 

Forgot to mention: Kat is British. For some reason, after a day of calibration for French and French-accented English, a British accent sounds almost like a different language.

 

* * *

 

Kat does two takes. On one, she pronounces the “r” at the end of “Killer”. It sounds cooler when she drops it: totally kill-uh. They go with that one.

 

* * *

 

Eight minute interview gone in the blink of an eye. I manage to sit still and not use “like” or “uh” too much. Also, my hair looks good.

 

* * *

 

“There’s one thing about the book. I didn’t want to say it on the air,” Kat says. I’m all, uh-oh. She says, “The phone on the cover? That’s from the mid-90s, not 1991!”

 

* * *

 

Back to the hotel to rest up for the party at Philippe’s apartment.

 

* * *

 

Writing the first TNB postcard. I hope this works…

 

 

 

 

3. Mercredi, le soir

 

 

Marie-Anne fetches me at the hotel. We cab across town, to Montmartre, Pigalle, and the 18eme Arrondisement. The hip part of town.

 

* * *

 

The cab stops in front of Le Moulin Rouge. I mean, there’s the fucking windmill, right there! I feel like I should burst into song. Hey sisters soul sisters gotta get that dough sisters…

 

 

 

* * *

 

Philippe and Anne, his wife, have a to-die-for apartment. Super-high ceilings, spacious rooms, oversized windows overlooking the side street where they live, huge bookshelves teaming with books, and really cool art on the walls.

 

* * *

 

I am looking at the books on Philippe’s shelves. It is clear to me why he bought my book, as we have the same exact taste in books. It’s like someone has teleported my bookcases to Pigalle. (I suspect Richard Cox).

 

* * *

 

Todd’s “Taylor Mix,” the one on the first page of Totally Killer, is playing on the stereo.

 

* * *

 

I meet Oliver, my publisher. He is carrying a box of wine into the vestibule. And not a case of wine—a cardboard box full of wine, in which the bottles are stacked one on top of the other, like socks. Talk about an entrance!

 

* * *

 

Philippe whips up quite the pasta salad.

 

* * *

 

“We don’t publish books we like,” Oliver tells me, patting my back. “We don’t have time for that. We put out ten books a year; we only publish books we love.”

 

* * *

 

The apartment begins to fill up. The Gallmeister crew: Oliver, Mary-Anne, Katarina (who is from St. Petersburg), and of course Philippe; Anne; and twenty or so Parisian booksellers.

 

* * *

 

I am expecting them to regard me as an arriviste. I am expecting them to regard me with suspicion. I am expecting them to make for the wine and the cheese and ignore me entirely.

 

* * *

 

I can’t believe how many of them have read the book! I can’t believe how many of them like it! I can’t believe how much French I can understand!

 

* * *

 

When your work is being complimented, your fluency jumps up a notch right quick.

 

* * *

 

One of the booksellers, a beautiful and hip woman named Sophie, is wearing the coolest ring I’ve ever seen. It’s basically a jagged piece of broken mirror on a ring. I want to get one like that for Stephanie! I compliment her on the ring, in my best French, which falls somewhere between “un peu” and “repeating ça va over and over.”

 

* * *

 

In France, it is against the law to sell a book for less than a slight percentage less than the price listed on the jacket. (Talk about prix fixé!). What this means is, a mega-box-store—or an Amazon—can’t kill off the indies by selling books at enormous volume discounts.

 

* * *

 

What this means is, indie booksellers are protected by the government from huge monolithic corporations underselling them into extinction.

 

* * *

 

Vive la socialisme!

 

* * *

 

“That would never fly in America,” I say. “To us, capitalism and the free market must be defended against all opposition—even if said opposition is The Good of All Humanity.” In the USA, our motto is shareholders über alles.

 

* * *

 

The French government is like the Lorax, and the price regulation is an edict protecting the Truffula trees/bookstores from the brutal ax of Once-lerian capitalism.

 

* * *

 

“Once-ler” is almost an anagram of “Olear.”

 

* * *

 

I ask Philippe and Katarina what Oliver’s last name is. “Gallmeister,” they say, and they both laugh at me.

 

* * *

 

I ask about politics. Everyone knows who George W. Bush is, and that he is an asshole, but Dick Cheney is more of an unknown. I enlighten them.  “He is a walking example of eminence grise,” I say.

 

* * *

 

Q. How do you make a Frenchman make a face like someone just broke wind? A. Ask how he feels about Sarkozy.

 

* * *

 

Q. How do you make a Frenchman flee in horror? A. Ask about Marine Le Pen.

 

* * *

 

If Sarah Palin were French, blonde, smart, dignified, classy, able to connect with a broader group of people, and the daughter of a perennial far-right political candidate, her name would be Marine Le Pen. Sarko is toast and she’s running; people are afraid.

 

 

 

* * *

 

I keep waiting for some other writer to show up. It’s hard to believe these people are here for me.

 

* * *

 

I give a short speech. I thank Philippe and Anne for hosting, and Oliver and Marie-Anne for coordinating. I thank the booksellers for coming. I tell them it’s an honor to be here. I tell them I love France. Then Oliver makes a few jokes, and the party continues.

 

* * *

 

I ask Sophie where she got the ring, explaining that I want to get one for my wife. “My friend made it,” she says. “When are you going back? I can see if she can make her one.” But Sunday is too soon.

 

* * *

 

So Sophie—lovely, amazing Sophie—gives me her ring to give to Stephanie! (I offer to pay for it, but she won’t let me). “My friend will make a new one, and she’ll be glad someone is wearing it in New York.”

 

* * *

 

Sophie, you are awesome.

 

* * *

 

Oliver doesn’t believe me. He (sagely) makes sure the gift is really a gift and not a translation error.  He makes sure I’m not making a…what is the French word for faux pas?

 

* * *

 

I met Emmanuelle, my sub-agent, who is directly responsible for me being here.  God bless you, Emmanuelle.

 

* * *

 

The others are sitting in a circle, all but Oliver smoking, arguing about the future of books, publishing, the price fix law, literature in general, in France. I’m tired, and I’m not fluent to begin with, so I only understand a few words here and there, but it’s fascinating to watch them talk.

 

* * *

 

The (friendly) argument is mostly between Oliver and a man named Sebastian, who has an incredibly expressive face. He gesticulates liberally as he makes his points. I love watching him talk.

 

* * *

 

The party winds down. Wednesday night, and I don’t get back to the hotel room until 2 am.

 

 

 

3. Jeudi, l’après midi

 

 

I sleep till noon. Longest uninterrupted sleep I’ve had in quite some time. A few hours to walk around the city before the radio interview.

 

* * *

 

Everything comes with salad here. Croque madame, steak frites, escargots. Salad is like the French French fry.

 

* * *

 

The waiter is furious for no apparent reason (fortunately, he’s not furious at me). I would totally watch a reality show that just filmed French waiters at work.

 

* * *

 

The architecture in Paris is homogeneous, much of it built in the same style, at the same time, and imposing in its unquestionable beauty and ostentation. Like every building in the city is wearing a tuxedo. The same palette: an off-white, faded by the elements and yellowed by cigarette smoke.

 

* * *

 

That’s why the Eiffel Tower is so amazing: it couldn’t be more different than the prevailing architecture of the city. It’s like this roller coaster-like monument to science fiction dominating the skyline.

 

* * *

 

Notre Dame looks like a spaceship. It does.

 

* * *

 

Lots of students milling around. No one is fat, and no one is emaciated. Healthy figures, devil-may-care coiffure, black and gray and dark blue clothes, funky glasses, cigarettes going. I love it.

 

* * *

 

No one smokes inside restaurants or hotels, but outside, smoke ‘em if you got ‘em. Even Zidane, arguably the greatest French athlete, smokes.

 

* * *

 

I have a man-crush on Zidane. (In English, this would be a good joke, but I’m not sure how to convey the subtlety in French, so I keep it to myself.)

 

* * *

 

At the pharmacie, I find a bottle of Klorane, the best shampoo on earth. Score!

 

* * *

 

My cell phone rings, startling me. Unknown caller. Who the hell is calling me? It’s a man’s voice. I panic; I’m sure it’s Oliver, and I’ve overslept and missed the radio interview.

 

* * *

 

It’s Nat Missildine, ringing from Dijon!

 

* * *

 

He has an ever-so-slight French timbre in his voice. This pissing-in-the-violin stuff is a ruse, I think; he speaks French just fine. He is—and this will come as a shock to no one—very nice.

 

* * *

 

“Don’t tip the waiters!” he says at the end of our chat.

 

* * *

 

Off to do the radio interview!

 

* * *

 

Odile Barski, my fellow radio guest, is incredibly elegant. She wears red fingerless gloves and a matching scarf, and her bearing is downright regal. She would be a perfect Lydia Murtomaki in the French film of Totally Killer.

 

* * *

 

I resist the urge to make a “Are you Banksy?” joke to Madame Barksi.

 

* * *

 

Odile says she’s read my book and she really enjoyed it. Is she just saying that to be nice? Something tells me no. Her IMDB page is a mile long—even longer than Duke’s.

 

* * *

 

This is a live broadcast, in French. I will have a translator, who will whisper in my ear as Tewfik Hakem, the affable host, speaks. She will then translate what I say as I say it. So I should talk slowly. No pressure.

 

* * *

 

Tewfik is around my age. He’s wearing jeans, a white t-shirt, and a sweater vest. He says he likes the book and is looking forward to discussing it.

 

* * *

 

“We will play Elvis Costello for you at the end of the segment,” Tewfik says.

 

* * *

 

Okay, this whole translation thing is VERY hard. You have to actively not listen to the person talking to you, making eye contact with you, and instead listen to the person whispering in your ear.

 

* * *

 

Why is it that at any live event, I always feel the need to burp really loud? A Tums, a Tums, my kingdom for a Tums!

 

 


 

What’s really difficult about this is, I can understand French just well enough to get what Tewfik is saying. Which means I have to just ignore him and tune him out to make this work. This would have been easier if he were speaking Japanese.

 

* * *

 

We are just talking about thrillers. All around the world, ambassadors from countries are communicating this way about nuclear arms and ceasefire treaties. I have a whole new respect for diplomats.

 

* * *

 

Tewfik seems to have really enjoyed the book.

 

* * *

 

Phew, that’s done. And here comes the Elvis: photographs and fancy tricks, to get your kicks at sixty-six…

 

* * *

 

“Fathermucker” does not translate into French. Hanging out after the broadcast, Tewfik asks me about my new book. “It’s called, what, Motherfucker?”

 

* * *

 

Back to the hotel, to interview with two bloggers. Or, as they are called in French, bloggeurs (accent on the second syllable).

 

* * *

 

Nicholas interviews me for his blog. He asks about The Nervous Breakdown. He thinks it’s great. He would like to do something similar in France.

 

* * *

 

I am explaining the inherent problem with the capitalist system: that it is finite. Its success depends on worker exploitation, and one of these decades, we’ll run out of workers to exploit. And then where will we be? Nicholas nods in furious agreement.

 

* * *

 

Marie-Anne and I walk to the bar where we will meet a group of bloggeurs. This involves going past Notre Dame. And going past it really quickly, because she walks really fast, as discussed. Did I mention it’s hot today? It’s hot today.

 

* * *

 

The event is on the second floor of a bar called Étages. I order a Champagne cocktail, because they have them, and because that’s what Victor Laszlo ordered at Rick’s Café Americain.

 

* * *

 

Louis Renault, one of the greatest characters in the history of cinema, and speaker of some of the best-known lines (“I’m shocked, shocked,” “Round up the usual suspects”): a Frenchman.

 

* * *

 

“Speak French if you can,” Marie-Anne says, as I introduce myself to the assembled bloggeurs (there are about a dozen, I think, who were good enough to come out).

 

* * *

 

“Oh, do you speak French?” asks Laurent, one of the bloggeurs, whose English is terrific (he worked in New York for awhile). “Un peu,” I announce.

 

* * *

 

Wow, a lot of the bloggeurs have read the book! And everyone who’s read it seems to have enjoyed it.

 

* * *

 

C’est vrai—je parle Français maintenant. That’s right. I’m getting’ my French on.  Somewhere, my high school French teacher is cringing.


 

* * *

 

You know the guy who wins for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars and goes up to the podium and thanks the Academy in painfully slow and stilted English? I have enormous sympathy for that guy right now.

 

* * *

 

What I’m doing is, I’m trying to use English words that sound like they might be cognates, and pronouncing them like Maurice Chevalier. I just used the word erudite. The bloggeurs were impressed.

 

* * *

 

Talking about the new book—I defer to Philippe a bit here—I have to use the word motherfucker to explain the title. Fortunately, no one seems offended.

 

* * *

 

You know what this is? This is a book club meeting. The Totally Killer book club meeting. How many American novelists can claim that the first time they visited a book club to discuss a book they’d written, it was in Paris and they had to speak French?


 

* * *

 

The bloggeurs are great! I hope they write nice things about me. (Mental note: Google yourself in French when you get home).

 

* * *

 

The bloggeur party ends, and we head for a late dinner at a small, busy restaurant a few blocks away. Laurent joins us. The waiter looks like he walked out of a movie from the 1970s that Duke would write a TNB post about. He has the best glasses ever.

 

* * *

 

I love watching the waiters.  I really want that reality show.

 

* * *

 

Casting the French movie of Totally Killer (which would go down in Paris instead of New York). Marie-Anne wants Jude Law as Asher; Philippe and I shoot this down. I propose Romain Duris. “Too short,” Philippe says. But he looks the part.

 

* * *

 

“Sara Forestier would play Taylor,” Marie-Anne says, pronouncing the surname like it’s the Subaru model. “Sara Forester? She’s French? Because she sounds like she’s from Wisconsin.” “No, no, she’s French.”  She shows me Forestier’s picture on her iPhone.  I’m sold.

 

* * *

 

“Do you want wine?” Philippe asks. Mais oui! I’m in France, for Pete sake! Wine me!

 

* * *

 

Steak frites! And more salad.

 

* * *

 

It’s almost midnight, and the evening comes to an end. Laurent says, “You know, your French is better than en peu.” I tell him I’m using that as a blurb.

 

* * *

 

Last night at the Hotel de la Sorbonne. Tomorrow, after petit-dejeuner with my friend Melissa (“Breakfast is the new drinks,” she’ll tell me), it’s off to Lyon for the Quais du Polar Festival International and more adventures.  But it is already clear that Éditions Gallmeister is formidable, magnifique, superb, and other not-false cognates, and that I lucked out with my publisher.



 

Next time: La Deuxième Partie…The Kings of Lyon.