Bad Luck in Paris
I am now in Paris, where, in perfect Parisian style, I woke up and went for a wander, sliding ungracefully on a large slime of dog shit, before browsing some beautiful clothing stores (with newly clean shoes). In other words, a typical Parisian morning. Later, I was told that stepping in dog shit is considered good luck, but just when I had clutched this slim superstitious straw, I was informed that this was only if the left foot was implicated: Zut Alors!
I then ate lunch at Le Procope, "Le Rendez-Vous des Arts et des Lettres" and the oldest literary cafe in the world, where Franklin wrote some well-known American document, Voltaire and Rousseau argued about the price of milk (and where it should go in the encyclopedia) and Verlaine ate Tete (but not Langue) de Veau ("as cooked in 1686" and I wonder if the menu said that then? Oh, probably.) At Le Procope (which I will insist on going to again tomorrow, because the whiting was off, and who doesn't want whiting?) I drank a murky green cocktail of Pernod and Absinthe: a good thing to do before an interview with Elle and an appearance on France 24 TV? Apparently yes! This arrived at our table accompanied by an extremely flamboyant glass fountain that very slowly dribbled iced water on to the lump of sugar before it decomposed into my glass. It was lovely, the perfect prelude to my marrowbone, and my green bean salad. (Perhaps see accompanying picture. Perhaps not.)
Let me cast my mind back to friday night in North Carolina. But first I'll put that Grand Entertainment in perspective.
Perhaps the most valuable thing I have learned during the promotion of "by George" is that readings are not really that effective. Let me explain.
Some of course are great - Charles Dickens' were probably quite good. And he enjoyed doing them so much that he almost killed himself performing. I'm afraid I mean contemporary readings in bookstores. People don't seem to be very interested in them. Perhaps they were interested in them, but have grown bored as they've grown more common. Or perhaps it's only me and everybody else's readings are simply incredible. What I really mean is: if a writer has the chance to turn their bookstore reading into anything BUT a bookstore reading, then he or she should. It's the wise thing to do.
For example, in San Francisco, I read at Booksmith, one of my favourite bookstores. I was delighted to be invited. It was fine. People came. I read. I even played the guitar. They bought books. It was a good example of a very enjoyable reading. Unlike the last book, there is no music I can (or want to) tie in with "by George", so despite the presence of the lad George himself, there isn't much going on apart from the reading and the signing bit.
The next night - and of course it's an unfair comparison, but it demonstrates my point - I read at The Literary Death Match, as described in an earlier installment. Here I felt (apart from when I was playing basketball) like Charles Dickens himself: I projected to a packed house from a podium under great lighting. I could be dramatic, play it for laughs, generally turn it on. The stage was made for it. It was marvellous - and people were paying, whereas the previous night was free. (And having just played on friday to 300 people paying a minimum of $35 a head, I have finally, belatedly, come to the conclusion that people think free entertainment worthless.)
All the best events during this promotional period have been the extra-curricular activities: at Bumbershoot, the panel with Monica Drake; in Portland, the Live Wire radio show; the Thacker Mountain Radio Show in Oxford, MS; the gig and reading at Decatur; the astonishing Fiction v Non-Fiction panel in Austin - basically anything that wasn't a straight reading. That's when I have felt that I am really getting the book across to people. And don't think I'm negative about the readings - quite the reverse, I love doing them and would happily come to your individual homes and delight each of you with a bedtime story. I like to read. But the public seems to agree with me - the extra-curricular events are more fun.
And on friday we had a truly magnificent evening in North Carolina and I commemorate it thus as not only one of the highlights of the last year, but also (in an odd way, perhaps next to the Seattle "Songs of Misfortune" show a couple of years ago) one of the most ambitious shows I've been part of. I knew I was excited about it because I had two "forgetting my lines" dreams during the previous week. What was it? Well, I met Daniel Wallace at the Festival-America in Paris (coincidentally) last year, and we hatched a plan to do New York and Chapel Hill readings for our new novels, given the way they dovetail in theme. We decided on a Variety show, as a benefit, at The Barn in Fearrington, NC, attached to McIntyre's Book Shop and we billed the show as a cast of thousands, on the basis that I'm two people on my own, and that made three already. The idea was: a reading each, a few songs (perhaps some duets - Daniel is fingerpickin' good on the banjo), a little Ventriloquism, some magic if possible.
The evening, "A Feast of The Five Senses" - why not "A Feast FOR The Five Senses?" I don't know, and I came up with the title - turned out beyond out wildest dreams. We had more or less a day's rehearsal, cooked up a running order, got an MC from the local radio station WUNC (one of the beneficiaries) and a fabulous prestidigitator called Geoff Lloyd who performed close-up magic at people's tables. And we wung it.
Here's what they got, apart from food and up-close magic:
Intro by Frank Stasio, MC
Intro by DW and WS - duet of "Tom of the Bottom" on guitar and banjo
Reading: DW (from "Mr Sebastian and His Negro Assistant")
Music: JWH (Darwin, Congratulations (on your Hallucinations), The Bull)
Chat: Frank and WS talk about Ventriloquism
Reading: WS (The Birth of George from "by George")
Magic Trick - a grand illusion performed by DW, involving a disappearing red handkerchief and an astounded audience, to be explained by DW and WS at the end of Act Two
Intro by DW and WS, in which DW is mistaken for many other writers including David Foster Wallace, Wallace Stevens, Wallis Simpson etc
Reading: DW (from "Mr Sebastian and His Negro Assistant")
Ventriloquist Routine: DW and WS (a much extended version of the bit I've been doing at readings, with DW in the role of Ernie Wise)
Music: JWH (Hamlet)
Chat: Frank and DW talk about Sideshows, Magic and Carnies
Reading: WS (Androcles and The Lion from "by George")
Music: WS and DW (duets of Sussex Ghost Story, It Stays, Browning Road)
Magic Trick - in which DW and WS explain the trick to the music of "Chariots of Fire"
Encore: Ukulele Lady - DW on guitar and WS on the ukulele.
The Barn was a spacious, er, barn, with sparse sound equipment and no one to work it, soon filled with 300 people and waiters buzzing round pouring wine and serving canapes, which accounted for a few of the five sense right there. Daniel and I put pretty much everything we could into this performance - if I'd known how to tap-dance I would certainly have lived out the Gene Kelly fantasy (that I don't actually have) at some point. It was a magical night, and a great pleasure to see so many music fans there. (I know I haven't overentertained you in North Carolina recently, so I really appreciate your coming out to The Barn, even with that slightly expensive benefit ticket price, particularly because you didn't know quite what you were going to get. And let's face it: I didn't know what you were going to get until that morning. But you certainly got it.)
Yet, all this Grand Variety show really was, rather like the Literary Death Match, was a reading with a twist. And this one made about $10,000 - if you can believe that - for WUNC public radio and Chatham Young Writers. So everybody felt good about everything. And I got a chance to wear my black suit with the flouncy Vivienne Westwood shirt, which you have only previously seen if you were at my wedding.
Love and thanks also to Laura, Daniel and his lovely daughters, Nick, Geoff "Spirits of Diabolos" Lloyd with the magic fingers, and Jamie from The Barn.
We should definitely do this again and I think we shall.
Tomorrow is a big day of action and interview, featuring two business meals - one with booksellers, the other with journalists. So tonight finds me back in my hotel quite early, ordering room service, half-watching Nantes drawing nil-nil with Montpellier on my television - I will literally watch ANY football on tv - and wondering when my jetlag will allow me to sleep.
Paris is full of potential christmas presents.
Avoid the dogshit and you're absolutely fine.