Months before: you get an invitation to the Salon du Livre de Gaillac. You look on the map. It’s a little town in the south of France. You do a little dancing around, and then you graciously accept, trying to sound like a Very Serious Author who has not just danced around her apartment in glee.
Weeks before: you begin getting lots of paperwork: plane tickets, info on hotel, contracts and other stuff to sign. They propose several extracurricular events for authors: a wine tasting, a dramatic reading, a historic visit of the town. You sign up for everything.
A couple of weeks before: you are contacted by the teacher of the class of “quatrième” students you’re going to be meeting with, saying she’s been reading extracts from your book to the class and they’re making bookmarks. They’re going to interview you. Is there anything else you’d like to do? You suggest a “creating characters” workshop you gave to the teens at the American Library of Paris, and a screening of your book trailers. She loves the ideas.
A couple of days before: you realize you have no clue what age “quatrième” is, and you ask a taxi driver. He tells you 10 years old. You freak out. Your workshop is too advanced for 10-year-olds. You get home and check on the internet. “Quatrième” is 13 years old. You stop freaking and translate the games you had planned into French and email them to the teacher for photocopies.
The night before: you aren’t sure what to wear, so pack 2 nice dresses with heels, 1 pair of black pants, a sweater, a top, and a casual dress with leggings. Bookmarks. 3 books. Computer + plugs. And because you can’t decide what will go under what, enough underwear to equip an army. You spend until midnight going over your workshop for the next day wondering if you’ll be able to remember any of the words in French, or if you’ll end up doing your mime routine where you just move your hands a lot because you can’t think of words.
Friday, day of, dawn’s crack: you have given yourself 15 minutes to get up, throw your clothes on, and get your butt out the door. You succeed, call an Uber, and are whisked off to the airport. You check in, check your bag, and proceed directly to your gate even though it’s way too early. You’ve missed too many planes in your spacehead past to leave anything to chance. You locate the closest bathroom to your gate, and put your makeup on and brush your teeth. Then you get a quick coffee and before you know it, they’re calling your flight. This does not surprise you, because time works differently for you than for most people. Sometimes it flashes by without you noticing. Sometimes it drags on interminably. This is why you are constantly missing planes and trains and meetings. You roll with it, and gobble down your croissant and leg it to the gate.
Friday 9:15am: You land at the airport, amazed at how fast the plane has gone. You weren’t supposed to land until 9:55. You go to find your baggage, and look at your boarding pass. The plane number listed on your ticket does not appear on the baggage carrousel screen. It’s not on the arrivals sign screen either. Because it hasn’t yet arrived. But you have, because you were on the wrong plane. You panic for a moment, grab a baggage guy and ask what airport you’re in. He tells you “Toulouse.” You breathe a sigh of relief. At least you’re in the right city. You wait until your plane arrives, and go to the baggage carrousel. No suitcase. Of course. You hope the bomb squad in Paris didn’t blow it up since you weren’t on the plane it was supposed to go on. You think fondly of your hairdryer and wonder if it’s scattered in a million pieces around Orly airport. You see this strange cat sculpture, and wonder if it’s a bad omen. As in, you will never see your suitcase again and will be stuck with the same underwear for the entire weekend.
Friday 10:15am: You go to the airplane exit door you were supposed to have come out of and see a few people standing around looking lost. They have your name on a sign. You wave and everyone looks relieved. You explain everything and go with the driver, a super-friendly volunteer named Magali who speaks perfect English, to file a missing luggage claim. Then you all pile into the car to go to your respective hotels. In the car with you: a Cuban writer who sits up front and chats with Magali since she also speaks perfect Spanish. A French writer named Dominique who tells you she also just got into meditation. And a French literary attaché named Christian who knows everyone in the entire world.
Friday 11:30am: Magali drives you to your charming bed and breakfast in the middle of the countryside. English owner, Catherine, greets you and shows you your room. You have enough time to connect to the internet to see that AirFrance still doesn’t know where your bag is before a car drives up and your are whisked off to the Jr. High where you will be speaking. Your driver, Pascale, the school’s documentarian, leads you to the library, where ten teachers and other writers are eating lunch on an improvised picnic table. The teachers have brought delicious tarts and salads and there is red and rosé wine to drink. No water. Only wine. For lunch. In a school. Before your workshop. You wonder for a moment if your workshop might work better if you are drunk, and then take the high road and limit yourself to a few sips of rosé to wash down the tart.
Friday 1:30pm: You spend two hours with a class of thirty 13-year-olds. You introduce yourself first. Then they interview you with some questions they’ve prepared. The “how much money do you make?” question that American classes always ask doesn’t come up, but the “which famous authors have you met” does. You make an effort not to let them down with your namedropping, and then show them your trailers. They like your “love letter to Paris” one the best. You spend the next hour playing your character creation games, which they REALLY get into, and then they present you with the bookmarks they made. Which are AWESOME.
Friday 4:00pm: Your class over, you hang out in the library until another writer, Eric Boisset, who was giving an event is ready to go. You chat while Pascale closes up, and discover that one of his books already has a movie, and another has a movie coming out in a couple of weeks. You are duly impressed. You tell him you don’t have any movie deals, but your books are translated into thirteen languages. He is duly impressed. And in a spirit of mutual impression and much chatting you are driven back to your B&Bs.
At yours, you meet the three children’s book illustrators who are staying in the rooms downstairs: Malika Doray, Janik Coat and Pascale Estellon. All French. All lovely and friendly. All already know each other because it’s a small world.
Friday 5:45: A driver picks you and up and takes you and Janik to the wine tasting you signed up for at Chateau Clément Termes. You take tiny sips and pour the rest back because it’s going to be a long night and you’ve done the gettin’-silly-at-the-book-conference thing before and don’t want to solidify your reputation for it. The wine is good. You buy 2 bottles, and are whisked off for dinner with the group who is going to see the dramatic reading. The bottles clink against each other a lot in the car, an omen of things to come.
Friday 7:30: Dinner with about 30 authors. Sit next to a super-lovely illustrator Isabelle Simler and find out she lives 3 metro stops away from you in Paris. She turns out to be one of your fav people at the salon.
Shovel down some pizza and pork and pie and then make your way a few blocks away to a theater where 2 actors and author Frédéric Clement read an excerpt from one of his books. Since the work is poetic and set a few centuries ago and uses some old French words, you actually only understand about half of what they’re saying. This lasts about an hour, and then you get up and move to another room and it starts again. The second room is underground and vaulted and beautiful with brick walls and brick floor. After an hour and a half, your legs start to kick, which is what happens when you sit for a long time. You try to shift positions, and end up kicking one of your wine bottles over onto the brick floor, making a very loud noise that resonates throughout the room and makes everyone jump. When you sit next to the Frédéric Clement at the signing table the next day, you confess that you were the bottle person. And he confesses he remembers you well.
Frederic Clement, of the dramatic reading, with illustrator Albena Ivanovitch-Lair
Friday 11:00: Stop by restaurant where the non-theatrical reading authors are. Your suitcase is there! And it shows no signs of having been exploded. You try to stay awake until everyone is ready to leave, and then are driven back to your B&B and fall into bed, asleep before your head hits the pillow.
Saturday 9:30: Spend the day signing books. You display the bookmarks the students made you on your signing table, giving them a thrill when they stop by.
You are in the Children’s Book Tent, one of five different spaces housing different genres of books and authors.
Everyone is super-friendly, and the staff and volunteers stop by about every half hour to make sure you have everything you could possibly need. Around lunch time, everyone wanders down to the river where the mayor and other local dignitaries make long speeches about the importance of books and Gaillac and they give a prize to Isabelle for creating the picture book the children of Gaillac voted for as their favorite. Then it’s off to lunch, and you sit with Eric and his friend, Arthur Tenor, who has written so many books that your one-a-year seems somewhat shameful.
Saturday afternoon: more of the same. You stretch your legs and wander a bit, and notice this sign pointing down stairs to the outdoor bar that’s attached to the Book Salon:
Translates as: bar of the evil-doers
There is also this mime, who you are afraid of until he gets up on a ladder and starts shouting. You discover that your mime-fear does not extend to ones who make noise.
The shouting mime.
After the signing closes up, you and Eric and Arthur wander in the direction of dinner, but get waylaid by a bar. Isabelle wanders by and joins you. And just when you get up to make your way to the dinner and realize you have no idea where it is, Magali appears out of nowhere in a big empty car, and drives you there. Ah, the magic of Gaillac.
You are driven home after dinner with the 3 illustrators, and sit outside your B&B chatting until the wee hours.
Sunday: sign all morning. Your lovely publicist from Milan Jeunesse, Sophie Bès de Berc, stops by and you thank her for suggesting you for the salon and try to make it clear that you’re open to doing more without seeming overly enthusiastic. After lunch, go on the historical tour of the city and see this:
Sunday around 5: run around and take pictures of the people you’ve hung out with:
Pascale Estellon, with a book I bought my son years ago (and which he loved)
Sunday 6pm: Get on a bus taking you and 20 other authors to the Toulouse airport. Hang out as long as possible until you have to split up for separate departure gates. You’ve got 4 people you know on your plane, and scheme with one (Isabelle) to share a taxi back into Paris. 2 hours later you’re home with luggage and your clinking bottles of wine and even more wine that was a gift from the Salon organizers, and you kiss the parquet floor of your apartment and fall into bed and dream of books.