I probably should have published this days ago, but when I arrived home, I was (for reasons that will become clear!) very tired.
Book tours are work for a writer. Very enjoyable work, but work all the same. We seldom get time to stop and smell the roses, nor tour the Louvre. I’ve been to France at least six times now, and I still have a long list of things I wish I could see. But instead of dwelling on what we didn’t get to do, I think I’ll give you a glimpse of what a book tour looks like from the inside. For the writer, and the writer’s social media expert and all round assistant, Kat. It may not be at all what you might think it is.
It begins, of course, with waiting for the airport shuttle. ‘Waiting’ means that last half hour of “Did you pack any ibuprofen? I didn’t!” and “Can you fit this in your suitcase? I really want to take it and mine is jammed full.” That is always Kat and I, ten minutes before the shuttle arrives. But we made it to the airport, endured security, and had a lovely flight on British Airways.
We were met at the airport by our Silvana from my publisher, popped into a cab and whisked to a lovely Paris hotel. As I had only warned them that Kat would be accompanying me at the very last minute, we wound up sharing a hotel room. Not terrible at all. Hotel de l’Abbaye is in a nice location for shopping and restaurants, just a pleasant stroll from the Seine and very friendly to folks less than fluent in French. They also put out a wonderful breakfast every morning. Upon arrival, I immediately took a long nap while Kat ventured out, cat-like, to explore.
Monday was our free day. We enjoyed an epic lunch with my friend Jean-Luc Rivera at The Navigator, an amazing restaurant. On our walk there, Jean-Luc acted as tour guide, and we made several small stops to investigate churches and parks. The food was excellent and very French. Jean-Luc is a long time patron of the restaurant, and they made us extremely welcome. We strolled back to our hotel just in time to meet with Sylvie and Charles, my long time publishing friends. Both are retired now, Charles quite recently. We took the bus to his flat, sightseeing along the way, and then with a nice stroll through Montmartre and the area near Sacre Coeur. We reached his very peaceful flat where we had a delicious tea and spent some very pleasant time catching up with one another. When we went back to our hotel, we went for a stroll, discovering a lovely toy store and eventually eating dinner in a café by the river. That night, I went to bed early, knowing how busy the next day would be.
On Tuesday, we were up early to be sure we had breakfast before the interviews began. Silvana and Brigitte from Flammarion met with us in the hotel and introduced us to Michel Valentin, a journalist from Le Parisien. It was a pleasant interview with some excellent questions, and afterward a session with a photographer who was shooting using a camera from the 70’s with real film in it. It’s always fun to watch someone who loves that tech.
I returned to the hotel just in time to whisk off to the tv station for an interview with Sebastien Ciot from No Life TV for a special show “Reves et Cris”. I had a spectacular time there. It’s a small, newish enterprise in basement space, the sort of team run television station that I once dreamed of working for! The interview was shot in three segments, and then we did some brief takes for 101%. By then, the time difference had begun to bother me and I could not keep my lines straight for the announcements we were doing. They were very patient with me. The let me play with their incredible collection of Nerf guns, too. No Life TV is for nerds, geeks and otaku and, if I were not a writer, is exactly where I’d like to be employed. They sent me off with a T-shirt, a bag, and a hoodie, which came in very useful later in my adventures!
But my day was not over. I had lunch with Florence and Thibaud from Pygmalion and J’ai Lu and caught up on the plans for launching The Soldier Son trilogy with a lovely new cover and interior art. There was then an interview with Joel Metreau, a journalist from 20 Minutes. Then Kat and I had a brief, very brief break, and then we were off to La Librairie de Paris. This is a HUGE bookstore, and a gratifying number of people were waiting for me to sign books for them. We went far past our scheduled 7 PM end time, and then Kat and I were free to escape with The Seventh Duchy! La Septieme Duche is a closed group on Facebook. (You’ll have to ask for permission to enter!) This remarkable group of people were about a dozen of a rather large French Facebook group of readers.
We wandered away from the bookstore, looking for a place to light. Most of the cafes were small with limited seating and very busy. The location we finally found will live forever in my memory! We entered a bar and descended to a room set aside just for us in the basement. Old stone walls and dim light. A whiff of mold in the air. Regal’s dungeon? Couches. And a disco ball affixed to the ceiling. Our pleasantly (?) or alarmingly (?) intoxicated innkeeper brought us drinks and cheese and bread! And we talked. And talked. I answered questions and got to know some of the members of the group a bit better. Some were journeying on to Epinal, where Cindy’s grandmother had graciously offered them couch surfing privileges! It was a lively and wonderful evening with fascinating people. At the very late end of it, a trusty Parisian guide led us through the tube system and back to our hotel.
The next morning, Wednesday, we again had to rise early and get our breakfast before I had a meeting with Frederique Roussel, a journalist from Liberation. Again, this interview was followed by more photographs, and then a hasty dash to fetch our suitcases down from the hotel room, into a cab and off to the train station. Remy met us there, we quickly purchased some sandwiches for our journey, boarded the train and were off to Epinal for Imaginales. I alternated between watching France out the window, dozing, and devouring the remaining chapters in Ember in the Ashes
We arrived in Epinal about 2:30 PM and made our way to our hotel. This was my fifth trip to Imaginales, and always I have stayed in Hotel Le Manoir des Ducs. It’s a charming old hotel with deep carpets and lots of art. The lift is creaky and breakfast is served in the basement. At night, the hotel desk is deserted and quiet reigns. It’s the perfect hotel for a writer, full of history and atmosphere. And it’s right across from the park where Imaginales is held every year.
Imaginales is, in my experience, a unique festival. It focuses on books and fantasy. The entire city of Epinal participates. Writers from all over the world are invited, and translators abound. A huge book tent is set up on the riverbank, and smaller shelters join it for administration, vendors, re-enactors and artists. The festival features signing sessions, panel discussions and interviews. For me, it has been a rich source of new found friends. Readers are able to join their favorite writers for breakfast or luncheons, and there are opportunities to sit on the riverbank and talk with new friends and old. I highly recommend it to readers and writers.
Epinal also boasts the ruins of a castle on a hill overlooking the city. Despite having visited four times before, I’d never made it up to the castle. That’s how book tours and book festivals are. But this time, I had resolved I’d find time to see it and that led Kat and I to awaken early one morning and persuade Brent and Kristy Weeks to join us in a quick escape to the castle. The cab dropped us off and we walked through the ruins, well aware that we had only 45 minutes or so before the cab would return to take us back to Imaginales. I had a signing session that morning, and Brent had a panel.
Unfortunately, the cab did not return. And with few bars and a US phone, we had no luck summoning a cab. Brent eventually got through to a friend who sent an Imaginales car for us. Unfortunately, it could only seat 3, so Kat ended up walking back from the castle to the festival grounds. Nonetheless, neither she nor I regretted making that side trip. I was late for my signing and we made Brent late for his panel. And we would totally do it again.
The festival itself was a working event for me. In the three days, I did a total probably a dozen panels, breakfasts, interviews and signing sessions. Kat joined me for most of those. In addition to keeping me on my schedule, she helped me research interviewers so I knew who I’d be talking to, found more pens and post-it notes when we ran out, and post-it-ed the signing lines. What that means is that she greeted each reader and asked them to carefully print their name on a post it as they wished it to be on the book dedication I’d make to them. This can be taxing to do in English; Kat did it in French. She also went for water for me, or tea, or coke, found things I kept losing (phone, room key, signing kit, phone again, coat, etc) and was generally organized and charming to the public. Oh, and did I mention that she kept up all the social media, twittering and Facebooking to let people know where to find us? For the entire ten days we were in France, she never slept more than 6 hours a night.
One of our most pleasant meals in Epinal was meeting up again with some members of the 7th Duchy and insisting on taking them out to dinner. We had a wonderful French meal and great conversation. Those are the sort of evenings I will recall longest. Those are the sorts of dinners when one makes friends that will last a lifetime.
On Monday, we returned by train to Paris. That afternoon, we wandered off from the hotel and did a bit of shopping for ‘What did you bring me Grandma?’ gifts and a few souvenirs. We had drinks with our publishers, and had one last dinner in a river side café in Paris. We stayed out too late, despite knowing we’d have to be up at 6 the next morning.
Tuesday, I had six interviews, one after another. We began with a photo session for the publishing house at 9. At 10, I met with Marc Sessego, a journalist from Science Fiction Mag and film maker. At 11, Christophe Mangelle, a journalist from La Fringale Litteraire came to see us. At noon, there was a telephone interview with Deborah Gay from the Daily Mars. I had lunch with Marie Pavlenko, a journalist from Le Monde, and my last interview of the day was at 3, with Frederic Ricou of Histoire sans fin. That ended at 4.
By 5, we had to be ready to do a a signing in La FNAC Montparnasse. We hurried there and we led into the back door of the bookstore. Kat took a moment to duck into a Pandora store next to it to try to get a Paris charm for her bracelet. She joined us quickly, we checked our signing supplies, and then it was time. We walked into the room to applause and a substantial line of readers. There were security guards working the bookstore to keep the line in order (I’ve never had rowdy readers; there wasn’t much for the guards to do but they looked very severe!) and again we went far past our time limit. I had a glimpse of some of my 7th Duchy friends, but an evening commitment kept me from going out with them that night. It was yet another late night for Kat and me, as we joined Charles and Sylvie and Pierre and Anne, my French agents, for a final relaxing meal in Paris.
And another early morning. We had to go out on a quest to buy a suitcase, for readers had loaded us with so many books and chocolates and wine that we could not fit back into our suitcases. The stores opened at 10. We had one hour to choose a suitcase, purchase it, and get back to the hotel and pack it. We made it, but with only two minutes to spare before the car picked us up for the airport.
So. That was our booktour. It was Kat’s first time to accompany me overseas and she was absolutely indispensable to me. I don’t know how I managed without her.
But please, never ask her if she got to see the catacombs, or go on a river cruise in Paris. Or see the Louvre, other than from a cab window. Or go inside Notre Dame or Sacre Couer. Or do more than glimpse the Eiffel Tower. Book tours, my friends, are hard work. It’s fun work but it’s hard.
So, to finish this lengthy essay on what a book tour looks like from our side of things, I’ll add some links to the interviews and photo sessions we did.