After a long wait, I finally received the contract for the French translation of my first novel--only to discover the contract’s in French with no English translation. I can’t read it. If I didn’t need the money so badly, this would be amusing.
When I lived in Paris for a year, I intentionally didn’t learn French. I was working on a novel and I didn’t want to take up a lot of time or space in my brain to learn the language. When I explain this to people, they treat it like a failure.
I’ll admit not learning the language was a way to put myself into exile--a way to avoid people, which is something I do normally. But it was necessary to write the book, a very hard book to get down. I’d walk around town, write in parks, feel like Henry Miller. It was an intensely romantic time.
When I was done with the novel, I felt lost in Paris. I had replaced my communication with people with characters in the novel, and when they were gone, I felt the alienation deeply. There’s nothing so disorienting as not being able to speak the language, especially for a person who’s so concerned with words. When I got back to NY, I talked to strangers more than I ever had. It was liberating. I’d tell the pizza guy, "I would like a slice of pizza, please. Pizza is very good. I like to eat pizza. Thank you," rather than point at things and say, "Merci."
The novel I wrote in Paris was my follow-up to the novel that’s now being translated. I thought I was writing something important with that second novel, which may be every young writer’s delusion. Didn’t get published. That first novel seems to be the one that keeps sustaining me. Maybe I’ll be one of those writers that’s popular in France first. It has its own kind of romance. Strange because I am a purely American writer, or at least I want to be.
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