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Magnolia Cité

I was in Paris in March and visited one of my favorite places in the world, Shakespeare and Company, the famous English-language bookstore on the Rive Gauche, the Left Bank. It sits right opposite Notre Dame and has a priceless view of the île de la Cité. Inside, you will find “a winding, twisting, climbing labyrinth of books,” as the new owner Sylvia Whitman describes it, “a refuge for book lovers, a shelter for writers.” Sylvia is the daughter of George Whitman, who opened the store in 1951. This has always been the expat heart of Paris, and still gives you a musty whiff of its long literary history. The original Shakespeare and Company, in a different location, was the hangout for the Lost Generation: Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and T. S. Eliot. There, James Joyce’s Ulysses was published, there many writers lived and worked.

While I was in Paris, I made several visits to the store, bought lots of books, got to know some of the staff, and had an interview with the man in charge of “acquisitions.” I presented him with a copy of Magnolia City. He took one look at the cover, said it was “very well done,” and asked what distributors my publisher used in Europe. A few days later I got an email affirming that he had decided to add Magnolia City to his shelves in May.

This is such a symbolic victory for me! When I think of Magnolia City sitting next to the work of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Kerouac and other expat Americans, I have to pinch myself to remember that it’s real. I’m not putting myself in their league at all, but am just excited to have a presence in this bookstore with so much literary history. I’m only sorry that I didn’t become one of George Whitman’s “tumbleweeds,” the promising young writers who slept there, worked in the store two hours a day, and wrote upstairs in the “writer’s nook.” I might have gotten published much earlier!

But at least my novel will be in Shakespeare and Company next month. As if to affirm that it belongs here in Paris, I found a Magnolia grandiflora tree growing in the Luxembourg Gardens a few days later, the same Southern magnolia tree that thrives in Houston and that gives my novel its name.

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