Calvin's response to his book contract was rather lackluster: An "I don't quite believe it" attitude. My reponse, on the other hand, was like a child bursting through the front door after finding a five-dollar bill in the yard. "Yippee!!!"
He talked about the contract in monotone sentences, still voicing doubt. He'd worked on the Phantom Lady for so long, after all. Was it really going to be published?
The novel has been one of those on again, off again projects that stewed on the back burner for years and years. When no other story line was consuming his thoughts--like his novels, The Event at Fourteenth and U: a Christmas Story or Love in Opposing Colors--he'd pull the completed chapters of The Phantom Lady of Paris from the closet in the basement, blow off the dust and begin anew, re-witing and adding more chapters.
It was a story born from the theft of a newspaper. Yep, 'tis true. While living in Paris in '68 and '69, Calvin settled into a routine, showering and dressing in the mornings. Then he'd run down the three flights of steps of his apartment building on the Left Bank, sprint to the dairy on his street for a container of yogurt, jog to the bakery for a fresh croissant and come back to 21 rue Galande to check for mail.
Mail at that time was delivered twice a day and deposited 'en masse' into the communal mailbox in the building's vestibule. The residents would sift through the envelopes, junk mail, magazines and newspapers for mail addressed specifically to them. Calvin subscribed to the Herald Tribune and looked forward to reading the news in English every morning. Then, wiith newspaper, notebooks, pencils and breakfast in hand, he'd walk a narrow street to Boulevard Saint Germaine until he reached his "writing cafe," Cafe Balkan. There he would eat his breakfast, sip his espresso and read the paper before settling into completing his writing quota for the day.
One morning when he sorted through the mailbox, his paper was not there. The address band was in the box, but not his treasured English newspaper. To say he was upset would be an understatement. Who would have stolen his paper? What a rotten thing to do! As he sat at Cafe Balkan, with his temper cooling and his writer's imagination heating up, he thought...hey that would make a great idea for a story. A teacher on sabbattical, much like me, has his paper pilfered. The thief posts a note on the bulletin board over the mailbox, signing it "The Phantom Lady of Paris." The novel's protagonist posts one in response, and a dialog by way of notes occurs....and then... Well, you get the picture. You see, a writer's inspiration can come from anywhere: a news article, an overheard conversation, a dream and, yes, even a stolen piece of mail.
Calvin is slowly getting excited. For the last three mornings, he's gotten awake around seven, ready to talk about his contract. I've responded with mumbles, one eye partially opened (one must understand that we never start to get ready for bed until after one in the morning, reading until two before turning out the lights).
Maybe the day he holds the book in his hands, he'll shout, "Yippee!" OK...we all know that's not his style. He's just too laid back for that. He'll probably just look at the book and smile. I'll be the one shouting.