Article Written by David Gordon and Originally Published in The New York Times on January 10, 2014
You might not know me, but I’m famous. Don’t feel bad. Until recently, I didn’t know I was famous either, and most days, even now, it’s hard to tell.
In 2010 I published a novel, “The Serialist.” It did fine for a debut, which is to say well enough to warrant a second, but my daily life didn’t change much: I wrote, I ran, I hung out with my friends. Then a Japanese translation came out, and things got strange. My book won a major Japanese literary contest, which was nice. Then it won another. Then another. Apparently this was extraordinary: No one had ever won all three before. I received copies of articles, which were totally incomprehensible to me except for the picture of my face and a big No. 1. I tried Google Translate, which rendered it all into tantalizing gibberish. My book was not even called “The Serialist” in Japan: The character is a pulp writer, so they used the title “Niryuu Shousetsuka,” which translates back into English as “Second-Rate Novelist.” That was me!
The odd, or oddest, part, was that I had always been a fan of Japanese culture, its films, books and art, though I had never studied it, and it played no role in my books. It was like having a distant teenage crush on someone who suddenly wrote and said, “I like you, too.”
The culmination of this peculiar adventure, which I had observed only from afar, occurred when Toei Studio made “Niryuu Shousetsuka: Serialist,” a film based on my book. That is to say, a Japanese movie set in Tokyo, with Japanese actors speaking Japanese, rather than my version, which features non-Japanese people and takes place mostly in Queens.
They made the movie very fast, in about six months, and invited me to the premiere in June 2013. My Japanese publishers had contrived to release my new book, “Mystery Girl,” at the same time. The novel wouldn’t even be published in English until July. Maybe it had something to do with the international date line, the way emails from East Asia seem to come from tomorrow, but my Japanese life was clearly way ahead of my American life. So I went.
At the airport, I was met by my editor and a TV crew, which, I assure you, had never happened before. I was put up in a hotel where James Bond might have stayed, with a remote-controlled tub that filled automatically and a giant button that opened the drapes — futuristic, but a ’60s kind of future. As requested, I put on a black suit and a tie (mind you, I can barely tie a tie, because in my real life I have no need for one) and went to the premiere, where each member of the cast, including the woman who sang the theme song, bowed and thanked me.
In a daze, I was paraded before the press, blinded by flashbulbs and tracked by TV cameras. But because I couldn’t understand the directions, I often talked to the wrong camera, stared into space or even leaned on the scenery — until my intrepid and glamorous young translator told the reporters to wave if they wanted David-san to look at their cameras, like a baby at a birthday party. I watched the film with her whispering in my ear: “He is the detective.” It was as if I had fallen asleep and had a weird dream about my own book. At the end, when the lights came up and I stood to leave, she tapped my shoulder and pointed. The audience was clapping wildly. For me. I took a few deep bows and fled.
For a week, I did interviews, met critics and fans, visited bookshops. Readers admired my views on literature and my deep understanding of women — things few readers (or women) think here. I traveled everywhere with an entourage, signing books aided by two assistants, one who held the book for me, another who blotted my signature with tissue. People toasted me and applauded my ability to eat with chopsticks or sign my name really big on a poster.
Then I came home to my daily routine. I live alone in book-filled rooms smaller than my Tokyo hotel suite. My bathtub doesn’t fill itself. I sit and write all day in silence. Then I go running or out with friends, who barely ever applaud. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fine, but once in a while, as I eat a burrito and watch an old samurai film, I wonder how that other, more glamorous writer, David-san, the Second-Rate Novelist, is doing over there, where it’s already tomorrow.