September 16, 2008

Sorry for not writing in so long. I wanted to wait until I got good news from a publisher to write, but, well…

Everyone told me that writing a book like Fast Times in Palestine would be harder than I thought and take longer than I thought. So, to be safe, I doubled my expectations on all that.

And it still wasn’t even close.

If I’d known how hard this would be and how long it would take in advance, I might never have done it. But so far, even though it’s had its downsides, I am definitely glad I’m doing it. The reasons are hard to express and measured in things like reading pages from my journal from a year ago and thinking, “Ah, now I understand the fundamental mistake I was making in that area of my life.” A year of dumping your brain out on paper and reading and thinking is apparently good for that. What I’ve gained can’t be measured in GDP or put on a CV, but it also can’t suddenly dissolve one day like a bank on Wall Street.

The other outcome is, of course, the book, which I’m hoping to have drafted up to the halfway point, Chapter 6, by the end of September. The last six chapters already exist as well, but they exist like blocks of wood or marble: Each of them is a hundred-page-or-so amalgamation of stories and characters and scenes and information that needs to be sculpted down to a 30-page narrative chapter that captures the essence of what I’m trying to get across, hopefully without being either lightweight or boring. Once all the chapters are drafted, I have another hundred pages of snippets and points and information that I want to include somewhere, and I’ll have to figure out where it’s most appropriate to put them and which ones to leave out.

And then I’ll have to go through and make sure the whole narrative arc holds up and makes sense and flows smoothly and says something coherent that’s worth all this trouble, and most importantly worth a reader’s good time. The book is trying to be a lot of things at once, and what it’s trying to be changes over the course of the book and also changes as I write it and think more about it, and I have to be careful to keep it all straight and prioritize which aspects are most important. That’s the only way I’ll be able to get it down to a nice, slender 360 pages (twelve 30-page chapters). It’ll be nice when (if) I finally have a good editor.

Meanwhile, my proposal package (book proposal and first three chapters, 104 pages all told) went out to a number of publishers, and near the end of July, a tragic thing happened: An editor from a major publishing house expressed immediate interest. I was an unknown author writing on an extremely controversial subject (not good-controversial like a politician’s affair, but bad-controversial like the play about Rachel Corrie that got shut down by New York ‘s powerful ‘pro-Israel’ community), and I was feeling pretty smug, thinking I was about to get a book deal in record time. The editor talked with me on the phone and told me she was interested, she just had to talk to the money people at her publishing house. I was already planning what to do with the advance money, including a fall trip to Palestine.

Then she went on vacation for all of August. Fair enough. All of New York goes on vacation in August. But surely after Labor Day, any minute, she’ll be calling me up. Any minute. Any second now.

Well, September’s halfway over, and we haven’t heard anything from her. (Has she been taking lessons from some of my ex-boyfriends?) And half a dozen rejections from other publishers have come in, most of them very nice and complimentary about the writing, but saying things like, “This isn’t really my area of expertise,” or “I wouldn’t know how to market this.” (Whether that’s true, they’re just being polite, or Daniel Pipes and Alan Dershowitz are marauding around Manhattan brandishing lead pipes, only Allah knows.)

So that’s where I’m sitting now. The proposal is still out with several publishers, and we’re still waiting to hear from them. This is a slow business, and my agent said that the pace at which I’ve been getting responses is actually faster than normal. And it only takes one publisher to get this off the ground.

But if that first editor hadn’t raised my hopes so high at the end of July, August and September would have been much easier to bear.

I kind of hit bottom last week. I miss Ramallah like it’s a person I love, and I recently got the shattering news that two of my best friends in Jayyous are there now but will leave soon to go abroad for an indeterminate amount of time to work and study. I had assumed I would see them this fall. Finding out that it wasn’t so was like a body blow. And the olive harvest is coming up soon, and I’ll probably end up missing that, too.

And then that snarkily vacuous moron Sarah Palin actually helped McCain’s popularity, which as far as I’m concerned has proven that at least half of Americans are dumber than my darkest fears had ever dared to suggest. Few things of late have been worse for my basic faith in the American people. Which wouldn’t be so bad if it was just our own country we’re screwing up. But the White House has the power to screw the entire world.

Trusting Sarah Palin to be the Vice President is akin to trusting Jessica Simpson to do surgery on your brain. It’s actually much scarier, because Jessica Simpson can only kill one person at a time while doing brain surgery. Palin the Impaler and That Old Guy Who’s Running With Her might very well start Cold World War on Terror XVII. They simply, and seemingly genuinely, don’t understand that our conventional military power is basically shot — hell, Bolivia isn’t even scared of us anymore — and the fundamentals of our economy are starting to show their system-wide vulnerabilities. We’d better start reigning it in and cutting our losses, build a more sound economy and engage in intelligent global diplomacy, or we and our allies are in very serious trouble.

And so, meanwhile, is the rest of the world. More of this pathetically ignorant and barbarously xenophobic worldview, more destroying the Constitution — formerly a light unto the nations — and refusing regulations and suppressing scientific research into stem cells and alternative energy and warming the world and drilling the last pristine places and being cruel to women and minorities and gays and foreigners and leaving people who take a year off to write a book without health care. It was really getting me down.

But then I talked to some friends in Palestine and gained some perspective, and I’ve bounced back to a kind of contented peace with what I’m doing and how things are going. This weekend I visited the Obama for President headquarters in Tulsa with my best friend Holly and her awesome husband Daniel, and it did my heart good to breathe some open-minded, optimistic Blue air, even here in the Reddest state in the union. (I understand that it will take more than open-minded optimism to solve the problems of the 21st century, but it sure as hell won’t take backwards-thinking, Lenscrafters-model-picking, intellectually-incurious, spineless, lying, cynical, foreign-policy-challenged, economically-retarded dinosaurs who agree with Bush on basically everything and then ludicrously pretend they are agents for change — and somehow get away with it, because our media is almost as useless as they are.) I registered to vote in Oklahoma and gave a little money to the Obama campaign and felt like I’d done what I could for now.

And I’ve broken through to a place where I’m focusing more on the process of writing than the objective of getting it published. It’s like they say: If you look up while you’re trying to hit a golf ball, all you’ll see is a bad shot. If you’re thinking about publishing when you’re supposed to be writing, you’re not only making yourself miserable, you’re losing your focus on the whole meat of the thing. And through focusing (more) on the writing, I’m moving toward having more faith in my project rather than less, which is nice. And it’s genuinely fun to get to write and process so many great and terrible, hilarious and tragic and beautiful stories from Palestine and inject into it the analysis I’ve worked so hard to develop. I have moments of doubt, but overall the trend is positive. Though I do start to get slight delirium tremens whenever Jon Stewart goes off the air for a week.

So anyway, it’s been a good summer, a lot of hard work with more intangible than tangible rewards, but I’m glad I’ve taken it on. If I get a publisher soon, even better. Wish me luck.

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