April 25, 2009

I finally finished Chapters 1-8 and sent them to my agent. It’s been a long slog, with many nights up writing past midnight (and a few close calls with aching forearms), but the book is really starting to come together. It’s a good feeling. Here’s hoping a publisher or two feels the same way.

Two publishers liked my first three chapters enough to ask to read five more before they made a decision. The drafts they saw of my first three chapters were very early ones, and they looked very amateurish compared to the drafts I have ready now. I’ll be waiting to hear from them in the coming weeks. I’ve sent in over 300 pages of material, including the proposal, and it’ll take agents and editors a while to get through it, talk to their colleagues and the money people about it, etc. The publishing world, alas, isn’t known for its lightning speed.

I decided recently, though, that I can’t spend much more time at the mercy of the publishing world. If I don’t have a deal soon, I plan on borrowing some money and moving back to Ramallah. I’ll probably leave Oklahoma at the beginning of June, spend a week in New York (where I have to catch my connecting flight anyway) catching up with friends and hopefully meeting my publisher (fingers crossed) before figuring out where to go next.

I hope to have the book finished by December, then I’ll come back home for Christmas and consider my options. If I have a book deal by then, great — I’ll finish editing this book, start publicizing it, and begin thinking about my next project. If not, I’ll get a job somewhere, pay off the loan, and think about self-publishing and publicizing. Self-publishing is cheap and easy these days, and I have a broad network of contacts on the Israel/Palestine circuit that I could use to good effect. In several cases, this kind of thing has led to more mainstream book deals.

I’m still confident about the project and looking forward to seeing it bear fruit in whatever ways the universe intends. For me, it’s already been its own reward despite many and massive frustrations. Writing well forces one toward uncomfortable levels of honesty, and it is far and away the most humbling thing I’ve ever done. But honesty and humility are bedrocks of a more genuine life, and I’m grateful for a chance to struggle fitfully toward them, as difficult as it is. I’ve also been lucky enough to meet and interact with other writers and filmmakers. Being in the process of writing a book gives you something to talk about with them — a place at a very interesting table. It’s comforting to find out everyone else is struggling as hard as I am.

But the ultimate goal is to get the information out to as many people as possible, and I hope it works out that way as well.

Now that I’m leaving Stigler, I have some space to reflect on how this unexpected year and a half has been. (I always do this — take a place for granted until it’s getting time to leave. Maybe that’s why I enjoy skipping around so much.) I say ‘unexpected’ because I fully expected to have the book mostly done and hopefully a book deal in the pipeline by last summer! Talk about naive. But I feel lucky for this naivete — sometimes you’ll never start something if you know up front how hard it’s going to be.

It’s spring now in Oklahoma, a season I always loved and missed while I was away in California and Palestine. First the Bradford pears bloom, white blossoms on an oblong frame of branches, like a ten-foot Faberge egg. Then the redbuds, with their pinkish-purplish-magenta buds, followed by the dogwoods, diminutive trees with disjointed rafts of delicate white flowers materializing like ghosts in the forest. Soon after, it’s a green explosion fed by spectacular thunderstorms. The pastures overflow with yellow blooms and crimson clover, and I still think there are few things on earth prettier than a great, perfect oak tree in full leaf standing in the middle of a rolling field of grass, cows, and wildflowers.

Near my house is a park of six or eight acres, and I go on walks there almost every evening. There’s a creek running through the middle of it that’s lined with trees. A path runs between the uneven rows of trees, which make a natural arch over the path, like a great leafy cathedral. Whenever I walk down that section of the path, I try hard not to think about anything — just to observe and be aware of everything going on in that moment, the colors and shapes of leaves, the phase of the moon and angle of the sun, birds calling and children playing in the playground on the north side of the park, branches that hang down like chandeliers. I call it the Cathedral of Awareness. Going through it is a good way to check on where my head is at.

Next to the park, and also behind our house, is the Haskell County Golf Course. It’s not one of those pretentious golf courses with a big clubhouse, exclusive membership, or caddies for hire. Anyone can join for a modest fee, the clubhouse is a small building that sells pop and candy bars, and sometimes cows wander onto the fairways. At sunset, it’s as pretty as anything in the storied valleys of France, with the pink and purple sky reflecting softly off the pond with dark green trees and misty blue hills in the background.

It’s also been good just to be close to family for so long at a stretch. I was lucky enough to be here for the birth of my twin nephews, Jake Austin and Jack Griffin. My older brother Doug and his wife Jaime are the proud parents, and their other son Dylan has been a big help (after he got over his initial fear of holding them for fear he might break them).

The babies are fraternal twins, and within an hour of being born, they had totally distinct personalities. Jack has darker hair and a quicker temper. He’s not quite sure how he feels about this world yet. He’s giving it a chance, but it better be nice, by God! Jake, on the other hand, is a little Buddha, blond and happy. Even when he has a legitimate reason to cry, he gives you fair warning in the form of a brief crying face before quieting down again and waiting for the world to figure out and solve his problem. He’s not afraid to howl, though, if the world makes him wait too long.

I’m sure you can tell in the photo who’s who. Jack is the one on the left with the comically suspicious look on his face. Jake is on the right with his little ‘it’s all good’ attitude. I’m the one wearing the necklace.

It’s been a bit of a baby-splosion in my immediate area. My cousin Lindsay gave birth to Campbell Avery last year, one of the prettiest babies on record, and her sister Lauren recently had Aiden, a bright-eyed little man who looks exactly like her, down to the dimples. My best friend Holly’s little sister gave birth to Ava Jane, who looks more like Holly than she looks like Holly’s sister. We’re very proud and happy aunts. It’s good to be around and see and appreciate this life in Stigler that I haven’t really been a part of since I left home almost fourteen years ago, at age 16. I have to admit, I’ve missed Grandma’s coconut cream pies. They are, as far as I’ve observed, the best in the world. And my Mom’s soups, dips, casseroles, and salad dressing, and Bill’s grilling and smoking. Mmmmmm.

It does get draining after a while, though, not having a friend my age within 100 miles (she said, as she sat typing a mass email on a Friday night). I’ve actually been invited out for beers tonight by some people I knew in high school, but as I’m fairly certain the evening would involve drunk driving and/or groping, I’ve respectfully declined. I’m very much looking forward to being able to attend the parties and concerts in Ramallah I keep getting invited to on Facebook. 🙂

Other than that, just still working on my book, reading other books, watching the Daily Show every night and drinking honey chai every morning. Our cat, a scrawny, skittish black and orange thing my mom found in the high school parking lot, has grown up into a sleek beauty, and she keeps me company while I write (when she’s not surprising me by sitting in my office chair and then biting my butt when I try to sit down). She and the 12-point deer my brother killed in 1994. Its head watches over me while I write or watch the maple tree in the backyard play with the wind.

Tomorrow I’m heading out to my Uncle Terry’s land near Tamaha to plant grapevines with a huge group of his and his wife’s extended families. Uncle Terry, a dentist in Bixby near Tulsa, is nearing retirement age and thinking about viticulture and possibly oenology as a new pastime, and his land is half an hour north of Stigler in the tip top of Haskell Country. I’m all in. Never planted grapes before, I’m always down for some homebrew hooch, and I’m pretty sure coconut cream pie will be involved.

[Update: We had an awesome time, thirty or forty people planting together in perfect weather on a green hillside overlooking two ponds, a pasture, and a tree-lined creek. Everyone brought their dogs, we all talked and laughed and had coconut cream pie and sandwiches for lunch, worked all afternoon, then we sat our sore asses on the porch, had some beers, and laughed some more. Good times.]

Our bell choir played two songs at Easter and did pretty well, although we had to commit the ultimate sin and start a song over after everyone got hopelessly lost due to a miscommunication about which count we were starting on. I don’t think anyone in the audience noticed. Afterwards, while I was looking at the illuminated stained-glass windows of our little Methodist church, I got an idea for my next book. I’m really excited about it. One book at a time, though.

Anyone who wants to read any or all of Chapters 1-8, they are ready. Just ask, and I will send. Feedback appreciated but not required.

Happy spring!