The book is about two weeks from being completed, and a publishing deal is likely to follow shortly thereafter. It’s an exciting time. I mark my progress by how many pages I get rid of, toward my goal of 30 pages or fewer for each chapter. This comes from my process of writing, which is probably the most inefficient way to write a book imaginable, but it’s the only way I can visualize it — by thinking of it as a block of reality from which I have to carve a piece of art.

I started with a comprehensive outline of every noteworthy event that happened during the two years covered by the book so that I could break it into chapters. (This required an enormous amount of research through my various archives to find everything and put it in chronological order.) Then I filled in this outline with every relevant blog post, article, journal entry, email, etc., until I had a massive monstrosity of information compiled for each chapter. Then I filled in the holes. Any event that wasn’t yet documented anywhere but in my head was put down on paper. Some chapters, which in the end would be less than 30 pages long, peaked at over 200 pages. Each.

So now I had the massive block of stone from which I had to carve out my book. The first time I ran through each chapter and cleared out all the obviously-unnecessary pieces, I called it the “hack and slash” phase. In this way I’d get most chapters down to about 100 pages each. This was when the outline of the figure would finally start to take shape.

But it was only the beginning. I went through several more refining processes (far too exhausting to detail here) until, at last, I was down to 50 or so pages. At this point I would switch from single-space to double-space, which meant things were getting serious. I was close, so close, to having a final product. I could look at the statue now and see how to position things for maximum effect and which elements, even if I loved them and had been working on them for months, just didn’t fit with the overall purpose and aesthetic. This was the part where entire sections got deleted.

Of course, even once it’s down near the target length of 30 pages per chapter (which adds up to a 360 page book since I have 12 chapters), the work’s not done. Now you get to do the fun part, final edits. Little details — the eyelashes, the arc of the fingers, the shape of the moon, the perfect words to describe indescribable feelings (or at least the best you can come up with).

At last your sculpture, your cathedral, your book is almost in its ultimate shape. One final full-scale edit to round out any remaining creases, wrinkles, inconsistencies, loose threads, metaphors that don’t quite work, footnotes that distract more than enlighten…

Almost there. Almost there. The first eight chapters are long finished, and Chapter 9 is down to 36 pages, Chapter 10 down to 35, Chapter 11 down to 63 (it’s one of those monster chapters, like Chapter 6, that tries to cover way too much and will ultimately be savaged painfully into shape, and will hopefully stand out as one of the most action-packed, bang-for-the-buck chapters), and Chapter 12 down to 46.

Almost there. Almost there.

Meanwhile, I’ve been in regular contact with my friend Rania in Palestine (a major character in the book who makes her first appearance in Chapter 2), whose life at the moment is such a roller coaster of ups and downs it’s a miracle she has any sanity left. Since her husband was let out of prison, he’s been scrambling to find temporary, random, low-paying jobs to keep the family afloat and pay off the bills (including legal fees) that piled up while he was away for a year. His middling success in the disastrous Tulkarem economy in the closed-off, occupied West Bank has left him pretty depressed. To make things worse, he recently found out he has diabetes, which probably came from his terrible diet in prison.

Here’s the story I wrote about his arrest, as background for those of you who are new to this blog. And here are some pics of Rania’s kids that she recently sent me:

Rania's little boy

Rania's baby girl

There’s good news, though. A friend of Rania’s recommended her to work for an organization called Psy-Medical Social Work, an NGO that helps Palestinians with psychological problems. This is what Rania went to university to study, and it will be more stable and pay better than any job her husband (who has no education past high school) will be able to find. He has always supported her to follow her dreams of education and a career, and he would be a great and happy stay at home dad.

The bad news is, she has almost no computer skills and relatively little experience in the field. So they’ve agreed to take her on in an unpaid training/internship capacity for a year, after which there’s an excellent chance she’ll be offered a full-time, good-paying job that will make a difference in a lot of lives.

She’s told me about case studies she’s been taking on so far — addicts, post-traumatic stress, domestic abuse — and she says she finds it very fulfilling and empowering to be able to help them. And she loves getting out of the house, meeting so many people, and feeling like she matters to the larger world. If she gets hired full-time, she’ll be able to fulfill other dreams — supporting her family, finishing building her house (she’s now living in the house of a brother-in-law who’s outside the country but may come back any time), and relieving her husband of the constant need to find low-paying menial labor.

But this year of unpaid internship entails a financial burden, namely the cost of childcare and transportation to and from work every day. The good news is, the total costs are only about $200 a month. I paid for the first two months, but that money is about to run out. We’ll need a total of $2,000 to cover her expenses for the rest of the year while her husband takes care of basic living expenses with his work. Hopefully this internship will be her ticket to financial stability for years to come.

She hates relying on help from others. But she knows that without help right now, she won’t be able to get this dream off the ground, and anything is worth it to her for a chance to support her children without constant insecurity and instability, all the while making a difference for her country and striking a blow for women’s rights in her community. I know it’s been a long saga, but she’s always been inexpressibly grateful for this lifeline that has kept her dreams and her family afloat through seemingly impossible trials, and we’ve both been so grateful for your help.

I’ll also pay for the last two months, which means we only need to raise $1,600. If 160 people can spare $10 each, we’ll pretty much be there. And hopefully after that, she’ll never have to ask for help again.

So if in this month of thanksgiving you’re looking for a concrete way to help someone, with no overhead or middle men (other than yours truly walking to the nearest Western Union), this would be my humble suggestion. If you’d rather send money directly to her, I can give you the details of how to Western Union it to her yourself. My Paypal email account is, or I can let you know where to send a check.

Thanks so much, and hope you’re staying warm,



UPDATE: Chapter 11 is down to 44 pages, Chapter 12 down to 31. And there was much rejoicing. Yay.