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OK, we knew this was coming… 120,000 words is too many for a commercial book these days, especially for a first-time author. It makes the font smaller and the book thicker and more expensive to produce and ship, not to mention intimidating the average reader. Or so the logic goes.

Personally I like longer books (as long as they’re good). It provides more space for setting up and playing out scenes, and more scenes to play out the larger narrative. Eat Pray Love has about 120,000 words (if my estimation based on words-per-page is correct), and a fairly small font, and I didn’t hear many readers complaining.

Then again, she was already an established midlist author.

Anyway, I got my manuscript of Fast Times in Palestine back from the copyeditor at Seal, thinking it would just be a glorified spelling and grammar check. How wrong I was! It’s true that it was mostly small corrections for style and consistency, but mixed in were a large number of comments, suggestions, and changes that really improved the overall text. It was truly a joy to see an excellent copyeditor at work — a joy and an honor. The hours I spent yesterday poring over her edits will, I think, help me become a better writer.

She mentioned in her notes that after going through it once for style and clarity, she was asked to go through it again with an eye toward reducing the word count from 112,000 (I had already reduced it a bit by the time I sent it to Seal) to 90,000. A reduction by 22,000 words means cutting approximately 60 more pages (out of 330, which I had already cut down from 350). Ouch.

She didn’t quite get there — she cut about 15,000 words and left the rest up to me. Here’s what she’s proposing to cut so far:

    Anwar Mecca restaurant in Amman and the “bill-paying ninja” line

    The wedding in Ramallah where I borrowed the slinky amethyst gown

    The letter from Rita about Christmas in Bethlehem when she was a kid (you can read the full letter about one-fifth of the way down the page here)

    The New Year’s trip to Jericho (based on this story)

    The part about the rich Palestinian’s mansion in Nablus (included in this blog post)

    Gunpoint (where two friends and I are held at gunpoint in a taxi cab)

    Thuglife (where Darna gets shot up by Palestinian guys with guns, included in this blog post)

    Bab al Shams (where I watch a movie that encapsulates modern Palestinian history, including the Nakba)

    The visit of my Jewish friend Cameron to the West Bank, including Hebron

    Dinner with a Suicide Bomber’s Family

    Israeli Musicians Discover Ramallah (based on this article and my own experience)

    Sultans of Swank (comparing the PA to a Vichy regime)

Also she didn’t like the name of Chapter 5: “Ramallah — Palestine has its own beer?” She wants to call it just “Ramallah” or something similar.

It’ll be tough to lose all of this, or any of this. But I think a slightly smaller book will be better for sales (and for my back when I’m carrying boxes of books for events). And most of these stories can stand on their own and be published elsewhere, possibly to help market the book.

But I do have a couple of things in mind to fight for.

And I’ll be happy to hear your thoughts!

P.S. As I’ve mentioned before, I will have to stop selling the self-published version of my book on August 1. So these next few days are truly your last chance to get the full, complete, and unadulterated version of my book.

You can get the paperback here, and the eBook here (for only $2.99, with lots of color photos). People in the UK and Europe can buy the version printed in the UK and pay only local shipping here. Happy reading!


Ramadan Karim everyone! It’s going to be a tough one this year for the observant, with a lot of long, hot days. May we all have good health and many joys this season, and remember those less fortunate than ourselves.

As I’ve mentioned, the contract with my publisher says I won’t be able to sell the self-published version of my book after August 1. So I wanted to do one last giveaway of Fast Times in Palestine before that day gets here, to spread the message as far and wide as possible before its long disappearance between now and spring 2013. Plus, I think more happy readers can translate to more word-of-mouth sales once the book comes out again. 🙂

The giveaway will take place on Sunday, July 22. The synopsis and a few reviews are pasted below, and more can be read on the book’s website and its Amazon page. The current electronic version has a lot more pictures (in color!) than the final version will have, and I talked to my editor yesterday and found out that it will also have about 20% less text. (We’re still working out the exact amount of cuts.) So this is your last chance to get the full and original version of this book.

(People in the UK can also order the paperback up until August 1, and pay only local shipping.)

Click here on Sunday, July 22, to download your free copy. And please feel free to spread this message far and wide!

Ramadan mubarak!


Pamela Olson, a small town girl from eastern Oklahoma, had what she always wanted: a physics degree from Stanford University. But instead of feeling excited for what came next, she felt consumed by dread and confusion. This irresistible memoir chronicles her journey from aimless ex-bartender to Ramallah-based journalist and foreign press coordinator for a Palestinian presidential candidate.

With dizzying speed she found herself attending Yasser Arafat’s funeral, sharing a holiday dinner with a suicide bomber’s family, tour-guiding Israeli friends around the West Bank, dating a Palestinian from a conservative Muslim village, being held at gunpoint and injured by a stun grenade, and witnessing the 2005 Disengagement from inside the Gaza Strip. The gripping narrative focuses not only on violence, terror, and social and political upheavals but also on the daily rounds of house parties, concerts, barbecues, weddings, jokes, harvests, and romantic drama that happen in between.

Funny, gorgeous, shocking, and galvanizing, Fast Times in Palestine challenges the way we think not only about the Middle East but about human nature and our place in the world.

Selected Reviews

“Olson seamlessly weaves her own personal journey with history, politics, and even a love story. The result is a moving, inspiring account of life in Palestine that’s enormously informative yet reads like a novel!”

“As an Israeli whose life was shaped by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I found Fast Times in Palestine moving and refreshing. Pamela Olson comes to the Middle East with a blank slate and is therefore able to hold up an undistorted mirror to the reality she encounters.”

“Pamela Olson leads the reader on an exciting, funny, at times heart-wrenching journey, carefully deciphering complex political and historical issues. Olson is a talented writer, intelligent and exceptional in her ability to convey both tragedy and hope, remaining morally grounded and refreshingly honest.”

“Maybe he’s just not that into you. Or maybe the reason he hasn’t arrived for your date is because he’s tied to a chair being interrogated for no reason other than that teenage Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint didn’t like the way he looked at them. It’s love in the time of Occupation as Pamela Olson, a young American woman, takes us on the emotional roller-coaster of her very personal experience of life in Ramallah — and in doing so lays bare the human drama of a people living under the control of a state that denies them the rights of citizens. A charming book brimming with tension and tragedy, but also with the humor, warmth, everyday foibles and irrepressible hopes of a people determined to live free.”

    ~ Tony Karon, Senior Editor, TIME

Fast Times in Palestine is part adventure story, part searing reportage, part love story, and wholly absorbing. It is written with infectious humor, dazzling verve, keen insight, and deep passion. If you want to know what everyday life is like for the Palestinian people, go to Palestine; if you can’t, read this book.”

    ~ Dr. Kenneth Ring, Professor Emeritus of Psychology, University of Connecticut, and co-author of Letters from Palestine

There’s a fascinating initiative that recently came to my attention — a project to register all Palestinians, all around the world, to vote for the Palestinian National Council (PNC, the parliament of the PLO). The PNC should not be confused with the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), the parliament of the Palestinian Authority, which only represents the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza. The PLO represents all Palestinians, all over the world.

Or at least, that is the ideal. In fact, because Palestinians have been so scattered for so many years, direct elections to the PNC have actually not ever taken place. Because of this (and other factors), the PLO has long been in danger of drifting away from the true wishes and values of the Palestinians they claim to represent. The current initiative is the first time Palestinians have actually attempted to create a national polity that includes the diaspora. Which makes a lot of sense — because of Israel’s decades of expulsions, more than half of Palestinians do not live in the West Bank or Gaza!

Here is the full text of the official National call for registration in PNC elections, which is remarkable for the breadth of support it has, from Fatah and Hamas, and from Leftist and unaffiliated academics, political and business leaders, and religious figures, both Muslim and Christian. It seems to be one thing everyone can agree on — a precious rarity in the world of Middle East politics!

Here are three articles, in This Week in Palestine, the Electronic Intifada, and Palestine News Network that tell more about the initiative (and demonstrate its widespread support even more).

And finally, the website of the PNC Registration Campaign itself, including an excellent FAQs page. (Another website called seems to provide support as well.)

If you read some of this and approve, you can Like a Facebook page created by youth activists.

If this initiative succeeds, it could have historic ramifications. I look forward to seeing how it proceeds, and I welcome any thoughts you may have!


Wednesday, July 11, 7:00pm at Word Up Books. The address is 4157 Broadway, Washington Heights, Manhattan, New York.

This will probably be my last book event before Fast Times is re-published in the spring by Seal Press. Certainly the last time I’ll be signing and selling the limited-edition self-published version. (As per my contract, I won’t be allowed to sell the original version after August 1.) Would love to see you there, and please feel free to spread the word!

Details and RSVP on the event’s Facebook page.

Here’s the official description:

Pamela Olson, author of the award-winning* Fast Times in Palestine, will be reading from her book and speaking about her experiences working as a journalist in the Palestinian territories during the second Intifada. Her book is an unorthodox combination of memoir, journalism, and politics, with a dash of romance and adventure.

Olson grew up in small town Oklahoma, studied physics at Stanford University, and discovered Palestine during a solo backpacking trip from Cairo to Istanbul in 2003. It has been the focus of her life ever since. Learn more at her website:

* Fast Times in Palestine was just chosen as winner of the IndieReader Discovery Awards in the Travel category.

My book

Fast Times in Palestine is in bookstores worldwide! Order on Amazon, or check out the book's website.

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Books I Love

A Doctor in Galilee,
by Dr. Hatim Kanaaneh

The Hour of Sunlight, by Sami al Jundi and Jen Marlowe

The Goldstone Report, edited by Adam Horowitz, Lizzy Ratner, and Philip Weiss

Mornings in Jenin, by Susan Abulhawa

The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, by Ilan Pappe

Zabelle, by Nancy Kricorian

Cosmos, by Carl Sagan

Impro, by Keith Johnstone

Improv Wisdom,
by Patricia Ryan Madson

Walden and Civil Disobedience, by Henry David Thoreau

To Kill a Mockingbird,
50th Anniversary Edition,
by Harper Lee