About a week ago I received a friend request from an academic in Kentucky with an Israeli sounding name. I checked his bio and he had lived on a kibbutz and worked as a bovine inseminator. I was having dinner with friends and I could feel my heartbeat quicken. I know that I might not have got everything right in this book, but I tried hard and I had numerous people read it, vet the Hebrew and the particulars. Still, I was nervous about publishing this book.

I know a lot of smart people, good readers who are either Israeli, or half Israeli, or have spent enough time in Israel to speak Hebrew (and Arabic) and while I thought the book would appeal even to Americans who'd never been there, and had no connection to Judaism OR Israel, it was those fluent in Israel that I worried most about. 

A few moments later a message popped up: 

"Your novel is stunning and both a close friend and I who are former kibbutzniks are impressed by how well you portray that and all the other immersive settings in your story. I wish you great success with it!"

He went on to write: "The "dugri" nature of your writing, the acerbic candor and unsparing portrayal of a deeply scarred national psyche--and the resultant chaos it produces in individuals. The sharp contrast between two different societies--and the disparate ways that people thrive or fail to thrive in each. You accomplish that so sharply and meaningfully! And again, the language itself delivers real verisimilitude. I have read many, many books written about Israel over the decades and been turned off because it is so easy to get things wrong--I had precisely the opposite reaction with yours. And in terms of tone you sometimes reminded me of Orly Castel-Bloom, another writer I admire, but mostly it's impressive how much of a singular voice you really achieve in that work."

His comments meant so much to me. Thank you, Ranen Omer-Sherman! Hope you get to NYC and we can have coffee and talk kibbutz life!

Natalie Diaz

Natalie Diaz is an amazing poet. I had the amazing honor of reading with her in Cold Spring last year. Read My Brother My Wound here. The quote below is from an interview she did in Creative Independent. Read it here.

Camping and hiking

 

When I was a kid, we used to travel from Detroit, up through Canada and back down into New England nearly every summer. We camped in small leaky backpacking tents and drove either a Chevette, a Dodge Omni, or later a minivan. We'd spend nearly a week hiking the Appalachian trail, specifically the Presidential Range and it was grueling. We hiked 4-8 miles a day. Sometimes it rained, or hailed. The wind was fierce. I absolutely loathed it, until we'd reach the hut where we would stay the night. The huts were pure magic. This is me somewhere along the journey. Circa 1982 or so.

Themes

I don't think I could ever consciously write a book with a theme in mind, but it occurred to me after I'd finished the SOLOMONS book that the theme had been given to me long before I'd started writing it. It was a conversation with my thesis advisor and mentor David Hollander, and he said this: Desire always exceeds the object, quoting Lacan. 

I saw him a few months ago and I had him write it down. 

tiny book trailer

So my friends Michael and Hillary Glass and I made a book trailer (link here). Michael had worked at ted talks since its inception and now works for Susan Cain's company Quiet Revolution, so I knew we'd be in good hands. We pulled together a few other folks, including Ken Cain, Nick Danger, Abi Keene and my dear high school friend and now neighbor Ophira Edut from Astrotwins. We drank a lot of wine, wore our best jewel tones and talked book, philosophy, love and family. I hope you like it!!

Launch night

Last night was a magical night. People came and they were lovely and supportive and I couldn't ask for a better team at Grove (my dream publisher), the amazing Katie Raissian and Justina Batchelor, and my dear agent, Duvall Osteen at my absolute dream lit agency, Aragi. Thank you also to Corner Bookstore who made such a beautiful window display, and were kind and supportive and helpful. 

Sending so much appreciation and love to all that came out and all that sent me messages of support and nice things about the book. 

What do you do on pub day?

My friend Lauren Acampora asked me what I did yesterday on my pub day. I went to a big Korean spa and had one of those super intense body scrubs. A ritual of mine for new beginnings. Then to the city where I attended David Levinson's launch for his novel Tell Me How This Ends Well at one of my favorite book stores, McNally Jackson. The questions were lively and the audience engaged and then wandered around the store and bought a David Lodge book on writing (which I'm regretting) and Colum McCann's book Letters to a Young Writer, which I nearly finished last night. I got hooked reading his Don't Be a Dick article in Lit Hub and decided I needed the whole book. This, along with the aforementioned The War of Art, might be my two favorite writing books. 

So the book is launched and I'm ready to start writing again. Finally! The night before last I stayed up too late working on off shoots of What to Do About the Solomons. I was happy just to be writing again. There are so many things to do just before a book is published, and writing new material is definitely not one of them, sadly. But when I'd first met with my editors at Grove I told them there was still a lot more to say about the Solomons, but for a while, I put them aside. I wrote an entire new novel about entirely new characters in an entirely different setting--Detroit. A lithuanian auto plant worker, his daughter living in New York, and his southern inner city public school teacher wife. That book is nearly complete, or at least, put on the side for now. I started a third.....

But Carolyn keeps speaking to me. And Marc keeps speaking to me. And Guy Gever has a couple of things to say.... 

Tomorrow Is Official Pub DATE!

It's quite scary, actually but also very exciting. My friend Steve Edwards asked me if I loved/hated the attention and my answer is, I don't love the attention but I must have craved it because otherwise I wouldn't have worked so hard to publish. But of course, as with everything, the stick has two ends.

Very excited that Literary Hub has published an excerpt of the book. I hope you enjoy!

Gwendolyn Brooks' Carps of the Day

If you ask me why I wrote the book I wrote I will tell you it is because of Gwendolyn Brooks' Carps of the Day, published in the 2011 edition of The Best American Short Stories in her intro. I read that list as a call to action. It was like an extended writing exercises and it gave me perimeters. So much of writing is narrowing down focus. This helped me narrow focus and also avoid some subject matter that maybe in American fiction was becoming cliche. The last rule, the eight rule, that I set for myself was that I would not have any writers as characters. Maybe one day, but not in this book and not in the next one either. 

Tools

Do you guys know about these Blackwing pencils? My dear mentor Scott Wolven uses these. He says he likes that pencils show how much work you've done as the lead and eraser wear away. I haven't used a pencil regularly since elementary school but there is something to it. A lot of people prefer the black ones but I really like the pearl. They don't wear down quite as fast as the softer black ones do. I buy mine at a little store near my apartment in the city on Avenue A between 4th and 5th Street. 

I met with David Means the other day. He blurbed my book and then we became friends. I was excited to see he used Blackwings too! His are Graphite and fall somewhere between the black and the pearl. 

We writers and readers tend to be a bit fetishistic about pens, pencils, notebooks and books.