In Which The Blogger Shares Her Good News

I haven’t often talked about my writing on this blog because I’ve always meant for Moorishgirl to be a window for me onto the outside world, not the other way around. And I also had the sentiment that writing is a solitary activity, something I do every day for and by myself. Sometimes, when a piece gets a prize or is published somewhere, I share the news here, even though the recognition makes me simultaneously grateful and uncomfortable. Today is another one of those occasions when my work has received some attention that might interest you, dear reader. My agent sent out my manuscript, The Things That Death Will Buy, to publishers a few weeks ago, and I’m happy to report that I’ve accepted an offer for a two-book deal from Algonquin Books.

Wait, what manuscript? I hear you ask.

Three years ago, I started working on a short story about a group of people who were stranded on a lifeboat, in the middle of the Mediterranean. They were illegal immigrants who were attempting to cross the short distance–a mere twelve miles–between the coast of Morocco and Spain. No lights were allowed on the boat for fear of the coast guards, and the boat reeked of vomit–several people had become seasick. My narrator, Murad, was a gentle man, but he was very determined not to have to turn back. His struggle with his decision to immigrate was told through flashbacks. The story was titled “El Dorado,” which seemed fitting because of the riches that so many of the passengers believed were waiting for them on the other side.

I am an immigrant myself, and although I came to America under more privileged circumstances than these characters, I was deeply engaged by their journey to the fortress that is Europe. I grew increasingly interested in the passengers as individuals and so I wanted to know about their personal stories. I wanted to know and feel what it’s like to pay ridiculous amounts of money in order to risk one’s life for the sake of what would very likely be a third-rate job.

As I started to research this subject, I learned a lot about illegal immigration, how it worked, who benefited from it, the hypocrisy of governments on either side of the equation, the ordeals that people- some of them coming from places as far flung as Niger and Senegal- had to go through just to get to Tangier, which is where the trip (and my story) started. Risking their life in that way was itself a privilege for many of them.

So I took all the flashbacks about Murad and fleshed them out into a separate story. Murad was an innocent man–a man who believed that having a degree was somehow a guarantee of finding a job. His innocence had turned into bitterness and even feelings of emasculation when, upon his father’s death, his sister had become the sole provider for the family. (This story, titled “Better Luck Tomorrow,” will, coincidentally, appear in the next issue of The Baltimore Review.)

Then I turned to the woman who sat next to Murad on the boat. She was a mother, had her children with her, and I wondered how she came to risk not just her life but those of her children as well. As I started to write her story, I discovered a husban–abusive, loving and callous all at once, a few friends, but mostly I discovered that she was not a victim. She was someone who was doing what she thought was best for herself and her children.

The stories started to pile up and soon I realized I had a collection of linked stories on my hands. This coincided with a busy time in my personal life and so I put the collection aside and wrote a few, shorter, unrelated pieces. When I returned to the collection in the spring of 2004, I began to revise, of course, but I also found myself being curious, this time about what happened after the boat trip. I had grown fond of my characters, and I didn’t want to end my time with them in what was essentially a big question mark. So I started to write the after-stories–the stories of the survivors, those who get caught by the police and those who make it through.

What happened next was a delightful surprise. My agent took my manuscript and placed it with a wonderful house, and I feel enormously blessed and incredibly grateful to have ended up with them. The Things That Death Will Buy is due to come out in Spring 2006, and for the next few months I plan to focus more exclusively on my second novel, about which I’ll only say that identity and religion and politics figure prominently.