I started writing The Other Americans as a way to find narrative order in the chaos of ideas and emotions that were swirling around in me about immigration and exile, alienation from the self and others, families and communities. It has been a long journey, with a lot of ups and downs. By the time I held the finished book in my hands, I felt a sense of accomplishment. Everything else that happened after that has been the proverbial cherry on the cake. So it was especially thrilling to hear that The Other Americans made it onto the shortlist for both the Kirkus Prize and the National Book Award in Fiction. My heart is full.
(Illustration by Katherine Moffett for Vanity Fair.)
Exciting news! My new novel, The Other Americans, will be published next spring by Pantheon in the US and Bloomsbury in the UK. The book is about the suspicious death of a Moroccan immigrant in California, which sets off a chain of events that reveals unexpected ties between people in a small town in the Mojave.
Late one spring night, Driss Guerraoui is walking across a darkened intersection when he is killed by a speeding car. The repercussions of this event bring together an eclectic cast of characters: his daughter Nora, a jazz composer who must return to the small town she thought she’d left behind for good; his widow Maryam, who still pines after her life in the old country; Efrain, a witness whose personal circumstances prevent him from coming forward; Jeremy, a former classmate of Nora’s and a veteran of the Iraq war; Coleman, a detective who is slowly discovering her son’s secrets; Anderson, a neighbor who is trying to reconnect with his family; and the murdered man himself. Narrated in turn by each of these characters, The Other Americans probes the invisible connections that tie Americans together even as they remain deeply divided. As the mystery of what happened to Driss Guerraoui unfolds, a family’s secrets are revealed, a town’s hypocrisies are faced, and love, in its messy and unpredictable forms, is born.
The novel has received early praise from the Nobel Prize winner J.M. Coetzee (!!!) and from my brilliant friend Viet Thanh Nguyen. As you know, pre-orders are hugely important in the few months leading up to publication. I would so appreciate it if you ordered the book from your indie bookstore or online retailer. Or you can ask your local library to order it for you.
I will be going on tour next spring to promote The Other Americans, and will post details on the events page as soon as they’re confirmed. Until then, be well!
Book tours sound very glamorous, but they usually go like this: you wake up at an ungodly hour, you hope that your cab is on time, you hope that your flight is on time, you hope that your seat mate isn’t a sociopath, you hope that your hotel room is ready when you get there, you hope not to get lost on your way to the bookstore. All that hoping can be stressful. So why go on tour? Because after a few years of writing a novel, it’s very enjoyable to talk to readers about it. I have the most amazing readers. Once, at a reading in Los Angeles, a woman told me she had driven three hours so her daughter could come see me. Another time, my friend A. from grad school surprised me by showing up at my Elliott Bay reading in Seattle. He lives in Arizona, but was in town on business, so we ended up having dinner together and catching up. And I love doing events in independent bookstores because, unfailingly, the staff are knowledgeable, friendly, and always have a good book to recommend. Yes, book tours are stressful, but they’re also lots of fun. Right now, I’m getting ready to tour for my new novel, The Moor’s Account. I’ll be visiting Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, Portland, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, New York, Washington DC, and Boston this fall. I’m also doing the Chicago Humanities Festival, the International Festival of Authors in Toronto, and the Miami Book Fair. And I’m speaking at several colleges, including Williams in Massachusetts, Yavapai College in Arizona, and the University of Texas at Austin. Do come by and say hello! I’d love to talk to you about my new book.
Wait for the right time. Wait for the right place.
Be in awe of your novel’s premise. The best premises in the world still don’t add up to a completed book.
Get up from the chair. Tell yourself you’re just taking a five-minute break. Make coffee. Look for your special mug. You were drinking from it when you sold your first story, so now you must have it in order to write anything. Get back in the chair.
Stare at the screen. Wonder what your agent will think about your new novel, which, by the way, you’re not writing because you’re reading this instead. Wonder what readers will think. Wonder what critics will think, especially the asshole who did a hatchet job on your last book. Worry about your career, such as it is.
Think about your premise again. All it needs is careful execution. But when that’s done, oh, it will be amazing. This book is finally going to make you happy. And popular! All those people who made fun of you in high school are going to feel mighty sorry about the way they treated you. Dream about publication. Wait a minute. Will there be any bookstores left by the time you finish this book? Will there be any publishers left, even?
Login to Twitter. Argue with an anonymous stranger about political issues neither of you will ever resolve. Login to Facebook. Argue with your crazy uncle about political issues neither of you will ever resolve. Scroll through your newsfeed, look at pictures of your friends at cocktail parties. They all look so happy. Why? Because they’re not trying to write, that’s why. Dwell on your loneliness.
Read your Amazon reviews. Who the hell is ‘kafkaisoverrated75’ and why did he give you a one-star review?
Get up from the chair. Alphabetize your bookshelf. Straighten your picture frames. Rearrange everything on your desk. Get back in the chair. Start reading blogs. Someone posted a tirade about MFA programs. Feel compelled to write a response, which turns into another long tirade about MFA programs.
Oh God, how did it get to be 11 am already? You have to start grading papers soon. Wish you had more time.
Notice the pages you wrote last week. Read them, decide they’re useless, toss them in the trash. Wish you had more talent.
Make a necklace out of paperclips. Check your email. Ignore your credit card bill. Unsubscribe from newsletters. Decline invitations to connect on LinkedIn.
Stare at the screen. Doubt the work. Fear the world. Ask yourself how you ever wrote anything at all before. Read an interview with Toni Morrison in the Paris Review. She wrote The Bluest Eye while holding down a full-time job at Random House and taking care of two children. She got up at 5 am every day. What’s your excuse?
Rummage through the trash, pull out the pages you tossed. Reread them. Maybe there’s a sentence here that can be salvaged.
Tell yourself you’re just taking a five-minute break.