Yet Another Reason to Love Olive Oil
Posted on 07 July 2011
One year ago today, Peter and I were in an olive oil store in Paso Robles, California, tasting each variety and trying to decide which one to take home. As I dipped those little pieces of bread into various olive oils (hey, someone’s gotta do it), my cell phone rang — an unrecognized number, but I decided to answer it anyway. When the caller asked for me by my full name, I assumed it was a telemarketer and started to feel snippy. I was on vacation, trying to enjoy fatty pieces of bread, and this was my cell phone. No sales calls allowed!
Then the caller identified himself as an editor at BkMk Press and explained that I had won the G.S. Sharat Chandra Prize and they would be publishing Living Arrangements. After swatting Peter a few times in an attempt to convey the news without interrupting the call, I ran out of the store and continued the conversation on the sidewalk, where I proceeded to make a jerk of myself. Now, I’ve heard writers moan about sounding ridiculous when getting a good-news phone call, but I always thought they they were exaggerating or that it couldn’t actually be that bad. I’m here to tell you: It really can be that bad. I think I immediately blurted out a crass question about how much money I’d get as the winner, which is mystifying since the prize money was actually the least of my concerns. Then I began babbling about god knows what and started to sort of half-cry, which mostly made it sound like I was being lightly strangled as I spoke. But whatever, I think it’s understandable.
While Peter bought the olive oil, I finished up the call and settled into a state of shock. I’d entered a grand total of three collection contests the winter before. The results for the other two (nada, zilch) had already come in, and I had either forgotten the Chandra Prize or assumed it was so far off my radar that I didn’t give it one thought in all the seven months that had passed since I entered it. In fact, I’d already been considering which collection contests to enter the next year.
The rest of the day went like this: Peter and I ate lunch at a Mexican place (corn tortilla bean tacos with plenty of guacamole) while I commandeered his laptop to write emails to friends with subject lines like: “Umm…I’m going to have a book published?!” We proceeded to several wine tastings, where I shamelessly told some perfect strangers the news, and bought as many bottles of wine as we could cram into our luggage before hopping on the Coast Starlight train to continue our vacation in Oregon.
If and when you get some fabulous and unexpected writing news, I hope it’s when you’re vacationing in California and can instantly enjoy olive oil, tacos, and lots of wine. Because that? Was awesome.
But being on vacation only made the news feel more unreal. In our tiny sleeper car on the train from Seattle to Chicago, I’d wake up in the middle of the night as the train rocked along and think: “Did that really happen? Is Living Arrangements actually going to be a book? Maybe they called the wrong person, or maybe someone else wrote a book with the same title.” I still feel like that sometimes, even now as my editor and I make some progress. We’re deciding where to send galleys in the near future; cover options are floating around somewhere (I’m dying to see what the designers came up with); and I’m starting to think about a possible book launch party, which of course you will all be invited to.
So that was July 7 of last year. I almost wish I hadn’t gone through my old emails to find out the exact date of the good news, because now I’m comparing that day to July 7 of this year, when so far I’ve only managed to spill tea on my shirt, call customer service to discuss a damaged blender, and discover that I’ve been walking around with a seed stuck in my teeth. Well. It can’t all be olive oil and book prizes, right?
What was the high point of last summer for you? What about this summer? Have you ever embarked on long-distance train travel? Why do they cut the crusts off those little bread squares in the olive oil places?