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?

Photo: netsnake

26 responses to Yet Another Reason to Love Olive Oil

  • amyg says:

    i love that you gave us a glimpse to your “what happened when i found out” moment. i dream about this moment. i still remember stephen king’s on writing when he tells the story of getting the phone call that they were going to publish carrie (and, if i remember correctly) for some outrageous amount of money at the time for a first time novel. (wasn’t it $200k? i get why you asked about the money…i would have even if it wasn’t the most gratifying aspect of the event. you gotta eat, and how sweet would it be to eat well off of words?!)

    congrats on your year anniversary. i’m looking forward to having a my copy of Living Arrangements on my night stand.

  • Averil Dean says:

    Yeah, nothing that exciting has ever happened to me. But I’m happy to live vicariously, since as you know, I’m infatuated with your writing.

    I’m going to save my pennies on the off-chance that I’ll be able to save enough to ring in your launch. It could happen.

  • Paul says:

    Hey, BkMK Press is here in my hometown. When is the release party?

  • Joe Iriarte says:

    I’ve gotten two big phone calls in the last three months or so, and erred in the opposite direction, I think. It was the same way when I won a radio station call-in contest as a teenager: I just don’t sound as excited on the phone as the person on the other end thinks I should. The first phone call a few months ago was from agent Janet Reid, to tell me I’d won a scholarship to the Backspace Writers Conference in New York. She was so cool on the phone, but she knew she was giving me big news, and trying to build up the excitement, and I WAS excited, but I also knew exactly what was up the moment she introduced herself, and I’m not a jump around and scream on the phone kind of person. I swear, she sounded bemused with my calmness.

    The second was almost exactly a month ago, when I got THE CALL. It was an agent offering representation, and this time I fear I may have come across as arrogant or something. Again, I was really excited on the inside, but I just can’t seem to communicate that on the phone. It’s almost worse when I try–“Wow! Awesome! I’m so excited!” he said, calmly–because what I end up sounding is insincere, I think.

    So yeah, I totally get feeling like you struck out when you get a good news call. I just figure/hope that the people in the business of making those calls have heard every possible reaction and misreaction before.

    Have you received your copy of your anthology yet? That’s awesome–I’m jealous!

    • Wow, congrats — on both the scholarship and the agent! That’s great. I love that we basically had opposite reactions to good news: My brain cells dissolved and you felt too calm and steady.

      So far I’ve had only one writing-related call that I felt I knew what was up before I answered (I recognized the area code). I was definitely happy, but being a tiny bit prepared meant I didn’t transform into a complete goon. Which is always good.

      LIVING ARRANGEMENTS will be published this fall, hopefully in October. Good luck to you on the submission process now that you have an agent!

  • margosita says:

    Awww, I love this story! Yay!

  • Lisa Golden says:

    I love this story of food and travel and good news. I’m really looking forward to the release of your book.

    As for train travel, two trips come to mind. 1. From Dijon to Barcelona. It’s so long ago, I don’t remember much. And 2. From Chicago to Memphis. With children ranging in age from 1 to 7 plus all of my husband’s siblings and their families. While MathMan and I were in the process of separating. That trip is one I want to forget.

    The bread isn’t bread. It’s an olive oil delivery system. Crusts just get in the way.

    • Yes, the Chicago-Miami family train trip extravaganza sounds a little overwhelming. Peter and I enjoyed much calmer and relaxing train trips. I love long-distance train travel (provided there’s a sleeper car involved!). By the end of the Seattle-Chicago trip, though, it started to feel like all we did was eat and sit, then eat and sit some more, and then finally eat. And sit. So after 3 days, I was ready for steady ground again.

      For anyone interested in train travel, I strongly recommend getting a sleeper on the Coast Starlight train (LA-Seattle). I believe that might be the nicest long distance passenger train in the country. I also too the Canadian from Toronto to Vancouver, which was fantastic — and I didn’t even have a sleeper.

    • Teri says:

      I, too, love this story. Thanks for sharing all the details, Laura. On this day last year (just went back and looked) I went on a long hike with a friend and my dog. I’m pretty sure it was heavenly.

      I STILL am dying to do a train trip. I need to know how that feels.

      And the “no crusts” is because the crusts don’t soak up the oil fast enough, meaning it drip-drip-drips on you and your clothes. Thanks to all of you olive oil people for cutting off the crusts for us, thus saving the dry cleaning bill.

  • Deb says:

    I did Barcelona-Seville and Seville-Barcelona. The way there we had a sleeper compartment, but had to fight the zero visibility smoke factor to get to the shared bathroom. Still, it was fun. On the way back there wasn’t a sleeper available so we had to sit in a compartment overnight with six other people. On arrival, my husband went on to a hotel and shower while I showed up at the airport with greasy hair and stinking of sweat and smoke. And probably stale alcohol. But I’d probably do it again. I’d just pack baby wipes, lots of gum and a hat.

  • Lyra says:

    I have such romantic notions of a cross-country train trip. It’s on my master list.

    I love your response to the call, and what a perfect place to be surrounded by olive oil, bread and wine…ahhhh…that’s what I need. Right now.

    I believe Cleveland is a mere 6 hours away…you save me a copy of the book while I drive, and I’ll bring the flask for nerves.

  • Lizi says:

    I cannot even fathom receiving such a phone call. The only phone call I can imagine is the one asking me to stop checking the status of my submissions. Crazy stalking will not help you get published, they will insist politely but firmly.

    Congrats, Laura. One of life’s most glistening moments, I imagine. Shiny and lucid like your olive oil.

  • Downith says:

    “After swatting Peter a few times in an attempt to convey the news without interrupting the call..”

    Hilarious – I can totally visualize this.

    Congratulations Laura!

    I can’t even remember last summer but highlight of this summer so far was meeting Teri.

    • I can’t remember very clearly, but it’s possible I repeated, loudly, “So you’re saying I won the contest and you’re going to PUBLISH my COLLECTION of STORIES?” while looking pointedly at Peter, ha ha. All I know is he got the picture because he apparently told the woman in the store, “I’ll have to wrap this up. I think my wife just got a book deal.”

  • Tricia says:

    This strikes a tremulous (!) chord with me, since last summer at this time my novel was coming out and I was just so glad it was COMING OUT that I had no expectations,only it got really good reviews, so now it’s now and I have another book coming out, and I am trying but failing not to compare when the reviews/blogs came out last year and worrying if it’s really true there are no second acts, and can you tell I had an insomnia attack last night?

    • Ack, I can’t imagine…but of all the stressful things in life, this must be one of the better ones, since it involves published books. :) You’ll be great — and so will Mo!

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