Monday, July 13, 2009

Mystic Yeast

This is how my life is.

I somehow ended up in China thirty years ago. I can't really explain right now how profound an impact that nearly accidental choice had on my life, in part because I am both jet-lagged and buzzed. Jet-lagged because I just returned from Beijing today. Buzzed because, well, because. It's still hard to get decent wine in China, and I crave it when I get home.

My Chinese isn't that great, but when I'm in Beijing, people comment on my Beijing accent, and I assume the status of an old Beijinger, because I was there before the profound changes that transformed the city nearly beyond the recognition of anyone older than, say, 35 or 40. I often have great conversations with taxi drivers, and this trip I had pretty much the Ur conversation; a man a few years older than I, who asked me what I thought about the changes in Beijing. Some aspects were good, I replied diplomatically, others, not so good.

What did I think was good about Beijing, he asked?

Beijing culture and Beijing people, I said.

This launched a torrent of opinion. Beijing people, real Beijing people, are the best, but these Waidiren, these outsiders, they have no culture, they don't understand. And this modern market society, it's not fair. Bugongping. The old days, in the 70s and 80s, when we were in this all together, when the competition was not so extreme, that was a good time. There. Do you see, over there? Those big buildings? That's where I grew up, in my childhood, for seven years. There was a river there, before. Do you remember? Do you remember the old traditional businesses (there's no good way to translate this expression; I had to hunt it up in my dictionary)? There weren't many businesses in the Beijing of 1979. Most had been destroyed by the Cultural Revolution.

Quanjude, the original Peking duck restaurant. The Foreign Languages Bookstore. The Number One Department Store. They survived, among others.

We exchanged memories.

Anyway, I'm not exactly sure what that has to do with my latest news, but it somehow feels relevant to me, in my buzzed, jet-lagged state.

When my plane landed at LAX today, the moment I turned on my phone, I had an email from my agent, the amazing Nathan Bransford. The ink on the contract is dry, and I can now announce that my novel, Rock Paper Tiger, in part inspired by some of my surreal experiences over the years in China, will be published by Soho Press in Spring/Summer 2010.

To say I'm happy about this is a huge understatement. I've had a great time working with the people at Soho, especially my editor, Katie Herman. I'm thrilled that they've taken a chance on me and my book. I'll do my best to reward their faith in me, and I hope I've written a book that you'll enjoy, and maybe you'll even learn a little about a country that isn't mine but that I still love, despite its flaws.

That goes for my own country too.

(POST EDITED 7/19 due to a sentence that was really misleading when I reread it and not what I'd meant. I blame the aforementioned jet-lag)

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