The Night Counter A Best Bet in Dayton/The Mother Daughter Book Club in Santa Barbara

http://daytonmetrolibrary.blogspot.com/2009/08/night-counter.html

Chaucer's Santa Barbara

Chaucer's Santa Barbara

The Wright Brothers didn’t write so much as fly, but pretty cool for the book to get such a nice mention in their hometown.

Meanwhile, I loved reading at Chaucer’s (www.chaucersbooks.com) in Santa Barbara last night amidst Fiesta Night traffic, and one of the great moments for me was when a woman in attendance told me that her mother-daughter book club had chosen The Night Counter as its next read.  This mother lives in Santa Barbara, but the other mothers and daughters, including her own, live in other cities and connect for their discussions via Skype.  Pretty cool. As was my friend Janice inviting a friend who turned out to have gone to the same high school as me in Beirut, but hers was a different time, the 50s and 60s, when the American expat community was so large it had its own neighborhood.

Updates: Book Soup and Christian Science Monitor And Entertainment Weekly

The Night Counter is still #2 Bestseller at Book Soup, thank you West Hollywood.  I should be blogging about San Francisco and Seattle, which have been awesome, but I’m waiting for photos.  Meanwhile, Entertainment Weekly gave it a B+, which reminded me of my students when they say to me, “A B+?  Couldn’t you make it an A- It sounds so much better.”   And here is an excerpted review in the Christian Science Monitor, a paper that I grew up reading as a kid because our neighbor in Minnesota, Mary Ellen Fairbanks, had a subscription and used to tell us all the time, “If you want some legitimate international news, this is the paper to get.”  The review came out on Sunday, a day I actually spent with her two daughters in Seattle, whom I had not see in years and years.

The Night Counter

In a contemporary twist on “1,001 Nights,” a Lebanese grandmother spends her nights telling tales about her Arab-American family.

By Marjorie Kehe August 1, 2009 edition

The Night Counter By Alia Yunis Shaye Areheart Books 384 pp., $24

Scheherazade was the lovely Persian queen who kept herself alive for 1,001 nights by telling stories so enthralling that her murderous monarch couldn’t bear to behead her. So he married her instead. Fatima Abdullah, however, has neither Scheherazade’s narrative flair nor her seductive looks.

Fatima is an elderly Lebanese woman living in Los Angeles with her favorite grandson, Amir. She moved to Detroit from Lebanon seven decades ago and has since had two husbands, 10 children, and 14 grandchildren. At this point, she’s ready to say goodbye to all of it.

Or almost ready, that is. First, she must find a wife for wannabe actor Amir (blithely overlooking his constant insistence that he’s gay) and then arrange for him to inherit her beloved mother’s house in Lebanon. In the meantime, as the successful conclusion of that task drags on, Fatima is content to stay alive for another 1,001 days, spending each night telling her stories to Scheherazade. (Scheherazade apparently, has become immortal, and now travels the globe – beautiful as ever – hearing stories from others.)

Such is the premise of The Night Counter, Alia Yunis’s debut novel, the sweet, funny, meandering story of Fatima, her family, and the uneven process of their assimilation into life in America.

Not all of Fatima’s children, who now live scattered across the US, are entirely likable. In fact, most have disappointed her in one way or another. Her only living son, Bassam has spent much of his adult life on an alcoholic bender in Las Vegas, although the events of 9/11 have now shocked him into a promising sobriety. Several of her daughters have succeeded in pursuing what many would consider to be the American dream – but it’s not necessarily the course their mother would have chosen for them.

Fatima makes a grand protagonist – a somewhat befuddled yet strong, independent character who may have rejected much about the US, but sure loves American sports, particularly the Detroit Tigers. (“How could [the Tigers] get swept by the Twins,” she frets, “a team playing under a plastic bag on spongy cement?”) There is also a hilarious scene in which a special FBI agent trained in Arabic (assigned to watch over this “suspicious” Arab-American family with ties to both Lebanon and Detroit) tries to interview Fatima, who mistakes her for Scheherazade, offering her cooking tips and motherly laments which the FBI agent frantically parses for information on terrorist plots.

The Abdullahs are anything but a Norman Rockwell painting, but in their own way, they are a very typical American family. They may have their differences but they also have their stories. And, as Scheherazade points out, in the end, that’s what holds a family (much like a nation) together.

“Stories keep us entertained and enlightened,” she tells Fatima. “And if we don’t know the ending, all the better.”

Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor’s book editor.

The Night Counter Sells Out At Book Soup

Book Soup

Reading at Book Soup

With Paul And Scottwith Abbie

Book Soup and The Night Counter

Book Soup and The Night Counter

Thank you to everyone who came to yesterday’s reading at Book Soup.  You didn’t leave a copy in the store!  (More books are on their way)  When I first moved to LA many years ago, it was a terribly clunky move, with lots of test and trials that were not easy, in fact, often very painful.  One of my great escapes was of course the movies, even though it was the movie business I was often trying to escape.  The other was Book Soup, which a very long walk from where I was living at the time, and I liked that walk, even though my roommate said I was just asking to be labeled a tourist walking that walk when I could have just taken my car (small problem there being that someone had nearly totalled that car three days into my arrival in LA and it was out of commission for a while).  Book Soup is one of those bookstores where you can spend hours roaming around and looking up and down the walls at a truly eclectic mix of books.  In fact, aside from picking up The Night Counter, people at the reading also picked up an odd assortment of other titles, from quirky quick reads to oddly-themed coffee table books (David Lynch collection of people shot in shadows, anyone? Or how about the 600-something page book of Tom of Finland I stood next during most of the reading) that reminded me again of what a little oasis Book Soup is–and it is on Sunset Blvd. amongst all the famed clubs, shops and restaurants, so it also gives reading, so sidelined these days, a hipster kick.  It was extra sweet to read from the first chapter of The Night Counter, which is set in West Hollywood, just a few blocks (at least in my imagination) from Book Soup.

THE NIGHT COUNTER: NUMBER ONE BESTSELLER AT VROMAN’S

It really is true: http://hometown-pasadena.com/2009/07/vromans-bestsellers-7202009/

Of course, that probably will not be the case next week at Vroman’s, as there are no books left in the store at the moment.  But fear not, more are on the way.  The Night Counter’s sold out status at one of L.A.’s best bookstores—if not one of the country’s–is in part due to my amazing crew of friends who showed up and put the word out.  It was a great reminder to me of the many wonderful people who have been a part of my life in Los Angeles, and who have been the thing I have missed the most in Abu Dhabi.  As I saw the room fill up with all these faces—and faces I had never seen before, including new baby faces–I felt more than a little sad that I would soon be leaving LA again.   A friend on the east coast asked me if they were all writers and actors—nope.  Yes, they were there, sure, and good ones at that, I might add, but LA is also a place where you meet people who do all kinds of amazing things with their days—teachers, musicians, university program directors, engineers, TV reporters, journalists, studio executives, producers, bartenders, body guards, political activists, photographers, graphic designers, parents, accountants, linguists, stand up comedians, geophysicists –not in any particular order of importance.

(I felt a little guilty for all the traffic people had to endure to get there.  But no one seemed to complaining about the traffic.  It was all about the weather.  What weather, I thought.  Apparently they thought 90s and no humidity was hot.  Please, in Abu Dhabi, they call that winter.)

With Joan Johnson, one of my first LA writer pals (and a seasoned TV writer today)

With Joan Johnson, one of my first LA writer pals (and a seasoned TV writer today)

After the Vroman's Reading

After the Vroman's Reading

With Randa and Nizar

With Randa and Nizar

At A BOOKSTORE SOMEWHERE IN LA

A Bookstore Somewhere in LA

A Bookstore Somewhere in LA

Or How Not To Buy Your Own Book. The first day The Night Counter came out, my friend Natasha promptly bought it at Barnes and Noble in New York, and another friend did the same in Nashville.  So I thought I’m going to go buy my own book, too.   Just to see it in a bookstore, you know.  I went to the nearest bookstore and looked for it on the new books table.  It wasn’t there.  Nor was it anywhere around any hard cover books.  My heart sank.  It must have showed because suddenly there was a concerned store employee at my side.   “It should be here,” I boldly began.  “The Night Counter.  My friend got it in New York.  I heard it’s really good, and if New York has it, shouldn’t L.A.?”  I could feel my face turning red.  “Yeah, for sure…The Night Counter,” he said and started banging computer keys.  “Great title…hmm…I bet you it’s about someone counting nights as they go by.  What do you think?”  “Yeah, probably.  It’s supposed to be something clever like that,” I replied, turning even redder.

That’s when he looked at me carefully and smiled.  Oh, no.  In general, I don’t lie, as I can’t do it without getting flustered.  Nor would it be totally inconceivable for me to get flustered around a cute actor dude in L.A. standing in my personal space.  He was used to the latter, rather than suspecting that it was dealing with an author going undercover.  And there’s nothing like a flattered actor. “I’m going to find The Night Counter.  This just isn’t right.”  And he went off, with me in his wake, telling me about how he came out here from Ohio for this acting and liked meditating.   “I could just come back tomorrow,” I said.  “Really, it’s no big deal.”  “No, it’s supposed to be in the store, and we’re going to find it,” he said, with great actorly drama, almost running into a Japanese couple, clearly ESL students.  “Please, please, can you help us?’ the young woman said.  “I’m busy right now,” he announced.  “Looking for The Night Counter. What do you need help with?”  “We’d like to buy some books,” she whispered.  “Well you’re in the right place,” he nodded, and then we were off again, with him explaining I had good energy, just like him.  “Tell me you’re not sick of men with no energy,” he winked.  “Really I can come back,” I answered, my face turning redder because I kept thinking of all my hard work buried somewhere in this store.  “You know this book must still be back in the storage,” he decided.  “Just wait on me.  I’ll be back. Look at some books or something.”

And so I stared at all the other new releases that were all carefully and tenderly laid out.  Until my phone rang.  “I’m at the Barnes and Noble at the Grove.  The book has good placement, but I’ve moved a copy over to the Twilight section, so it gets more traffic,” shouted my friend Elizabeth, normally a refined, high-powered executive.  As I hung up the phone, my book knight appeared. “Ttill stuck back in storage, as I suspected.  The Night Counter by Alia. Yunis,” the actor beamed, handing my book to me with flourish. “You’re going to bring the others out, right,” I said.  “Soon, I’m sure,” he answered.   I wondered if he were on to me or just amused by increased flustering.  I prayed he wouldn’t look at the back flap and see the author photo and notice a resemblance, even without the make-up.   “You’re good people, seek out other good people,” he advised me, not opening the book.  “Me and you, we got those Midwestern roots.  We know good people.”  “Okay,” I promised, turning redder as I nearly crashed into the hard cover new releases.  “You know…um…you should put all The Night Counters out here in this new books section.” “Yes, indeed,” he agreed.  I backed all the way to the cashier, thanking him.  He seemed willing to chat more, and I suppose I could have chatted up the book, but at this point I was so horrified by my charade, I just wanted to pay and go.  At the checkout, the cashier checked my credit card signature with my signature on the receipt. But she never checked my signature with the author’s name.

I Love My Daily Candy!

Chocolate milk balls, black licorice, gummy bears…but today it was extra sweet: http://www.dailycandy.com/los_angeles/article/70636/Magic+Carpet+Ride

July 15, 2009

Magic Carpet Ride

“The Night Counter,” by Alia Yunis

998, 999, 1,000 ...

Little pigs and lost siblings make for decent bedtime story fodder.

But the life and times of Fatima Abdullah, the madcap matriarch of Alia Yunis’s charming debut, The Night Counter, is even better.

When the 82-year-old woman divorces her husband of more than 30 years, she leaves Detroit to live with her grandson, a struggling actor in L.A. Upon her arrival, fabled Arabian Nights immortal Scheherazade swoops in for the first of what turns out to be nightly visits, leading Fatima to believe she has 1,001 nights to live.

With nine days left, Fatima’s desperate to check the last things off her list: write her funeral instructions, marry off her grandson (P.S. he’s gay), and determine who from her dysfunctional (and disinterested) brood is worthy of her home in Lebanon.

As the four generations of stories and secrets magically unravel across America and the Middle East, you’ll be drawn deeper into the family’s touching, comical tale at every turn.

You can count on it.
Available online at amazon.com or at your local bookstore. Discussion and book signing, Sunday, 4 p.m., at Vroman’s Bookstore, 695 East Colorado Boulevard, between North El Molino and South Oak Knoll Avenues (626-449-5320 or vromansbookstore.com). For more information, go to aliayunis.com.

THE NIGHT COUNTER A RANDOM HOUSE EDITOR’S PICK

The Night Counter is an Editor’s Pick on the Random House website.  Considering the large number of books Random House publishes and my littleness in that pool, this is a good thing and a happy thing.

The Night Counter will be in bookstores tomorrow inshallah.  I saw it as a book for the first time yesterday.  It sat in a box that I walked around for two days before I could open it.  A lot went into what was in that box, and to see the end of its journey—or rather its birth into the world of books – well, the people who inhabit the book don’t belong to me –or my agent, Jen, or my editor, Kate—anymore.  Lot of things have changed in the world and in my life and the lives of my friends and family since I started writing it, so I actually had to have the person who has known both the book and me the longest, my brother, on the other line while I opened it.  He’s also okay with me crying.  Strangely, I thought of the

The Night Counter A Random House Editor's Pick

The Night Counter A Random House Editor's Pick

grandmother who I never met and who could not read.  I don’t know what she’d make of a granddaughter that not only reads a lot, but writes a lot.  But I think she’d like the cover.  I know you can’t judge a book by its cover, but it’s a pretty book.