Murder Under the Fig Tree has been selected as one of eight finalists in lesbian mystery for the Lammy, or Lambda Literary Award, given annually by the nation’s oldest and largest literary arts organization advancing LGBTQ literature. The finalists were chosen from nearly 1,000 submissions and over 300 publishers. Submissions came from major mainstream publishers and from independent presses, from both long-established and new LGBTQ publishers, as well as from emerging publish-on-demand technologies. Previous winners include Victoria Brownworth, Katherine Forrest and Jessica L. Webb.
Winners will be announced at a gala in June in New York City.
Lambda finalists (including me) will be reading on Tuesday, April 24 at the San Francisco Main Library at 6:00 pm (reception at 5:30). Hope you can join us!
Breaking news: Murder Under the Fig Tree is also a finalist for the 2017 Foreword INDIES, the awards given annually by the respected journal, Foreword Reviews. Fig Tree is a nominee in both Mystery and Multicultural Fiction. Foreword INDIES winners will also be announced in June.
As I explored previously, it’s unclear whether awards have an effect on sales or not, but it is really nice to be recognized and definitely helps me get motivated to get to work on Book 3.
Today is the official birthday of my second novel, Murder Under the Fig Tree. I hope those of you who enjoyed Murder Under the Bridge will read it and share your thoughts with me. It picks up a few months after the end of Murder Under the Bridge, after the elections that brought Hamas to power in the Palestine Authority (and before the coup that left them only in control of Gaza). Chloe is out of the country, but when she hears that Rania has been arrested, she rushes back, and another adventure in forging cross-cultural sisterhood begins. This book looks at some of the shifts in social mores taking place within Palestinian society, while always foregrounding the impact of Israeli military occupation on the people of the West Bank.
I have been depressed and outraged recently. Once I thought that outrage was a defense against depression, but it turns out they can indeed coexist. I am outraged about the rise of the overtly fascist right in our country and in Europe, and I’m depressed that the left seems unable to agree upon – or even dialogue productively about – the best tactics with which to defeat it. I am outraged over the ongoing destruction and massacres in Syria, and depressed that it is rarely even in the news any more. I am outraged over US-Saudi bombings in Yemen, which keep killing civilians “accidentally” and depressed by the absence of any movement in this country to hold our leaders accountable for these deaths. I am outraged that the effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act is rising again, just as Medicare for All was starting to be a thing, and depressed that all of our activism for single payer over the last twenty years has gotten us — here. I am outraged that my friend Herman Bell, who has been a political prisoner for more than forty years, was assaulted by a prison guard last week, damaging his eye, and depressed that now HE has been charged with assault and put in solitary confinement.
I am both outraged and depressed that there is no water in Gaza, that the United Nations has said it is “unlivable” and yet the Israeli blockade continues and the Palestinians are the ones called terrorists. I am outraged that Israel has authorized the construction of 4,500 additional units of housing for Jews only on illegally occupied Palestinian land in Jerusalem, while more than 40 Palestinian homes have been demolished by Israel because they were built without permits. And I’m depressed that consecutive US presidents, while calling settlement construction “unproductive,” have increased the amount of military aid we give to Israel to over $4 billion each year.
I am outraged that climate change is getting worse, that people in the Caribbean and Mexico are facing homelessness and death because of the greed of US capitalists. And I am depressed because my outrage does nothing to help them get housed or fed or stay alive, and because even all our efforts to reverse US climate policies, should they somehow succeed, may be too little too late.
And in the midst of all this, I am supposed to start promoting another book? How can another little mystery make any meaningful contribution to a world in such dire chaos?
I don’t know. I don’t kid myself that a book, even a much better book than mine, with much wider distribution, can do more than plant a tiny seed in the mind of someone new to the issues of Israeli occupation and Palestinian freedom. I think about Picasso, painting his reaction to the massacre at Guernica. I imagine it did not feel like a very adequate response. But generations later, many of us only know about Guernica because of Picasso.
I’m not suggesting I am like Picasso. But as a friend said, Picasso didn’t know he was Picasso either. I can only hope my book plants a seed that grows into a tree from which blooms justice and peace.
Or barring that, that people enjoy it and want to read the next one. Find out how to buy it at https://katejessicaraphael.wordpress.com/books/buy-the-book/
The days were getting warmer, but the evenings were still cold in Ramallah. Even in his leather jacket, Daoud shivered. The nearer he got to the looming Wall with its high watchtowers, the colder he felt. He zipped the jacket up to his neck.
He hung back for a while, watching people come and go. To his left, people moved easily, returning from Jerusalem to Ramallah without interference. At this hour, people poured out of taxis and teemed through the open gate, stopping to shop at the makeshift roadside stands where you could buy everything from warm bread to bathmats. Old Palestinian cars zoomed through, dust mingling with exhaust. The drivers leaned on the horns when passersby were slow to move aside or when traffic snarled in the narrow intersections. Just beyond, he could see the minarets of Qalandia refugee camp, a quarter mile away, but off-limits to Palestinians without Jerusalem ID.
To his right, cars stretched as far back as he could see, two abreast, with more arriving all the time. They too honked, but only to blow off steam. The new arrivals knew there was nothing the other drivers could do to speed up the checkpoint. He watched as a VW Rabbit with half its fender torn off veered around an orange taxi piled high with luggage on top. The taxi driver stubbornly refused to pull back and let the VW in.
Even this chaotic assembly looked orderly, compared to the crush of bodies pressing toward the turnstile where the pedestrians went through—if they were lucky. Those like him, who had no permit for Jerusalem, could wait for hours only to be turned back, or worse. It was six o’clock and still light out. Next week, the time would change, and then it would be light even later. The longer days were a blessing for the farmers and for people who had a long way to travel to and from work. It was not so good for him, though. Under cover of darkness, he could often still find a way around the checkpoint—a hole in the fence, a place where the Wall was not quite finished, or where the sections had been wedged ever so slightly apart. Six months ago, even in broad daylight, he could always find a way through to Jerusalem. But in the last months, the Israelis had sealed up the Wall around al-Ram and Qalandia, and, now, increasingly, the only ways through were the official ones, which were closed to him.
The two turnstiles, each as heavily fortified as a medieval castle, loomed in front of him like a dare. The old, handwritten signs had recently been replaced with brown, metal placards proclaiming the right line for foreigners and people with blue Jerusalem IDs, the left for Palestinians with green West Bank ID cards.
Daoud would not get through either turnstile legally. He edged closer to the crowd, looking for a young mother he could perhaps befriend. Men and women went through separately, but, if a woman had several small children, and he offered to carry a couple of them through, she might be grateful enough to protest that he was her husband, that one of the babies was sick and they needed to get to a hospital quickly quickly, the soldiers would be impressed with his love for his children and wave him through.
No good candidates for that ruse presented themselves tonight. He looked up at the ugly, concrete Wall looming on both sides. It seemed to grow higher and thicker every time he came, its towers rising ever more menacingly. Not for the first time, he imagined coming here with some sticks of dynamite and lighting the fuses, watching the stone crumble. It would not make any difference. They would build it again the next day, twice as high and twice as deep. But he would not care, because he would be dead and, before he died, he would have known what it was to be free for just one minute.
He shoved the fantasy aside. Bombs and such were not for him. He had considered it, of course, while he was in high school. All the boys in his circle had. A few of them had actually joined the militant resistance, picked up guns, blown themselves up, taking an Israeli settler or soldier or two with them. One of his best friends was in prison now; he had meant to be a bomber, but had been caught on the way to detonate his belt. Probably Daoud would never see him again. He put his friend out of his mind. He could not dwell on such miseries when he was on his way to entertain, to make the audience love him, and be made love to in turn.
He abandoned the turnstiles and instead strode up the line of cars. In between the turnstiles, two soldiers hunkered back to back in a metal booth piled high with sandbags. Each balanced a long rifle on one shoulder, aiming it at the window of the first driver in line, ready to shatter both the window and the driver’s head if the car moved prematurely. Daoud leaned against a light post and smoked a cigarette. Four soldiers worked the cars in teams of two. One of the teams was methodical, doing everything just the same with each car, taking this out, then that, asking the same questions of each person. The other team obviously enjoyed mixing it up. They would sometimes look in the trunk, sometimes tell everyone to get out, now take the driver’s keys, turn the radio to a Hebrew station and turn it up loud. He needed to avoid those two like rotten meat.
He examined the others, the quiet ones. One was tall and the other short. The tall one had sunken cheeks and a bushy beard; the shorter one was muscular and clean-shaven. His cocoa-colored face was impassive, and he spoke to the people in broken Arabic, using the respectful terms haj and haji for older people.
When the musc man stretched between searching cars, Daoud cleared his throat. The man looked up at him.
“What do you want?” he asked.
“To go to Jerusalem. To Adloyada.”
“Adloyada?” Daoud was sure the soldier knew what Adloyada was. He just wanted to play naïve.
“I have to get there soon. I’m JLo Day-Glo.”
A flicker of a smile passed over the young man’s lips, but, as quickly, it was gone.
“Do you have a permit?”
“Would I be standing here if I did?”
“Sorry, it’s not possible.”
“Perhaps we can go there together.”
“I’m on duty.”
“Gadi,” called the taller soldier. “Yalla.”
Daoud grimaced. He hated that the Israelis had appropriated the Arabic “let’s go” into their stupid language. Gadi, as his partner had called him, might have noticed Daoud’s expression or maybe he was just annoyed by Daoud’s familiarity. He grabbed Daoud roughly by the arm.
“Come over here,” he snarled.
Daoud felt panic welling up inside him. What had he done? He was flirting, sure, but if the guy wasn’t interested, he could pretend he didn’t understand. Was he a closet case, a homophobe, or both?
“Let me go,” he hissed. “I didn’t mean anything. Forget it, I’m leaving.”
Gadi ignored him, twisting Daoud’s wrist so that he yelped. He frog marched him away from the cars to a green metal hut, shoved him inside, and closed the door. The smell of urine and rancid beer assaulted his nose. His stomach churned, and he choked back a little vomit. It was pitch dark, and something squished under his foot. He hoped it was chewing gum or the remains of a chucked-out sandwich. He couldn’t breathe. He was going to die in this tin can, and no one would ever know what had become of him. The cell was too short for him to stand without stooping. He put his jacket on the ground and sat on it, folding his long legs up under his knees and hugging them. He didn’t like the idea of his prized leather jacket being soiled with whatever might be on this filthy floor, but better the jacket than his pants.
The metal of his jail rattled, making a hollow thwang. Latches slid back with a loud creak. Quick, think, what to say? What to offer, what to beg for? He had to get out of here. A slot in the door opened, and a shaft of light pierced the blackness. The harsh glare illuminated a shaft of flesh, Gadi’s penis, he assumed. Daoud shifted on the floor until his mouth was in the right place. He said a quick prayer before opening his mouth and taking the prick inside.
He could smell and taste the contempt of the prick’s owner. Once again, he almost gagged. He wondered if the soldier had put his gun on the ground, or if he was even now standing with his hand on the trigger. Daoud sucked and sucked and finally felt the squirt in his mouth. He gave a final lick and pulled away. He hoped the soldier could hear him spit the sperm on the ground. Too late, he considered that Gadi wouldn’t be the one who had to sit in it. It would be the next poor guy who tried to get through the checkpoint. He should have done it in the corner. How much longer would he be here? He needed to get to Adloyada.
The door flew open. “Come on,” Gadi said. Daoud could see no sign in his face of what had just happened. He wondered if it was a nightly occurrence, like drinking coffee. Gadi took his arm, a little less roughly than before, but not gently. He led him to the front of the line of cars and opened the door of a cab.
“Do you have room for one more?” he asked. The cab was full, five adults and two children, but a woman took one of the kids on her lap, and the other passengers good-naturedly shifted around to make room. Gadi waved them through.
Daoud glanced at the two young men sharing the back seat with him. They were nicely dressed for a night out, black slacks and polo shirts. They gave each other a high five. No doubt, they had been anticipating a problem at the checkpoint too. Daoud hugged himself, wondering if the sour smell was coming from the jacket or his own skin, The cab dropped him off at the top of the Mount of Olives. He caught a servees down to Damascus Gate and, from there, walked quickly down HaNevi’im Street and ducked into the small alley called Shushan. When he caught sight of the gray stone oasis, he thrust the memory of Gadi and his moments of panic and humiliation behind him. He opened the door, and a rush of warm air, pungent with beer, wafted to greet him. Mordecai, an elfin, Jewish Israeli with sparse, brown hair, danced over and kissed him on the lips.
“JLo, thank God. You’re on in fifteen minutes.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll be ready.”
“You had no problems with the checkpoint?”
Daoud hesitated for one second. His friend’s eyes had already wandered to the bar, where the bartender was pouring vodka into a row of shotglasses.
“Not too bad,” he said.