So, I could tell you a story about food poisoning and crazy rides across the Philippines, but I suspect you want to know what the cover of my book looks like, or what its final title and release date will be, or how you can pre-order it, or read about some fascinating characters from Portland who played both heroic and sinister roles in World War II. So let's get to it!
Coming June 21, 2016 from William Morrow & Co:
It was QUITE a long road to get here, but I'm thrilled to say that outside of one last proofread for style and clarity, the manuscript of my book, Eve of a Hundred Midnights, is complete. You can expect to pick it up from your favorite bookseller on June 21, 2016. I'll send out proper pre-order links once a few more booksellers' websites have bene updated, but the intrepid among you may find some on my publisher's web site.
Meanwhile, while you're waiting to read the book, take a glance at this month's edition of Portland Monthly, which explored the heroes, villains and rogues from Portland's history. I looked at two of these characters. One was Japan's foreign minister, Yōsuke Matsuoka, who yanked his country out of the League of Nations and into the arms of the Axis with Germany and Italy, and was also raised by a Portland family and a graduate of the University of Oregon School of Law. The other was Hazel Ying Lee, a heroic pilot born in Portland and the first American woman of Chinese descent to fly for the U.S. military. Lee was one of the Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs, though she died just before finishing her service with the program.
Both stories were fascinating subjects that I only learned about in working on this book; I've discovered so many in this long process and hope to share more as time and resources allow.
But, hey, you don't care about covers and book titles and magazine articles, right? I bet what you really want to read about is intestinal infortitude. Well, I give readers what they want, so read on!
As I was sprawled on my bathroom floor early this morning after an entirely unwelcome repeat encounter with last night's dinner, it occurred to me that last time I had food poisoning I was in Shanghai. High above the South China Sea, my stomach felt as tumultuous as relations between the country I was leaving, the Philippines, and the one to which I was returning, China.
This was a rapid turnaround from a few hours earlier, when I'd bought myself lechon to celebrate finding a key location in my book -- an abandoned beach club that was once used as a hideout by Mel, Annalee and their friends as they escaped the Philippines. It was on the island of Cebu, a skinny sliver a few hundred miles southeast of Manila, in a town just outside Cebu City, the island's capital. Aside from its role in my story, Cebu is known for lechon, and I was eager to try it. But because roasting a pig to make lechon, it's only available for a brief window every evening. Given how compressed my time on Cebu was, I had to make book research my priority.
It had been all I could do not to just give it up, get some lechon, skip the research and park myself on some sterile resort beach on the nearby island of Mactan. The night before I reached Cebu, I'd arrived by ferry to the port of Caticlan on the northwest tip of the island of Panay. A gazillion tour operators convinced I was confused, didn't want to go south, but instead wished to visit nearby resort-heavy Boracay descended upon me. I shook them off, insisted I was headed south, and squeezed myself into a packed van bound immediately -- I was assured -- for Iloilo, on the other side of the island.
Two hours after I was told we would leave, I began a frightening ride wedged on a front bench, seatbelt-less, between the driver and another passenger, with my backpack at my feet. We finally left just as it began raining, a condition that paired swimmingly with my driver's speed down the winding, two-lane highway that hugged the edge of Panay. Texting the entire way and apparently quite frustrated by the person on the other end of the line, he weaved around construction sites, slowing only to cross himself whenever we passed a churchyard. All the while he crooned along with to the 80s power-rock ballads burned on CDs that he flipped in and out of the stereo. My only sanity came from joining the driver for renditions of familiar Journey and Bon Jovi tunes I'd absorbed as a child in 1980s America; when you're far from halfway anywhere and it's clear the man behind the wheel is driving on a prayer, belting out "Wh-oa, we're half way there" takes on new significance. When we finally stopped three hours later so my driver could take a pit stop (and call the friend he'd been texting), I decided not to prolong the ordeal on another ride across Negros, then Cebu, and used the sliver of cell phone reception I had to blow my budget and spend $40 on the next plane ticket I could get from Iloilo to Cebu (yes, by that point, forty unexpected dollars were a big budget excess). Five hours after leaving caticlan, I found the one decrepit hotel in Iloilo still accepting new guests at that late hour, slept in my clothes for two more, took a cold shower, then left for the airport as soon as it was open.
This is all to say that when I reached Cebu, a beach day sounded really nice. But I was determined to find the reporters' temporary hideout. Fortunately, locating it -- a story, perhaps, for another time -- also meant finding a beach, albeit not one with glimmering white sands or an endless supply of cocktails at the ready (though one with stunning views that Annalee and Mel would have shared, and one with amazing, hospitable locals who invited me onto their porches). After sticking through to find the club, lechon seemed like a good reward, and I enlisted a group of boys in the nearby village to help me find the best stand around. Despite their dogged efforts, every place the boys took me was closed (as were other eateries). So I decided instead to save myself some hassle and grab a cab back to Cebu City and the airport on Mactan. On the way, I was happy to see that one of Cebu's most highly-touted lechon restaurants had a location near the airport. I was early for my flight, so I told my driver to stop there so I could get my long-anticipated award.
To be honest, the the smoothie I had there was better than the lechon, though I know understand the error of ordering a smoothie in a place where one is urged not to drink the water. While I'm not sure which dish led to the bacterial infection I'd discover in a few hours on my flight to Shanghai, my lechon stop came with another bonus. I'd already spent my remaining pesos on the cab and didn't want to withdraw more before leaving the Philippines, so I used a credit card to pay. I hadn't been worried about security as the place I was eating was a widely-known, well-appointed business on Cebu. But a week later, after I was back in the United States, the bank that issued that card called me to ask if I'd indeed spent $12,000 on sporting goods from Under Armor. Besides not knowing HOW one spends twelve grand on sporting goods, given how frequently I've hit my head on credit limits this year I couldn't help but be amused by the absurdity of the matter; fortunately my laughing credit card rep could see how absurd the situation was and immediately understood that I hadn't authorized the purchase.
This is all to say that when I woke up at 3:30 this morning with my stomach reeling, I realized that the last time I spent seven hours half-awake and crouched over a toilet was in the stall of a Shanghai hostel's co-ed bathroom, where I voided the last of that lechon. Thankfully, I maintained my composure just long enough to avoid doing so across a Chinese customs inspector's desk. Dodging the international incident that was sure to come just long enough, I instead ejected my meal in an airport bathroom, then gathered my faculties enough to repeatedly shout "búyào" (don't want) at the taxi-scammers who even at 1:30 a.m. swarmed around lǎowài (foreigners) like me, rode to the city, and began my uncomfortable introduction to Shanghai. I took the next three days to recover, but I finally did, and with just enough time to grab one more Chinese meal before I left for my long flight back to the United States.
I recount all this because I'm also reminded of another fact; as uncomfortable as my food-poisoning was and as harrowing as I may have found my journey across Panay, I experienced it fully aware that Mel and Annalee's own journey to Cebu had been on a boat that had to travel by night, that it they had taken it panicked by Japanese reconnaissance planes that circled over their heads on idyllic Philippines beaches, and that they'd fled again just before an enemy cruiser reached Cebu and shelled the city, only to sail into an ocean filled with threats hoping one day to tell their story.
I hope I've done justice to that story. You'll be able to decide whether I have done so on June 21.
P.S. If you'd like to help me acquire my own sporting goods, Pepto-Bismol or seatbelt, I'd truly appreciate your contribution.