14 February 2017

The Not-Quite States of America comes out TODAY. Here's everything I want you to know.

More than three years ago, I began working on a book about the U.S. territories. I traveled more than 31,000 miles to visit these far-flung islands, flying on ocean-crossing jets and shoebox-size planes, riding on ferries and in the back of pickup trucks, and slooowly easing rental cars along potholed mountain roads. I spent even more time writing and rewriting and rerewriting and paging though books and scrolling through microfiche and tracking down old newspapers.

Today, the book is officially here, published by W.W. Norton. And, ahem ...

It's available wherever books are sold--get it from your local store or online from IndieBoundBarnes & Noble, or Amazon

If you're in the Twin Cities, please come to my book launch party next Thursday, February 23rd, at 7:00pm at Honey in Northeast Minneapolis. 

(And since today is Valentine's Day, I also made some occasion-worthy cards and even some wrapping paper so you can pretend it's a box of chocolates. No, for real, I actually made those.) 

I’m genuinely excited for you to read the book. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll learn some interesting things about these places and their cultures and their histories, and get a new perspective on the USA as a whole--who we are, how we got here. There are World War II battles and beer-drinking pigs and family backyard barbecues. A glowing bay, an abandoned mall, a Micronesian Stonehenge.

Consider this post A Brief Review of the Things I Want You to Know about The Not-Quite States of America, including:
  • A few details about the book, and where to get it
  • How you can help me spread the word, please and thank you
  • Notes on my own favorite scenes and key points
  • Some upcoming events
For even more book info, head over to www.notquitestates.com.

* * *

Please buy the book! 

Also ask your library to order it. (Call all the libraries you know. Call random libraries!) It should be readily available at bookstores across the USA as of today. If not, ask them to order it.

Or order it online. Links again:  IndieBoundBarnes & Noble, Amazon.

You can also get it for your Kindle or other e-reader. And there's an audio version, though I can't find the link right this second and I'll have to update this sentence when I find it.

Thank you! Thank you so much.

* * *

Please spread the word. Thanks in advance.

Truth: Publishing is brutal and I need all the help I can get to stand out (especially since the Biggest Book of the Season—the new novel by George Saunders—is being released on the same day).

So! As you read, if you see something interesting or noteworthy, give a holler on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Friendster/whatever. Feel free to tag me (Twitter: @douglasmack / Facebook: @DougMackAuthor) or use the hashtag #NotQuiteStates.

And when you’re done with the book—it’s 280 pages, a fast read—I’d sure appreciate it you would tell your friends and also leave a review somewhere.
  • Do a reader recommendation at your local store (if they do that sort of thing)
  • Post a review on Amazon or Barnes & Noble or Indiebound
  • Show some love on Goodreads
Be honest! Give details beyond “This is great!!!” (But if you don’t like the book, please either silently hand it to your enemy or just never tell anyone else about it. Thanks.)

* * *

If you're on Goodreads

I'm also giving away three signed copies--and I'll even include some bonus behind-the-scenes info. Here are all the details about the giveaway.

The giveaway period ends on February 21, so sign up now. 

* * *

A brief introduction to the book, by way of a party trick

* * *

A few book highlights

The book mixes history, travel, and politics, with the ultimate goal of giving you, dear reader, a sense of why the territories matter and what they're like and why they should be a bigger part of our national conversation. 

You'll read about history, including: 
  • The territories role in the broader story of American expansion--it was never just about heading west but also about going overseas
  • How farmers' need for fertilizer in the mid-1800s led to a major quest to find tiny islands
    covered in guano--bird poop--which then paved the way for more expansion
  • Why the territories were arguably the biggest topic in the USA around 1900--the so-called "Imperial Moment"--and why they eventually fell out of the national conversation
  • How a series of Supreme Court cases, starting around 1900, made territory residents essentially second-class citizens, without the full rights of Americans in the states
  • The critical role of our Pacific islands in World War II. Guam and two Aleutian islands were occupied by the Japanese for much of the war. 
You'll read about my own adventures and misadventures--hiking in the mountains of American Samoa, failing to learn salsa dancing in Puerto Rico, eating amazing barbecue on Guam. But my larger goal is to amplify the voices and stories of the people in the territories. 

These include:
  • A pair of radio DJs who gave me an impromptu tour of Saint Croix
  • Rastafari farmers on the island of Saint Thomas 
  • Conservation workers in American Samoa working to protect their reefs and other natural resources
  • American Samoan lawyers fighting for citizenship rights. (Currently, American Samoans are US nationals, not citizens. It's ... complicated.)
  • The organizer of Samoan tattooing festival, who helped bring the art form back and share it with the world   
  • Members of a military veterans' motorcycle club on Guam, who showed me around the island's World War II battlegrounds
  • Immigrants from other nations seeking their own American Dreams in the territories, including a woman from China who came to Saipan to work in its notorious garment factories
  • Activists in each territory who are fighting for a different political status--some argue for statehood, others want independence
  • A pedigreed chef who had long worked in famous restaurants in the states and in Panama, but had just opened his own spot in a small mountain town in Puerto Rico. (Hi, Carlos!)
And, finally, you'll learn about the territories' role in the present-day story of the USA, from immigration to economics to the build-up of the military base on Guam, the better to keep an eye on China (even while Guam opens its doors to increasing numbers of Chinese tourists). 

The territories, I argue, are the USA's most important domestic policy issue no one is talking about.

* * * 


We’re still working out the details for several events, including New York, Washington, DC, Seattle, and Portland. But the following events are confirmed:

Thursday, February 23 at 7pm
Book launch party at Honey in Northeast Minneapolis
More details on the Facebook event page

Tuesday, March 14 at 7:00pm
Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Massachusetts 

Sunday, March 19 at 2pm
Books & Books in Coral Gables, Florida

Monday, March 20
Friends of the Library Lecture Series, Key West, Florida

Monday, March 27 at 6:30pm
World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth

Tuesday, March 28 at 11:45am
World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth

* * *

One last gentle reminder: Read and review! Thanks!

19 January 2017

A Letter to My Toddler Daughter on the Eve of the Presidential Inauguration

The morning of November 8—election day—my wife and I and our one-year-old daughter eagerly wore our Hillary for President shirts. The H-with-an-arrow logo seemed to embody our daughter’s nimble, energetic, hopeful spirit. We even had a t-shirt for her teddy bear, and as she hugged it, she flashed a gap-toothed, triumphal smile.

I thought about the letter to my daughter that I’d recently begun. I was going to finish up that night, when Hillary Rodham Clinton was elected our first female president. I was going to talk about strong women. Sojurner Truth. Susan B. Anthony. Fanny Lou Hamer. Thanks to all their hard work all of us alive today have more opportunities, and though there’s more—way, way more—to be done, the future’s bright.

And the election results came.

Platitudes drained away. Words failed. The document with my notes stayed untouched for days, weeks, months. I didn't know how to say something that didn’t devolve into swearing and bitterness. I’ve never felt such writers’ block, or such a mental block, period.

On the cusp of inauguration, I’m still trying to make sense of it all, but I also understand that I can’t just sit here processing. And this, I’ve finally realized, is what I want to say to my daughter:

* * * 

Dear M,

The stories you know end “Happily Ever After,” and what a joy that is. In real life, it’s possible, achievable. Savor that hope, that vision for the future. Never let it go.

But the truth is, my love, things do not always work out, despite our best efforts, our best intentions, our dearest wishes. Saying this out loud feels like both a breach of the parental contract to soothe and comfort, and also a fulfillment of parental obligation to prepare you for the world.

The lives we lead do not always follow a tidy, predictable, cheery narrative arc. The monsters and villains and bullies—people who brag about assaulting women, say things that even their friends agree are racist, use power to line their own pockets, take pleasure in belittling and causing physical harm to other people—sometimes win, even when we stand up to them.

In a better world, this would not be so. In a better world, the long arc of history really would bend toward justice. I’m still enough of an optimist to think that maybe, in the longest of long terms, that’s where it’s heading. But in the meantime, it sure takes a lot of detours toward turmoil.

Nothing is promised.

Yet nothing is impossible, either. And there’s not even a chance for a better world unless you work for it.

So do that.

Work for the core values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for everyone, even when it feels inconvenient or awkward for you. For racial and economic justice. For the health and well-being of your community. For gender equality, for clean air, for safe streets. For a better world, as wishy-washy and naïve as that may sometimes feel.

Climate change is real; black lives matter; immigrants make our communities immeasurably better; a free press and voting rights are essential to a functioning democracy--these are all truths that I feel obligated to write down for posterity, because in our topsy-turvy moment, too many people are denying them.

Know that you are never alone, in the dark moments of despair or in your forward-looking efforts to be the change. Build your community—and work to expand it. Be kind and compassionate, even to those who seem odd or with whom you disagree. Put yourself in their shoes, listen to their arguments, dig deeper to understand both the facts in question and the common ground of opinions.

Seek truth, knowing that it can be subjective, but having zero tolerance for those who try to twist it. Strive to make the world a better place for everyone, not just yourself.

Let me repeat that: Strive to make the world a better place. For everyone. Not just yourself.

It’s not always easy or fun. It doesn’t always help you get ahead. But it’s the right thing to do, the only way for us all to get ahead together.

Finally, understand the limits of all of this. Sometimes you will need to take care of yourself and curl up in a blanket and hide from the world. These moments are human and necessary.

Other times, you will sometimes run out of empathy and listening. Sometimes fighting for what’s right requires you to be belligerent, to stand your ground, to give no quarter, to tell people, “You’re wrong, back off.” That is sometimes the appropriate response. Be confident and independent and trust yourself.

Moving forward is a struggle—sometimes awkward and stumbling. But the fight’s the thing.

And know that I’m always rooting for you, with all my love and admiration.



18 January 2017

My Book Would Make an Excellent Valentine's Day Gift

So I have a new book coming out on February 14th. It's called The Not-Quite States of America and it's all about the U.S. territories and Booklist says, "One will never think about the United States in quite the same way after this enjoyable read" and you can preorder it from your local bookseller or via Indiebound, Barnes & Noble, direct from W.W. Norton, or from that giant website named for a river ... and there's lots more info right over here.

But let's go back to the February 14th thing. That's Valentine's Day. An occasion best known for flowers and chocolates and teddy bears dressed like Cupid and dinner at whatever fancy restaurant still had space when you finally remembered to call yesterday.

You know that's even better than that--and would make for a less clichéd, more lasting sort of gift? My book. But perhaps you need some enticing. Perhaps the book lacks the proper sense of occasion. Well, fret no more, because now you can have it all: a great book (sure to gain your loved one's affection) and your Valentine's Day swag.

Which is to say: I made you some wrapping paper and some cards that fit both the spirit of the day and the spirit of the book.

The wrapping paper is set up to print on 11" x 17" paper and, yes, it's all the right size and suitable for printing. Here's the PDF file.

The cards are also all set to go--just print on 8.5" x 11" paper (do not scale) and trim as noted; they're 4" x 6" when folded. Some are sweet, some are snarky. Some are specific references to my book and its themes; some simply celebrate reading. Something for everyone and every relationship. Here's the PDF file with all fifteen cards. And here's a sample.

(Page 152 features an X-rated sculpture park on Guam.)


If you do give this as a gift to someone and use the wrapping paper or one of these cards, tweet me a photo (or post it to my Facebook page) and I'll send you a little gift. Real offer.

Go on, then. Preorder!
Barnes & Noble
direct from W.W. Norton,

... And there's more about the book over here.