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Naseem Rakha Day… tell Hallmark to make a card

Back in the 1990s and 2000s, Oregon Public Broadcasting had a Friday evening show called “Seven Days.” It was like “Washington Week in Review,” but with Oregon journalists. Basically, four print or radio journalists would sit around a TV set with a host, Stephanie Fowler, and would talk about Oregon politics for an hour.

I know: For many of the tens of people who read this blog, that sounds like a trip to the podiatrist, but without the drama. It was “Dallas” for my people; that is, the nerdly, newsroom, wonky politicos.

(Producer Morgan Holm had a joke: Do you know how many phone calls it takes to find four journalists not doing anything on a Friday evening? On average: Four. It ain’t like we had to juggle our social calendars.)

I did the show about once per month. An independent journalist named Naseem Rakha was one of the rotating news analysts. We became friends. She’s as smart as the day is long and she was willing to throw elbows on the “Seven Days” set. If she disagreed with you, she said so. Sometimes with one sharp eyebrow raised the way a Marine in a dive bar pulls a straight razor. More than once, I was on the receiving end of that look, which could peel paint at 30 paces.

One disagreed with Naseem at one’s peril. On live TV? Didn’t mean it wasn’t a blast to try.

Smash-cut: New scene, one decade later and west of the OPB studio. We open our scene at a small, independent but decidedly cool bookstore, Annie Bloom’s, 7834 S.W. Capitol Highway, in Multnomah Village. It’s 7:30 p.m. on a Thursday, April 29. Our heroine will be presented with the book-of-the-year award from the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association for her novel, “The Crying Tree.”

Independent journalist one decade, best-selling novelist the next. Not a bad vertical leap, that.

I’m part of the presentation. I’ll be interviewing Naseem for a video that Annie Bloom’s is producing. Or handing out canapés. My role is still a little in flux. “Champagne with that, ma’am?”

Hey. For Naseem? Whatever.

We “Seven Days” nerds gotta stick together.

Seven Days, 10 years

OK, quick anecdote about selling the foreign rights to “Crashers” in Italy.

It was, I’m guessing here, the year 2000 or so. Oregon Public Broadcasting did a TV show every Friday night called “Seven Days.” It was just like “Washington Week in Review” but Oregon-centric: Four journalists and a moderator, talking about political issues.

I know: for many of you, this seems like a colonoscopy but without the high jinks. But I loved it. I watched it every week and I was a guest journalist about once a month for most of the 1990s, as editor of the Lake Oswego Review.

One day, I’m coming out of makeup (pale Irishman, stage lights make me look three-days dead) and I’m introduced to one of the other journalists. Her name was Naseem Rakha. Spiky hair, little round eye glasses. Quick, penetrating glance and a soft smile. We sat in the green room and did that pas de deaux that journalists always do: a quick testing out to see if you’re “for real.”

Oh, she was the real deal, all right. Smart. Prepared. She knew her stuff. Later, when we were on the set and miked up, two of the other participants were chatting about the Portland music scene. “I can’t wait for North by Northwest,” one of them said, then turned to Naseem. “Do you go?”

She was taking one last look through her notes, jotting facts in the margins. “The Cary Grant movie?” she said without looking up.

I snorted water over my notes. OK, she was my people.

If a time traveler had beamed into the OPB studio right then and said, “Rakha? Haynes?” Around 2010, you’re both going to sell the foreign rights to your novels,” we would have figured the guy was crazy. Foreign rights? To what? Of what novels do you speak, stranger?

But that’s exactly what ended up happening. A couple of months ago, Naseem sold the China rights to “The Crying Tree.” Last week, my folks at St. Martin’s sold the Italy rights to “Crashers.”

Here’s to Naseem and “The Crying Tree.” Here’s to good journalism and the weekly civics lessons that are less and less a part of our lives (“Seven Days,” we miss you). Here’s to writers who take the rejection slips and keep punching.

Couple of working-class writers made it. If we can, you can.

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