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Oklahoma City native Hank Stuever brings 'Tinsel' to town



All Hank Stuever wants for Christmas is the same thing he wanted when he was 14: some cash in his pocket so he can walk around Quail Springs Mall and buy whatever strikes his fancy.

"I always wanted cash, which my mother never gave me," he said. "She wasn't having it."

But it'd be nice if you bought his book, too.

Born and raised in Oklahoma City, the Bishop McGuinness graduate and current Washington Post writer returns to the Sooner State on Tuesday to sign his second book, "Tinsel: A Search for America's Christmas Present," at Full Circle Bookstore.

For the nonfiction work, Stuever embedded himself into the lives of a few families in Frisco, Texas, for three consecutive holiday seasons to see how modern suburban middle America experiences Christmas. What he found isn't quite what he anticipated.

"I didn't expect Christmas to get under my skin," Stuever said. "I would be as happy as they got, and I would feel the pain they felt."

Initially, he spent time with four families before deciding the book would be better off focused on three. He's used to writing short pieces, like those for the Post or the essays in his 2004 book, "Off Ramp: Adventures and Heartache in the American Elsewhere," so making the transition to a longer format " all 352 pages of it " took some acclimation.

"I thought it would be easy-breezy, but it got more and more complicated," Stuever said. "Finding a story is like getting your arms around the trunk of a tree: You want to feel your fingers meet."

Once he understood what he would and wouldn't be able to accomplish in telling the tales of his three surrogate families, "Tinsel" glistened. All of his subjects now have read the finished product.

"To my internal relief, none of them have said, 'I hate you,'" Stuever said. "But there have been a variety of reactions. Everyone has something in the book they wished I had left out."

Once his multistate tour for "Tinsel" is over, he looks forward to spending Christmas away from Christmas " in Palm Springs, Calif., with his partner, photographer Michael Wichita.

"It'll be nice to go somewhere warm and not-so-Christmas-y," he said. "Michael deserves to get away from 'Tinsel.' We'll reboot Christmas in 2010."

While in town for the Full Circle appearance, where he hopes to get the crowd to serenade him with the B.C. Clark jingle, Stuever plans on checking out the changing face of the town he once called home.

In the summer of 1988, between collegiate years at Loyola University, he served an unpaid internship at a Oklahoma Gazette. Stuever recalls his duties included taking the handwritten reviews of then-film critic John Pickard and "typing them into this ancient machine. It was almost like tapping it out on a cave wall."

He also fondly remembers that summer's Gazette Best of OKC party.

"It was an absolute blast. I just remember laughing and laughing," he said. "Somebody threw egg rolls at (Gov.) David Walters."

Hank Stuever will appear at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Full Circle Bookstore, 1900 Northwest Expressway. "Rod Lott

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