The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

BOOKLUST, WANDERLUST: Jane Fletcher Geniesse’s biography of the passionate nomad (but displaced expat) Freya Stark

Booklust Wanderlust Collage

Left: Oleh Slobodeniuk (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0); right: Beth Green (her own photo).

Attention displaced bookworms! Our book review columnist, Beth Green, is back. An American who lives in Prague, Beth mixes booklust with wanderlust in equal measures, which gives her just the right background for reviewing book releases on behalf of international creatives.

—ML Awanohara

Hello again, Displaced Nationers! Hasn’t the summer gone by fast? How’s your progress on that reading list you made back in the day when it seemed like the dog days would go on forever?

Well, if you abide by the rule that summer ends with the equinox, then you still have a few more weeks. And if you’re searching for one last read to feed your wanderlust, I would recommend the volume I just now finished: a biography of Dame Freya Stark, one of the most amazing travelers and travel writers of the last century. Called Passionate Nomad: The Life of Freya Stark, it’s by former New York Times journalist Jane Fletcher Geniesse.

Passionate_Nomad_coverDays after reading, I’m still in a daze (so to speak), transported by Geniesse’s tale of this intrepid British war-time adventurer.

Stark is one of those people—we’ve all met them on our travels, haven’t we?—who seems to have crammed many lives’ worth of living into one single walk on Earth.

Born to Anglo-Italian-German parents who made their living painting, growing flowers, and managing textile factories (among other pursuits) across Europe, Stark was the original Third Culture Kid. As she traipsed with her parents across Britain, France and Italy, she had no real place to call home. She was further burdened by her parents’ separation and an emotionally manipulative mother, along with numerous illnesses and financial troubles.

A late bloomer

Though she would eventually achieve renown as a witty speaker who could always be counted on to liven up a party, as a young woman Stark despaired of being able to have her own life. She did not make her first trip to the Orient (as it was known in those days) until age 33.

Perhaps because Stark herself told the stories of her travels in the 25 books she published, Geniesse gives most of her attention to the adventures Stark had before being lionized for her travel exploits and writings. (Geniesse covers the last 40 years of Stark’s life—Stark lived to age 100!—in just one chapter.)

For me, Geniesse’s portrait is most brilliant when recreating the straitened times that preceded the period when Stark became fluent in Arabic, gained a reputation for bravery abroad and published her first articles and books on her Middle Eastern travels.

Geniesse relies on her intuition as well as meticulous research to highlight the details of Stark’s upbringing that help to explain her transformation from a penny-pinching flower farmer in Italy to a voracious student of classical literature, a free-spirited wanderer (she was one of the first non-Arabians to travel through the southern Arabian Deserts), and an internationally respected author, speaker, ethnologist and political consultant.

A misfit in the expat community

In tracing Stark’s life journey, Geniesse provides some sense of her struggle to find a place in the expat communities of the interwar years. On the one hand, she had trouble relating to the other Europeans she encountered on her travels, writing in one of her letters:

[The British missionaries in Lebanon] suffer from stagnation of the brain, and that surely produces stagnation of the soul in time. To feel, and think, and learn—learn always: surely that is being alive and young and the real sense. And most people seem to want to stagnate when they reach middle age. I hope I shall not become so, resenting ideas that are not my ideas, and seeing the world with all its changes and growth as a series of congealed formulas.

But during the period she spent within the expat community in Baghdad while researching her next trip, it was clear her fellow expats weren’t clear what to make of her either. As Geniesse writes:

Freya, now 37, was feeling her earlier despair give way to expanding hope. She could change her life; she had watched herself do it—although precisely to what purpose remained as much a mystery to her as the question of what Miss Stark was doing in their midst intrigued the Baghdad community. Freya enjoyed being directionless, learning purely for learning’s sake—and adjusting, if that was her fate, to a spinster’s life.

Geniesse concludes it may have been easier for Stark to explain herself to the tribes and villagers she encountered during her travels as they had no expectations of how she should be behaving. As a European, Christian woman traveling in remote areas of Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, Persia, Iraq and Iran, she was accepted as a foreigner, while in the expatriate communities there was some expectation that she should conduct herself as a proper unmarried lady.

(In fact she did eventually marry, in her fifties, to a good friend—but the couple separated soon afterwards, when her husband told her he was gay.)

Warts and all

Like all good biographers, Geniesse also highlights Stark’s less flattering qualities. From Stark’s petty rivalry with archaeologist Gertrude Caton-Thompson, to her sharp attitude toward women she felt were prettier than herself, to her irresponsible attitude to money and certain friends, Geniesse shows us the other side of this larger-than-life character. I liked Stark all the more for this mix of traits.

As I got to the end of Genisse’s work, I felt a little bereft. I missed Freya. There is something irresistible about a woman who not only writes her own script for her life but also gives herself a series of challenging parts. As Geniesse says, at the end of her life

Freya had followed her own genius. She had imagined herself as the star in many roles over the years—explorer in Persia and Luristan, Mata Hari at the imam’s court, English plenipotentiary during the war, and humble pilgrim, wandering through Turkey’s ancient ruins.

Next up on my reading list will have to be one of Stark’s own stories, several of which are still in print.

And now, I’ll leave you with a quote from Freya Stark herself, excerpted from a letter to her mother, listing the “7 cardinal virtues for a traveller”:
1. To admit standards that are not one’s own standards and discriminate the values that are not one’s own values.
2. To know how to use stupid men and inadequate tools with equanimity.
3. To be able to disassociate oneself from one’s bodily sensations.
4. To be able to take rest and nourishment as and when they come.
5. To love not only nature but human nature also.
6. To have an unpreoccupied, observant and uncensorious mind—in other words, to be unselfish.
7. To be as calmly good-tempered at the end of the day as at the beginning.”

* * *

Thanks, Beth, for bringing Dame Freya Stark to our attention! And now I would like to offically nominate her for our Displaced Hall of Fame. Readers, had you heard of Freya Stark before reading Beth’s column? What do you make of her? Have you encountered an eccentric like her on your own travels, or does she seem like a product of a previous age?

Beth Green is an American writer and English teacher living in Prague, Czech Republic. She grew up on a sailboat and, though now a landlubber, continues to lead a peripatetic life, having lived in Asia as well as Europe. Her personal Web site is Beth Green Writes, and she is about to launch a new site called Everyday Travel Stories. To keep in touch with her in between columns, try following her on Facebook and Twitter. She’s a social media nut!

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For this adult TCK writer with an ocean-loving soul and a passion for travel, a picture says…

Canon zoom lens; photo credit: Morguefiles. Rita Gardner at home in California.

Canon zoom lens; photo credit: Morguefiles. Rita Gardner at home in California.

Welcome to our monthly series “A picture says…”, created to celebrate expats and other global residents for whom photography is a creative outlet. The series host is English expat, blogger, writer, world traveler and photography enthusiast James King, who thinks of a camera as a mirror with memory. If you like what you see here, be sure to check out his blog, Jamoroki.

My guest this month is 67-year-old Rita Gardner, who grew up on her expatriate family’s coconut farm in a remote seaside village in the Dominican Republic. Her father declared them to be the luckiest people on earth. In reality, the family was in the path of hurricanes and in the grip of a brutal dictator, Rafael Trujillo.

But if life was far from the Eden her father had envisioned, Rita developed a set of childhood passions that sustains her to this day: writing, traveling, hiking—and photography.

TheCoconutLatitudes_cover_dropshadowShe may no longer live in the Dominican Republic but she continues to dream in Spanish, dance the merengue, and gather inspiration from nature and the ocean. Her favorite color is Caribbean blue.

And now Rita has written a memoir about her life as a Third Culture Kid in República Dominicana. Due out from She Writes Press in September, the book is evocatively titled The Coconut Latitudes: Secrets, Storms and Survival in the Caribbean.

Rita contacted me because she is enjoying “A Picture Says…” I am pleased that she can be this month’s featured guest.

* * *

Hi, Rita, and welcome to the Displaced Nation. I’m delighted to hear you’re enjoying “A Picture Says…” and to have the opportunity to do this interview. Before we get down to the nitty gritty, can you tell me a little more about how your family ended up living in the Caribbean?
My father was an electrical engineer and traveled all over the world installing hydro-electric dams. I think my travel wings must have sprouted in the womb since my parents were in Uruguay on a job site when my mother got pregnant. They flew back to the U.S. so I could be born, and six weeks later we were on another plane, this time to an engineering job in the Dominican Republic. My parents fell in love with that Caribbean island nation, and my father quit his engineering job and “went off the grid” to become a coconut farmer on an isolated beach on the country’s northern coast. It became our permanent home for the next 19 years, and, as you already mentioned, our Caribbean life is the subject of my forthcoming memoir, The Coconut Latitudes.

I guess that being born into an expat family was a passport, so to speak, to a life of travel?
That’s true. It influenced me in other ways as well. I tend to travel “close to the ground,” getting to know the people where I’m visiting. I also travel light as I want to be free to immerse myself (to the extent possible) in other cultures, exploring commonalities as well as differences. Most of my travels have been within Latin America, where I’ve been able to put my Spanish-language skills to use.

And I gather that growing up where you did, on a Caribbean island, you sometimes encountered real adventurers? Did they inspire you as well?
Yes. Those who made it as far as our isolated coconut farm were pretty intrepid and would have stories to tell. Because they were so rare, these visitors made a big impression on me, and their stories made me thirst for the day when I could venture out into the wider world myself. In my new memoir I chronicle one such encounter with a group of strangers who shipwrecked near our farm, and turned out to be not who they appeared to be. Someone else who inspired me was my older sister. By the time she was in her fifties, she’d traveled to over seventy countries.

Wow, she does sound adventuresome. How about you—which countries have you visited?
Most of the islands in the Caribbean, several of them by sailboat, plus Mexico, Costa Rica, Argentina, and Uruguay. In Europe I’ve been to Italy (where I attempted to speak Italian but it came out Spanish), France, and Greece (island-hopping by small boat plus a side trip to Athens).

A day at the beach restores the soul…

South America is a part of the world I have never been but the three weeks I spent in Trinidad more than thirty years ago gave me an idea of what it may be like. I’m sure you have some wonderful memories and I look forward to reading them soon in The Coconut Latitudes. I see you now live in North America. Can you tell us where?
I’m in northern California, right on San Francisco Bay. I found my way here a few decades ago. I’ve always chosen to live near the ocean. Like most people, I had to earn a living, so travel was only an option during vacations. Luckily, I’ve recently retired so have more to time to travel, take pictures, and write.

RG1 Smoking Bride

The smoking bride; photo credit: Rita M. Gardner.


Photo credit: Rita M. Gardner.

Wading chairs; photo credit: Rita M. Gardner.


Photo credit: Rita M. Gardner.

A sitting duck; photo credit: Rita M. Gardner.

Speaking of taking pictures, let’s have a look at a few in your collection that capture favorite memories. Can you describe the story behind each one and what makes them so special?
I visited France for the first time last year with a dear friend, and one of our favorite things to do was meander about. We saw this bridal couple in Monmartre. The bride’s leg-baring gown and the cigarette struck me as being improper yet fun.

She obviously stepped out of the part for a while, which makes for a lovely scene—almost like an actor taking a break on a film set. What else do you have for us?
The next one is from Boca Chica Beach, in the Dominican Republic, whose pastel turquoise waters I had loved since the time I was a small child. I recently went back to the Dominican Republic to attend a friend’s mother’s 100th birthday party. A group of us decided to pay a visit to this beach. I liked the whimsy of the chairs in the shallows, as if they were bathing.

So you didn’t put the chairs there yourself?
No—it was un-staged! The third photo won “Best of Show” earlier this year in a camera club I belong to. If you look closely, you’ll see a small duck in the foreground, which I didn’t notice when I got the shot. The ship itself is one of the last Liberty ships that had been built for action in World War II by the Kaiser Shipyards, near where I now live. At the peak of the war, ships were being turned out at the rate of one almost every week! It’s now “mothballed”, and volunteers, some of whom saw action in that war, maintain it. They’re getting pretty old…

“Seas” the day!

That may not be such a small duck but it certainly is a big ship. And now can you share some examples of your favorite places to take photographs? What is it about these places that inspires you?
It’s a bit of a mixture really. One of my favorite subjects is nature. Growing up on a Caribbean island, I saw the entire range, from watching in awe as thundering waves destroyed our pier and pitch-poled fishing boats, to contemplating sunsets that painted calm seas with exuberant color, to enjoying the deep chorus of frogs announcing rain. To this day, I love to take pictures out of doors. I enjoy finding unusual patterns in nature and looking for images that are “hidden in plain sight.” My other favorite subject is people: I am endlessly curious. Sometimes I plunge into crowds in hopes of getting opportunities for candid people shots.

This photo was taken in the midst of a parade in Santo Domingo, where the child’s attention was riveted to the action beyond the scene.

Photo credit: Rita M. Gardner.

Out of this displaced world; photo credit: Rita M. Gardner.

I took the next photo, of leaf patterns, at nearby Phoenix Lake during a hike with friends. I love the variety of colors and shapes.

Photo credit: Rita M. Gardner.

Leaf patterns; photo credit: Rita M. Gardner.

This third photo, taking in Mykonos, combines my love of nature and people. It feels meditative to me; clearly the fisherman is at one with his environment.

Photo credit: Rita M. Gardner.

Fishing for serenity of mind; photo credit: Rita M. Gardner.

I particularly love the fisherman shot because I have had many wonderful holidays in Mykonos, where I’ve taken photos—but never witnessed a scene like this one. In fact it is one that most people would not associate with Mykonos. Moving on, I know some people feel reserved about taking photos of people, particularly when they are conscious that they are doing so. What’s your feeling about this?
I feel respect more than reserve, and if it seems that taking pictures would not be a welcome experience, I back away from doing it.

In that case, do you ask permission before taking people’s photographs? And how do you get around any problem of language?
I’m a pretty friendly person, so if I’ve caught someone’s eye,I might engage them in a brief conversation and ask if it’s OK if I take their picture. I find smiles break through a lot of language barriers. Also, most people I meet like to practice their English, so language is not usually a problem. That said, some of the best photos are candid ones. Sometimes I try to capture a shot without the subject being aware—I don’t engage in conversation in those instances.

Would you say that photography and the ability to be able to capture something unique which will never be seen again is a powerful force for you and has changed the way you look at life?
I consider myself extremely lucky when I’ve managed to capture an image that is unusual and unlikely to be photographed again. I don’t think the experience changes me. My chief emotion is to feel grateful that I have an eye for images that others may lack.

Sea-ing the light

Photographers never tire of discussing cameras and lenses. What kind of equipment do you use?
I gave up my SLR and its array of lenses for the convenience of a small digital camera. I use a Canon PowerShot and my i-Phone. Both fit in pockets, so I can travel light. Also, I prefer to shoot in natural light rather than use a flash (unless it’s absolutely necessary). So I guess I could say I travel light, and I shoot “light.” How’s that for a quick summary of my style?

Well said! I see nothing wrong with using smaller cameras. Their power and versatility is improving all the time, so unless you need big images for printing they do a great job, sufficient for posting on websites and social media. What is your take on post-processing?
I don’t manipulate my photos other than with the standard tools for cropping, adjusting exposure, etc. I don’t use Photoshop or any the other software products available. Okay, I have to confess I just discovered some apps for the i-Phone camera which I’m having fun with, but mostly “what I see is what I get.” That said, I’m not a purist; I may get into photo software at some point in the future.

The results are good so don’t tell anyone!!! Finally, do you have any advice from your experiences for wannabe photographers who are traveling or living abroad?
Given the ability to erase unwanted images on digital cameras, just shoot away, assuming you get a photo card with enough memory that it doesn’t fill up quickly. Always carry an extra battery and extra film card, because it does you no good to have those items tucked away in your suitcase, or wherever you are lodging! Oh, and do have a battery charger if you are on a long trip so you don’t have to worry about running out of juice. So to speak.

Thanks so much for all these practical tips and for sharing these photos, Rita, and may I take this opportunity to wish you the very best when you launch The Coconut Latitudes this coming month.

* * *

Readers, what do you make of Rita’s experiences and her photography advice? And do you have any questions for her on her photos and/or travels? Please leave them in the comments!

And if you want to know more about Rita, don’t forget to visit her author site and like her author page on Facebook. You can also follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.

Last but not least, I would highly recommend that you pre-order a copy of Rita’s Dominican memoir, The Coconut Latitudes, from Amazon.

(If you are a photographer and would like to be interviewed by James for this series, please send your information to ml@thedisplacednation.com.)

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LOCATION, LOCUTION: Jessica Bell – Australian contemporary fiction author in Ithaca, Greece

black and white_Jessica BellIn this month’s “Location, Locution”, expat crime writer JJ Marsh interviews Jessica Bell, a thirty-something Australian-native contemporary fiction author, poet and singer/songwriter/ guitarist. Jessica is the Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal and the director of the Homeric Writers’ Retreat & Workshop on the Greek island of Ithaca. She makes a living as a writer/editor for English Language Teaching Publishers worldwide, such as Pearson Education, HarperCollins, MacMillan Education, Education First and Cengage Learning.

Which came first, story or location?

Neither. My characters always start off a story. But if I had to choose, I would say location comes before story as I think the location of the story would have a lot of impact on how it’s told.

What’s your technique for evoking the atmosphere of a place?

I try to incorporate as many of the senses as possible. Utilizing the six senses (see, hear, smell, taste, touch, and instinct) can really bring your writing to life. To do this successfully, you need to “show, not tell.” Otherwise, these senses will not really be senses. The reader won’t actually experience them, they will only “read about” them. And the whole point of reading a great book is to feel like you aren’t actually reading. Right? Right. Using the six senses in an effective way will accomplish this.

The key to using sense in your writing, however, is to limit your use of the words, see, feel, hear, smell and taste. That’s not to say you shouldn’t ever use these words, but just be aware you don’t overuse them.

The most ideal way to incorporate senses is to employ language in which sense is already a part of. For example, instead of saying the kitchen smelled sweet with melted chocolate, show the reader what’s cooking, and consequently that taste and scent will be present in the narrative without you having to point it out.

Using the six senses well is also not only about having your characters sense things, it’s about making your readers sense things—even elements that your characters aren’t feeling, i.e., if the reader knows more than your character(s) do, or if you’re showing something that you might react to differently than the characters in the book.

If you’d like more of my advice on writing craft, take a gander at Writing in a Nutshell.

Which particular features create a sense of location? Landscape, culture, food?

Oh, everything!

Can you give a brief example of your work which illustrates place?

Sure! This excerpt is from String Bridge:

String Bridge paperback coverThe island’s windy mountainous roads are framed with olive groves and air so crisp you could snap it like celery. The houses are stained with whitewash and embedded with old-style wooden shutters, tailored by the locals to keep the summer swelter out. They are painted blue, red, or green, but occasionally you may come across the odd pink or orange shutters, which are more often than not inhabited by the eccentric barmy type who are colour-blind, or the young and loaded foreigner who believes an island revolution should be in order.

Goats meander about the streets, butting each other’s heads senselessly as they try to escape oncoming cars and motorcycles. The roosters, chickens, and geese fire up the locals at the first sign of sunrise. Birds chirp, cicadas “jijiga” in the olive trees, and dogs bark as the bread truck, a red beat-up Ute, delivers fresh hot loaves to each residence, and slips the required amount of bread into handmade cloth bags hanging from wire fencing.

Summer on this island engraves your skin with a longing to spend sunrise to sunset lying on a small, empty, white-pebbled beach in a secluded cove at the end of a private dirt track. At midday, it gets so hot you need to wade through the heat waves rising from the uneven tarred road like kindred spirits before you can wade in the Ionian Sea to cool off—a flat, motionless oil bath which glows with an infinite turquoise glint. It may seem you are stepping into velvet, however, you emerge covered in a thin salty crust you can brush off like sand when it dries.

How well do you need to know the place before using it as a setting?

For the above example, I knew the setting extremely well as I have spent at least a quarter of my life on this Greek island. However, I don’t think you necessarily need to know a place to write about it well. For example, if you want to write about a Greek beach, just think of another beach you’ve been to, imagine it smaller, imagine pebbles instead of sand, how would that setting change affect your senses? Just use knowledge gleaned from other places you’ve been to and be smart about incorporating the differences. You’d be surprised what you can find on the Internet to help you.

Which writers do you admire for the way they use location?

Definitely Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, and Marilynne Robinson.

 

 

Writing in a Nutshell_Jessica BellSign up to Jessica’s newsletter and receive Book #1 of the Writing in a Nutshell Series, Show & Tell in a Nutshell, or Muted: A Short Story in Verse, for free.

Connect with Jessica online:

Website | Retreat & workshop | Blog | Vine Leaves Literary Journal | Facebook | Twitter

 

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Next month’s Location, Locution: Scottish-born/Canadian-raised Catriona Troth, whose books Gift of the Raven and Ghost Town encompass 1970s Canada through the eyes of a young boy, and Britain’s 1980s race riots respectively. .

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JJ Marsh grew up in Wales, Africa and the Middle East, where her curiosity for culture took root and triggered an urge to write. After living in Hong Kong, Nigeria, Dubai, Portugal and France, JJ finally settled in Switzerland, where she is currently halfway through her European crime series, set in compelling locations all over the continent and featuring detective inspector Beatrice Stubbs.

STAY TUNED for our next post!

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THE LADY WHO WRITES: Get over yourself, and start promoting that novel!

LadyWhoWrites_brandThe Lady Who Writes, Meagan Adele Lopez, is back today: we’ve missed her! Once again, she’ll be doling out practical advice based on her own experience for expats and other international creatives who are engaged in writing novels using some of the material gathered from their novel, shall we say, life stories. Meagan is a repeat expat in the UK (last time Bristol, this time London). Besides writing, her talents include acting, blogging, and crafting ads for social media.

—ML Awanohara

So—you’ve written the book, you’ve got the editor, your friends and family love it, you’ve done the Kickstarter to raise the money and your blog has a steady readership.

(Even if you have just written the book and don’t have the rest in that list, you’re a million times ahead of anyone who has just spoken about writing a book. You’ve DONE something.)

Don’t you think you deserve—no, the WORLD deserves—to get a chance to know it exists?

The fact is, most of us writers are a little afraid of self-promotion. But by the time you finish reading today’s column, I hope you will have gotten over that fear and are full of determination to plug your Great Work like crazy.

Excuses, excuses

You don’t have a manager? You don’t have a PR team? You don’t know a graphic designer?

All good! Even if you had all those things, you’d still be expected to do as much, if not more than, the promotional team, who are working on other books as well as yours. Obviously, having a group of PR professionals around you wouldn’t hurt. But c’mon! You’ve been preparing for this your entire life. You got this!

To quote Eminem—just because the song Lose Yourself never fails to get me pumped up to do really GREAT things:

Look, if you had, one shot, or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted, one moment
Would you capture it?
Or just let it slip, yo

Facebook’s (literal) wall

Now I want to tell you about the time when I took a walk through Facebook headquarters to pitch to Walmart and Facebook about why my team was worth their investment of millions of dollars. I noticed many inspiring quotes on their (literal!) walls, one of which really lept out at me:

"Done is better then..." on Facebook's literal wall, by Meagan Adele Lopez

“Done is better then…” on Facebook’s literal wall. Photo credit: Meagan Adele Lopez

Notice the misspelling and the comma in a weird place? It certainly makes a statement, doesn’t it?

Don’t get me wrong: it’s a great idea to comb through the final manuscript, edit the spelling mistakes and make sure your character arcs are outlined appropriately.

But how long have you been working on this novel? One year? Two years? Ten?!

Get it out there. Done is better than perfect. Done is even better than good—or as Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame says:

I want to make as many things as I can, taking on as many projects as I can possibly tackle. Each one exciting. Each one good enough. Each one DONE, to make room for the next, and the next, and the next…

Wouldn’t that be a wonderful way to live?

Take me, for instance…

This article is a perfect example, actually. I have written and re-written it about five times. Twice because my computer crashed, and three times in my head because I didn’t feel like I had anything relevant to add to this topic.

Wait, did I just say I have nothing to add? I work in ADVERTISING and MARKETING for God’s sake. How could I not have something to say?

All of our heads get in the way sometimes, and that’s OK as long as you don’t let it run you. I know this article is supposed to be about promoting your novel, but I think the most useful thing I can tell you is to get over yourself and realize that you are damn good enough to have other people read your book, now that it’s finished.

Regardless of what other writers on writing would have you believe, there are no secret tips to marketing and promoting your novel. Yes, there are the basics—advertising campaigns, blogs, newsletters, etc. But the most important thing is to refuel that passion you had when you were dining with your characters, when you were rehearsing your book trailer and reading every other author’s done works, and use it to drive your promotional efforts.

Set some goals

Thus I’m not going to give you step-by-step instructions on how to promote your novel. There are plenty of other google-able articles out there—for example:

But I will tell you to have goals. Do you want to sell 50 copies or tens of thousands? Do you want to make the New York Times Bestseller list, or do you just want your entire family to read it? Do you want to write articles or be interviewed for great sites like The Displaced Nation?

Once you’ve set some goals, how you go about achieving them becomes a lot easier.

What I can also say is that everything you write after you finish your book will be a promotion for that book. For example, at the end of this article is a little blurb about who I am and what I’ve written. Same for this interview I did in 2011 about publishing on Kindle, this article I wrote about taking the time to make change happen, and this article I wrote just recently for BBC America about combining British and American weddings (a version of which appeared two years ago on the Displaced Nation).

And now, without further ado, here’s Novel Writing Tip No 6 for International Creatives:

Once you write a book—everything you do will help promote it. So finish with the finishing touches, get out there and start talking about it!

* * *

Readers, what do you make of this final piece of advice of Meagan’s, which I take to be a kind of a kick in the pants (or trousers, if you prefer)? And do you have any further questions for Meagan, THE LADY WHO WRITES, before she leaves us? Please share in the comments…

Meagan Adele Lopez grew up in the U.S. with a Cuban-born father and American mother, and at one time enjoyed an acting/casting career in Hollywood, something you can detect in the beautiful trailer for her novel, Three Questions. Her day job these days is in social media advertising. To learn more about Meagan, go to her Web site.

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And the July 2014 Alices go to … these 4 international creatives

 © Iamezan | Dreamstime.com Used under license

© Iamezan | Dreamstime.com
Used under license

If you are a subscriber to our weekly newsletter, the Displaced Dispatch, you’re already in the know. But if you’re not, listen up. (Hey, why aren’t you? Off with your head!)

Every week, when that esteemed publication comes out, we present contenders for a monthly “Alice Award,” most of whom are writers or other kinds of international creatives who appear to have a special handle on the curious and unreal aspects of being a global resident or voyager.

Not only that, but this person tries to use this state of befuddlement as a spur to greater creative heights.

Today’s post honors July’s four Alice recipients. They are (drumroll…):

1) STEVE LUNT, British barrister and expat in the Far East (first Hong Kong and now the Philippines)

For his post: “My invitation to paradise was printed on a T-shirt,” on Telegraph Expat
Posted on: 25 July 2014
Snippet:

The tidal rhythms of island life seem to suit the mind and body. After a week in Boracay, you might forget that other world, where you have to strive more, earn more and worry more.

Small wonder then that so many expats forget to leave.

Citation: First off, Mr. Lunt QC, we’d like to pass judgement on this little adventure of yours. Let’s see. According to your testimony, you were having a “chilly winter” in Hong Kong when you happened to notice someone wearing a T-shirt promoting Boracay, the Philippines’ most popular tourist destination. It read:

Quit your job. Buy a ticket. Fall in love. Stay forever …

—and you decided to do just that. Now, does the defendant plead guilty or not guilty of barmy behavior? Off with your head… (Sorry, this is the first chance we’ve had to use that line in an Alice citation, and we simply couldn’t resist.) Moving right along to your observation about expats who are guilty of staying forever: we note that in your own case, you left the white sands of Boracay for the bright lights of Manila after 10 months. While this is a healthy sign, the jury is still out on your long-term intentions. All we can say is that forgetfulness is surprisingly common among us displaced types. Take Alice for instance. After stepping through the looking-glass, she enters the wood where things have no names and immediately forgets her own name:

“What do you call yourself?” the Fawn said at last. Such a soft sweet voice it had!

“I wish I knew!” thought poor Alice. She answered, rather sadly, “Nothing, just now.”

Suffice it to say that the moment you hear a Palawan Bearded Pig cry out, “I’m a Palawan Bearded Pig! and dear me! You’re an English barrister!”, it will be time to get the heck out of there. We rest our case.

2) LUCILLE CELANO, indie author and New Zealander in New Caledonia

For her post: The downsides of living in a Pacific paradise on Stuff.co.nz
Posted on: 15 July 2014
Snippet:

International contracts in mining and development bring in [to New Caledonia] entire families who must cope with a life not their own. Kids are thrown into school wondering what planet they’ve arrived on. No allowances are made for these children in the local system and the French syllabus of reading, writing and mathematics (and nothing else) seems alien to parents used to school rooms full of colour and creativity.

Citation: Lucille, we’ve long suspected that Paradise has many downsides, so thank you for writing this post. But, as to this business of expat children receiving a French-style education, are you sure that’s not an upside? Maybe we’ve been drinking the Pamela Druckerman Koolaid for too long (has her book, Bringing Up Bébé, reached New Caledonia yet?), but Drukerman, an American expat in Paris, pretty much has us persuaded that if your bébé isn’t doing well in school, it’s a sign of bad parenting. According to Druckerman, the French have a knack for getting the balance right between good parenting and good teaching, the evidence being the kids themselves. French kids are much better behaved than—while also being just as boisterous, curious and creative as—kids elsewhere. That said, it sounds as though you’ve got enough toxic matter in the air from that nickel smelter, and we wouldn’t want Druckerman’s thesis to add any more. The way things are going with that New Calendonian expat crowd, we predict it won’t be long before a Mock Turtle stands up and says he’s had the “best of educations,” far superior to anyone else’s in the room. And just think, if said Mock Turtle held sway, all expat offspring would be forced to study the “different branches of Arithmetic—Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision.” On the other hand, his idea of classes taking place in the sea might have a certain appeal. Isn’t New Caledonia one of THE diving spots in the South Pacific? Yes, yes, we know it’s no paradise, or if it is, it’s a paradise with flaws. Actually, now that you’ve gotten us thinking about French-style learning, we’re remembering a line of Victor Hugo’s that you may wish to use on the expat crowd, next time things get on your nerves:

An intelligent hell would be better than a stupid paradise.

3) BARNABY EALES, freelance journalist and director of a translation service, former expat but now living in East Sussex, UK

For his post: A return to my beautiful, mad school in Paris, on Telegraph Expat
Posted on: 7 July 2014
Snippet:

Madame Boulic, the mother of my second host French family, dropped me off at the [British School of Paris]‘s anniversary party and reunion. To her amusement, a banner at the entrance to the school read: “We are all mad here.”

Ahead of the evening BBQ party, the theme of the summer fête was Alice in Wonderland, and in the cultural sense, living in this part of France is all about being in wonderland: exposed to French culture and language while receiving a British education. An outsider within.

Citation: Barnaby, thank you for sharing this charming story of your misspent youth at a school for (predominantly, at the time you went there) British expats in France. And we’re head over heels for the idea of an Alice-themed summer fête being thrown by such a displaced institution. In our book, that’s calling a spade a spade, or should we say, a heart a heart? We have just one item in need of clarification, though, after reading your post. You mention beer and Jägermeister being enjoyed. But what about wine? We are recalling, of course, this exchange between Alice and the March Hare:

“Have some wine,” the March Hare said in an encouraging tone.

Alice looked all round the table, but there was nothing on it but tea. “I don’t see any wine,” she remarked.

“There isn’t any,” said the March Hare.

That would not be terribly civil, to use Alice’s word, especially in light of the growing numbers of French students at BSP. À la vôtre!

4) EMMA THIEME, fifth-generation Maine girl living off-the-grid in Washington County, Matador Network contributor and MatadorU faculty member

For her post: The First Time I Felt Independence, on Matador Network
Posted on: 4 July 2014
Snippet:

I wish I could say that this worry gene didn’t pass on to me, but I too have felt myself hugging a loved one too tightly when saying goodbye. I’ve saved countless voicemails as if they were soon-to-be artifacts. I’ve even gone so far as imagining the minute details of myself, distraught, at a funeral. What would I wear? Who would bring me? How soon would I return to work?

Citation: Listen, Emma, “worry” is Alice in Wonderland’s middle name! Honestly, has there ever been a bigger fretter in the history of English literature? Don’t even think about competing with her. But the nice thing about Alice, and we suspect you have this gene as well, is that despite her aversion to nasty predicaments, she handles them with aplomb. How about the time when she eats the cookie in the White Rabbit’s house and grows to the point where her arms and legs are sticking out the windows and doors, yet still has the presence of mind to conduct a little conversation with her extremities:

“Good-bye, feet!” (for when she looked down at her feet, they seemed to be almost out of sight, they were getting so far off). “Oh, my poor little feet, I wonder who will put on your shoes and stockings for you now, dears? I’m sure I shan’t be able! I shall be a great deal too far off to trouble myself about you: you must manage the best way you can;—but I must be kind to them,’ thought Alice, “or perhaps they won’t walk the way I want to go!”

And, while we don’t wish to be too literal, perhaps your worrying nature has kept your feet, which are clearly itching to travel and have adventures, from fulfilling their true potential. Had you thought of talking to your feet, as Alice does, and reassuring them of your intention to let them lead the way? We feel certain they appreciated your outburst at the Denver airport: “Wow, I’m alive!” (Hmmm…and now that you’re a domestic expat, having moved from Maine to Washington State, are they getting ideas about moving abroad? It would not surprise us.)

*  *  *

So, readers, do you have a favorite from the above, or have you read any recent posts you think deserve an Alice Award? We’d love to hear your suggestions! And don’t miss out on the shortlist of Alice contenders we provide in each week’s Dispatch, which are sources of creative thought if nothing else! Get on our subscription list now!

STAY TUNED for more fab posts.

Writers and other international creatives: If you want to know in advance the contenders for our monthly Alice Award winners, sign up to receive The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with news of book giveaways, future posts, and of course, our weekly Alice Award!. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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TCK TALENT: Esther Williams Kalbfleish, Military Brat with a Heart for Theatre and a Mind for Teaching Other TCKs

Esther & Leon collage

TCK BELLS: Esther with her ATCK husband, Leon Kalbfleisch, on their wedding day six years ago. The couple originally met at the International School in Bangkok. Photo credit: Vikki Goodman.

Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang is back with her monthly column about Adult Third Culture Kids (ATCKs) who work in creative fields, Lisa herself being a prime example. A Guatemalan-American of Chinese-Spanish-Irish-French-German-English descent, she has developed her own one-woman show about being a TCK, which was the closing keynote at this year’s Families in Global Transition (FIGT) conference and will be staged in Europe for the first time this August.

—ML Awanohara

Greetings, readers! Today’s guest is Esther Williams Kalbfleisch, an actress who also works as an ESL teacher in Alhambra, California, teaching kids from around the world whose families have migrated to the USA. I hope you enjoy her TCK Tale as much as I did!

* * *

Hello, Esther, and welcome to The Displaced Nation. I know you grew up in a military family, which gave you automatic admission into the ranks of us Third Culture Kids. Is it true that your dad worked as a spy at one point?
Yes, my dad was an army officer who served for 33 years, and while we were in India he was assigned to the Diplomatic Corps and worked as a spy!

So what did your mom do?
She was a housewife. Besides being a Cub Scout Den Mother and Girl Scout Leader, she assisted my dad with all of the entertaining that was necessary in his position.

I understand you were the youngest of four TCK siblings and the only girl, and that only one of your brothers traveled with you the first time you went overseas.
Yes, John was my only sibling to go overseas with my family after I was born; he was four years older and was born in Germany. My two eldest brothers, Wynn and Dennis, were from my dad’s first marriage and had gone overseas with him years before I was born. Wynn was 17 when I was born; Dennis was 13. Wynn attended West Point for a year and then served in Germany and Vietnam—my first memory of him would be from years later. By the time we went to India, Dennis had enlisted in the army.

Hey, we serve, too!

Tell me about all the moves and transitions you experienced as a kid.
We moved about every two years after I was born at Fort Eustis in Virginia. At that time my family was living off post, in a town called Lee Hall. Eventually we moved on post, to housing on Fort Eustis, and then to Springfield so that my parents could attend a foreign language school in D.C. in preparation for my father’s next assignment, in India. I remember my mom and dad bringing home films to give John and me an idea of what was to come. They also taught us how to count and say some simple phrases in Hindi. We moved to New Delhi when I was six, where I attended an American school. After two years we were transferred to Travis Air Force Base, in California, where we were one of the few army families. My dad was MATCO (Military Air Traffic Coordinating Officer)—his job was to organize and send materials to Vietnam and other places overseas. We moved to Thailand when I was in my last month of fourth grade. I enrolled in the International School of Bangkok, where I stayed and graduated from high school. My dad retired in Thailand, and my parents continued living there until 1976, when they moved back to the States.

When did your love of acting start?
Like many other military brats, I was raised in a very strict environment. My parents taught us that as Americans living overseas we were mini-ambassadors for the USA. Country, God, and family came first, especially country. When outside the home, we had to be polite, quiet, and respectful to all, and it was like that at home as well: no heated discussions or emotional outbursts. But then I got cast as Princess Lonelyheart in the second-grade play. Princess Lonelyheart stomped her feet when angry, cried when sad, and jumped up and down for joy. I had no idea one was allowed to react to the world in such a way—and thus began my life-long love affair with the theatre. I helped to found Thespian Troop 1163 at my high school in Bangkok, and performed or worked on over 12 productions.

The drama of choosing an acting career

But you went on to earn an education degree?
When it came time for college I was torn. My parents (who paid for my college, bless them!) considered theatre to be impractical and frivolous. And I had to struggle with my own feeling that acting was basically selfish. It didn’t fit in with my sense of duty to others. But even after I enrolled at the University of Colorado to study education, I couldn’t resist the pull of theatre. I continued to take classes and work with local theatre groups, both in college and immediately afterwards. I taught for three years in Dallas, Texas, before deciding to quit and study acting full time. I earned a second degree, in theatre, from the University of Texas.

So you got a second degree in theatre?
Yes, and eventually a master’s degree, from Cal State L.A.

It sounds like you really were torn.
For my entire adult life, I’ve been going back and forth between teaching and acting, struggling to find a place where I can best “serve” my community. After pursuing a career in theatre in the Chicago area, I moved to the L.A. area, where, for a time, teaching took over as my second love. For three years I was content to teach—there is nothing quite like watching a spark of understanding flit across a child’s face. But then one morning I woke up and vowed to find a theatre community. I learned that Theatre of NOTE was holding auditions the following day. I dragged out some monologues and went to the audition. For the next 24 years, Theatre of NOTE would be my artistic family. Due to my teaching demands I have now become an associate member. I still struggle with my choices.

Give me someone who has lived in another country…

Like many other ATCK artists I’ve talked to in this series, you’ve lived among worlds—first quite literally, when growing up in different cultures; and then professionally, as you found yourself torn between acting and teaching. As an adult TCK, have you also struggled with your cultural identity? And do you tend to gravitate towards people with interests or backgrounds similar to yours? 
To this day I have a particular fondness for the Thai people and their culture. Like most TCKs, I imagine, I identify most closely with people who have similar interests or who have lived abroad. I was a bit of a snob when I came back to the states for college. I couldn’t believe everyone was discussing Homecoming. I was far more interested in the latest Thai coup d’état… Give me someone who has lived in another country and I can LISTEN, as well as talk, for hours.

Were you happiest in a certain place at a certain time? 
I have fond memories of each place I’ve lived in, but I think India captured my curiosity. I was 6–8 years old when we lived there—old enough to be curious and yet not old enough to be set in any particular way of thinking. For me, India was a great mystery just waiting to be discovered. As I was always accompanied by my brother, John, I had nothing to fear. We would wander the streets of Dehli together or with friends, having adventures.

“The worst thing about being a military brat is not being a military brat anymore.” —Marc Curtis

As an ATCK, do you have “itchy feet” or do you prefer to have a home base and only travel for pleasure?
For many years I had “itchy feet”—I moved to different states or apartments every two to three years. Then someone asked me, was I running away or towards something. That got me thinking! I had three older brothers, all of whom were married with kids. I realized I was in search of something similar, a sense of community and family. That’s when I stopped moving and bought my own place. I realized I had to learn the skills to keep friendships and relationships going. There are wonderful people everywhere, but it is making the time to be with them that creates enduring bonds.

Have you kept in touch with friends from your TCK days?
One thing I’ve done for many years is to attend reunions of the International School in Bangkok, which are held every two years in different locations in the United States and even sometimes in Thailand. What is unique about the reunions is that they are for all graduating classes at the same time. I’ve attended almost every one since 1984. It has been great to reconnect with old friends and create many new ones.

I understand your husband is an old friend from the international school in Bangkok.
Yes! I re-met Leon at the 2000 reunion in Virginia—we had worked together on some plays in high school and were in choir and a couple of shared classes, but there had been nothing romantic between us. During that particular reunion we enjoyed a few nice chats. Fast forward to the next reunion, held in Arizona, in 2002. I had just returned from a magical, month-long trip to Kenya, and when I saw Leon, there was a little flutter in my stomach. It’s a long story, but for a while we had a long-distance relationship, after which he moved to California. We got married six years ago. We both enjoy traveling, but our first priority is visiting family and friends. We still attend the reunions every two years.

A good teacher is a good actor

What drew you to teaching?
The 1974 documentary film Hearts and Minds, which is about the Vietnam War. I came out of that movie believing that if everyone could learn to love and respect others as they love and respect themselves, no one would need to “react” out of fear, and we would no longer need war. It’s a somewhat naive thought, of course, but I can’t let go of it. I hold it in my heart each day when facing my students.

Do you think your international upbringing makes you particularly well suited to be an ESL teacher?
Definitely. As you mentioned at the outset, the students I work with are recent arrivals to the USA. Together we share what it is to leave your own country, family, and friends and try to create a new world for yourself in a new place. I’m currently working with high school students. Besides culture shock, they have the usual teenage angst about boyfriends or girlfriends left behind… Because I lived overseas and constantly moved around as a kid, I can easily relate to what they might be feeling.

Do you use both acting and diplomacy skills as a teacher? 
I think all teachers are actors to some degree. Especially working with high school students, one needs to react in a calm and thoughtful way, even if you’re not feeling that way inside. Teens will try to unnerve you if they can. I am constantly using both my acting skills and my diplomatic skills to create an environment of mutual trust and respect. One thing that drew me to the ESL students is that because their English is so limited, they don’t use language to hide what they need or want; they are too busy trying to make their meanings clear. Their needs are laid right out there for all to see. I find my ESL students to be especially honest and compassionate.

Our time is nearly up, but let’s give acting the final word. Are you performing anything soon? 
I’ll be performing in the New Short Fiction Series, L.A.’s longest running spoken words series, on Sunday, October 12, at 7:00 p.m. at the Federal Bar in North Hollywood. I’ll be presenting a new work of short fiction by a featured West Coast writer. Anyone who is passing through LA at that time is welcome to attend. You can sign up for tickets at www.newshortfictionseries.com.

* * *

Thank you, Esther! Readers, please leave any questions or comments for Esther or me below. I’ll see you in September, after I’ve returned from Iceland. As ML mentioned above, I’m kicking off a global theatre tour of Alien Citizen on August 20 and 22 at the amazing Tjarnarbíó creative center in Reykjavik! Thanks to all those who supported my Kickstarter campaign.

STAY TUNED for next week/month’s fab posts!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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GLOBAL FOOD GOSSIP: Don’t mess with Texas BBQ Brisket

global food gossipJoanna Masters-Maggs, our resident repeat-expat Food Gossip and Creative Chef, is back with her column for like-minded food lovers.

* * *

After another disappointing crack at BBQ Brisket Texas style this weekend, I have come to the bad-tempered conclusion that the joy of discovering how to cook wonderful dishes from far-flung places is outweighed by the complications of reproducing them elsewhere.

My Brisket is a sort of Third-Culture Recipe. It was learned in Texas by Little Old English me, and most recently I have been trying to replicate it in an another location: France. As with so many other recipe “finds”, it is the cause of endless discontent as well as fruitless searches for must-have ingredients that have no place in the third culture markets in which I find myself. In short, my brisket woes have made me conclude that the answer to the perennial Brazilian vendor’s question “Importado or nacional?” is “nacional.”

Every time.

It will be cheaper, less time-consuming and, ultimately, a better experience of the place you are living in. Additionally, you will avoid being an embarrassment to expatdom: the kind that imports Aunt Jemima’s pancake syrup to a country where Maple Syrup is freely available, or baked beans to the land of feijoada (Brazil).

Look deep into your heart and you will find that while your desire to reproduce exotic recipes is partly born of greedy nostalgia, it could well include an element of entertaining one-up-man-ship.

Guilty as charged.

The Great Texan Brisket Debate

But back to the Texan Brisket.  For those unlucky enough to have never sampled this delicacy, let me enlighten you. Texans take a brisket — a chest of beef which usually weighs in at about 12lbs — and then proceed to start the Great Brisket Debate. The Debate is as much a part of the process as the cooking and eating. Some “Pit Boys and Gals” choose to make a “rub” of various spices, which they massage into the meat before cooking. Others argue that the “mop” or basting liquid will just wash most of it off anyway and that the flavor of the beef itself should be able to stand alone. Those who use a rub are sub-divided into those who use it just before the barbecuing process begins and those who like to marinate the meat overnight. (Are you beginning to see the importance of brisket to Texans?) Some sort of liquid is required during the long, slow cooking process of eight hours plus. The mop acts to keep the temperature down so the meat comes as slowly as possible to a state of doneness, and it also moistens and adds flavor to the meat. The contents of rub, mop, and barbecue sauces are personal and, as with all great recipes, subject to much secrecy.

Your average brisket is a pretty tough cut. The chest is mainly muscle and connective tissue with little fat marbling. As a result, most experts recommend dry-hanging the meat for 30 to 45 days. This ageing process allows enzymes to tenderize the meat and flavor to develop. It is a vital element in the process of successfully barbecuing brisket.

A vital element that one is forced to forgo in France.

The Battle of Bastings — to hang or not to hang?

I’ve been in France for three years and I have been trying to replicate this recipe during all that time. To start the process, I  hang up the beef myself, because the French, clearly, will not.

I have had a lot of success with brisket in England but very little in France. British beef is great for those embarking on BBQ Brisket 101. English beef comes from animals that are raised to give meat, and not from knackered dairy cows past their productive best, as so often happens in France. In addition, British breeders concentrate on small, docile beasts, which yield well-marbled and thus easily break-downable meat. Not only that, but the English animal is infinitely better hung than its French counterpart. (What am I saying? Dare I slight France’s impeccable reputation for matters of an amorous nature?)

Independent British butchers rarely age their beef for less than 21 days, while specialist, higher end establishments aim for 35 days or more. Hanging is seldom done in France because leaner meat is now in vogue: you cannot successfully age meat which lacks fat marbling. A final factor is that British cows are generally grass fed, resulting in a better flavor than French cows which, largely coming from the hot dry SW, must take a corn- or maize-fed diet.

Forget haute cuisine: it’s all about the haute boucherie. French star butcher gives seal of approval to British beef.

Now, I’m aware that an English girl talking about French meat might cause anger and even some references to Mad Cow Disease (an unfortunate episode which caused France to unilaterally and illegally ban British beef imports for six years). For this reason, I bring in Yves-Marie Le Bourdonnec as my big gun. In 2012, Le Bourdonnec, Parisian butcher extraordinaire and the recipient of many awards, opened Le Beef Club, where the meat is all British. The restaurant has its own hanging room where beef is aged for up to 60 days. Le Bourdonnec is happy to tell his compatriots a thing or two about their attitudes to British Beef and why France should copy English ways. Yet opinion is entrenched amongst French farmers and butchers, even to the extent of shamelessly trimming the “fat cap” I so badly needed to protect the meat from the barbecue’s heat. Healthier, maybe; drier, certainly.

Texan Brisket – nacional, every time

The French cow — and vache I truly believe it was — who died for my barbecue last weekend, died in vain. The combo of rub, mop, slow cooking, and basting, yielded brisket which, while tasty, lacked the unctuous melting texture of the real deal. The fibres of the meat remained stubbornly overlong and well-defined to the very end. It was the texture which denied authenticity. Most Texans serve their Brisket with BBQ sauce on the side, or so I have heard from several reliable sources.  It would suggest that the brisket was less than perfectly cooked to mix the sauce through the meat. The fact that I “mixed for moisture” tells you all I need to know about the suitability of the meat in France for this particular recipe.

From now on I will reserve the meat for French casseroles and wait until I am once again in Texas to have my brisket fix.

But you know what? Thinking about it, the pork here cooks well and is tender. I wonder if I would have a better chance of Third Culture Recipe success if I turn my attention to pulled pork barbecue. Just one more bash? I’ll keep you posted…….

* * *

Joanna was displaced from her native England 17 years ago, and has since attempted to re-place herself and blend into the USA, Holland, Brazil, Malaysia, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and now France. She describes herself as a “food gossip”, saying: “I’ve always enjoyed cooking and trying out new recipes. Overseas, I am curious as to what people buy and from where. What is in the baskets of my fellow shoppers? What do they eat when they go home at night?”

Fellow Food Gossips, share your own stories with us!

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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Images: All images from Joanna’s personal photo albums, and used here with her permission

For this RVer who roams far and wide, iPhone in pocket, a picture says…

Becky RV Collage

Canon zoom lens; photo credit: Morguefiles. Becky Schade at Charlies Bunion, along the Appalachian Trail in the Smoky Mountains (photo credit: Becky Schade).

Welcome to our monthly series “A picture says…”, created to celebrate expats and other global residents for whom photography is a creative outlet. The series host is English expat, blogger, writer, world traveler and photography enthusiast James King, who thinks of a camera as a mirror with memory. If you like what you see here, be sure to check out his blog, Jamoroki.

My guest this month is 30-year-old American Becky Schade. Becky started traveling around America alone in her truck and RV (for those not in the know, RV stands for recreational vehicle, or mobile home) on September 14th, 2012. As she says on her blog, Interstellar Orchard, becoming a full-time RVer was a way to fulfill her dream of perpetual travel, exploration, and adventure, and to make her life the best it can be, right now, no holds barred. “And if I can do it, so can you,” she says.

She goes on:

Even if your Big Dream is going to take some time to realize, there are things you can do, right now, to improve the quality of your life. And they don’t all require a fortune or every free waking hour of your week.

Before pulling up her roots, Becky used to work with monkeys. She is an outdoor enthusiast and also a fantasy/sci-fi fan as well as gamer geek.

I have been waiting a while to interview her and write her fascinating story. Now I have my opportunity.

* * *

Welcome, Becky, and thank you for taking out some time from your adventures for this interview. I believe you were born and raised in Wisconsin but then, at the age of 25, became what is known in the States as a “domestic expat,” moving with a friend to coastal South Carolina. When did you really decide to break out and travel all around America as an RVer?
I loved how different South Carolina was from my home state of Wisconsin, but inside I knew I wanted to keep traveling and exploring. The truth is, I didn’t want to pay for a removal truck every time I moved, so started researching RVing as an alternative. In other words, I would be my own removal truck—taking my house everywhere with me. I eventually hit the road as a full-time RVer at the ripe old age of 28.

Your new-found freedom is clearly a wonderful experience, but do you ever feel homesick?
Home is where I park my RV travel trailer, which I pull with my trusty 2001 Dodge Dakota. Some people might call me a minimalist or even a gypsy because all that I own fits in my RV and truck. I don’t own or rent property anywhere, but I am always home. I get asked many questions about my lifestyle, like, do I feel crowded and cramped inside my little home? It may be difficult to visualize, but my “living space” includes the yard where I park my RV and the wonderful locations I visit. So I enjoy the free and constantly changing views from my bedroom windows that many house-bound folks might pay a fortune for. In reality I have more space than most people do.

The average person moves home, say, five times in their lives, whereas I imagine you could move five times in a month. I’m sure you’re often asked if you feel safe traveling alone, as a young single woman.
I am often asked that question, but you know something? The world is not as scary as the media would have us believe. Common sense is a person’s best safety tool and in my year-and-a-half on the road, I have never once felt threatened. If a place feels off when I arrive, I simply drive to the next place.

You obviously can’t work while traveling except when you stop in a place for a while. Do you ever worry about money?
No, one doesn’t need to be wealthy to live like I do. I saved up the money for the initial outlay from my last “real” job. With my accommodation and truck already paid for, I can explore the country comfortably on an income of $16,000 or less a year, which I make from working seasonal jobs in interesting places. I have at least six weeks a year where I don’t work at all and can focus on my hobbies as well as visit friends and family. I have health insurance, an emergency fund in case of accident or illness, and an IRA. Life on the road doesn’t have to be a gamble. There are smart ways to go about it that minimize the risks. It’s not an extended vacation but a way of life. I’ll continue traveling until I feel the urge to do something different.

I can relate somewhat to the things you are saying as I enjoy my own company, probably more than others enjoy it! And fortunately I have never experienced a feeling of loneliness. How about you, how do you find being alone on the road?
I don’t feel lonely. Being alone and being lonely are two very different things. I love quiet time by myself out in nature, and when I start feeling the need for human interaction, it’s usually not hard to find. Sitting outside your RV in a campground reading a book is viewed by many passersby as an open invitation to stop and say hello. I’ve met some of the most interesting people on my travels, with whom I’ve had some of the best conversations. I also keep in touch and visit with friends I had before hitting the road full time, and am a member of several online communities for RVers.

“Home is where I park it.” (classic RVer saying)

Something usually triggers or inspires a person to travel. Was that true in your case?
Since I was a teenager I’ve had this feeling that the typical American Dream of college, steady job, marriage, a big house, and a family wasn’t going to be my cup of tea—but it’s definitely what my parents expected. I was the dutiful daughter and followed that plan up to finishing college and getting a steady job, but I felt trapped and miserable. I wanted adventure. I wanted more than two weeks of vacation a year to explore. I wanted to learn by experience instead of just seeing things on TV or reading about them in a book. Those were the things that inspired me to pursue a different path and look into full-time RV-ing. At first I thought you had to belong to the realm of rich retirees, the kinds of people who invest a couple hundred thousand dollars in a gigantic, 40′ motorhome. Then I dug deeper and found that some younger folks were discovering a better work/life balance through life on the open road.

You are clearly a very determined young woman. Since you drove off on that September day in 2012, what places have you visited?
Last summer I worked retail at Badlands National Park, in southwestern South Dakota, and explored the Black Hills region—along with Crazy Horse Memorial and Mount Rushmore—in my days off work. This past winter I was a volunteer at a conservation centre with the University of Florida and visited sinkholes and crystal clear springs. This coming fall I’ll be working at a warehouse out near Reno, Nevada, and plan to be photographing mountains and Lake Tahoe around that.

I’ll be looking forward to the pictures. So where are you now, how did you end up there and what is life like in your latest hometown?
Right now I’m just outside of Atlanta in Fairburn, Georgia, performing at the Georgia Renaissance Festival. Getting paid to sing at a renaissance festival has been on my bucket list for many years, but I could never work it around a real job. Traveling the way I do now has given me the opportunity, finally. I love what I’m doing, but the location is a different story. I prefer the country and have never lived in a city, so navigating the busy streets of Atlanta has been an experience. Never be afraid to try new things, though—otherwise, how do you learn what you really like and don’t like?

Absolutely, Becky. New experiences always open the mind, and the more I try new things, the more I realize how much I still have to learn. And now let’s see some of your photographs, which capture a few of your favorite memories. Can you tell me the story behind them and what makes them special for you?

BeckyPix_1

Celebrating a new life of recreation at Big Sioux Recreation Area. Photo credit: Becky Schade.

This picture was taken at Big Sioux Recreation Area, just outside of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I’d been on the road for less than a week driving from South Carolina to South Dakota to make it my new residency state. I got my driver’s license and plates and then took a hike to the top of this hill to see Sioux Falls and the surrounding countryside. I sat on a bench and realized it was Thursday. In my old life I’d have been hard at work, but instead I was at this wonderful place. This is when it really hit me that I was living my dream, that life would never be the same. It was magical.
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The early bird catches the view at Folly Beach Country Park near Charleston. Photo credit: Becky Schade.



The second photo is of Folly Beach Country Park, just outside Charleston, South Carolina. Six years ago, my best friend and I were a year out of college and had earned some vacation time with our first “real” jobs. We used the two weeks to road-trip to South Carolina. I’d lived in Wisconsin all my life and was itching for a change of scenery; this was probably when I caught the travel bug. I took this photo at sunrise. We’d woken up at 4:00 a.m. to make sure we got to the beach before sunrise. I’m not an early riser, but getting to see the pink glow over the lighthouse was so worth the effort. We ended up liking our trip here so much that we moved to SC a year later, where I stayed until I hit the road.

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Inspired by spires of granite near Sylvan Lake. Photo credit: Becky Schade.

The third picture was taken in June of last year, when I was working at a gift shop in Badlands National Park. On a day off, I headed over to Custer State Park, in the Black Hills. I had no itinerary and spent the morning in the south of the park watching bison. Then, after happening upon a couple of neat looking lakes, I decided to study the park brochures and find the best lake in the Black Hills. Beautiful Sylvan Lake caught my eye. The road that leads to the lake is the Needles Highway. The drive along that highway was amazing, more so because I had no idea it was there, and every vista was a surprise. This photo is of the Needle, a huge spire of granite that wind and water had hollowed out into a needle shape.

Nature—cheaper than therapy

It makes such a difference when you know the story attached to the pictures. Until you told me that story about the last one, all I could see was a silhouette of a girl leaning back with long flowing hair–not a needle! Where are your favorite places to take photographs?
I love natural places, I always feel most content and closest to the divine when I’m out in nature. And there’s such variety to be found, as the next three photos demonstrate. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of it.

BeckyPix_4

Holy smokes! Nature in all its glory in Great Smokey Mountain National Park, NC/TN. Photo credit: Becky Schade.

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Nothing bad about that! Badlands National Park, SD. Photo credit: Becky Schade.

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The forces of erosion at work in Hunting Island State Park, SC. Photo credit: Becky Schade.

I know how you feel. Photographing a natural scene that is forever changing feels so fulfilling. I’d like to know if you ever feel reserved about taking photos of people, particularly when they are conscious that you are doing so?
Yes, I do. I don’t take pictures of people without their permission if they are to be the subject. But if they happen to be in the background of a shot, it’s not usually an issue.

Would you say that photography and the ability to be able to capture something unique which will never be seen again is a powerful force for you?
That’s an interesting question. For me, photography is a hobby and not the main reason for travel. I have no desire to get trapped behind the lens trying to take the perfect picture and miss the beauty of a magic moment. Having said that, there certainly is a magic to that rare photograph that captures the essence of a time or place. Maybe it’s because I’m a novice or that I make a point of not staging photos, but when I snap my shutter I never know ahead of time if I’m taking that kind of picture. It’s something I find out later as I’m reviewing the photos in my computer.

I can empathize. In my case if I’m not present in the moment I can neither photograph nor write with passion.

“The best camera is the one you have with you.” —Chase Jarvis

Now for the technical stuff. What kind of camera and lenses do you use? And which software do you use for post-processing?
Haha, hoo boy—I’m about to get laughed right out of this column…or maybe, just maybe, help a few people understand that you don’t have to buy a thousand dollar SLR to be a photographer. My camera is my iPhone 4s—with no apps to change the functionality. That’s all I have. I don’t even own a point-and-shoot. Because I have no optical zoom whatsoever, it definitely limits the kinds of photos I can take, but for me the extremely high portability and low cost (relatively speaking) make up for that drawback. My phone fits in my pants pocket and has a waterproof and shock-resistant case, so I don’t fear taking it to rugged locales. Some might say that a smartphone is more expensive than many point-and-shoots you can buy, which is true, but when it functions as my phone and GPS as well as my primary camera, having all three in one package is definitely cheaper than owning them as individual gadgets. I use Adobe Photoshop 7.0, which I had actually gotten years ago for the purpose of drawing and coloring digital art from scratch. It wasn’t until much later that I decided to put it to the use it was designed for.

I hear no laughter, and if you can handle Photoshop you’re no dummy! If it makes you feel better, I am probably one of a small minority who have a DSLR camera but no mobile phone. Actually, I have a mobile phone that isn’t smart—it only makes phone calls; but I hardly ever turn it on. Now I hear some laughter!! Finally, do you have any advice for wannabe photographers or travelers?
First off, never let someone else’s definition of travel or photography determine your own by default. You don’t need all the newest gear to be a photographer, and you don’t need to book a plane halfway around the world to be a traveler. Take some time to think about what you really want from your experience, and let that be your guide. Second, if this is your dream, the life you want to live, don’t put it off for later. Later might never come. You want to be a photographer? Get out today and take some photos. Practice makes perfect. You want to start traveling? Start planning now and get to work on making it a reality. Set a date by which you’ll be out there.

Becky, I’ve really enjoyed our time together. Your story is an inspiration to us all. I only wish I was 40 years younger because I’m sure I would be tooling up an RV as fast as I could right now.

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Readers, what do you make of Becky’s RV life and her photography advice? She has certainly taken the road less traveled. If you have any questions for her about her photos and/or experiences, please leave them in the comments!

And if you want to know more about Becky, don’t forget to visit her blog, Interstellar Orchard. You can also like the blog’s Facebook page, connect with her on Twitter, or send her an email.

(If you are a photographer and would like to be interviewed by James for this series, please send your information to ml@thedisplacednation.com.)

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LIBBY’S LIFE #91/#92 – The Stepfordization of Maggie

Maggie’s house used to feel like my second home. Every part of it was an extension of her, my “other” mother: the black wood-stove, the teapot-cats she didn’t have the heart to throw away, the colourful patchwork quilts draped over rocking chairs and love-seats.

I loved the stove’s smoky smell that wound through the house, even in summer, and clung to my clothes after every visit. So similar to cigar smoke, which I cannot bear, but so comforting in a way that tobacco residue never is.

I loved the china cats, gathering dust on the shelf above the kitchen window. They were as ugly as they were useless; cats of any material were never designed to hold hot liquids, and during afternoon tea, as Maggie tipped them over to pour, they would dribble incontinently over her plates of digestive biscuits and slices of Victoria sandwich.

And the quilts? I loved, simply adored, the stories that each quilt told.

“Now this white taffeta here, that’s from my wedding dress. Well, I say ‘dress’, but there wasn’t much of it. You couldn’t get more than a couple of patches out of it. It was the Sixties, and the skirt was noticeable more by its absence than presence. The blue seersucker, though, is from a party dress that Sara wore when she was five. It had a Peter Pan collar and puffed sleeves, and she looked like Miss Pears in it. And see this lime green? That’s part of the shirt I was wearing when I decided, just like that, that I’d had enough of Derek. I packed a bag for me and Sara and we left at midnight, like a pair of Cinderellas, while he was on night shift.”

The last story, about a patch of lime-green cotton commemorating her independence, is the one that keeps coming back to me as I sit with Maggie now in her living room.

Correction. This is not Maggie’s living room. Not anymore. It belongs to someone else who lives here now.

It’s as if the lime-green shirt lost its life in vain.

Gone is the wood-stove, replaced by a wall fire resembling a plasma TV.

Gone are the ceramic cats in the kitchen. The shelf where they used to sit has also gone, and in its place is a calico Roman blind. The countertops, which used to be barely visible for all the bric-a-brac — half-opened letters, a basket of middle-aged Golden Delicious, assorted supermarket receipts and special offer coupons — are clear of paraphernalia and smell faintly of lemon and ammonia. Only a coffeemaker and a toaster grace the surfaces.

And gone are the worn wooden rocking chairs and threadbare love seats, usurped by two cream, leather sofas, the type with angular seats that dig into the backs of your knees, and backrests that are too low to lean your head on.

Naturally, the life-history patchwork quilts are nowhere to be seen.

It’s like an “after” picture on a home makeover program.

Very sleek, very chic, very neutral. Devoid of personality.

Devoid of Maggie.

Well — devoid of the old Maggie, the Maggie who lived here a few months ago, the one whose personality was too big for this little cottage.

Since her ex has been living with her, though, her personality has been on a starvation diet.

The new Maggie twists slightly on her unforgiving sofa, and asks in a too-bright tone if I would like some tea. The old Maggie would have simply put the kettle on with nothing being said. Her Miss Manners style of etiquette is infectious, though, and I find myself answering:

“That would be perfectly lovely, thank you.”

She rejects my offer of help in the kitchen — something else the Maggie of old would not have done — so I stay seated and watch her walk into the kitchen. Even her dress code has changed: no more dirndl skirts or hippy kaftans, no more peasant blouses or wooden beads. I remember, when we first met, my impression of her was “Biba meets Miss Havisham of Great Expectations.”  Today, a first impression might be “Botox meets Liz Claiborne of Stepford Wives.”

What, I ask myself, can make a strong woman like Maggie turn into a drone?

It’s a rhetorical question. When you take into account the variables of Maggie’s life, only one has changed: her companion. Her ex-ex who, even when absent from the room as he is at present, keeps Maggie in a zombie-like trance by remote control.

Maggie’s personality started to alter quite a while ago, of course. My own diary pinpointed the moment as early as last September:

I have no idea what witchcraft Maggie’s ex has spun on my friend, but in the four weeks she was in the Keys, Maggie changed. She’s never been one to show or act her age — “Age is but a number” she is fond of saying — but since she came back, she’s been nearer in mental age and outlook to Jack than to me.

I did wonder if she was becoming prematurely senile, until I saw Maggie and Derek together one afternoon. Then I realised what had happened.

They’ve teleported themselves back forty years. She is behaving as she did when she was nineteen, and he thinks he’s the dashing young state trooper who stopped a redheaded English woman for speeding in a borrowed Corvette.

And it won’t work. You can’t be teenagers when you’re drawing a pension — at least, you can’t be the same teenagers that you used to be. By all means, have a second youth; but the key word there is “second”.

Reliving their first one will end in a pool of tears, I’m sure of it.

Ignoring Miss Manners’ probable advice to stay put on the sofa as my hostess had indicated I should, I follow Maggie into the kitchen.

She looks up as I approach, and I could swear that her expression is one of alarm.

“Let’s have a nice chat while the tea’s brewing,” I say, leaning cosily against the counter. “I haven’t seen you for ages. Not even in the shops, although I’ve seen Derek there a few times. How are you doing?”

Maggie’s alarmed expression returns to one more bland. She smiles and nods once to acknowledge her satisfactory wellbeing, and counts out spoonfuls of looseleaf tea into an angular, stainless-steel teapot that resembles not a tabby cat but part of a car engine.

I stare at the stainless steel monstrosity — no doubt an example of engineering perfection that it wouldn’t dream of dribbling over teatime cake and biscuits — and rage quietly to myself. How dare it decide that Maggie’s old china teapots weren’t good enough?

The answer to that is: it didn’t. Something else did.

Someone else did.

“And how is Derek?” I ask. “You haven’t kicked him out yet?”

Maggie’s eyes widen. She looks around furtively before replying.

“Of course not. Why would I do that?” she says. “We’re just getting to know each other again.”

She pours boiling water on the tea leaves, lets it brew for exactly two minutes, then pours me a cup. It’s not her usual brand of bright orange PG Tips. This stuff is pale grey with a slice of lemon floating in it, and it smells of lavender potpourri.

“The house looks beautiful,” I lie, after I’ve taken a sip. Not only does the tea smell like potpourri, but it tastes like it too. “Very tidy. Very clean. Very…” I can’t think how to describe the new, angular, clinical style that is so out of place in Maggie’s cosy home.

“Very not me, I think you’re trying to say.” Her voice is barely audible.

It’s the first sighting I’ve had of the real Maggie for several months, and in my surprise, I almost drop my cup.

“So why did you do it?” I ask.

Maggie purses her lips: Shush. Then she jerks her head slightly towards the door in the kitchen that leads to the den.

“Can you talk?” I whisper.

She shakes her head.

In a louder voice that will carry to the den where her ex-ex presumably is, she says, “Derek and I have plans to go out very soon, so I’m afraid you won’t be able to stay long. But before you leave, remind me to give you the CD you lent me last summer. I do apologise for keeping it so long.”

Again, a pursing of lips to silence any bemused reaction on my part. I’ve never lent Maggie any CDs. Ever.

I swig back the remnants of my lavender-flavoured tea and Maggie hustles me towards the front door. As I step out onto the porch, she thrusts a CD case at me. I shove it in my handbag without looking at it, get in the car, and head off home to see the children who have been tormenting a local high schooler who was foolish enough to volunteer to babysit.

Later, after dinner, I tell a slightly bored Oliver about the mysterious changes in our old neighbour. “And then, just before I left, she gave me a CD she says I lent her…but I’ve never lent her any CDs.”

“What was it?” Oliver asks.

I rummage in my handbag, which is a large sack-like affair in which everything falls to the bottom in a jumble of loose change, gas receipts, and Happy Meal toys, and pull out the CD case that Maggie had given me.

“A Beatles album,” I tell him, and hold the case up for him to see.

He squints. “I can’t see without my glasses. Which one?”

John, Paul, George, and Ringo; dressed in blue uniforms, holding their arms in various semaphore positions.

“‘Help’,” I say.

 

.

Next post: LIBBY’S LIFE #93

Previous post: LIBBY’S LIFE #90 – The Other Woman

Read Libby’s Life from the first episode.

Want to read more? Head on over to Kate Allison’s own site, where you can find out more about Libby and the characters of Woodhaven, and where you can buy Taking Flight, the first year of Libby’s Life — now available as an ebook.

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HERE BE DRAGONS: All those cities you’ve visited on your travels? They’re the lego bricks for cityscapes in fantasy writing

Citiscapes Collage

(Clockwise from top) Detail of the medieval map Carta marina; the Speicherstadt (warehouse district) in Hamburg, Germany (photo credit: Andrew Couch); tram in Naples (photo credit: Andrew Couch); legos (photo credit: Morguefiles).

HERE BE DRAGONS is back, a column produced by fantasy writer Andrew Couch, an American expat in Germany. We at the Displaced Nation have long been aware of the strong connection between fantasy (think Alice in Wonderland) and a life of international travel and residency. And now Andrew has got us pondering the idea of turning our adventures into fantasy stories!

—ML Awanohara

Last month on HERE BE DRAGONS, we talked about landscapes: the soaring mountains, unusual geographical formations, torrential storms, and other distinctive natural phenomena that can be used to build a whole new world for a fantasy story.

This month we move to cityscapes: the landscape’s urban counterpart, which has been largely shaped by the hands of man (or beast, depending on your story).

One thing I am learning while writing fantasy novellaswhich has only been reinforced by the posts for this columnis how much I’ve been influenced by my expat life and international travels when attempting to construct my own worlds.

When the bricks stick together, great things can be accomplished…

After living in Europe for several years, I now have a catalog of cityscapes to draw on, from grungy parts of London to quiet Parisian parks to industrialized Hamburg. What’s more, each area of every city has its own distinct sights, sounds and smells. And I’ve come to think of these various parts as my lego bricks for assembling the fantasy cityscape that features in my novellas.

I have heard that the second book is often harder for writers than the first. I am definitely finding this to be the case, but mostly due to character and plot, not setting. The setting of my next few novellas is the city of Resholm, which is perched on the line of cliffs called the Dropline. In creating Resholm I was heavily influenced by my impressions of Hamburg, a city in northern Germany that has a long history of being a free port. Resholm, too, is a port:

QueenOfCloudPirates_cover

A skyline of towers along the ridge watched over the cargo and warehouse districts which dripped down the side of the steep slope, nearly to the edge of the cliffs themselves. Soaring arches piled on soaring arches cut the area in various places to hold up the docking piers. A handful of ships were moored across the area.

Hamburg also has the Speicherstadt, an area where goods could come and go without having to pay customs. I got to thinking, what would a city feel like if it had been created solely for the purpose of moving goods and not for the people in it? Resholm grew from this contemplation. In the stories, the police force exists primarily to safeguard the movement of goods in and out of the port, not to protect residents from harm:

“I don’t know,” Arnhelm said. An hour had passed since the officers of the Teeth had shuffled Jason and him into separate rooms. “Why don’t you ask her? Why are you even hounding my uncle and me? One of her goons nearly killed us and blew up a building in the docks.”

“Listen here, sonny,” the man said. “First off, neither the town nor its populace is in our jurisdiction. Resholm survives on its free port and our duty is to keep it safe. Safe for goods, safe for money and safe for free trade. In my experience, people take care of themselves. If they are smart.”

He leaned forward, picked up a piece of paper from the table between them and began to read. “Endangering goods in the warehouses. Bypassing a checkpoint. Reckless endangerment of transport. And that is before we even talk about the destroyed building in the docklands.”

Could I have created Resholm by studying photos of cityscapes found on the Internet? Probably, but I don’t think the result would have been as rich. Walking around a city is the best way to pick up its sounds, smells and sensations. Building a fantasy city from such memories, you become aware of the details that need to be included. For instance, I decided to include Hamburg’s tall, red-brick warehouses in the Speicherstadt, complete with their cranes and rails to move goods, in Resholm as well. The architecture so happens to date back to the late 1800s, which is the time period I am aiming to replicate in my story.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter what you are building…as long as you’re enjoying the fantasy!

Of course, Hamburg is on water and isn’t dripping down the side of a cliff with airships docked at each level, but hey, it’s fantasy, which means I have the freedom to do what I want:

Only one bulb remained lit and he and Lucia left the tram car. They walked up a set of steps to the road which ran along the level five terrace. The smell of engine exhaust, unwashed humanity and a hint of damp stone assaulted Lors’ nose. The constant wind he had gotten used to didn’t seem to penetrate the row of buildings enough to clear the miasma. Despite the lack of wind, the street was cold. The docklands were in perpetual shadow on the northern slope. He could see the sky between the airships docked at the level above, but its light was so weak that lamps on poles shed he needed the scattered poles with their glowing globes to see anything in the eternal twilight.

A pair of tracks ran down the center of the road. Men stood on carts which ran back and forth controlling them with long handles. Sidings led off to both sides at each building. There was plenty of space to walk on either side, but they had to dodge carts and step carefully to make much headway. This was a place built for shipping goods. People served the crates they carried, not the other way around.

By no means does a fantasy city have to be built from a single real world city. The town square of Resholm is based on my memories of Poznań, Poland. The funiculars that service the docklands are from a day I spent wandering in Naples, Italy, and became fascinated with its tramway network. There are also some pieces of the city that owe to my meanderings in New York. But again, these are my lego bricks that I used to construct a stage for my characters to act upon and interact with each other.

Although my books fall more into the adventure—the characters must traverse a wide terrain—there is an entire genre of urban fantasy set solely in cities. If this kind of thing intrigues you, check out the following works:

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Wannabe fantasy writers who are also travel buffs, how about you? Have you collected some cityscapes on your wanderings you think will affect your writing one day, or perhaps already has? Let me know in the comments. Also, if you’ve been fantasizing about particular topics, let me know, and I’ll attempt to stretch my imagination to discuss in a future post.

Andrew Couch has been a fantasy book nut since childhood; he really has not grown up much since then. After struggling to write his own games for years, he is now creating fantastical worlds in a series of novellas that echo the TV shows, anime and role-playing games of his youth. Beyond fantasy he is an avid blogger and a world traveler who resides in Germany. To learn more about Andrew, check out his blog, Grounded Traveler, and follow him on Twitter: @groundedtravelr.

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