The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

DIARY OF AN EXPAT WRITER: Has it really been six months? How time flies when you’re writing full time

DiaryExpatWriterAn American expat newlywed in Hong Kong, Shannon Young took the momentous decision last summer to quit her day job and launch out as a full-time writer. She’d given herself until Chinese New Year to see if she could make a living. And now the Year of the Sheep is here—baa baa—is she a lost lamb or making the most of life apart from the herds? Let’s find out, shall we?

—ML Awanohara

Dear Displaced Diary,

It has been six months since my last confess—oh wait. It has been six months since I posted a video about how I quit my day job as an English teacher in Hong Kong to write full-time (and also cut 18 inches off my hair):

For those who haven’t been following: it was now or never. Before going all in as a writer, I had been writing seriously for about four years in my free time and had several books out, or in the process of launching. I had been working on drafts for a four-book post-apocalyptic series, and I wanted to devote myself full-time to getting those titles out into the world.

Financially, I was also in a better place. I paid off my student debt in December 2013 and had spent eight months saving up the money I’d previously put toward loans, which meant I could live without a day job for a while.

My goal was to see whether I could make it as a writer, both financially and in terms of lifestyle: could I stay productive without much external structure?

I gave myself until Chinese New Year to see how it was going.

And now for the moment of truth!

It isn’t really a moment, it turns out, but a process, during which:

  • I figured out ways to create structure for myself.
  • I learned more about my own productivity habits.
  • I improved my endurance (I’m having more and more five-hour writing/working sessions).
  • Most importantly, I developed a better sense of how long each project takes, which allows me to set accurate goals.

There have been some hard moments along the way. The first book in my series. Seabound, has sold fairly well, but it hasn’t taken off like a shot.

My entire strategy has been to build a readership slowly with a series of four books, but I have to keep reminding myself of that while sales of the first volume are still modest.

My revisions on Book 2 have been kind of painful. The rough draft has actually been finished for a long time, but it has been hard to get going on the final revisions.

On the other hand, I’ve done two drafts of the prequel now and I think it’s the best book I’ve written so far.

Giving myself pep talks and jealously guarding my time

I also have to give myself pep talks more often and train myself not to get discouraged.

Back in the days when I was a teacher, I would get lots of positive feedback from my students. Even though it had nothing at all to do with writing, I had 300 kids pretty much worshiping the ground I walked on every day. It was much easier to maintain a positive attitude.

Now it’s just me and Starbucks and the Amazon reviewers. I love the coffee shop time, and I’m never happier than when I’m hammering away at my laptop, but thoughts of strangers reading my books and giving them harsh critiques still creep in.

Ironically, even though I have more time available to me, I’ve been reducing the time I spend on other commitments. That’s something I didn’t expect.

When I had a day job, my schedule was broken up anyway and it wasn’t a big deal to answer emails here and there. Now that kind of thing can really break my focus, so I’m trying to say “no” more often to protect my work time.

Six-month report card

The past six months have been a roller coaster, with higher highs and lower lows than I’d anticipated.

I’m bringing in money every month, though I haven’t yet reached my income goals.

On the whole, I’m happier than I’ve ever been. I’ve published two books and one audio book, and I have four projects in progress.

It’s time to make a decision.

Dun da da da!

And now for the moment you’ve all been waiting for. Here’s what I’m planning to do:

To sum up, I’m giving myself until April. My savings are holding out and I plan to launch Seaswept around my next deadline. (If you want to see the cover image, sign up for my mailing list; I’m doing a secret reveal soon.)

Yesterday I completed another non-fiction piece for my primary pen name. Hopefully when I see how the books do I’ll be in a position to make my next big decision.

As always, I’ll keep you posted.

Thanks for following along on this journey! I really appreciate your words of encouragement.

Yours,

Shannon Young/Jordan Rivet
www.shannonyoungwriter.com

P.S. If you like dystopian fiction and writing Amazon reviews, shoot me an email and I’ll send you a book or two!

* * *

Readers, as they say in the Basque country, the lost sheep can be recovered, whereas the lost time cannot. It seems to me that Shannon has approached the Year of the Sheep having made the most of her time as a full-time writer! Do you have any thoughts or words of encouragement about her extension? Let her know in the comments!

STAY TUNED for next week’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 snippets of worldly wisdom, exclusive book giveaways and our nominees for the monthly Alice Awards. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

CULTURE SHOCK TOOLBOX: No apfelstrudel? Try some Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte!

CST apfelstrudel collageToday we welcome a new columnist, H.E. Rybol, to the Displaced Nation. The product of a German dad and a French mom, H.E. has lived in the United States, Luxembourg, England, Spain, Switzerland and Singapore. (She currently resides in Luxembourg.) After 16 years of the Third Culture Kid life, she feels well equipped to handle any culture shock challenge that may come her way, and recently compiled these tools in an e-book. In her column for us, H.E. will be sharing some tips for handling the inevitable through-the-looking-glass moments every international faces—albeit with a certain finesse—through excerpts from her own writings and interviews with other cross-cultural experts.

—ML Awanohara

Thanks, ML, and greetings, Displaced Nation readers!

Today I’m going to be talking about how our expectations shape our experiences. While that is something we all might know, we may not always be aware of it when it comes living life in other lands.

I am reminded of when I spent a bit of time in Dortmund, Germany. I spent my afternoons writing in a small boat-like cafe: blue sky and fluffy clouds were painted in the “portholes” on the back wall and ceiling, there were railings, two fake palm trees, maritime decorations carved out of wood: a seagull, a lighthouse, a sailboat.

Corny maybe, but I loved it.

One day, two women walked in with immaculate haircuts and fancy jewelry, conversing. They seemed excited, as if they’d really been looking forward to this moment. They ordered, merry faced and with their arms firmly planted on the table….an apfelstrudel.

The waiter, a young German-Egyptian, seemed bewildered: “A what?”

Apfelstruuuudel.”

Apfelkuchen?”

“No, no!” The women insisted.

This place offered an array of creamy and luscious cakes, but not apfelstrudel.

The women were incredulous. They turned to me, and said: “Apfelstrudel is SO German! How can they not have it?!”

They tried a different cake but kept shaking their heads in disbelief. They were disappointed. It seemed like in their minds, a cafe in Germany that didn’t serve apfelstrudel just didn’t fit.

Of course there’s nothing inherently wrong with this scenario. We have all had moments where we set our minds on something we didn’t get. Consider this though: How would the experience of the two ladies that afternoon have changed, had they let go of their idea and simply embraced what they had found?

Dear readers, may I ask what would you would do in this situation?

Toolbox Time!

Now, were any of you at all inclined to select the first answer? Be honest! Because it’s time for me to get out my toolbox.

Why is it a good idea to leave preconceived notions behind?

1. (She powers up her blowtorch.) It’s more exciting! Of course it’s a good idea to prepare, but once you’re on the plane (train/bus/bike), let go of those ideas. Replace expectations with anticipation.

2. (She exchanges vise grip pliers for needle nose pliers.) Let go to avoid disappointment. I think it’s a great idea to try local specialties and show interest in another country’s culinary traditions. But be flexible. If there’s no apfelstrudel, try a black forest cake (Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte) or any other local specialty. (Or if your heart is still set on apfelstrudel, why not ask people on the streets or in shops or restaurants for apfelstrudel recommendations?)

3. (She picks up the crescent wrench.) It helps us be more open. We don’t travel to confirm an image that we have. We travel to learn and grow as human beings. We travel to connect. In order to do that we have to let go of stuff we don’t need…such as preconceived notions. It helps us embrace new experiences and see things we wouldn’t notice otherwise.

4. (She turns on the overhead light.) Reality is often so much more interesting and stimulating than what we picture in our minds….and if we cling to the picture, we miss out. Culture shock is already a lot to deal with, we don’t need to add roadblocks by clinging to preconceived ideas.

5. (She invites a German-Egyptian carpenter to do a demo.) As travelers our expectations shape our experiences, but we should remember that the reverse is also true. Other people’s preconceptions also have an impact. Be open, flexible and learn from each other.

I hope that has you fixed until next month.

Prost! Santé!

* * *

Readers, what do you make of H.E.’s advice about developing some flexibility from those times when you’re feeling displaced? Or is that too tall an order when you had always pictured yourself eating apple strudel in a boat-themed German café?

H.E. Rybol is a TCK and the author of Culture Shock: A Practical Guide and Culture Shock Toolbox. She loves animals, piano, yoga and being outdoors. You can find her on Twitter, Linkedin and Goodreads. She is currently working on her new Web site and her second book.  

STAY TUNED for another fab 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—and much, much more! Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

TCK TALENT: Rahul Gandotra, Oscar-shortlisted filmmaker

Rahul Gandotra CollageElizabeth (Lisa) Liang is back with her column featuring interviews with Adult Third Culture Kids (ATCKs) who work in creative fields. Lisa herself is a prime example. A Guatemalan-American of Chinese-Spanish-Irish-French-German-English descent, she has developed her own one-woman show about growing up as a TCK, which receives rave reviews wherever it goes.

—ML Awanohara

Hello again, dear readers. Today’s interviewee is filmmaker Rahul Gandotra, whose short film, The Road Home, has played in over 60 festivals around the world and won over 20 awards, including the Student Film Academy Award and British Independent Film Award, and was shortlisted for the 2012 Oscar nominations.

The film beautifully depicts a Third Culture Kid story; it also catapulted Rahul into the shortlist of up-and-coming filmmakers.

RoadHome_posterHere is the film synopsis:

Growing up in England, ten-year old Pico never wanted to go to boarding school in the Himalayas, and despite the beauty there, he struggles to fit in. When he’s bullied for insisting he’s British in spite of his Indian heritage, he runs away, determined to return to his home in London. As he journeys through a country foreign to him, Pico encounters others who mistake him for an Indian boy, forcing him to face the painful truth that the world does not see him the way he sees himself.

* * *

Welcome to The Displaced Nation, Rahul. I understand that you were born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and grew up in eight countries across Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and the Americas. Why did your family move so much, and to which countries?
A lot of my moving around happened because of my father’s job—he was a doctor looking for new opportunities in different parts of the world. While it gets complicated with all the cities I’ve lived in, the general overview is: after being born in Belfast, I spent the first six years of my life in all four parts of the UK (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales). Then we moved to Saudi Arabia, where I spent three years before attending a boarding school in the Himalayas (in Northern India) for seven years.

How about college and beyond?
I received my undergraduate degree in the United States, where I lived for eleven years. After that I was in the Czech Republic for one year. Since moving to London for my graduate degree, I’ve been in England for the last ten years.

“If you want to see the Himalayas, they’re that way.” —Pico to a British couple touring India

Were you happiest in a certain place at a certain time, and if so, why?
Tough question. My happiest memories stem from when I was living in Saudi Arabia from age 6 to 9. Perhaps it was because I was a child? Perhaps it was because I was still with my parents (my mum was a homemaker) before I went to the boarding school in the Himalayas?

I just remember having happy memories in Saudi Arabia. I think my time at my boarding school was also quite enjoyable after I adjusted to life there.

Come to think about it, I’ve had good memories in places where there was a TCK-like / international environment. The more monocultural the environment was, the less I enjoyed the place.

What led you to become a filmmaker, and did it have anything to do with your peripatetic upbringing?
I don’t know if my moving around pushed me into filmmaking. I think the moving around has given me many gifts that I use in filmmaking. The ability to see things from different points of view, for example, helps me in seeing an actor’s point of view—especially when it’s different from mine.

Looking back, I learned a lot of my storytelling from my mother with all the stories she told me. I guess the patterns and rhythms of storytelling just seeped into me, as she recounted one story after the other!

At what point did you pick up the technical skills that turned you into a filmmaker?
That came from a combination of “doing it myself,” formal education, and a lot of reading!

“But I don’t feel Indian inside!” —Pico to an Indian taxi driver

Have you found that “your people” tend to be other Adult TCKs in creative fields or does it really depend on the individual and what s/he evokes in you, whether it’s a resonance that’s artistic or political or personality-related or life-experience related, etc.?
I seem to gravitate to people who are either TCKs or people who have done a significant amount of traveling. They don’t necessarily have to be in the creative fields though.

Congratulations on all the accolades your short film, The Road Home, has won! What inspired you to tell this story?
The plot was a fiction but the themes were autobiographical in nature. The idea of looking like you belong to a particular region because of your skin colour but feeling inside that you belong somewhere else is something that I wanted to illuminate in the short film.

Here is the trailer:

And if your readers would like to watch The Road Home, they may do so here.

I understand you are now making a feature-length version of The Road Home. Where are you in the pre-production phase?  
I’m in the financing stage where I’m hoping all the investments will be in place so I can shoot the feature film soon. (If there are any interested investors, please do contact me!)

“Why not speaking Hindi, huh? Important your knowing your mother tongue.” —Taxi driver to Pico

Are you working on other projects?
My screenwriting partner and I have been writing other screenplays but those are bigger in scope, and we’ll present those to the world when I’ve completed my first feature.

You’ve been directing commercials. Where are they airing and can we see them online?
I’ve just started directing commercials. Some of them have aired in the UK, while others have aired in India. The funny thing is that the commercial that was shot in the UK aired in India. And the commercial shot in India aired only in the UK! Here is one that was shot in India, for Rajah’s garam masala:


You can see more here.

Congratulations again, Rahul, on the success of The Road Home, all of the commercial work you’ve been doing, and the screenplays you’ve been writing. You’re a true “ATCK creative” and we’re hereby nominating you as Best Up-and-Coming Director for our Displaced Oscars!

Readers, please leave questions or comments for Rahul below.

STAY TUNED for next week’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, and so much more! Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

For this dreamer of dreams, artist at heart, and American Russophile, a picture says…

Steve Hague Collage

Canon zoom lens, photo credit: Morguefiles; Steve Hague and his Russian bride at St. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Kazan, Russia, on their wedding day. The ceremony was followed by a reception where the happy couple danced, ate, laughed, toasted, and kissed—every time the guests shouted “Gorko, Gorko, Gorko!” (Kiss the bride!).

Writer, world traveler and photography enthusiast James King is back with his ever-popular “A picture says…” column. Born in England, James is now semi-retired in Thailand. If you like what you see here, be sure to check out his blog, Jamoroki.

My February guest is 58-year-old American national Steve Hague, who a few years ago left everything behind to start up a new life in Kazan, Russia.

Steve says that although he is American in the mind he is Russian in the heart. He keeps a fascinating blog, Life in Russia, which is aptly subtitled “The bridge between two countries”. Steve has put a lot of time, research and energy into bringing us information, both written and visual, about his adopted homeland, in an enthusiastic way.

He also belongs to the ranks of what the Displaced Nation calls “international creatives.” Besides being an avid photographer, he is currently writing a novelette called Under the Blood Moon.

Today I hope he will convey some of the enthusiasm he has about his new life and pursuits, along with sharing a selection of his photos.

* * *

Hi, Steve. We have been following each other’s blogs for a while now, and I am very pleased that we have the opportunity to meet in this interview. Let’s start with some background on you, shall we—beginning with where you were born and when you spread your wings to start travelling.
Well, the hospital where I was born almost refused my mother admittance because she had high cheek bones and dark skin, like a Native American Indian. My father managed to convince the staff she was white, and my arrival into the world occurred in Grand Junction Hospital, Colorado. Because my father worked for the government, my family moved every four years or so. I think we moved back and forth between Colorado and Maryland six times. Eventually, my mother put her foot down and we all graduated from high school in Boulder City, Nevada. But my father had itchy feet, and I appear to have followed in his footsteps, so to speak.

And in your adulthood you’ve become quite an experienced traveller. Tell me more.
I’d love to say I’ve traveled the world but it just isn’t so. I’ve traveled a lot within the United States. Thanks to my family, I’ve seen nearly every major national park in the United States, and in my early adulthood I did a lot of traveling on the West Coast. This stone finally stopped rolling in Portland, Oregon. Exploring the great Northwest was a wonderful experience.

But you didn’t venture outside the country?
Like every brave American I visited Canada several times. My best trip was to Prince George in British Columbia in the dead of winter. I guess I was preparing for exploits outside of the States without knowing it. And there were a couple of forays into Mexico when I was younger, before it became Gangland Я Us.

What about your working life—how did that evolve?
I started my career as an architect, back in the 1970s. That evolved into studying naturopathic medicine, which lasted approximately ten years until I founded the precious metals business, which I turned over to my partners before coming to Russia. Here in Kazan I found my niche in teaching English. Honestly, I never thought there was much value to being a native speaker; that only came after escaping America. Today along with teaching I write, which has been in my heart since childhood. It find it adds balance to my life.

Что ни город, то и норов (Another city—another temper). —Russian proverb

So Russia was your first time out of the United States? That was quite a leap! What led you there, and how did you cope with the cultural and language differences?
Yes, I met my wife through a dating website, and now Russia is my home (until I get itchy feet again). Some people may have thought I was crazy but with her by my side I felt more secure about living somewhere else. And what an experience it’s been! It’s truly opened my eyes to what it means to be a global citizen. In fact, where we live we resembles any major city in America minus one thing: the sidewalks are terrible here. Otherwise, it’s pretty much the same—malls, grocery stores, McDonald’s, the movies, it’s all here. There’s one oddity though. I see a greater variety of cars here than I ever saw in the States.

You have also really embraced Russia itself.
I believe I can trace my first love of Russia back to my childhood. My father brought home a record, How to Learn Russian Easy—I was probably only 11 years old at the time. The only word I learned was здравствуйте (hello). Later in high school I wanted to learn the language, but the choice was either French or Spanish. I chose French but never went to the class.

I know from my experiences in Thailand how valuable having a local partner or wife is. However, it can make you a little lazy on the language front and ultimately more dependent. But I’m sure that’s not the case with you, Steve! How often do you travel out of Russia to explore other places?
My wife and I love travel, and since moving here I’ve had the opportunity to visit Cyprus and Israel, both fascinating countries with incredible beauty and charm. I’m sure I will get to other places as well, eventually. Right now we have a couple of trips planned, one to the Altai Mountains, where Russia, China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan come together, and the other, hopefully, to Europe. If anyone out there is into adventure travel, we’ve invited a small group to join us on the Altai trip. There’s still space.

Now let’s see some photos that capture a few of your favourite memories.
This first photo shows the canals of St. Petersburg. I took it during the blue hour of the summer solstice, close to midnight:
SH_StPetersburg_canals

The next photo is of the ancient town of Bolgar, which is located on the Volga about 75 miles away from Kazan—for me, it captures the essence of the place (which I found hard to do!):
SH_Bolgar

For the next one, I happened to be walking by the lake near my home when the fog started to lift. I saw the stump sticking up out of the water, the fog in the background, and the changing colors of the leaves. I knew this was one of those moments I would never see again. More than any other photo it changed how I viewed my photography:
SH_near home in Russia

The last one is indeed a lovely capture and I agree such moments aren’t ten a penny. Now I’m keen to see some of your favorite places for photography and hear about why you found them so inspirational. Let’s have a look.
The next photo shows the type of scene I love to capture. I was in Suzdal and just happened to be standing on a bridge looking over the river, towards one of the many churches within this small, historic town:
SH_river&church_Russia

While in Israel we traveled all over, from Haifa to the Sea of Galilee. We got to see Nazareth (which I didn’t like), Tel Aviv (much like any big city), and then Jerusalem, a fascinating city of culture, history, religion, and much more. We even made it to Eilat, Israel’s southernmost city, at the northern tip of the Red Sea, which is a beautiful in its own right. I took many pictures of scenery, but here is a view of Haifa:
SH_Israel

Also in Israel, I snapped a few photos of people. One that stands out to me is this one, of a homeless man. I captured it on the sly and unfortunately came out blurred but it still speaks volumes to me:
SH_Homeless_in_Israel
I can understand why this one is special. It’s that beady eye watching your every move. I can forgive the blur when it has so much meaning for you.
Another photo that stands out for me is this one of a Druze woman. She was preparing food for us in an outdoor oven in what felt like the middle of nowhere, on Mount Carmel:
SH_DruzeWoman

It’s a lovely, natural picture. Tell me something, do you feel reserved about taking photos of people, particularly when they are conscious that you are doing so, and do you ask permission before taking people’s photographs?
I will look at them and try to understand their mood. If I can see a smile, I’ll just go ahead and take a picture; if not, I’ll ask permission. Then at other times if I can’t detect a mood, I’ll ask permission or try to take a picture without attracting attention. Sometimes it works; other times it doesn’t.

Всяк глядит, да не всяк видит. (Everything has beauty but not everyone sees it.) —Russian proverb

From your descriptions, it sounds as though photography and the ability to be able to capture something unique, which will never be seen again, is a powerful force for you.
Photography and art have been part of my life for as long as I can remember. There have been times when I dreamed of becoming a professional artist or photographer. Then I came to understand that the reason I love photography so much is the freedom I feel when I manage to capture that special moment or scene. I wait for my eye to tell me: here it is, your model or subject. Relying on my inner instincts brings a sense of wonder and happiness to my soul. Being a professional would rob me of that freedom. And this way I am also free to share my photos with others.

That’s an interesting, and unselfish, perspective. From a technical point of view, some readers will want to know what kind of camera and lenses you use.
All my images so far have come from my Canon EOS 10D, I use long-range and mid-range lenses and occasionally a fish-eye lens when I feel it will capture what I’m looking for. There’s nothing really special. The post processing software I use is Picasa since it’s free and does most everything I need to do.

So all in all, it’s a simple and uncluttered approach that works for you. Finally, do you have any advice for wannabe photographers who are traveling or living abroad?
Enjoy where you’re at, don’t worry about the subject matter (each one is a lesson), and don’t let anybody tell you to take lots and lots of pictures.

I must say I agree with what you just said, assuming you mean taking loads of shots randomly in the hope that you might get a good one. That’s a lazy approach that seldom works. It’s not a good way to learn the art, and it also means you have a lot of sorting and deletions to do. I only take a lot of shots when I’m doing blurs. Sorry, I interrupted. You were saying?
Explore different angles, walk around your subject looking for the right look, imagine it, see it in your mind, then shoot. A camera isn’t a shotgun; it’s a finely tuned instrument ready to capture whatever you want. A camera is nothing more than a fancy paintbrush. You the photographer are free to decide the final look and feel. The world is your subject and the photo your canvas. Good luck!

Sound advice, Steve. I’d like to thank you for taking the time to tell the story of your exciting journey and for sharing so much interesting and useful information in this interview.

* * *

Readers, what do you make of Steve’s experiences? If you have any questions for him on his travels and/or photos, please leave them in the comments!

If you want to get to know Steve and his work better, I suggest you visit his blog (which you can read snippets from his novelette, Under the Blood Moon), follow him on twitter and/or friend him on Facebook.

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

STAY TUNED for more 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 and so much more! Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

An expat’s valentine to her adopted home is podcast series and now book

Kay Mellish Valentine CollageThe Displaced Nation aspires to be a home to international creatives. As such, we are fond of showcasing memoirs written by those who have spent large chunks of their lives abroad or novels that were in some way inspired by international travels.

Very occasionally, though, we come across an expat who has written a guide to life in their new country that strikes us as being highly creative. Not long before the Brazilian Olympics, for instance, we featured works by two expats living in Brazil because of having a Brazilian spouse: Mark Hillary’s Reality Check: Life in Brazil Through the Eyes of a Foreigner; and Meagan Farrell’s American Exbrat in São Paulo: Advice, Stories, Tips and Tricks for Surviving South America’s Largest City.

Both authors felt justified in producing their own guides to Brazilian life because they’d noticed so many newbie expats falling into the trap of becoming an “exbrat” (to borrow Meagan’s term)—constantly complaining about Brazilian food, prices, bureaucracy, and crime and thus missing out on one of the world’s most fascinating cultures and friendliest peoples.

And both books, while offering practical information and advice, also communicated the authors’ affection, even love, for the land of carnival and samba, beaches and jungles—warts and all.

My guest today, Kay Xander Mellish, has composed a similar kind of ode to her adopted home of Denmark, which, too, has its attractions even if if Danes are far less sociable than Brazilians and their culture a great deal less lively.

Yet apparently not all visitors seem to appreciate the many appealing features of the country that was recently crowned the the world’s happiest, which is what led Kay to produce her podcast series, How to Live in Denmark, and now a book of the same name.

Born in Wisconsin and educated in New York City, Kay has lived in Denmark since 2000, speaks Danish, and after working in the corporate world has founded her own company to help Danish companies communicate in English. She hasn’t married into the culture but is a single mother bringing up a daughter.

Ironically, Kay’s valentine to Denmark has come out at a time when another foreigner in Denmark, the British journalist Michael Booth, is in the news for a book expressing disillusionment with the Scandinavian way of life. We’ll talk to Kay about that development as well.

But first let’s get to know her a little more.

 * * *

“Santa Claus has the right idea: visit people once a year”—Victor Borges, Danish-born American comedian

Hi, Kay! I once lived in England and then in Japan, and there were times in reading your book that the Danes reminded me of the English and the Japanese: easy enough to like but not so easy to love. Is that a fair description?
It can be difficult for outsiders to make friends in Denmark, because for Danes friendship is a serious business. A real friendship is a lifelong relationship, sometimes starting in kindergarten or even before – my daughter, for example, has a friend she “met” when they were four weeks old! The idea of casual chat with strangers is alien to Danes: they have to force themselves to do it, and it is nearly always uncomfortable for them unless a great deal of alcohol is involved. Once you are within their friendship circle, Danes are excellent friends, reliable, supportive and direct. But it is difficult to come into that circle. Danish society is based on trust, and it takes Danes a while to be sure that they can trust you.

HTLID_cover_and_hearts

Kay Xander Mellish’s book cover; random Valentine’s hearts and one kiss.

Humor is of course an important element in any long-term relationship, and your have subtitled your book “a humorous guide.” Tell me, are you laughing with or at?
With! Danes are very good at making fun of themselves; in fact, one of the highest compliments they can give a famous or accomplished person is that he or she has “self-irony,” or the ability to make fun of himself. By contrast, anyone who is selvfede (literally, “self-fat”) and thinks he or she is God’s gift to the world is held in contempt. So, in general, humor is not hard to come by in Denmark. You just have to be willing to make fun of yourself. Danes have an old tradition that if you’ve fallen down in public or otherwise made a big mistake or fool of yourself, you’re supposed to buy kvajebager (failure beer) for everyone who saw you. My book, which is based on a podcast series, is very popular among Danes, which it would not be if they could not make light of themselves. Occasionally I get a few crabby emails from people with Danish names, but not many. I’ve found a lot of Danes buy the book for their foreign friends.

“To be of use to the world is the only way to be happy.”—Hans Christian Andersen

Oxford Research recently published a study finding that 9 out of 10 expats enjoy living and working in Denmark and close to half choose to prolong their stay—mainly because of career opportunities. What makes Copenhagen’s work opportunities so loveable?
If you can get a job in Copenhagen, the working conditions and benefits are excellent. Most people work 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and then go home to their families, so it’s common to see an office entirely empty by 5:00 p.m. And there is less of the cutthroat competition, both internally and externally within companies, that you see elsewhere in business life. You also have the ability to do work you will be proud of: Danes demand quality, so you rarely meet anyone who is incompetent. But getting a job is difficult, even for the Danes, and it is extremely difficult for foreigners who do not speak Danish. Many foreigners with only rudimentary Danish either work in the “caring professions,” such as state-sponsored jobs caring for the elderly or the very young, or in IT roles that there are not enough Danes to fill. If you are looking for anything else, besides the usual cleaning and waiting tables, plan for at least a 6-month job search, possibly a year.

“I’m afraid I have to set you straight…”—Michael Booth, Copenhagen-based British journalist

Meanwhile, the journalist Michael Booth has just published a book The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia.
Denmark is a small country where everyone knows everyone, so I should start by saying that Michael Booth is the friend of a friend, although I have not met him myself. Michael has developed a great shtick for himself, which is running down the Scandinavian countries while continuing to enjoy their benefits. (The fact that Michael is a white male from a friendly country allows him to get away with this performance: I don’t want to even think of what the reaction might have been if such a book had been written by someone from the Middle East.) At any rate, his timing is excellent: it’s become fashionable, particularly in left-wing Western circles, to paint Scandinavia as a utopia, which it most certainly is not. Michael’s book is a strong antidote to that.

An excerpt from Booth’s book appeared recently in The Atlantic, where he says Denmark is “stultifyingly dull” and “boring” because of its “suffocating monoculture.” You don’t agree with any of that?
Personally, I don’t find Copenhagen dull, and this is from someone who used to live in downtown Manhattan and be very involved in the New York art and nightlife scene. I find Copenhagen sophisticated without being too intense. There is certainly less of a gallery or theater scene here, but by contrast people have more time to enjoy the arts events that take place.

“I come from a culture where you don’t divide it up [between] what you can do on TV and what you can do on film.”—Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen

You are a professional voice actor, and, unusually, your book is based on a podcast series. Since we’re talking about love today: which do you love more, podcasting or writing?
The podcast series was actually based on an old group of essays that had been mouldering on a rarely-updated website I started when I still I lived in New York. (In those days, the days before podcasts and before the web, I used to put up parts of my stories as flyposters in a graffiti format—but that was the 1990s!) When I came to Denmark, I wrote a few essays about the experience, but then I pretty much abandoned the site while working full-time at a corporate job while raising my daughter. The site was still online, and newcomers to Denmark kept finding these old postings and emailing me, saying how much I had helped them adjust to living here. I began to feel an obligation to help people just arriving in Denmark. It can be a difficult place to get used to. So when I left corporate life and was in the process of building my own voiceover business, doing the podcast How to Live in Denmark was a natural move. I soon found out that many people weren’t listening to the recordings at all: they were just reading the transcripts available on the podcast site. By this time, I was spending so much time on the podcasts that I needed to earn a little money off the project, so I turned the transcripts into an eBook. Customers then kept asking for a paper book, so I published one of those as well. Now we also have the Chinese version, and there are so many Syrian refugees in Denmark that there have been requests for an Arabic-language version, so we are working on that as well. I really feel it’s important for me to serve to others who may be facing the same challenges I once did.

“Give to a pig when it grunts and a child when it cries, and you will have a fine pig and bad child.”—Danish proverb

Turning to your daughter: what do you love most about raising and educating a child in Denmark?
Children in Denmark given much more freedom and responsibility than children in many countries. My daughter has been riding the Copenhagen trains and buses alone since she was eight, for example. Even when they are very young, children are expected to sort out their own playground disagreements with little interference from adults. There’s no such thing as a “helicopter parent” here. Also, children don’t spend most of their childhoods trying to get into a good university, going to cram schools and trying to build up their CV with impressive-sounding activities. They relax; they have time to play, time to think, time to develop themselves and their creativity. There is very little standardized testing in Denmark and not many grades of any kind until the kids are 13 or 14. I think that’s a healthy way to go about things. My daughter enjoys living here; she enjoys her school, where there is very little pressure but the kids learn to put knowledge together in a holistic way, which I think will be much more useful for the future just learning how to spit out facts or repeat the teacher’s viewpoint back to her. Most importantly, parents in Denmark have a lot more free time to spend with their kids, since working hours aren’t particularly long here. So we do a lot of stuff together—sports, travel, crafts. I don’t know if I would have had the time and energy to do those things had I been a single mother in the US.

Do you think she misses out on anything by not being in the United States?
Of course, she’s missing out on the ethnic diversity of the US, as well as the ambition and drive and energy of living there. But she speaks frequently of going to college in the US, so she’ll have a chance to experience those aspects when she’s a little older.

“There was the constant, tinny squeak of a thousand rusty bike chains.”—Greg Hanscom, senior editor at Grist: “An American in Denmark”

You’ve now lived in Denmark for nearly 15 years, longer than many marriages last. If you had one irritating habit about the place you could change, what would it be?
I suppose it would the Danes’ general rudeness in public places. When someone brushes closely by you, or even runs right into you, there’s never an ‘Excuse me’ or the Danish equivalent. Instead, you get a sour look or a grunt that signifies “Why were you in my way?” Customer service in Danish shops or restaurants is not much better: in Denmark, the customer is always wrong. Some of the nonwhite foreigners I’ve met here assumed that they were being treated so badly because of racism or racial discrimination, but that is not the case. Sad to say, everybody gets bad customer service, even other Danes.

And if you and Denmark were to “divorce” and go your separate ways one day, what would you miss the most about it?
Probably the biking culture and the great mass transit. While I have a drivers’ license and enjoy driving a car, I love that I can hop on a bike and get anywhere quickly. No parking problems, no stopping to buy gas, and it’s a very easy and convenient way to keep fit. That said, bringing home groceries on your bicycle can be a headache. And trying to bring home fresh dry cleaning on your bicycle is the worst!

Thanks, Kay! It’s been a pleasure. Taking a closer look at your work, we see you’ve created an intricate valentine to your adopted home, full of love and irreverent humor, the perfect tribute.

* * *

Readers, if this interview has piqued your curiosity about Kay Xander Mellish and her creative output, we encourage you to visit her author site, like the How to Live in Denmark page on Facebook and/or follow her on Twitter: she has a personal account and a podcast/book account. Also please note that Kay was the recipient of one of our Alice Awards for an irreverent post explaining why public nudity is okay in Denmark, whereas public ambition is not.

STAY TUNED for next week’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!

Related posts:

LOCATION, LOCUTION: Kiwi-Brit author team produce first in eco-thriller series spanning continents where they’ve lived

JJ LN Collage

Columnist JJ Marsh (left) talks to Lambert Nagle, Kiwi/Brit co-writers of international thrillers.

Today we welcome JJ Marsh back to the Displaced Nation for this month’s “Location, Locution.” If you are new to the site, JJ, who is a crime series writer (see her bio below), talks to fellow fiction writers about their methods for portraying place in their works. We’re excited that her guest today is the better half of a husband-wife team who have composed an eco-thriller that takes place all over the world, including places where they’ve been expats.

—ML Awanohara

Lambert Nagle is the pen name of co-authors Alison Ripley Cubitt and Sean Cubitt. They write thrillers set in sunny climes.

Sean’s day job is Professor of Film and Television, Goldsmiths, University of London. He has been published by leading academic publishers.

Alison worked in TV and film production for companies including the BBC and Walt Disney but her passion has always been for writing. She is an author, screenwriter and novelist.

Serial expats, Lambert Nagle have lived in Malaysia, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and are now based in leafy Hampshire.

Now let’s find out how they perceived the connection between location and locution for their debut novel, Revolution Earth. (Alison is answering for the pair.)

* * *

Which comes first, story or location?

We knew that Revolution Earth had to have a circular structure as one of the themes is that an event in one part of the world will have an impact in another. We needed a major global city for the inciting incident as well as the conclusion and we chose the one we know best—London. Sean was once a bicycle courier and he knew what it was like to have to dodge potholes and taxis in Soho and still get the delivery there on time.

We wrote the New Zealand section after we’d reluctantly left my native land and moved to Melbourne. It was a bit of a love letter to a place we adored but needed to leave in order to pursue professional opportunities abroad. In southeast Australia we were thrilled to find that there was an oil refinery—identical to one we had driven past in Cheshire years ago, which inspired the story.

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

For the Antarctica portion of the story, Sean had spent four years in Canada as a post-graduate student. The memory of cold is something that never leaves you, so we drew on that, starting from the physical experience and expanding out into the visual side of things.

Photo credits (clockwise from top left): Kakadu in the Australian outback, by Muireann Ní Cheallacháin via Flickr; book cover with photo of Snowy Mountain region of New South Wales, Australia, taken by Alison Ripley Cubitt; lady bicyclist in London, by Danica via Flickr; Alberta, Canada, by davebloggs007 via Flickr (all Flickr photos CC BY 2.0).

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

Revolution Earth was originally a screenplay. As a screenwriter you have to know a place extremely well before you’d dare use it as a setting. Film is a literal medium and your job is to give very clear instructions about an actual place—as a camera has to be able to film the location exactly as you’ve described it. So we went to extremes: including a trip to a uranium mine in the Outback, thousands of miles from where we lived in Australia.

Eventually we realised we needed to write a novel first, before we could interest film-makers. But by then, we knew we couldn’t get to every location and would have to inhabit some places purely through imagination. The important thing is that the imagined places have to be just as detailed, just as carefully tuned to the physical experience of being there, as the real ones. Something really familiar like a dusty, disorganised office in a backstreet in the East End of London should be as deeply felt as battling a storm in a leaky boat in the Southern Ocean encircling Antarctica. As someone who goes green at the mention of the phrase “rough seas,” this is where the imagination comes in as well.

The liberation of cresting the top of a hill on a bicycle before swooping down towards the valley is the same everywhere, but knowing the twists of the road, the steepness of it, how it burns up your lungs before filling them with joy, is all the richer if you can take your reader into what is special about this road, this time of year, for this character.

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

Whether it’s real or imagined, a place comes as a feeling first. Then you identify the elements of that feeling: what can you hear, smell, see, taste. How do people talk? Hot, cold, windy or still? What plants and animals, how personal or impersonal, what sense of the past, ancient or recent, does it communicate and what are the things that carry that sense—things like the absence of birdsong or the sound of a kettle boiling. Sometimes you reach out to the reader to share an experience, but sometimes you have to lead them into an experience they have never had, and then it’s often the emotion of the characters and scene that drive the description rather than its physical elements.

Can you give an example from Revolution Earth that illustrates place?

Great mountains of blue-white floating in a sea caught between the colour of the sky and the fresh green of young pine forests under mid-summer sun. Between them, smaller floes drifted about aimlessly, as though in some kind of trance. On the horizon she saw, thanks to Novak, a steep rise of endless white cliffs. This must be where the glaciers came down to the sea, where the icebergs calved. It was as alien a place as she had ever seen, more alien even than a science fiction film because it was right there, illuminated for her in the startling clarity of dazzling sunshine.

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

For Sean, Dickens immediately comes to mind: hardly a scene goes by that isn’t redolent of a life lived in it—stuffy banqueting rooms, Essex marshes, debtors’ prison… I admire Tim Winton who writes about his home state of Western Australia in such a way that I just want to jump on a plane and go there. He’s as comfortable describing what life’s like for the struggling poor living in beachside shacks as he is showing the reader what the inside of a wave looks like from a surfer’s point-of-view.

* * *

Readers, if this interview has piqued your curiosity about Lambert Nagle and the Cubitts, we encourage you to visit their author site.

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 next month’s Location, Locution, with Carl Plummer, who lives in China and writes comic thrillers as Robert E. Towsie.

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!

Related posts:

BOOKLUST, WANDERLUST: 2014–2015 books recommended by expats & other international creatives (2/2)

Globe Bookshelf Part TwoHello Displaced Nationers! As those who caught Part One of this post last week will know, we are continuing the party we had at the end of last year in publishing a Best of 2014 in expat books list by soliciting various international creatives and other “displaced” contacts for more recommended books.

In Part One, several of my bookworm friends from a previous blog, Novel Adventurers, along with ML and JJ Marsh (JJ writes the Location, Locution column for Displaced Nation), revealed their favorite 2014 reads.

In Part Two, below, kicking off with yours truly, we talk about releases we’re hotly anticipating this year.

A “forthcoming reads” roundtable, if you will.

—Beth Green

* * *

BETH GREEN: I actively search out books by Elizabeth George, the American author of the Inspector Lynley mystery novels set in Britain, and Elizabeth Gilbert, who achieved fame with her travel memoir, Eat, Pray, Love. 2015 is a great year for me as both Elizabeths have books coming out.

A_Banquet_of_Consequence_300s_coverA Banquet of Consequences (Inspector Lynley Book 19), by Elizabeth George, due out in October.
Synopsis: Lynley and Havers are drawn from Cambridge to London to the windswept town of Shaftesbury during one of their most complex cases yet: the murder of a feminist writer and speaker.
Why I’m excited: Though actually not in the “expat” realm, I have to confess it’s the book I’m most looking forward to reading. I’m a huge fan of George’s diverse characters and elaborate stories.

BigMagic_cover_300Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, by Elizabeth Gilbert, due out in September.
Synopsis: Gilbert digs deep into her own creative process to share her wisdom and unique perspective about creativity.
Why I’m excited: As some readers may recall, I reviewed her novel The Signature of All Things last fall for this column. It seems that Gilbert is now turning her hand to self-help/motivational books for us creatives. I’m intrigued, and I figure other international creatives should be as well.

Three other upcoming books, by authors I’ve not come across before, have also caught my eye:

Displacement_cover_300Displacement, by Lucy Knisley, due out February 8th.
Synopsis: A graphic-novel-style/comic-book travelogue reporting on a cruise ship trip to the Caribbean Knisley took with her grandparents.
What interests me: Even though I seldom read graphic novels, I’m curious to pick it up, especially given its title(!). Knisley has two previous travelogues in graphic form: French Milk (her six-week trip to Paris to celebrate a milestone birthday) and An Age of License (her all-expenses trip to Europe/Scandinavia).

Meet_Me_in_Atlantis_cover_300Meet Me in Atlantis: My Obsessive Quest to Find the Sunken City, by Mark Adam, due out in March
Synopsis: A few years ago, travel writer Mark Adams made a strange discovery: everything we know about the lost city of Atlantis comes from the work of one man, the Greek philosopher Plato. Then he made a second, stranger discovery: amateur explorers are still actively searching for this sunken city all around the world, based entirely on the clues Plato left behind. Adams decides to track these people down. He reports on what he learns from scientists and amateur historians who all share his curiosity about the facts and fiction surrounding the “lost city.”
What interests me: Count me in that curious group!

The Porcelain Thief: Searching for the Middle Kingdom in Buried China, by Huan Hsu (forthcoming in March).
The_Porcelain_Thief_cover_300Synopsis: The author, raised in Utah, goes back to his ancestral homeland in China, in part to look for porcelain and other treasures his great-great-grandfather may have buried before the family fled the Sino-Japanese War.
What interests me: As a former expat in China, I love anything about this part of the world, and this displaced family saga sounds particularly fascinating!


ML AWANOHARA: I am always on the lookout for books that could be of interest to the Displaced Nation readership. (Whether I end up reading them or not is a different matter!) I’m sure this is just the tip of the iceberg, but thus far in 2015 I have my eye on one novel and several memoirs.

First, the novel:

The_Art_of_Unpacking_Your_Life_cover_300The Art of Unpacking Your Life, by Shireen Jilla (forthcoming in March)
Synopsis: A million miles away from their daily concerns, on a safari in the Kalahari Desert, two women who were once best friends see if they can reconnect.
What interests me: We featured Jilla’s first novel, Exiled, on the Displaced Nation shortly after we started the site as we were curious to as to why, after her own expat life in New York City, she had produced such a dark, dysfunctional family psychodrama concerning a British expat family living on the Upper East Side of New York. (Her answer was extremely satisfying!)

As to memoirs, here are three that were issued in January:

Leaving_Before_the_Rains_Come_cover_300Leaving Before the Rains Come, by Alexandra Fuller (came out in January)
Synopsis: A child of the Rhodesian wars and daughter of two deeply complicated parents, Alexandra Fuller is no stranger to pain. But the disintegration of her own marriage leaves her shattered. Looking to pick up the pieces of her life, she finally confronts the tough questions about her past, about the American man she married in hopes of being saved from the madness of her early life, and about the family she left behind in Africa.
What interests me: I so enjoyed Fuller’s first memoir, Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, about growing up in a white family during the Rhodesian Bush War, I have come to think of her as a modern-day displaced heroine, or goddess: larger than life, an extraordinary mix of beauty and brains, out of this displaced world… (Hmmm… No wonder her marriage to a mere mortal didn’t last.)

Russian_Tattoo_cover_300Russian Tattoo: A Memoir, by Elena Gorokhova
SYNOPSIS: In her first memoir, A Mountain of Crumbs, Gorokhova detailed her life growing up with an iron-willed mother in Soviet-era St. Petersburg. In this follow-up, she escapes both mother and country by entering into an unsuitable marriage with an American. When her husband first brings her to live in Austin, Texas, the culture shock is extreme. He then ships her off to Princeton to live with his psychotherapist mother. There she meets her second husband and a happier future.
WHAT INTERESTS ME: Maybe because I lived abroad for so long and then had to readjust to life in the U.S., I identify very closely with immigrant stories. And for personal reasons, I’m always attracted to stories that revolve around the challenges of cross-cultural marriage.

Whipping_boy_cover_300Whipping Boy: The Forty-Year Search for My Twelve-Year-Old Bully, by Allen Kurzweil
SYNOPSIS: As a 10-year-old American shipped to a Swiss boarding school, Kurzweil endured a year of torment. Years later he set out to search for the chief bully, Cesar, who, it turned out, had gone to prison twice, having become a professional con man. In circling the globe to find Cesar, Kurzweil stands up for all who’ve been the victim of bullies.
WHAT INTERESTS ME: As we’ve always recognized on this site, some of us who are “displaced” have gothic tales to tell. Thank goodness in this case the villain picked on a man who was destined to become a world-class writer, hence able to exact an exquisite revenge.

Finally, I just now heard about another memoir whose title alone has me panting to know more: The Dead Ladies Project: Exiles, Ex-Pats and Ex-Countries, by litblog founder and book reviewer Jessa Crispin, who moved to Berlin in 2009. It’s due out in September; no book cover yet.


JJ MARSH, crime series author and Displaced Nation columnist (Location, Locution): I have a novel and a poem on my list, along with one publishing house.

A_Spool_of_Blue_Thread_300A Spool of Blue Thread: A Novel, by Anne Tyler (forthcoming this month).
Synopsis: It’s not an expat story but rather the opposite: a domestic family saga. The family, Whitshanks, have lived in Baltimore for several generations.
What interests me: Tyler wrote The Accidental Tourist (about the ultra-insular Leary family, who also live in Baltimore) and I’m curious.

“Sentenced to Life”, by Clive James (James, for those who don’t know, is an Australian writer and personality who has long lived in Britain.)
Synopsis: It’s one of James’s recent poems, published in May of last year, and can be read in full on her author site.
What interests me: I heard James on the radio talking about writing poetry about facing death and it humbled me.

I also look forward to whatever Galley Beggar Press puts out because they’re exciting and adventurous and try things other publishers will not. This strategy paid off with their Baileys Prize success of A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride last year.


The_Tutor_of_History_cover_300HEIDI NOROOZY, adult TCK, translator and author (@heidinoroozy): This year I’ve resolved to read more books in translation and stories from far-flung parts of the world. And, as I enjoy novels set in foreign locations that are told in local voices, I’ve got these two on my list:

The Tutor of History, written in English by the Nepali author Manjushree Thapa
SYNOPSIS: One of South Asia’s best-known writers, Thapa follows the lives of a variety of characters in the lead-up to local and national elections in a small town in central Nepal.
NOTE: This novel came out in 2012, but I haven’t gotten round to reading it yet.

The_Little_Paris_Bookshop_cover_300The Little Paris Bookshop, by the German author Nina George (forthcoming in English in June).
SYNOPSIS: Monsieur Perdu calls himself a literary apothecary. From his floating bookstore in a barge on the Seine, he prescribes novels for the hardships of life. The only person he can’t seem to heal through literature is himself…but will he manage to do that on a mission he takes to the south of France, with an Italian chef as his companion?
NOTE: I already read the novel in German. In Germany it spent over a year on the bestseller lists.


My_Fellow_Prisoners_cover_300KELLY RAFTERY, translator and writer: In 2015, I am looking forward to being able to read Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s collection of short stories entitled My Fellow Prisoners. Already available in Europe, it is due to have its U.S. release in late February. Convicted on thinly disguised, politically motivated charges, Mikhail Khodorkovsky went from being Russia’s richest man to a labor camp inmate in Siberia. In the decade of his incarceration, Khodorkovsky scribbled short sketches of the men he encountered, jailers and prisoners alike.


SUPRIYA SAVKOOR, editor and mystery writer: In the last roundtable, I mentioned having recently read two gripping memoirs: Not My Father’s Son, by Alan Cumming, and A Long Way Home, by Saroo Brierley. In 2015 I’m looking forward to more books that surprise me as these two did, particularly ones in which the new stories are intertwined with the old ones and make me see the grander scheme of things.


Rebel_Queen_cover_300ALLI SINCLAIR, world traveler and novelist (www.allisinclair.com): I’m a huge fan of Michelle Moran’s books and any book of hers is an automatic buy for me. Moran has an interesting story. Born in Southern California, she was a public high school teacher before becoming a writer, using her summers to travel around the world. It was her experiences as a volunteer on archaeological digs that inspired her to write historical fiction. Moran’s upcoming work, Rebel Queen, will be released in March. It’s about Queen Lakshmi—also known as India’s Joan of Arc because she stood up to the British invasion of her beloved Kingdom of Jhansi. The queen raises two armies—one male and one female—and they go into battle against the well-prepared British.

Moran’s books are rich in historical facts but the stories are so enthralling it never feels like a history lesson. Another reason I’m a fan is because she usually chooses the point of view of someone not so well known. For example, in this story the main character is Sita, one of the Queen’s trusted soldiers and companions, a device that serves to paint a less-biased picture of the more famous Queen Lakshmi.

* * *

Thank you, ML, JJ and guests! Readers, do you have any further 2015 recommendations? Please leave a comment below. And then let’s get our noses back into our books!

Finally, please be sure to sign up for the DISPLACED DISPATCH, which has a Recommended Read every week. You can also follow the Displaced Nation’s DISPLACED READS Pinterest board.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to subscribe to The Displaced Dispatch, a weekly round up of posts from The Displaced Nation, plus some extras such as seasonal recipes and occasional book giveaways. Sign up for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

A valentine to displaced creatives: Let a thousand friendships flourish!

Valentine_Displaced_Friendships

Photo credit: PublicDomainPictures via Pixabay.

In my nearly four years of managing the Displaced Nation, I’ve had about as many face-to-face meet-ups with the creatives I’ve “met” on this site. Let me see…the last one was was about eight months ago, when the delightful Jennifer Eremeeva and I had coffee. Among many other things, we talked about her autobiographical novel based on her two decades of living in Russia: Lenin Lives Next Store: Marriage, Martinis and Mayhem in Moscow (don’t you love the alliteration?).

I suppose it’s not surprising how rare these real-life encounters are, given that, by definition, displaced creatives tend to be on the move and/or opt to live in far-flung corners of the globe. (Jennifer was on her way to her summer home—or dacha, as she jokingly referred to it—in Northampton, Massachusetts, when we met, but would soon be heading “home” to Russia.)

Still, putting a gravatar to a name is one thing, putting an actual face to a name quite another. It cements your friendship in a way that nothing else can.

No doubt that’s why I was so thrilled to learn that another such meet-up has taken place between two writers who first encountered each other here: Cinda MacKinnon, author of the novel A Place in the World, and Rita Gardner, author of the memoir The Coconut Latitudes.

Both Cinda and Rita have kindly agreed to answer a few questions about their flourishing friendship (there’s that alliteration again!). This being February, I offer it as a kind of valentine to the pair of them, who have been great friends not only to each other but to TDN, as well as what they represent about the site’s potential to be a haven from the storm of the displaced life, a “home”.

* * *

Rita and Cinda, welcome back to the Displaced Nation! Why don’t we start by having you recount how you discovered each other on this site?

Cinda&Rita
RITA: I first discovered Cinda when she posted a comment on James King’s interview with me in his delightful “A Picture Says” column for the Displaced Nation. I immediately responded to her and we began our online friendship, which evolved into our discovering we were practically neighbors in the San Francisco Bay Area—and subsequent in-person get-togethers.

CINDA: It is ironic to think that James, who lives in Thailand, is responsible for connecting two writers who now live in the San Francisco Bay Area. James’s blog, Jamorocki, and the Displaced Nation are my two favorites.

Thank you for that lovely compliment, Cinda! We’ll be sure to pass on to James… Tell us, what was the thing that immediately drew you the two of you together?

CINDA: We were both expats who grew up in Latin American and her story reminded me of other foreigners I knew, whose parents exchanged a comfortable life for a more adventurous, exotic one…but sometimes with devastating consequences—have you read/seen Mosquito Coast? Actually, I told Rita that Cocoloco—the name of her family’s coconut finca (plantation) in the Dominican Republic—would have served as an apt alternative title for her book. She said it was her working title but then she changed it to The Coconut Latitudes just before publication.

RITA: Besides the obvious—that Cinda was an expat and a TCK who grew up in Latin America—I was intrigued that she’d written a novel that is set in Colombia.

Cinda, you’ve also been a guest of James King’s photography column. Can each of you tell me what which photo of each other’s you liked best?

Rita & Cinda Fave Pix
RITA: My favorite photo of Cinda’s was “A Profusion of Wildflowers in Arvin.” I liked the subtle angles and composition and it reminded me of the unexpected beauty that can be encountered everywhere flowers bloom.

CINDA: I think the “Wading Chairs.” That is so Latino! You can just picture a couple of islanders lounging there and keeping their feet cool.

By now, I assume you’ve read each other’s books. What were your impressions?

Cinda&Rita covers
RITA: I read the TDN interview with Cinda before reading her book. The first line struck a chord, about how her fiction “was a way to revisit homes she has cherished.” I also appreciated learning about Cinda’s life and her writing process and her list of favorite books, many of which mirrored my own. Once I got to reading the novel itself: I loved so much about it! The first thing was its sensory lushness; I could see, smell, taste, and feel the cloud forest setting and the coffee finca. I felt for Alicia, the main character, as she ached to find her own place in that world amid complicated relationship struggles. It was a satisfying read.

CINDA: I loved reading Rita’s memoir. The honesty—a lot of soul searching went into this work. Although her upbringing was difficult and her entry into adult life harsh, the writing is straightforward. And I have to say, her mother must have done a marvelous job with home schooling. For those who aren’t aware: Rita mostly taught herself to write, I believe. The results are extremely impressive.

One of you chose to write a novel based on your TCK life, whereas the other wrote a memoir. Do you think those were the right choices?

CINDA: If Rita had written this story as fiction, we would have assumed that she was exaggerating any real life background that went in to it. It is a haunting and compelling memoir.

RITA: I wondered of course if Cinda’s novel was autobiographical (which I’ve learned it is not, other than being influenced by her South American roots and her love of botany). I thought it was perfect as fiction. A memoir would not have produced A Place in the World—and since I liked this book just as it is, I’m glad she chose that route. However, I’d love to see her write a memoir, too!

Both of you grew up as Third Culture Kids, which gives you something in common right away, though not all adult TCKs become fast friends, of course. What are the closest parallels you’ve discovered?

RITA: Goodness—the parallels are uncanny: We both grew up in families that roamed the world before settling in Latin America. We both love nature, writing, photography, many of the same authors and books. We both wrote our books as ways to revisit our own past. We both arrived in the U.S. as teens, wearing “the wrong clothes” and struggled to basically “become” North Americans. I could go on!

CINDA: I could immediately relate to this line in Rita’s author bio: “She continues to dream in Spanish and dance the merengue.” Like many TCKs we are multilingual and have a tolerance for and interest in other cultures. Both of us had parents that were somewhat negligent and we were on our own by the time we were 18 (maybe 17 for Rita—and I did have some encouragement elsewhere).

You almost sound like the Bobbsey Twins, but I guess you also have some differences?

CINDA: One major difference is that as children, Rita lived in a very isolated village, home-schooled and restricted to certain contacts, whereas I went to international schools with a mélange of teachers and friends. My siblings and I didn’t see our parents as often as most kids, but they were stable individuals. Also, between the ages of 6 and 12, I spent a month every summer stateside with my cousins and affectionate aunts; this helped me both emotionally and gave me a glimpse of American life.

RITA: Also in terms of our adult lives: Cinda pursued a life as an environmental scientist and has had a successful academic career. She possesses a deep knowledge of botany and geology I’ll never have. I’m sure there are a lot of other differences—and look forward to continuing our friendship and discovering more about each other, whether differences or connections.

Finally, can you each tell me something about the other you think might be interesting to Displaced Nation readers?

CINDA: Rita is not just as a writer but has had a big job reporting to the Vice Chancellor of Administration at UC Berkeley. She also garnered a good review from the acclaimed Dominican American author/professor Julia Alvarez, who declared her an “honorary Dominicana”. Rita is an accomplished artist as well; supporting the TDN theory of the creativity of expats .

RITA: Cinda has a generous heart—evident both in person and through her blog posts. For example: Through her blog I’ve learned about a Cuban musician who defected to the US and now is in the San Francisco Bay Area; she did an excellent interview with him and included links to his music. In ways like that, she expands everyone’s horizons. Likewise, she has gotten the word out to friends and readers about my book, and has introduced me to other writers in the area. Oh, and she loves Burmese food!

* * *

Thank you, Cinda and Rita! Readers, be sure to check out their books if you haven’t already! Any further questions for these two writers and adult third culture kids? Any of your own meet-ups to report?! Let a thousand friendships bloom!! As usual, please let us know in the comments…

STAY TUNED for PART 2 of our 2014-2015 reads!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to subscribe to The Displaced Dispatch, a weekly round up of posts from The Displaced Nation, plus some extras such as seasonal recipes and occasional book giveaways. Sign up for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

DIARY OF AN EXPAT WRITER: There’s no place like home, especially when your compatriots are reading your books!

DiaryExpatWriterShannon Young, an expat writer based in Hong Kong, decided last year to quit her day job to become a full-time writer. Since October she has been writing a diary for us about this new phase of her life. We last heard from Shannon when was heading home to Arizona for the holidays. And now let’s find out what happened during her stay in her home country.

—ML Awanohara

Dear Displaced Diary,

A belated Happy New Year! This is my fifth update on my new life as an expat writer in Hong Kong. As you know, I spent the holidays in Phoenix, Arizona, for a bunch of family events—a birth, a wedding, the adoption of a baby tortoise(!).

During my last week, I also managed to fit in some writerly activities—two school visits, a seminar, a book club meeting—where I spent a lot of time talking to others about what I’ve learned on this writing journey so far.

But before I tell you about that…

Seabound_coverartArizona is where I first got to hold the Seabound paperback in my hands! It has been available online since mid-November, but shipping to Hong Kong takes forever. (I’m sure you expats can appreciate the joys of international shipping. 4–6 weeks—from Amazon?!)

Anyway, the copies I ordered didn’t arrive until after I left for the United States. So the night I arrived in Arizona, I picked up the thumbed copy of Seabound that one of my family members had been reading and flipped through the pages for the first time.

I’ve gotta say: the book looks awesome! Even though I mostly read e-books these days, I can still appreciate a hefty paperback. (400 pages!)

And now back to my Arizona chronicle, beginning with my visit to a high school where I used to teach…

On the recommendation of a mutual acquaintance, I met up with two high school student writers to drink coffee and talk about our work. We covered general subjects including the likelihood of making a living as an author as well as specifics such as how to choose the right POV for a story and whether majoring in creative writing is a good idea.

I enjoyed our conversation, and I guess the students liked what I had to say because they invited me to their high school writing club meeting the following day!

As it happens, I had taught at their high school my first year after graduation from college. I got to catch up with my old teaching friends before the writing club meeting began. It was nice to come full circle like that.

As for the students, they asked lots of sharp questions. They especially wanted to know about plot—both how it’s structured and how to come up with something interesting. We also talked about how important it is to write the kind of books you want to read.

Continuing with a book club discussion of…my book!

Perhaps the highlight of my writerly activities in Arizona was being invited to attend a book club meeting where the group was discussing one of my books! That’s right, the entire group had read Seabound. We spent several hours talking about the story and about my writing life. They made me feel like a real celebrity—and I even got to sign a bunch of books! (I wrote a bit more about this experience on my Jordan Rivet blog.)
SeaboundArizona_Book_Club

…a self-publishing seminar at my old local library

Next up was a seminar on self-publishing at the local library I always used to walk to when growing up. It was a bit surreal returning there to learn about something I strongly associate with my adult life in Hong Kong.

It’s funny how we respond to old familiar places after we’ve gone out into the world, isn’t it?

The teacher, Barbara Hinske, is a successful self-publisher who has sold over 50,000 books in her Rosemont series. Some of the information she covered is stuff I have read before in my research, but it was exciting to meet a self-pub success story in the flesh. She also had some cool ideas to share about how she does her marketing. I’ll be applying some of her advice to my own promo strategies.

After the session I showed her the Seabound paperback because we were talking about formatting, and I’d used a template she was considering. In addition to the layout, she was quite impressed with my cover and blurb, which I found encouraging!

…and one last school visit!

Before leaving Arizona, I made one more school visit. My sister is a teacher, and she invited me to speak to her two 5th-grade classes about being a writer. Boy, were her students excited! They asked great questions, but my favorite was when one little girl asked if I know Lemony Snickett.

The kids had so much energy. They participated enthusiastically when I asked them for their ideas about what Hong Kong is like (one wanted to know if we have Panda Express in Hong Kong). They stayed totally focused when I explained how a book is made. They even asked my advice on dealing with writers block (short answer: you just stay in your chair and write through it).

The one point that I tried to make over and over again was that a book is never perfect on the first draft or even the second or third or fourth. I told them that even if a book isn’t very good the first time through, I just keep rewriting. I tried to encourage them not to get frustrated if they don’t think their essays and stories are good the first time. Real writers rewrite lots of times too!

Which brings me back to Hong Kong…

I’m now back in Hong Kong, deep into the revision process for the second draft of the prequel to Seabound. Meanwhile, I’ve been getting feedback on the third draft of the sequel and should be ready to dive into the final revision by next month if all goes well.

Shannon Young and Seabounds

You may remember that I decided to give myself until Chinese New Year to decide whether or not to keep writing full time. Well, that starts on February 19th…and February is just around the corner.

Come back next month, folks, when all will be revealed!!

Thank you for following my writing journey.

Shannon
www.shannonyoungwriter.com

* * *

Readers who are also writers, have you ever presented on your works in your home country, and if so, how did you find the experience?

STAY TUNED for next week’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 snippets of worldly wisdom, exclusive book giveaways and our nominees for the monthly Alice Awards. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

BOOKLUST, WANDERLUST: 2014–2015 books recommended by expats & other international creatives (1/2)

Global Bookshelf Part OneHello Displaced Nationers! Looking back at the our popular series Best of 2014 in expat books, published at the end of last year, I decided we should continue the fun at the start of the year—and managed to convince our redoubtable editor, ML Awanohara, that the pair of us should canvass our “displaced” contacts to see what they’d enjoyed reading from last year’s crop of new books, as well as books they’re looking forward to reading in 2015.

A “best reads” roundtable, if you will.

In Part One, which appears below, several of my bookworm friends from a previous blog, Novel Adventurers, along with ML and JJ Marsh (JJ writes the Location, Locution column for Displaced Nation), discuss their favorite 2014 reads.

In Part Two, a similar group of us will talk about releases we’re hotly anticipating this year.

Having already shared my 2014 faves in last year’s series, I’ll concede the floor to others, beginning with ML.

—Beth Green

* * *

ML AWANOHARA: Thanks, Beth. These days, I seem to be more of a collector than a reader (I simply can’t keep up with all the titles I hear about!). If you’ll allow me to bend the rules, I’d like to highlight five more 2014 books I’ve discovered since our Best of 2014 in expat books went live. While I can’t personally recommend any of these titles, I feel justified in presenting them as an addendum to our series.

I’ll start with these four “displaced” novels, listed from most to least recent:

IHaveLivedToday_cover_300x200I Have Lived Today (October 2014)
Author: Steven Moore
Synopsis: Having barely survived his Dickensian childhood in 1960s Britain, Tristan Nancarrow sets out on a journey that will take him through the alleys of London and New York, to the rocky shores of ancient islands, and on pub crawls in dark and gloomy ports. The book is a classic coming-of-age adventure.
Expat creds: Originally from England, Moore is a writer, photographer, traveler and part-time ESL teacher who splits his time between Mexico, Korea and the world.
How we learned about: From his blog, Twenty-first Century Nomad.

SleepwalkersGuide_cover_300x200The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing (Random House, July 2014)
Author: Mira Jacob
Synopsis: This debut novel takes us on a journey that ranges from 1970s India to suburban 1980s New Mexico to Seattle during the dot.com boom. It follows the fortunes of the Eapens, an Indian American family dealing with tragedy and loss. Alternating between past and present, it shows the family’s transition from India to the United States. As one Indian critic writes, the story is “firmly rooted in an immigrant home, its peculiar methods and madness.”
Expat creds: Jacob is an Adult Third Culture Kid, whose Syrian Christian parents came over from Kerala, India, to New Mexico, in the 1960s. She now lives in Brooklyn with her Jewish American husband and son.
How we found out about: Recommended by Condé Nast Traveler as a book to read on a plane.

SummerattheLake_cover_300x200Summer at the Lake (Orion, June 2014)
Author: Erica James
Synopsis: An Oxford Tour guide, Floriana, a property developer, Adam, and Esme, an elderly woman who lives next door to a recent purchase by Adam, meet by chance and develop a lovely friendship, which takes them from the glittering spires of Oxford to the balmy shores of Lake Como. The story blends the tale of an old romance with a modern love affair.
Expat creds: James divides her time between living in Cheshire, UK, in a small rural hamlet and Lake Como, Italy, giving her plenty to draw upon in her books.
How we heard about: Pinterest.

TheBalladofaSmallPlayer_cover_300x200The Ballad of a Small Player: A Novel (Deckle Edge, April 2014)
Author: Lawrence Osborne
Synopsis: Lord Doyle decamps from the stuffy legal courtrooms of London to the smoky back-alley casinos of Macau, where he tries to capitalize on the ill-gotten gains that forced his flight from his homeland. But can he game the system at the island’s glitzy baccarat tables? With its expat angst and debauched air of moral ambiguity set amid the sinister demimonde of the Far East’s corrupt gambling dens, the book is an introspective study of decline and decay.
Expat creds: Lawrence Osborne was born in England and lives in New York City. A widely published and widely traveled journalist, he has lived a nomadic life in Mexico, Italy, France, Morocco, Cambodia and Thailand, places that he draws on in his fiction and non-fiction. His first novel was The Forgiven, which Beth Green reviewed for the Displaced Nation last year.
How we learned about: From Amazon.

Lastly, I have another expat memoir that was issued in 2014 and I think deserves a spot on our shelves:

FallinginHoney_cover_300x200Falling in Honey: How a Tiny Greek Island Stole My Heart (Sourcebooks, March 2014)
Author: Jennifer Barclay
Synopsis: Barclay first visited the tiny Greek island of Tilos, in the south Aegean, with friends, including a lover with promising prospects. In her mid-thirties when those prospects fell apart, she decides to reconnect with herself by returning to Tilos for a month and immersing herself in Greek culture, food, language, and dance. Emotionally healed and recharged, she returns to England, where she meets a man who wants what she wants, only to discover… (I won’t ruin it for you.)
Expat creds: Born in Manchester, UK, Barclay subsequently grew up on the edge of the Pennines—but has lived in Greece, Canada and France, with longish stays in Guyana and South Korea. She now lives mostly on Tilos. Notably, she previously produced a memoir about life in South Korea, amusingly titled Meeting Mr. Kim: Or How I Went to Korea and Learned to Love Kimchi.
How we learned about: Barclay’s “Gathering Road” podcast interview with Elaine Masters.


TheShadowoftheWind_coverJJ MARSH, crime series author and Displaced Nation columnist (Location, Locution): My best book of 2014 is The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Luis Záfon. All booklovers will fall hopelessly in love with this tale of a boy and a book he swears to protect after he is taken to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books by his bookseller father. Which of us could resist doing the same? Readers know how a story can act as a portal to otherwhere. This is the most perfect example, not to mention illuminating Barcelona in addition to the Franco dictatorship, love, loyalty and growth.


TheLie_coverHEIDI NOROOZY, adult TCK, translator and author (@heidinoroozy): One of the most remarkable and memorable books I’ve read recently is The Lie, by Hesh Kestin. Set in Israel, it features a Jewish human rights lawyer whose commitment to her principles is put to the test when her soldier son is kidnapped by Arab militants and whisked over the border to Lebanon. I love stories that explore the human spirit and are set against a backdrop of real-life events. The heart of this novel is the question of how far a mother is willing to go to save her child. Very chilling at times, heartbreaking at others and masterfully told overall.


PointofDirection_cover_300x200KELLY RAFTERY, translator and writer: In 2014, I loved Point of Direction, by Rachel Weaver. A starkly beautiful tale set in the Alaskan outback, it reads like a cross-cultural adventure. Most expats will recognize the feelings of culture shock, disorientation and unreality that haunt Anna, a woman on the run from her own ghosts. The sharp writing style perfectly mirrors the jagged mountains and rough seas that inhabit the novel as surely as another character.


SUPRIYA SAVKOOR, editor and mystery writer: I haven’t read many memoirs, but in recent months, I read two that blew me away. The first, Not My Father’s Son, by Alan Cumming, is a must-read, even if celebrity memoirs aren’t your thing or you don’t know much about this Scottish actor, now a dual American-British citizen based in New York City. NotMyFathersSon_cover_300x200Cumming, it turns out, is a genius storyteller, and he takes us on an extraordinary journey through two juicy family mysteries across four countries and three time periods. It is, in turns, emotional, tragic, exciting, suspenseful, and funny. The colorful cast of characters, with names like Tommy Darling and Sue Gorgeous, are real people. Along the way, you’ll learn all kinds of fascinating little tidbits, much of it cross-cultural, about genealogy, history, pop culture, language, psychology. Even Cumming’s anecdotes about his life as a TV and film star are surprisingly interesting, largely because of the author’s clear-eyed, honest wisdom. (I also highly recommend the audiobook, narrated by Cumming himself. Alongwayhome_cover_300x200 His lovely Scottish accent and intonations are an additional treat.)

A Long Way Home: A Memoir, by Saroo Brierley, is another great read. The story is simple but powerful: a five-year-old boy in rural India gets lost, is ultimately adopted to a family in Australia, then, as an adult, tracks down his birth family and reunites with them. How he pieces together his past and finds his roots is one of several beautiful mysteries in this small book. Loss and identity are obvious themes, but not just for the author. A truly unique story. (Side note: Modern technology is one of this book’s heroes.)


ASuitableBoy_coverALLI SINCLAIR, world traveler and novelist (www.allisinclair.com): I recently re-read A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. It was released way back in 1993 and caused quite a stir in the literary world as it was one of the longest novels ever to be published in English (1,349 pages hardcover). I first read it then, and, while it’s highly unusual for me to give a book a second or third read, every few years I return to this wonderful novel rich with Indian history, family saga, and a heartbreaking romance. It’s set in post-partition India and explores the political issues at the time (1950s), along with the Hindu-Muslim issues and the caste system. It’s quite an undertaking to read this book but I enjoy revisiting the characters I love. I am very fond of stories written by Indian authors as there is a beautiful style and interesting points of view I find appealing. There’s a sequel in 2016—I can’t wait!

* * *

Thank you, ML, JJ and guests! Readers, have you read any of the above or do you have further 2014 recommendations? Please leave a comment below. And stay tuned for Part Two of this post, books to look forward to in 2015!

Finally, please be sure to sign up for the DISPLACED DISPATCH, which has a Recommended Read every week. You can also follow the Displaced Nation’s DISPLACED READS Pinterest board.

STAY TUNED for PART 2 of this post: 2015 reads!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to subscribe to The Displaced Dispatch, a weekly round up of posts from The Displaced Nation, plus some extras such as seasonal recipes and occasional book giveaways. Sign up for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,428 other followers

%d bloggers like this: