The Displaced Nation

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Category Archives: Memoirists

EXPAT AUTHOR GAME: What score does Lisa Morrow earn on the “international creative” scale? (2/2)


Readers, I’m happy to report that Lisa Morrow aced the algorithm test for her latest book, Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul, and will therefore be advancing to the second half of the Expat Author Game.

For this second round, we’ll be looking to see how closely she measures up to the Displaced Nation’s (admittedly somewhat quirky) notion of an “international creative.”

On the face of it, Lisa most certainly qualifies as “international”. Originally from Australia, she nurtured a passion for Turkey for many years, to the point where she and her husband finally took the leap to become full-time expats in Istanbul (they live in Göztepe, on the Asian side—extra points, Lisa, for that!).

Likewise, I think it is fair to call her “creative”. In addition to her latest book, recounting the couple’s permanent move to Istanbul, she has produced two books of essays:

But let’s see how Lisa does with this series of challenges on less tangible, but equally important, indicators of international creativity. Is she truly, madly, deeply “displaced”?

Welcome back, Lisa, and now let’s get started. Many residents of the Displaced Nation have had a moment or two when they’ve felt like a character in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, myself included. How about you? Please illustrate, if possible, with quotes.

Sure, I welcome this new series of challenges. Here are my top two picks for Alice quotes, with explanations:

1) ALICE TO CHESHIRE CAT: “But I don’t want to go among mad people.” What is madness anyway? Some people might define it as packing up all your personal belongings and moving to the other side of the world where you don’t speak the language, share the religion or properly understand the culture. A lot of my family and friends certainly thought my move to Turkey was risky, but if I’d stayed put in suburbia, where I’ve never ever felt at home, I’d have slowly wilted under the burden of trying to conform and eventually drowned in a rule-bound, limited life, before succumbing most definitely to madness.

2) ALICE TO MOCK TURTLE & GRYPHON: “…it’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.” I’ve met more people in six years living in Istanbul than I’ve met in the whole of the last twenty years. The majority of them have been Turkish, and as I worked through the cultural differences to develop close friendships with some, I’ve had to question who I am, how I relate to people, and what I want in all my relationships much more intensely than at any other time in my life. I did the same when I struck up friendships with foreigners. Such ties are equally fraught because you have to push past the tendency to think you have a common bond just because you all live in a particular country and aren’t natives of that country. Along the way, I’ve had some of my beliefs, in particular my tendency to think everyone is naturally generous and supportive, rather painfully disproved. That said, it’s been a positive experience overall because by being exposed to so many different people, beliefs, behaviours and lifestyles, I’m a very different person now than when I first came to Turkey, much more confident in my judgements of people—and that makes me happy. Nonetheless I’ll always be a work in progress. Feel free to ask me this question again in ten years’ time!

Moving on: According to George Elliot’s Maggie Tulliver, the best reason to leave her native village of St. Ogg’s would be to see other creatures like the elephant. What’s the most exotic animal you’ve observed in its native setting?

muffin-of-istanbulThat’s easy: Muffin the Street Cat. Part untamed domestic tabby, part savage cheetah, Muffin prowled our Istanbul neighbourhood in search of prey. Whenever I came back from doing the shopping he’d be waiting for me, drawn by the rustling of my plastic bags. Brought up never to feed wild animals, I’d fend off his ferocious claws before running for the front door. (That’s him in the photo: it’s as close as the beast ever allowed me to get. A very camera shy breed!) Even more spectacular than Muffin was his former pack mate Son of Satan, last seen struggling to get through the front gate after eating too much kibble. They breed them tough in Istanbul.

Last but not least on this series of literary challenges: We’re curious about whether you’ve had any Wizard of Oz moments when venturing across borders. Again, please use a quote or two.

For this challenge, there’s really only one quote I can use:

DOROTHY (WHILE CLICKING HEELS): “There is no place like home.” As well as being a writer I’ve worked as an ESL/EFL English teacher for many years and know how to teach the difference between the word ‘house’ and the word ‘home’. I teach that the former is a concrete structure of bricks and mortar and wood, while home is a conceptual idea of place and belonging. I can say that one gives solid, quantifiable shelter and protection, while the other gives, what? This is where I come unstuck because I have no meaningful comprehension of the idea of home. I can list what it’s not. It’s not my country of birth, it’s not the place where I spent my childhood, it’s not a house, apartment, flat or condo I’ve lived in. My furniture and belongings give me comfort but they aren’t home. Of all my possessions, my private library that packs up into 30 boxes and spans more than thirty years of my life, is the one thing I can’t imagine doing without. And yet I am still at home when my beloved books are in storage and I only have a poorly stocked public library for sustenance. I have to conclude that home—be it in me, a person or a place—is where I am most myself.

Moving on to another dimension of creativity: telling tales of one’s travels through photos. Can you offer a couple of examples?

My writing is fueled by the desire to examine the way tradition and modernity clash in Turkey, and meld to form something new. I’m also keen to dig behind the popular tourist images of mosques and beaches, to show the little everyday oddities that make Istanbul in particular such a fascinating place—like these goats I took a photo of in the Eminönü neighborhood:
goatsin-eminonu_lisamorrow

The photo below is from a street in Paris, which seemed unremarkable from the pavement but when I looked up I was rewarded by finding something extraordinary in the ordinary—another theme I explore in my writing.
parisstreetart_lisamorrow

And now for our interplanetary challenge: Can you envision taking your exploration of other modes of being beyond Planet Earth? How about a trip to Mars?

To answer this I’m going to borrow a line from Wendy Fox’s new novel The Pull of It, which is set in Turkey. She writes, “What kind of person doesn’t wonder about other people’s lives?”—and I have to say too many kinds of people. The two types that bother me most are those who run the world and don’t seem to care what others suffer, and those who write, vlog, tweet and Instagram their travels as lists of countries they’ve ‘done’, devoid of any reference to the actual inhabitants of whatever city or place they proclaim themselves expert. If ever our planet is left with just these two types of people—and no one is writing, thinking, exploring, documenting, experimenting, painting, and creating work based on wondering about other people’s lives—then I’ll go to Mars. My only caveat being that non-wonderers aren’t welcome.

* * *

Congratulations, Lisa! You have reached the end of the Expat Authors Game. I like the way you played it, not always giving us the obvious answers. Readers, it’s time to score Lisa Morrow’s performance on Part Two. How do you think she did with the three literary references? That was an interesting comment she made, about preferring the madness of Istanbul to the Sydney ‘burbs, and she even came out with her own non-definition of “home”! And what about that animal of hers, did you find it exotic enough? (Are we sure there aren’t any cats like Muffin in Sydney?) Still, that photo of the Istanbul goats more than makes up for it…!

Finally please note: If you’ve given Lisa Morrow a high score and her formula for international creativity appeals, we urge you to check out her author site. You can also follow her on Facebook (she adds photos, tips and vignettes about Istanbul and Turkey to the page nearly every day) and let’s not forget Twitter.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a biweekly round up of posts from The Displaced Nation—and so much more! Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

Photo credits: Photo of Lisa supplied; her comment: “Although I look happy in this photo taken in Bayonne, France, I don’t speak a word of French. It’s like being two years old and no one can understand you, but because you’re an adult you can’t throw a temper tantrum to get what you want.” All other photos from Pixabay.

EXPAT AUTHOR GAME: Lisa Morrow’s algorithm for “Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul” (1/2)


This month I am delighted to welcome Lisa Morrow to the Displaced Nation as the very first guest in our new author interview series, which, in my inimitable style, I’ve devised as a kind of game expat authors can play.

I told Lisa that her first challenge would be to supply an algorithm for her latest book rather than leaving it up to Amazon: if we like Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul, what would we also like?

Then, assuming she comes up with the goods, her next challenge would be to take the Displaced Nation’s “test” to measure how well she qualifies as an “international creative”—the results of which will be published in a second post.

It’s to Lisa’s everlasting credit that she was “game” to be the first to take on these considerable challenges. For those who haven’t read it yet, her most recent book, Waiting for Tulips to Bloom, tells the story of what prompted Lisa and her husband to pick up and move from their native Australia to Göztepe, on the Asian side of Istanbul, in 2010. Now, Lisa’s decision to move to Turkey was a long time in coming. She’d first developed a passion for the country and its people when living and working in London many years before. She’d visited Turkey for the first time as a tourist and somehow found her way to Göreme, a town in Cappadocia (central Turkey), where she’d ended up staying for three months. That first stay marked the start of a period of traveling back and forth between Sydney and Istanbul, living between both places, culminating in the “permanent” move almost seven years ago.

Given Lisa’s long exposure to Turkey, the transition to full-time expat life in Istanbul wasn’t as smooth as expected, and her new book recounts both the “drama and the joy involved,” to use Lisa’s words.

And now let’s roll out Lisa’s algorithm, beginning with…

algorithm_entertainment

If we like Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom, which movie/musical/play/TV series would we also like?

One film that closely mirrors some of the major themes in my book is The Dressmaker, based on the novel by Rosalie Ham, directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse and starring Kate Winslet. After making herself into everything her mother wasn’t and escaping the stifling norms of Australian society, Tilly Dunnage (Kate) returns to her hometown. Once there she’s tested by living in a community bound by strict rules governing social intercourse and an unquestioned social hierarchy. Although The Dressmaker is set in Australia, with a main character who’s a native speaker born into the culture, Tilly is as displaced in the fictional town of Dungatar as I have often been in the real world of Turkey. Though a long ways away from 1950s small-town Australia, Turkey is equally rigid about social interactions and power structures. To live here I’ve had to get a handle on them or risk forever being ostracised. However, in order to be comfortable in both my new home and myself, I’ve had to learn to what I’m capable of, and what principles I’m not prepared to relinquish. I’ve also had to be flexible enough to incorporate different ways of seeing and living into my own perspective and daily practices. In both The Dressmaker and my book Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul, belonging, and feeling happy as a result, isn’t predicated on living in your place of birth. It’s about understanding that being displaced is a point of reference from which to start living, regardless of where you find yourself, and not a condition to be cured.

What meal or dish would go well with reading your book?

The dish that would go best with reading my book is Çerkez Tavuğu, or Circassian Chicken as it’s known in English. This dish doesn’t require infinite culinary skill, just a lot of time and patience to prepare it. What results is a cultural and historical delight harking back to the complexity of Turkey’s multicultural past. It reflects my experience of coming to live in Turkey, where I learnt that what I thought was important to know wasn’t helpful, and only by being patient would I ever get what I wanted. I particularly like the inclusion of walnuts in the sauce because they’re a symbol of strength and power. I’ve come to realise I have a lot more of both than I ever knew.

The recipe is quite long so here is a link to the website that gives the closest version of the one I cook. Naturally I make it using a whole chicken because if I’m going to this much trouble, I want to share the results with all my friends. I also add bay leaves to the chicken when I cook it, and freeze any leftover stock to use in soups and casseroles later on. (You never know when you’ll need it!)

drink-algorithm

If your book had a signature cocktail, what would it be?

It would have to be a champagne cocktail. According to the International Bar Association:

“A champagne cocktail is an alcoholic drink made with sugar, Angostura bitters, champagne, brandy and a maraschino cherry as a garnish.”

I prefer mine with just a sugar cube at the bottom of a chilled champagne flute, two or three drops Angostura Bitters or cognac when available and then filled to the top with brut champagne. It’s the perfect signature drink for my book because like the champagne cocktail, Turkish culture, although bound by regulations, is extremely versatile and adaptable. Few people actually follow the rules and when things go wrong, which they often do, they’re very good at finding alternative ways of doing things. As a person prone to getting hung up on details and subsequently unable to creatively problem-solve, living in Istanbul and constantly having to re-negotiate ways of being stops me falling back into old habits.

fashion-algorithm

Are there any special clothes/headgear/costumes/accessories we could wear to put us in the mood for reading your book?

Definitely a scarf. Not because I live in a predominantly Muslim country, although I do cover my head to show respect when I enter a mosque, but because I’m never without one. For the early chapters of my book a light cotton number in strong summer colours will put you in the mood for my optimism and enthusiasm as I pounded the pavements in Istanbul in search of a new home. As autumn sets in and things start to go pear-shaped, you’ll need something with a bit of body to wind around your neck and shoulders to give comfort when none is on offer. Winter brings biting cold and overwhelming stress, so wrap up tight in a shawl that covers the outfit you’re likely to wear day after day as you battle your fears and doubts. Spring passes in a minute so when summer comes around again choose something to wrap around your hips. Make sure it’s sewn with coins, so you jingle with delight when you join me as I dance for joy.

travel-algorithm

If we wanted to take a mini-trip to understand your story better, where would you recommend we travel and which one or two sights should we take in?

It would have to be to Istanbul, because it’s a city without substitute. Come on a Friday and head straight to Kadıköy, on the Asian side of the city. It’s a place to experience rather than see, so plunge straight into the crisscross of streets and make your way through the crowds of Friday shoppers, skirt the overflow of devout congregants praying on rugs rolled out onto the sidewalks, take in the scents, sight and sounds of Fish Street, and eat spicy lahmacun with parsley and lemon at Borsam. You’ll see plenty you want to photograph but first just stop, look and feel the energy swirling around you. Living in a city with so many people can be overwhelming, so I always try to balance the mania with more peaceful days out along the shores of the Bosphorus. Two of my favourite neighbourhoods are Kuruçeşme and Arnavutköy, because they offer a glimpse into Turkey’s multicultural past under Ottoman rule. You can find out more about these neighbourhoods in the Discover Istanbul section of my blog, Inside Out Istanbul, and from my book of travel essays with that title, recently updated.

* * *

So, readers, tell us: Has Lisa come up with a winning algorithm? Does the thought of wearing a jingly scarf, sipping a champagne cocktail and feasting on Circassian Chicken, watching Aussie flicks, and traveling to the Asian side of Istanbul (at least from your armchair!) make you want to buy Lisa’s book? At the very least, does it make you want to keep in touch with Lisa and her adventures? If so, be sure to check out her author site You can also follow her on Facebook (she adds photos, tips and vignettes about Istanbul and Turkey to the page nearly every day) and let’s not forget Twitter. And please leave any questions for Lisa in the comments.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts. Will they include Lisa’s next test? (You tell us: do you want to see her move on in the Expat Author Game?)

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a biweekly round up of posts from The Displaced Nation—and so much more! Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

  • LOCATION, LOCUTION: An expat life in Istanbul frees Oliver Tidy to write crime novels set in places he knows well (and Turkey, too!)
  • Ten years after “Expat Harem,” foreign women will have another say on expat life in Turkey
  • BOOK REVIEW: “Perking the Pansies — Jack and Liam move to Turkey,” by Jack Scott
  • Photo credits: All photos from Pixabay; book cover (supplied).

    Ten years after “Expat Harem,” foreign women will have another say on expat life in Turkey

    Tea in Gülhane Park[http://www.flickr.com/photos/wneuheisel/6493228113/ ], Istanbul, by William Neuheisel via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

    Tea in Gülhane Park, Istanbul, by William Neuheisel via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

    When the Displaced Nation first started, Anastasia Ashman, an American living in Istanbul, was running a blog tailored to the needs of the “thinking expat.”

    It seemed almost too good to be true: a group of women who were passionate about telling stories that illustrated the impact of the expat life on a person’s psyche. Had Anastasia rubbed a magic lamp to conjure up a kind of foreign harem? After all, her site was called Expat+HAREM.

    In fact, as we soon discovered, the core contributors to the site had also been contributors to a book Anastasia had co-edited with Jennifer Eaton Gokmen, Tales from the Expat Harem: Foreign Women in Modern Turkey, which came out in 2005.

    Anastasia has since moved on from Turkey, the expat life and the Expat+HAREM project. As she reported in a post to the Displaced Nation three-and-a-half years ago, she and her Turkish husband traded Istanbul for her native San Francisco because they thought that life in America’s high-tech city would “more closely align with a future we want to live in.”

    Yet the work she created on the basis of her Turkish expat life has lived on in her wake.

    And now two American expats in Turkey, Rose Margaret (Rose) Deniz and Katherine (Katie) Belliel, have announced their intention to produce a kind of sequel to Expat Harem, which is scheduled to be published later this year, to coincide with its 10th anniversary.

    The title of the new anthology will be Sofra: A Gathering of Foreign Voices Around the Turkish Table.

    As that title suggests, we’re shifting metaphors: from the harem to food. But no need for me to go on any further as Katie and Rose are joining us today to discuss their plans for the new volume. (Note to female expats who have lived in Turkey for at least a year: the window for submissions closes on April 1st!)

     * * *

    Sofra Editors Horizontal

    Meet Sofra editors Katie Belliel (left) and Rose Margaret Deniz. Photo credit: Journey Collective

    Hi, Rose and Katie, and welcome to the Displaced Nation. Before we talk about your plans for a sequel, let’s go back to the original work. Katie, I understand that you contributed a story to Tales from the Expat Harem. What did you write about?

    KATIE: “A heart-broken Michigan girl finds closure in Bursa at an ancient Ottoman bath, nurtured by her would-be Turkish sister-in-law.” This line that introduces my story in the book sums up my piece nicely. It is about how my first journey to Turkey was for love. My return was also for love—but not for my failed relationship. It’s the story of how I returned for closure, but stayed for my true love, Turkey the country. At least, that is what I hope people understand when they read my piece 😉

    How about you, Rose? I believe you were active in the book’s companion blog and online community?

    ROSE: I was a frequent writer for expat+HAREM, the companion site for the book (it was Anastasia Ashman’s brainchild). For example, I facilitated a roundtable discussion that included nine female cultural ambassadors from around the world, called Dialogue2010. It was a live conversation on art, culture, and hybrid identity inspired by my post to expat+HAREM called Mapping the Imagination. We sought to create a living definition of hybrid identity and how one’s worldview literally shifts as a result of location.

    Am I right in surmising there was something very special about the Expat Harem experience?

    KATIE: Being a part of Harem was an incredible experience from beginning to end. I knew I could trust the editors with my story; we had a wonderful relationship. They inspired confidence in me, and really gave me the courage to keep writing even well after Expat Harem was published. I also find that I keep going back to the book, as different stories speak up at different times in my life. Right now, as a mother, I am particularly drawn to Maria Orhon’s story about her daughter. Two years ago, when we bought our new house, Annie Prior Özsaraç’s story about their house problems gave me a much needed laugh amongst our then house troubles.

    ROSE: I remember reading the book around the time I moved to Turkey. So many of the stories struck a chord, especially as I was getting my bearings those first few years. It made a big impression on me.

    The Harem book features stories by expat women, and this new book you’re working on, Sofra: A Gathering of Foreign Voices around the Turkish Table, is likewise calling for female contributors. What’s the thinking behind the “women only” approach?

    KATIE: Both Rose and I were heavily involved in the sisterhood of Expat Harem: all-female writing groups, entrepreneurial initiatives, and other spin-offs. It seemed natural for Sofra to be another book featuring women expat writers.

    ROSE: Yes, as Sofra is following in the footsteps of Expat Harem, we thought it important to continue the tradition of honoring women writers.

    But are men’s voices unwelcome?

    KATIE: We mean no offense to the guys. I’m sure they have wonderful stories, which we hope to incorporate in the Expat Sofra community. In fact, we want to open Expat Sofra’s companion blog to expats from around the world, male and female. Stay tuned, as these plans are evolving.

    I understand that sofra means “feast,” and you are proposing to make the new anthology at least partly about food. I’m curious: what was your own food journey like in Turkey? Did you take to the food right away?

    Turkish food

    (Clockwise from left): Kokoreç, by William Neuheisel via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); big black Turkish [figs] , by naturalflow via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0) ; Istanbul: Ayran, by tomislav medak via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

    KATIE: I was really hesitant about Turkish food at first, but then I just dove right in. Kind of like how I fell in love! There was no going back. There are still some things I just can’t eat or drink, like ayran (a milky yogurt drink) and kokoreç (intestines, usually lamb). I still try them on occasion, but they are just not for me! I have many favorites. Fresh figs are at the top—I look forward to fig season at the end of August/early September each year. Pazı, a kind of green, leafy chard, is my favorite vegetable, I eat it sauteed with onions and yogurt.

    ROSE: Turkish cuisine is definitely a leap from the standard Midwestern fare of my native Wisconsin. I love cooking, though, and embraced the challenge of learning new dishes but adding a twist from my roots. My least favorite food experience would have to be the amount of service required when having guests over. It is more tiring at times than the meal! However, now I can say that my Turkish friends and family appreciate buffet style big meals at my house, and I don’t stress about every detail being perfect as I did in the past. My favorite food experiences are cooking with my friends and family. Nothing flavors my sofra better! Another thing I enjoy is sourcing my food locally. We get milk, butter, and eggs from our neighbors’ farm, and even turkey and chicken from time to time!

    You are also conceiving of food as a metaphor for the expat life in Turkey, which can be sweet, bitter, tangy, or spicy. Regarding your own Turkey experience: what percent has been each of these taste sensations?

    KATIE: Good question. I would argue that my experience here has been an equal part of all the tastes. There are beautiful and not-so-great parts of each flavor. But that is life, right? Even bitterness becomes a taste we crave if denied it for too long. So, I believe in appreciating the full flavor of whatever is put in front of me in the moment. Appreciating all parts of it for even if I don’t understand the taste then, I will understand it much later.

    ROSE: Hmmm, I would say my life here has parts of each. Similar to motherhood, there are wonderful, sweet moments, and moments that are bitter. I would also add the combo of bittersweet to the mix! We are challenging our writers to pick one experience and match it with a flavor. You will have to wait until the book comes out to see which flavor I picked to portray.

    On my one and only trip to Istanbul, I came away with a copy of the letters written by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, wife of the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in the 18th century. As Anita Desai writes in the introduction, Although Lady Mary was well traveled,

    it was Turkey and her first experience of a non-European, non-Christian civilization that provoked her most open and heart-felt admiration.

    Do you see your book as having a further purpose of helping to explain Turkey to the West?

    "Liotard Lady Montagu," by Jean-Étienne Liotard. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

    “Liotard Lady Montagu,” by Jean-Étienne Liotard. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

    KATIE: I am currently re-reading Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s The Turkish Embassy Letters. I read them before moving to Turkey. It’s nice to re-read them after living here for over a decade! Our book definitely seeks to show a different side of Turkey than is commonly portrayed by the media. What is the main thing every tourist says after their first visit here? “It’s not what I expected.” We want to show people a deeper, richer side of Turkey. In my opinion, the true side of Turkey.

    ROSE: This region is still largely portrayed in a negative light. Expat Harem successfully challenged that by showing a different side, and we hope to continue that with Sofra. Not everything is positive, of course, we don’t want this book to be all cakes and flowers. We want to show a deeper side, an open portrayal of even bitter experiences that give lessons or show growth.

    Who is the book’s primary audience?

    KATIE: Our primary audience extends from the armchair traveler to the seasoned expat. The foodie to the culinary newbie. A little something for everyone, we hope.

    Thank you, both. Talking so much about Turkish food has made me peckish. I look forward to seeing what you cook up in this new book. After our exchange, I’m anticipating a rich stew!

    * * *

    Readers, if this interview has piqued your curiosity about the Sofra anthology, or even if you simply wish to know how sofra is defined, I encourage you to visit the Expat Sofra site and/or follow the book’s progress on Twitter. And if you’re a woman who has had the pleasure of living (and eating!) in Turkey as an expat, then why not submit a piece to the new anthology? Only don’t forget, the deadline is coming soon: APRIL 1.

    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:

    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!

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    In this novel of displacement, water shapes the land, the country and people’s lives, almost beyond recognition

    Ruth Hartley Collage

    The Shaping of Water cover art; Ruth Hartley author portrait; Ruth Hartley’s painting of her father’s farm.

    My guest today, Ruth Hartley, is a writer and an artist—but from the point of view of the Displaced Nation, she is something else as well: an expert on displacement.

    Ruth has lived a life of displacement. She grew up in Africa, a continent that continues to have the world’s largest number of forcibly displaced peoples. She grew up on her father’s farm in Zimbabwe, which at that point was known as Rhodesia, at a time when struggles for independence in European-ruled African territories were spreading like a wave. As a young woman, she moved to South Africa to study art and then had to escape to England because of her political activities.

    Ruth took refuge in London, where she married and started raising a family—but still felt the pull of her native Africa and chose to become an “expatriate economic migrant” in Zambia (formerly Northern Rhodesia). She lived with her husband and children in Zambia for 22 years, returning to the UK in 1994 to practice and teach art. Five years ago she set out on a long tour of Europe and Turkey. She now lives in Southern France.

    Manzi ni moyo (water is life) —Chinyanja saying

    Ruth recently published her first novel, The Shaping of Water, which, perhaps not surprisingly, reads like an ode, a kind of paean, to displacement. The action follows the progress of a decision by Rhodesia’s rulers to build a dam across the mighty Zambezi. They called it the Kariba Dam because the dam wall spans the narrowest and steepest of the gorges along the river, known locally as kariwa (a trap). Completed in 1959, the Kariba Dam created a vast man-made lake, Lake Kariba, in the Zambezi Valley. The lake displaced the river people, the Tonga, and forever changed the ecology of the region.

    The book’s protagonists are a colonial couple, Margaret and Charles. They decide to build a lake-front cottage in Siavonga, a settlement that springs up to accommodate the displaced Tonga.

    Ironically, although the ramshackle cottage sits in a spot that would never have existed had it not been for the building of the dam, which shaped the river in a new way, it is the one constant, a kind of retreat from the forces that displace practically everyone during the African liberation wars that ensue. Margaret and Charles use it as a place of sanctuary, and eventually two other couples come to do so as well: South African freedom fighters Marielise (Margaret’s niece) and Jo, and NGO worker Nick and his UK-raised African wife, Manda.

    The cottage also provides a livelihood for Milimo, the son of a Tonga woman whose home was drowned by the lake. Margaret hires Milimo as gardener and caretaker for the property at the suggestion of Father Patrick, a missionary who worked in the Zambezi Valley before its shaping by water.

    As a kind of review of the many layers of displacement in this novel, I offer this quote from the book, which I think also demonstrates Ruth’s lyrical style of storytelling:

    Here near Kariba, ‘the trap’, in the middle of a wilderness, is a place called Siavonga, which is a name without meaning. It is a place that will be a town but a place that is not yet built. It is a place that is presently isolated by poor and inadequate roads and it is difficult to reach. It is in a country that is becoming another country, with another name. It is here that there is a plot where a contractor builds a cottage above a lake not yet filled with water. All this takes place in the newly created Central African Federation of the Rhodesias and Nyasaland that will be no more in a few short years. Two of these countries will change into independent states with different names when that happens.

    It is an exercise in madness and dreams, in magic and megalomania, and the Tonga people know it to be impossible.

    And now I think it’s time to get to know Ruth a little better, and hear some more about her book as well as the other creative projects she is working on.

    * * *

    Hi, Ruth, and welcome to the Displaced Nation. I expect you will feel entirely at home here. I wonder, did you consciously set out to write a book exploring displacement?
    Displacement is a good way of describing what happens in the story. Displacement can lead to new opportunities but it is also damaging. I deliberately structured the book so that it explored three main themes:

    • Damage to the environment.
    • Damage done for political reasons.
    • Damage that is personal, emotional and private. It includes damage done by racism and sexism and deals with both in subtle ways.

    Though each of these themes gets its own part in the book, they are also interwoven. I passionately wanted to bring the issues of contemporary Africa to life in a truthful, but also empathetic and positive, way.

    I know you lived through many of the events that are depicted in this novel. To what extent is your work autobiographical fiction and to what extent historical fiction?
    My novel is about entirely fictional characters living through actual and verifiable political and social events. I grew up in an intense political climate in Africa with a strong personal commitment to human rights. I did live through those events and have always made notes and collected newspaper articles and books throughout my life. But because I respect and love the individuals I knew in Africa I was careful to invent the people in my story. None of them is me either though like Margaret, I, too, am a gardener. The cottage, however, is real and the cottage guest book provided me with records of the weather and the lake levels.

    “…all that I have left of my life, work, and friendships is stored on my computer” —Marielise

    For me, the cottage assumed the role of the central character. You said it was real. Was it a place where you actually stayed?
    If a cottage can be a character, then the one real and existing “character” in the novel apart from historical political figures is the “Cottage”. The book was in part, written as an elegy for a place I loved. Built before Zambian independence, the cottage belonged to a group of friends who were no longer resident in Zambia and my husband and I became its caretakers and at times its only guests. Here are some photos of how it looked:

    TSOW cottage 001 (2)

    The cottage in Zambia on Lake Kariba that Ruth Hartley and her family often visited. Photo credit: Ruth Hartley.

    view from the cottage to the lake 001

    The view from the cottage to Lake Kariba; photo credit: Ruth Hartley.

    The steps leading down to Lake Kariba from the cottage; photo credit: Ruth Hartley.

    The steps leading down to Lake Kariba from the cottage; photo credit: Ruth Hartley.

    In 1975 I gave the owners a Visitor’s Book to record happy weekends spent there with friends. The book became my sole responsibility and I kept it as a log of the cottage and the lake from 1975 until 1994. It was finally returned to me after 2000 when the cottage was sold.

    TSOW guestbook DN 001 (2)

    The original Guest Book from the cottage, which Ruth inherited and used to inspire her novel. Photo credit: Ruth Hartley.

    Looking at these materials makes me wonder: did you ever consider writing a memoir instead?
    I wrote a fictionalized memoir called The Love and Wisdom Crimes in 1999 in which I was careful to protect people’s identities. It is about how I became politicized and fell in love when I lived in South Africa in 1965. Though I was told it is good and poetic, I had countless rejections because the African setting was not considered to be easily marketable. I have just completed a no-holds-barred memoir of the year that followed when I survived as a single mother in London. It is titled A Bad Girl in Search of Love.

    Goodness, you are prolific! Can you describe your path to publishing The Shaping of Water?
    At 70, I didn’t want to waste time or energy on rejections so I went for self-publication and self-promotion. I believe the market is moving this way in any case. I used Troubador Publishing because they offer a comprehensive printing and marketing package at a reasonable cost and with integrity. I don’t expect to recoup my investment but I will self-publish again. Hopefully it will be cheaper because of what I have learnt.

    What kind of audience did you intend for the book?
    I think that my audience is anyone who reads for pleasure and who also likes to make journeys of discovery into new worlds and ideas with believable and interesting characters.

    “It’s not sensible—this—this racism!” —Margaret

    I enjoyed reading the book because it gave me a feeling for contemporary African history, while also making me realize how little I actually know about Africa. I think I identified most strongly with Margaret and Charles. I felt bad that they saw a future Africa that would have a place for them, only to have that vision eradicated as the violence of the liberation wars escalated. It seemed to me that even if you wanted to do the right thing for Africa, after a while it was hard to know what the right thing was.
    I have been thrilled to find readers who do not know Africa or its politics but who still have enjoyed the book and its characters. I didn’t intend this book as a lesson in African history, but I expect it would be good background material.

    So what are you working on next and will you continue exploring some of these same themes?
    I am working on two more novels. I am more than half way through writing The Tin Heart Gold Mine, a book that is set half in a fictional African country and half in London. The setting and the plot are quite different to The Shaping of Water, but the themes should be of universal interest. It is the story of Lara who begins in Africa as a wildlife artist and the lover of Oscar, an entrepreneur who owns a defunct gold mine and is also a political manipulator. Her journey takes her to London and a life with Tim (a journalist) and Adam, a child of doubtful paternity. She makes, owns and uses art that is troubling and troublesome.

    I enjoyed looking at some of your art on your author site. I look forward to reading your book about an African wildlife artist. What’s your other novel about?
    I have plans for another novel titled Hannah’s Housekeeping. Hannah is a mature woman who has seen the world and had many lovers. She runs a B&B but though Hannah cleans up the dirt in her house, her husband is missing and she doesn’t know if she can keep death from her door…

    Sounds tantalizing! Finally, are there any pieces of advice you could impart to other international creatives?
    I am an artist and writer who was effectively prevented from writing and painting for a good part of my adult life though I did teach and work in support of artists for many years. I learnt that it is important and essential to make art and to write, though very few artists and writers make a living from their art or get much recognition for it. Creative people, however reclusive, need an audience and to communicate.

    How about lessons for other wannabe novelists?
    It is important to write well and that takes practice and humility and many, many redrafts. I am always anxious about what my readers think even when I know I have written a good book. My readers matter to me so I have to keep on improving my craft as a writer.

    Thank you, Ruth, for being with us today and for sharing some more of the story behind The Shaping of Water. On your Web site you describe yourself as a compulsive storyteller. I think we got a feeling for this today as well.

    * * *

    So, readers, any COMMENTS or QUESTIONS for Ruth? To learn more the Kariba Dam and the experiences that inspired the story Ruth tells in her novel, please watch this short video interview with Ruth and also be sure to visit her author’s site.

    And if you think you’d like to read Ruth’s novel (we highly recommend it as a Christmas read!), Ruth has kindly arranged for Displaced Nation readers to get a 50 percent discount when ordering a paperback copy at the Troubadour site (enter the code: HARTLEY).

    You can also buy the book in a Kindle format, not only from Troubadour but also from Amazon UK and Amazon US.

    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!

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    Some funny things happened on the way to paradise, as recorded in this brilliant new expat memoir

    Paradise Imperfect Collage

    Clockwise from top left, surrounding Margot Page’s author photo (center): Monteverde waterfall; the family’s front yard; Margot, her husband,and their three kids; sunset; their youngest child, Ivy, on the vine outside their house; first day of school. All photos courtesy of Margot Page.

    Before introducing today’s guest, Margot Page, I’d like to make one thing clear. When I first read of her decision to uproot herself, her husband and three young kids from their comfortable life in Seattle to spend a year in Costa Rica, I thought it made perfect sense.

    In fact, it reminded me of my initial decision to try living abroad. While I wasn’t married with kids, nor was I looking to land in paradise, I sensed that I needed to get a wider perspective on my own country. It was before the era of the dot com boom and crazy Wall Street wealth, but even then, we Americans were becoming a pretty spoiled and entitled lot. I almost couldn’t bear to watch it and wondered: would my life be enriched if I tried living with less?

    Now that I’ve made that clear, let’s return to Margot’s story. As she notes toward the beginning of her wonderful memoir, Paradise Imperfect, Seattle in 2003 could drive a person crazy:

    It was an environment that made a person constantly aware of how rich other people are.

    Thanks to all the overnight Microsoft millionaires, her family often felt “downright poor,” she says, despite enjoying a high standard of living and a reasonable amount of money.

    Margot missed out on her opportunity to go abroad while still single—to “confront her privilege,” as she might say. But she is feisty enough to think that she need not forgo the expat experience of her dreams. A dozen years into her marriage, she finagles it so that she and her husband, Anthony, could quit their jobs, rent out their house, and head off with their three children, 4, 9 and 12, into the mountains of Central America, for a year.

    The family settles down in the cloud forest of Monteverde, where the kids attend a “school in the clouds” with many Tico classmates and the entire family works hard on mastering Spanish. While it is enjoyable to read about their adventures in that part of the world—which at one point include a trip to Nicaragua, where they received a “full-on truth assault” about what poverty really is and hence their “own, unimaginable wealth”—there are plenty of other reasons to read the book as well, not least of which is that Margot is a gifted writer possessed of a self-deprecating sense of humor (always a huge plus at the Displaced Nation). She is, in short, jolly good company, as we shall see in the interview that follows. NOTE: Margot has generously offered to GIVE AWAY ONE FREE COPY to the person who leaves the most compelling comment about why they’d like to read her book.

    * * *

    PI_FrontCoverMargot, pura vida! Welcome to the Displaced Nation. Many people may not realize that you waited ten years before writing a memoir about the year you and your family spent in Costa Rica. Why was that?
    Actually, I did try to write the book when we first got back—I just couldn’t get it done! But the great thing about that initial effort is that I wrote down a lot of the events when they were still fresh. Then, when I was actually ready to write the book, I was able take those stories and stand back from them, and see the picture they formed. You might liken it to an impressionist painting. Up close, I could have looked at an event from that year and said “Hmm, nice dot.” But with the distance of time, I could see that all the dots made a picture, with form and theme and sense. Had I managed to get it written right away, Paradise Imperfect would have been a completely different book.

    Did you ever think of writing a novel instead?
    More than one publisher suggested I turn Paradise Imperfect into a novel. Fictionalizing your story really lets you pile on the crises. Memoir only has a chance with the big publishing houses these days if you’re either already a celebrity (Tina Fey, Hillary), or if something truly hideous happened to you. If I’d had to saw off my arm or a couple of the kids were on meth, the big houses would have been all over me. As it was, they were very “Ooooh, we love your writing! Can you turn it into a novel?” Because then of course I could introduce some addictions or incest or something—you know, the stuff that really makes a story pop.

    You went from a harried existence with very little work-life balance in Seattle, to a carefree, pura vida existence in Monteverde. Looking back, what do you think was your strongest impetus for packing it all in like that?
    I think my impetus was about the same as anyone’s who’s living a busy, full life and has one of those days where you just feel like you’re running the whole time. The only difference is that a lot of people take a bubble bath at the end of that day, maybe pour a glass of wine—whereas I rented out the house and bought airplane tickets. It’s still not entirely clear to me what made that night different from a bubble bath night. Although clearly, the bubbles weren’t doing it for me anymore.

    From reading the book, I know that even though you didn’t work in Costa Rica, you were far from idle. You applied yourself to learning Spanish and also did some volunteering—which had the added benefit of helping you practice your Spanish.
    Yes, I went from working more than full time to volunteering a few hours each week at an amazing art gallery/studio; one of the owners painted me the piece of a woman in a hammock, stretching her toes to heaven, which became the cover of Paradise Imperfect. So while the kids did their homework, I would work on my Spanish, or practice painting assignments.

    “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven…”

    No doubt you’re familiar with the expression “Be careful what you wish for”. Was all the family togetherness as wonderful as you were hoping?
    The initial period, when it was just the five of us, on top of each other all the time—that was a real challenge. It’s a good thing to have done, but it wasn’t so delightful in the doing. Of course, as we grew into our lives there, other people got incorporated, which was great. Kids would go off with friends, people would come over. And, as time passed and we adjusted to the conditions, we found all kinds of goofy things to do with ourselves. We had dance parties in the living room, just the five of us. We’d walk several kilometers just to get a milkshake and go to the library. There was much flopping around in hammocks with books and conversation. And with no sports practices to work around, dinner was a nightly togetherness event, with kids helping cook and clean the kitchen.

    When I saw the title to your book, I was thinking of Milton’s Paradise Lost. In your case, paradise was imperfect. Why is that?
    Paradise is imperfect because people are. We just ARE, and putting us in front of a really pretty waterfall just means you have flawed, funny people in front of a really pretty waterfall. In Costa Rica, we were strangers in a strange land together, and that made us incredibly close—which was wonderful, but you know, the closer you are, the more blemishes you can see. Wherever we go in the world, we take our human frailties with us.

    You were the one with the original idea to take your family to Costa Rica. Were there any moments for you personally when you could say that you felt displaced and had made a mistake? 
    Honestly, I never had that moment. At Christmas during our Costa Rica year—I put this in the book—the kids were lonely, and the possibility hit me hard that maybe the whole escapade was just a tremendously selfish act, bringing the kids on this adventure that was really for ME. But I never once felt like it was the wrong thing for me.

    Here at the Displaced Nation, we call that your “pool of tears” moment.

    “Sweet is the breath of morn…/With charm of earliest birds…/fragrant the fertile earth/After soft showers”

    Was there a particular moment when you felt you were born to be Costa Rican rather than American? Having read the book, I can think of quite a few: when visiting your children’s “school in the sky,” when coming across new flora & fauna, or when tasting the fried chicken from El Super Pollo in Monteverde.
    I had those moments almost every day, that Costa Rica was exactly where I belonged. But I think it was usually tinged with “I am exactly where I belong right now.” And although it was hard to leave, coming back to the States felt right, too. One of the fun things about that year, paradoxically, was that it gave me the chance to fall back in love with being an American. Back home, I’d been pretty upset with the political landscape. But when you travel, you get a different perspective on what truly corrupt government can look like, and you think “You know, we all wish Congress would do their jobs, but it appears that not having your shit together is not, in fact, the very worst crime a government can perpetrate on its people.”

    You say you were happy to get back to Seattle, but did you miss Costa Rica once you returned? 
    We definitely missed Costa Rica, and the way we got to live there. My son, Harry, spent a semester in Monteverde a few years after our family returned. When he got home, he smelled fried chicken and had this super strong sense memory of Super Pollo in Monteverde. He said:

    I love it there so much. And I love Seattle so much. And it’s great, having two places to love. But it also means that, no matter where I am, I’m always just a little bit homesick.

    Unlike many of our readers who are long-term expats, you stayed abroad only for a year. But the impact appears to have been lasting.
    All our kids are travelers, now. And I can’t see a freighter without wanting to jump on it. My husband, Anthony, seems to have the travel bug the least, but that is not surprising. As I mention in the book, he’s a congenitally satisfied person 🙂

    “Thou shalt possess a Paradise within thee, happier far.”

    When you got back to Seattle, was it back to the grind for you and your husband, or was your outlook somehow different?
    The hours went back to being a similar breakdown to what we had before, though there was much less parental shuttling as our kids had become brilliant walkers and public-transit-takers. 
But the most important change was internal: We knew in a much clearer way that we had made a choice to live in this way. And our family also had a core togetherness as a result of that year in Costa Rica. Even when we’re geographically scattered, we feel together in a way I didn’t feel before. I attribute it to our common challenge of spending a year figuring out a new language and culture. Think about it: When do parents and kids ever have the opportunity to learn something so fundamental as how to speak, all at the same time?

    And one more repat question: Did your family retain its social conscience, developed over the course of that year of learning to live with less?
    I think we’ve kept an in-our-bones awareness of the fact of our own, sheer luck. I used to tell myself “I’ve worked really hard for what we have,” which is true! But you know what else is true? A lot of people work just as hard, and don’t have any cushion, and never will. That year in Costa Rica also developed us as people who will keep getting out there. Our son, Harry, was recently in South America, and while many of his peers tend to backpack and look at things until their parents’ money gives out, he got a job waiting tables. Our older daughter, Hannah, recently graduated college and moved to a new city; she hasn’t asked for a dime to help get started, and the housing she can afford is frankly a little appalling—but she is so spunky and awesome about it! And Ivy, the youngest, is currently back in Costa Rica, where she goes to school and helps out in the small hotel that her family runs.

    Treading the publishing path

    Moving back to the book: what was the most difficult part of the writing process?
    Finding the discipline to cut was just excruciating. There are so many fun little stories that didn’t make it into the book. Stories I slaved over! Sentences I loved! But the difference between writing a legit book and just publishing your journal all cleaned up is that you really do have to kill your darlings, as Faulkner or whoever said. At the time I was finalizing, I thought I had cut absolutely down to the bone. But now, looking back—I think I could have killed more darlings.

    Why did you publish with a small press?
    That decision was made on the advice of my agent. As already mentioned, the big publishing houses told me I needed more crisis, but my agent loved the book and wanted me to be true to my experience. I simply don’t grant that there isn’t interest and beauty in true stories of normal people. You have to tell them well, of course.

    What audience did you have in mind for the book?
    My ideas about audience went from something pretty specific to something much more general. People always think we’re this crazy alt family that’s always up to wild shenanigans. Or else they think we’re obscenely wealthy, and had no economic issue in quitting our jobs. But we’re actually so mainstream! So I wanted to show regular people: “If we could do this, you totally could.”

    But it quickly became clear the audience is basically everyone who likes a good story. Men, women, people with kids, people without kids, people with grown kids—the different populations that have responded has been really lovely. Some people are planning a big adventure and are actively looking for inspiration, but the vast majority just love the people they meet and the events that unfold in the book.

    The most fun for me is when women say “I got your book but I haven’t read it yet, because my husband is totally hogging it!” I can’t say why it’s so rewarding for me that Paradise isn’t just a chick book, but it really, really is.

    What’s next for the indefatigable Margot—more books? Other creative projects?
    I write for magazines about topics that interest me. Although I’m not Catholic, I’m nuts about the head of their church—I call him Pope Frantastic. And in the next year, I’m going to seriously embark on the novel that’s been in my head. I’m trying very hard to be a Twitter user, but really? I find the whole idea enormously intimidating.

    How’s your Spanish these days, your art?
    My Spanish and art—ack. Let’s just say I really hit my zenith during that year away.

    10 Questions for Margot Page

    Finally, I’d like to ask a series of questions that I’ve asked some of our other featured authors, about your reading and writing habits:
    1. Last truly great book you read: Wow, that is a hard question! It’s the “truly” that’s stressing me out. I’m going with Fidelity, a five-story collection by Wendell Berry. It is the most beautiful arrangement of sentences ever organized about how to be a person.
    2. Favorite literary genre: Any book that someone in my family read and then gave it to me saying: “You HAVE to read this; you will love it so much.”
    3. Reading habits on a plane: I’m actually really smug about what a light traveler I am, so my reading usually tends to be any book I’ve been meaning to read that I won’t mind leaving behind. Or airport magazines (Harper’s, The Atlantic). I try to read trashy magazines because it seems like that’s what you’re supposed to do, but honestly I just can’t bring myself to give money to the people who are putting this crap in the world.
    4. The one book you’d require President Obama to read, and why: The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Watterson. I just don’t trust anyone to run the country who doesn’t love Calvin. That’s my litmus test, right there.
    5. Favorite books as a child: Mandy, by Julie Edwards. I must have read that book a hundred times. It’s about a girl who finds a garden and makes it hers. It’s like The Secret Garden but has a lot more soul and a lot fewer sideshows. It’s just a beautiful story of a lonely girl who sets out to heal her own little heart, and in the process finds people to help. And Julie Edwards (who, amazingly enough, is also the actress Julie Andrews) wrote it because she lost a bet about swearing to her daughter. I have a lot of respect for that whole situation.
    6. Favorite heroine: Claudia from From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E.L. Konigsburg. I love Claudia. I never was her, as a kid—I was much more like her reckless little brother, Jamie. But as an adult and a parent, I relate to Claudia much more. She went to the museum for reasons not unlike the ones that took me to Costa Rica. She had to go get a piece of her self back, a piece she had lost to her role as responsible big sister. Mine was as responsible mama and breadwinner, but those roles are not so dissimilar. Claudia’s cooler than I am, though, just by nature of being 12. And in New York.
    7. The writer, alive or dead, you’d most like to meet: The thing is, my fantasies around meeting writers all revolve around how incredible it will be that this amazing, brilliant human is interested in ME. But writers are total crazed narcissists! Have you noticed? So my scenario is unlikely. That said, I think Donald Barthelme and I could have a pretty good time, if he’d just stop being dead for a minute. He wouldn’t be interested in what I had to say and I wouldn’t really care. I’d just listen to what he said and then we’d have pie.
    8. Your reading habits: I read every single day on the bus to and from the office. This makes going to an office infinitely more tolerable.
    9. The book you’d most like to see made as a film: I gotta be honest here. Paradise Imperfect.
    10. The book you plan to read next: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan. I’m traveling right now, and it’s next to me on the seat.

    * * *

    So, readers, any COMMENTS or QUESTIONS for Margot? Do you admire her decision to trade in her family’s packed schedules for a life of monkeys and footpaths, which is almost paradise? Or do you think she was crazy? Do you identify with any of her motives or epiphanies, thinking (as I do) that extended trips overseas should be encouraged for Americans?

    Don’t forget, there’s a FREE digital copy on offer that will go to the best commenter…

    And if you can’t wait to read the book or don’t win, Paradise Imperfect is available from Amazon (among other venues). Peruse the many five-star reviews, and be sure to grab a copy! You can also visit the book’s companion site (where you can read about Margot’s other writings, including a Modern Love column for the New York Times), like its Facebook page +/or follow Margot on Twitter, where she’s now testing her wings.

    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, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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    Live your life, take chances—raise alpacas? A curious expat tale that has yielded a book-worthy yarn

    Seriously Mum Collage

    (Clockwise from top) Alan Parks with a friend’s alpaca; the converted olive mill where he and his partner, Lorna, now live; Brighton Pier, scene of their former abode (photo credit: Photo Monkey via Flickr Creative Commons).

    The most amazing thing about the expat memoir penned by my guest today, Alan Parks, is not simply its title, though Seriously Mum, What’s an Alpaca? is quite a doozy.

    It’s not even the zaniness of the alpacas that appear throughout the narrative: Bermuda, Cassandra, Lily, Baby Rafa… BTW, they are just a few among many animals Alan and his partner, Lorna Penfold, keep. (There’s a tally of how many and what kinds at the start of each chapter.)

    No, the most amazing thing about Alan Parks’s memoir is that fellow expats, particularly fellow Brits (but also one German), are the villains of the piece—the least trustworthy of all the people he and Lorna have encountered on their madcap adventure. I say “madcap” as I think the decision the couple made, six years ago, to abandon their home in Brighton (in their native UK) for a renovated olive mill near Montoro in Spain’s Córdoba Province, which is within the autonomous territory of Andalusia, to raise alpacas justifies my choice of that adjective.

    From the book’s beginning, Alan’s instinct is not to stick with the expat community—as he puts it:

    I don’t think we would have mixed with many of these people at home, so we should not feel forced to by circumstances.

    And boy does that instinct prove right! While the Spanish merely think he and Lorna are crazy (so far as they’re concerned, the British pair may as well be raising giraffes!), their fellow Brits are out to take advantage of them in all kinds of ways. And despite Alan’s better instincts, his limited Spanish at times gives him little choice but to get involved with some pretty unscrupulous characters.

    Mind you, the Spanish don’t always come off well either, especially when it comes to their treatment of animals. In light of Mahatma Gandhi’s proclamation—

    “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

    —it would not be too far fetched to say that the animals are the book’s true heroes. They are what keep Alan and Lorna going in face of a seemingly unending series of challenges. In tribute, Alan gives various pets a voice at the end of occasional chapters. (It’s sad when they lose them, though.)

    But the reason we are assembled here today to give Alan himself a voice in telling us about his book, which I urge you to read if you haven’t already. It’s done super well on Amazon for a reason: it’s terrific! And please LEAVE A COMMENT at the end of this post to be eligible to win a FREE COPY. (Alan has kindly agreed to give one of his books away: your choice of alpacas or donkeys! And there may also be prizes for runners-up!!!)

    * * *

    SeriouslyMumAlpaca_bookcover_dropshadowWelcome to the Displaced Nation, Alan! Between you and your partner, Lorna Penfold, you have produced three memoirs about your life in Spain. There’s the book we’re featuring today: Seriously Mum, What’s an Alpaca?. There’s also the sequel: Seriously Mum, Where’s That Donkey? And Lorna has just now published From Sequins to Sunshine: Year One. Tell me, what has made the pair of you so prolific?
    The books were never planned. Two years ago, after being told many times that I should write a book about our adventures, I decided to give it a go. Seriously Mum, What’s an Alpaca? was the result. It started out being called Bloody Hell, What’s an Alpaca?—an exact quote for how Lorna’s daughter, Frankie, responded when we told her about our plans. But the use of the word “hell” hindered sales in the US. After I released the sequel, we thought people might like to read Lorna’s point of view. She had started a blog when we first moved here, so we turned her posts from the first year into an e-book. So far the reaction has been good.

    What was the impulse that led to your packing it all in and moving to the South of Spain?
    Lorna was a dance teacher in the UK and I used to work in retail. Lorna developed a condition called sarcoidosis, which made working difficult. One day we were talking about the possibility of her giving up work, and I suggested moving to Florida, but that was too far away. I blurted out “What about Spain?” Crazy really, as I had never ever been here.

    Hey, craziness is what makes the world round! And how about this idea of raising alpacas, where did that come from?
    We had heard about alpacas in the UK and thought that would be a good business for us to get in to (it wasn’t).

    Okay, seeing as I know nothing about the alpaca business, what makes it so challenging?
    An alpaca is not a cheap animal, yet you can’t eat it, and it doesn’t produce milk to drink. You make money by selling them to other breeders. But sales, and the selling price, have gone down since the world financial crisis.

    What about their wool?
    We try to sell as much of our alpacas’ wool as possible to local people who spin, knit and use it for crafting, but the market here in Spain is miniscule and postage costs prohibitive.

    Do Spanish people think you and Lorna are crazy for your devotion to these animals?
    People in Spain have never heard of alpacas. To a Spaniard, a goat is a much more useful animal.

    Why do you still keep your alpacas if you’re not making any money on them?
    For one there is no one to sell them to, and for two, they are part of our family and we love them. We also like it when people come and stay at our farm and can experience walking and feeding the alpacas. And finally, if there were no alpacas, there would be no books.

    Ah, yes, the books. We’ll get to that, but first let me ask another alpaca question. The New York Times had an article last year talking about llamas being good pets. I think the alpaca is meant to be the llama’s quirky cousin. So is the same true of them?
    It depends….they are no good if you want an animal to pet and stroke. But if you have an acre of land and you need the grass kept short, they could be good. Bear in mind, though, that they need to be kept in groups of at least three!

    Out of the grey skies of England and into the frying pan of Spain

    Moving right along to the weather: having been an expat in Britain myself, I can imagine you were keen to leave behind its grey skies and unpredictable climate. But were you aware that the interior of Andalusia, where you were headed, is the hottest area in all of Europe?
    We didn’t find out about this area being called “The Frying Pan of Spain” until much further down the line. We were sorting some paperwork at the Spanish Embassy in London, and a lady said to us, “You do know they call it the Frying Pan of Spain, don’t you?” In the summer it can easily hit 45 degrees during the day. Siestas are a necessity.

    Can you give us some sense of how you spend a typical day in your new life versus when you lived in Brighton?
    In Brighton I was often out the door at 7:30 a.m. and got back home about 7:00 p.m. Lorna worked in the evenings, often not returning home until 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. Also, she had to work a lot of Sundays, so we never got to see each other. In Spain our life is much more relaxed. We spend our days looking after the animals and maintaining the house, and we are now together 24/7. You could say we went from one extreme to another.

    I understand you met Lorna on the Internet. How long had you known each other before hatching this plan to live in Spain?
    We had been together for four years and living together for three before we made the move, so we at least knew we could live together.

    Did starting up a totally new life in a foreign land put a strain on your relationship or draw you closer?
    I wouldn’t say our relationship has ever been strained, although as you can read in our books, we have been through some tough times together.

    Be careful what you wish for…

    Having read your book, I know there were quite a few moments in Spain when you felt like a bit like aliens, but which moment stands out as your most displaced, when you wondered if you’d made a mistake?
    I think our “What are we doing here?” moment came after about 18 months. We had spent all our money with an English builder renovating our new house in the sun, and we experienced the worst Spanish winter rains for a hundred years. It turned out the builder was a conman and all the roofs he’d built started leaking. On top of that two of our alpacas died in the months before. I remember us standing in our kitchen as water cascaded from the ceiling. We were both in tears.

    Wow, a literal “pool of tears” moment! But I know you also have things you love about your new life. Can you tell us about your least displaced moment, when you felt you were born to be in Spain’s Frying Pan rather than your native UK?
    Andalucia feels like home to us now, although it is difficult to pinpoint the exact moment when we turned the corner. I think we are most aware of it when we are sitting outside having something to eat and drink with friends at 2:00 a.m. in the middle of August, wearing only a t-shirt. That is what life is about, not whether or not you can afford the latest version of the iPad!

    Would you say you’ve assimilated to the point where returning to the UK gives you counter culture shock?
    Lorna visits the UK regularly as she now has three grandchildren that weren’t even thought about when we first moved here. I have not been back for five years but will head back for a weekend in June to visit my relatives and attend a diamond wedding celebration for my grandparents. In all honesty, I am a bit nervous about it, I am not looking forward to being in crowds. Here in Spain we live in the countryside outside a small town and some days we do not see a single person. Plus in June, I only ever wear shorts and a t-shirt, but in the UK I may need jumpers (sweaters) and trousers.

    An Amazon bestseller in Travel with Pets and Travel in Europe

    Moving on to your e-books: why did you decide to self-publish?
    I wrote my first book just as self-publishing was really taking off. I submitted the manuscript to one publishing house, got a thanks-but-no-thanks letter back, so decided to publish it myself.

    Are there any drawbacks to self-publishing?
    As a self-publisher, the hardest part is clicking the button to publish. A traditionally published author has that taken away from them, and even if they get mixed reviews they have the backing of the publishing house. We are responsible for everything, from cover, to content, to editing mistakes. If there are problems, or mistakes in the manuscript, that is our fault.

    What audience did you have in mind for the book, and has it been reaching those people?
    Initially I thought it would appeal mainly to other alpaca breeders, but I have had emails from readers all over the world who say they’ve enjoyed reading about our Spanish adventure. In fact, I was so overwhelmed by the response to Seriously Mum, What’s an Alpaca? I just had to write the sequel, Seriously Mum, Where’s that Donkey?

    Your book has done very well on Amazon. Do you do a lot to promote it?
    I run a FB group called We Love Memoirs, which has over a thousand members, all of whom enjoy books like mine. The best way to promote is by word of mouth. If somebody recommends your book to their friend, nothing beats that. As a self publisher I am actually against the Amazon Select program, where you make your book available exclusively on Kindle. My books are available on Amazon but also everywhere else: iTunes, Barnes and Noble, Kobo and even smaller retailers.

    What’s next—more books?
    I would like to release a third book this year, and Lorna has years 2 and 3 in her From Sequins to Sunshine series to work on.

    How are the alpacas doing?
    The alpacas are good, and if all is well, we may have some babies at the end of the year.

    SONY DSC10 Questions for Alan Parks & Lorna Penfold

    Finally, I know that both you and Lorna have become avid readers while living in Spain, so I’m curious to hear both of you answer a series of questions that I’ve asked some of our other featured authors, about your reading and writing habits:
    1. Last truly great book you read: Alan: I’m not sure I have ever read a truly great book. The books I read tend not to get put in that category. Lorna: A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini. Alan: I also have read A Thousand Splendid Suns, but I didn’t have the same reaction Lorna did.
    2. Favorite literary genre: Alan: Comedy memoir. Lorna: Everything except horror.
    3. Reading habits on a plane: Alan: I haven’t been on a plane for six years. Before it would have been an old fashioned book, but now I would read on a kindle app on my phone. Lorna: Always a paperback (whatever I happen to be reading).
    4. The one book you’d require PM Cameron to read: Alan: Mine, of course! I think it would do him the world of good to find out that people can be happy living a more simple life, with less materialistic ideals in life! Lorna: Mine of course, just to give him a look at a day to day life of a “normal” working class person.
    5. Favorite books as a child: Alan: The “Adventure” Series, by Willard Price.
    6. Favorite hero/heroine in fiction: Alan: Jack West Junior, who appears in a book series by Australian author Matthew Reilly. Lorna: Mariam from A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini.
    7. The writer, alive or dead, you’d most like to meet: Alan: Peter Mayle. Lorna: Khaled Hosseini.
    8. Your reading habits: Alan: I read in bed at night, and a lot in the summer. Lorna: I read lots in summer as we do not watch television at all then. Plus other times of course.
    9. The book you’d most like to see made as a film: Alan: Anything by Matthew Reilly, it would be like Indiana Jones on speed. And my own book of course. Lorna: My partner’s book Seriously Mum, what’s an Alpaca?
    10. The book you plan to read next: Alan: Escape to Mulberry Cottage by Victoria Connelly. Lorna: The next on the shelf, whatever it is!

    * * *

    So, readers, any COMMENTS or QUESTIONS for Alan? Hey, it’s not every day you get to discuss the world’s most captivating camelids! And don’t forget, there’s a free digital copy on offer…

    And if you can’t wait to read the book or don’t win, Seriously, Mum, What’s an Alpaca? is available from Amazon(among other venues). Be sure to grab a copy! You can also visit its companion site, like the book’s Facebook page (and be treated to lots of cute alpaca pix!) +/or follow Alan on Twitter.

    STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!<!–tomorrow’s post, when our fictional expat heroine, Libby, returns to the Displaced Nation to update us on her many adventures. (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)–>

    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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    Does an expat life in Los Angeles ever go according to script? Read Tim John’s memoir to find out…

    Tim John Hollywood CollageFor many of us, the calling to the expat life is not really a calling at all, but more of a vague (albeit rather deep-seated) need to escape our surroundings in search of adventure. We have no idea of what we’re looking for until we’ve arrived at a place and put down roots. Even then, we still have the mentality of drifters, and it take us a while to access our muses.

    My guest today, the screenwriter Tim John, does not belong in that mould, as soon becomes clear from the first few pages of his new book, Adventures in LA-LA Land, an account of the seven years he spent in Los Angeles with his wife, Jenny, and their two young daughters.

    You see, Tim plunged into his particular expat adventure with the script already written, both literally (he had a project in the works) and figuratively. Heading for Hollywood was Plan B after he lost his job with a London advertising agency during the recession of the early 1990s, and started dabbling in screenwriting.

    The late Christopher Hitchens, another English writer who chose to be based in the United States, once described LA as a city “mostly full of nonsense and delusion and egomania.” But in the script Tim had written for himself and family, it was LA-LA Land—a place where they could have it all, great climate, a house with swimming pool, and (hopefully) big money.

    So did Hollywood feed Tim’s creative muses (and fill his coffers) in the manner he expected? You’ll have to read the book to find out. I read it, and found myself surprisingly moved by the story of a man who lives for the movies. In fact, the pace can be likened to that of a roller coaster ride—fun but also harrowing at times.

    On that note, it’s time to welcome Tim to the Displaced Nation to talk about his book. And just a heads up: Tim will be “screening” the comments for the person who leaves the best pitch for why they’d like to read it. That lucky individual will be under contract for a free digital copy!!!

    * * *

    AdventuresinLALALand_coverHi, Tim, and welcome to the Displaced Nation. Can you tell me why you decided to write a memoir about your years in Hollywood?
    I’d read so many books about how to write a Hollywood screenplay, but never found one that also told you what it was like living there, so I decided to write my own, based on the seven years I lived there with my wife and two daughters.

    Have you thought about turning it into an actual script for a movie?
    I would love to turn it into a screenplay, too.

    I understand you lived in LA from 1991 to 1998. I’m curious why you produced the book so long after the fact?
    I’m not really sure why I waited so long to write it, possibly because I’ve been doing more and more teaching over the last couple of years and I’m often aware that students often don’t get taught important skills that are crucial to being successful as a screenwriter, such as being able to pitch and how to balance writing life with social life and family life. I thought that relating my experiences could be useful for others. If nothing else, they could learn from my mistakes as well as my successes!

    In the end, the movie (of my life) was about…

    Has your perspective on the experience deepened with time?
    I suppose gaining some distance in time and geographically helped me to see Hollywood from a more objective perspective.

    What impact did your writing about the experience have on you?
    Definitely part of it was cathartic, to process the bizarre experience.

    You worked in advertising for a while. When exactly did you catch the movie-making bug?
    I worked a copywriter and then as a creative director—both of which are extremely useful if you want to go into film as they teach you so much about writing for a particular audience and how to write pithy dialogue and how to edit, etc. I always loved film mainly because it was such a great escape. As a kid, The Jungle Book was a big favorite. Mutiny on the Bounty and Lawrence of Arabia got me pretty scared, as did that spider in Doctor No!

    Yes, I recall your mentioning in the book your fear of spiders when you found yourself face to face with a black widow at your house in LA. I’m still shuddering at the thought of being bitten by a brown recluse, by the way!

    Was there a single epiphanic moment?

    Your book is chockerblock with what we like to refer to on this site as “displaced moments” as a result of your encounters with not just deadly spiders but also shrieking peacocks, rats, snakes, and even some neighbors who believed in extraterrestrial burglars—and that’s before we get to the highly venomous creatures who populate the Hollywood film industry. Does any one moment stand out as your most displaced?
    Wow. There were many moments when I thought “What on Earth am I doing in this bizarre place?” One that sticks out in my professional life was that time I went to pitch to Disney and the exec said “Great to meet you guys, we’re looking for some comedy writers” and I self-effacingly said: “Then you should meet these guys I play tennis with—they’re hilarious.” None of the execs could see I was joking and at the end of the meeting, the development girl took me aside, discreetly handed me a business card and said: “If you continue to have self-esteem issues, see my shrinkshe’s fabulous!”

    That makes me think of Johnny Carson’s line: “In Hollywood if you don’t have a shrink, people think you’re crazy.” And I think the Northridge earthquake of 1994 displaced you and your family rather literally.
    Yes, the whole house rattled and creaked for over forty seconds and there were waves in the pool.

    Ah, the pool… You also talk about how much you loved the weather, having a pool, and taking drives to some fabulous scenery. Can you pinpoint your LEAST displaced moment, when you felt you were born to be in LA-LA Land rather than your native UK?
    There were so many great moments. Personally, living in that sunshine, with a pool, a hot tub, etc., along with plenty of money and also plenty of free time (even though you’re constantly thinking of ideas to pitch), seems like a dream for anyone who’s come from the UK climate and ever struggled to make ends meet. It’s like living in a vacationuntil you realize it will all collapse if you don’t sell your next idea, and you’re going to have to sell it far sooner than you expected because the cost of living is very high, especially when you factor in things you’d never had to pay for before, such as earthquake insurance. Never forget that “writer” is only one letter away from “waiter”.

    Professionally, when you get to chat with famous stars and talented directors and they take your comments seriouslythat feels unreal but also great. Probably the greatest moment for me was just before I moved to LA, being able to go to the tenth birthday party for George Harrison’s film company, HandMade Films. For anyone English, I think having a chat with a Beatle tops it all.

    What did you and George chat about?
    I’d worked on two screenplays for his company, so we talked about that. The funniest thing, I thought, at the company’s birthday party, was when George and Ringo joined the band playing on stage. If anyone requested they perform a Beatles’ song, George said: “I don’t know that one.”

    In the end, the film was about spirit…

    I understand you found LA a culture shock.
    Wow, there are so many things that are culturally different about living in the UK and living in America, especially in Hollywood, which many Americans find totally unreal, too. Ones that really stand out: the almost constant sunshine for a start. The smog levels on bad days. The way so many Americans are so welcoming, where so many Brits can be snooty and suspicious. The way so many Americans are optimistic and so many Brits are pessimistic (or maybe more realistic than many film people). I never forgot that Hollywood has been described as “the only town where you can die of encouragement.”

    I know you decided to leave LA in part because of your mother’s health and in part because of your daughters’ education. The family, particularly your daughters, didn’t want to go. What were the biggest adjustments?
    Tiny parking spaces, terrible weather, high cost of living but a wonderful sense of humor. I did miss my irony in LA. We also hadn’t realized quite how much UK house prices had rocketed during the period when we’d sold ours to live abroad!

    What do you think were the chief benefits you and your family derived from being Los Angelenos for a time?
    I’m sure that our seven years in LA and coming home taught us all to adapt to change. My elder daughter had enjoyed an ice skating career in the US, which didn’t continue in the UK. But at least she learned that if you set goals and envision yourself achieving those goals, it will seriously boost your chances of success. The rest of us learned that you can probably have all the things you’d like in life—you just can’t have them all at the same time!

    Looking back, what was your single most professional achievement during your time in LA?
    Not one single thing; rather, it was learning the craft and how to work with industry people sufficiently well to be able get regular work from the studios (but not all the time!).

    How do you make a living these days?
    Right now, I’m rushing out to give six hours worth of lectures on dialogue to students at Bournemouth University. I also teach on and off about creative writing in general and about writing for advertising, at various universities: Bournemouth Uni, where I teach part of the MA in Advertising, at Southampton Solent, where I do some spots on Advertising and some on Screenwriting, to students at all levels, and at the Arts University in Poole, where I teach adult classes in all sorts of writing. But teaching is just part-time. I also do some freelance copywriting. And most of my time goes into writing screenplays still!

    Do you still feel like a Los Angeleno in some respects?
    Only in that I have several great friends in LA and I feel totally at home with film industry people. I probably see myself as neither totally British any more or completely Californian. I’m obviously some sort of mongrel.

    Writing for publication: A different animal?

    Moving back to the book: what was the most difficult part of the writing process?
    The hardest part was the guilt I occasionally feel for what I see as building up all the family’s hopes by showing them a few years of a dream lifestyle, then waking them up from that dream by saying we have to go back to the harsh reality of living back in the UK. BUT, as mentioned, the family all feel really lucky to have had those seven great years and have made all those extra friends without staying away from their old friends and family for so long they felt like strangers. (That’s what they tell me anyway. I have an extremely supportive family!)

    Why did you decide to self-publish?
    Because I’d had two books published by a big publisher many years ago and never felt they did much to promote them. My agent said most publishers only push big brand names and my wife had a friend who did very well self-publishing a memoir, so I thought I’d give it a go.

    What audience did you have in mind for the book, and has it been reaching those people? Is it mainly for wannabe British scriptwriters like yourself, or do you think it has broader appeal—for instance, to any Brit who might be thinking of living in America?
    I hope the book will appeal to anyone who likes a laugh, to anyone who is interested in a family fish-out-of-water story and to anyone who wonders how you can make it in the film business. There’s plenty in there about the American school my wife taught in, the ones the kids went to, about my eldest daughter making it as an ice-skating champion… It’s by no means just about the movies, but, as I mentioned earlier, it will show you far more about how to make it as a screenwriter than books that simply tell you about the script, the formats, and nothing else.

    Of all the advice you transmit to wannabe Hollywood screenwriters, which is the most important?
    Make sure you enjoy the writing process as much as possible. Don’t pin everything on whether you sell it or it gets made. Enjoy the small triumphs, such as writing a great scene or even a great line of dialogue. All the little triumphs can add up into a pretty rewarding experience. And never forget that you may well learn more from your mistakes than from your successes.

    What’s next for you in terms of creative projects?
    I’ve just finished a UK thriller “Living in Sin”; I’m currently doing a re-write for a sci-fi project for a Californian director, and I have a UK drama that I wrote written with a writing partner, Jon Rolls, for which the producers have just this week started looking for a top director and cast—I’m still going for it!

    10 Questions for Tim John

    Finally, I’d like to ask a series of questions that I’ve asked some of our other featured authors, about your reading and writing—and in your case, also film-watching—habits:
    1. Last truly great book you read / film you watched: Paper Towns, by John Green; The Way Way Back (2013), directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash.
    2. Favorite literary / film genre: It varies enormously but I’d say “comedy drama” for both (eg, Little Miss Sunshine).
    3. Reading/film watching habits on a plane: I only ever read paper books and magazines. Generally I watch films on long flights—but nothing involving flights in danger. I’m a nervous flyer. I can never sleep.
    4. The one book you’d require President Obama to read, or film you’d require him to watch, and why: War and Peace, so he’s fully aware what Russians can do if stirred up. No films to recommend—I’d rather he kept his eye on world news!
    5. Favorite books/films as a child: The Secret Garden; The Jungle Book and Bond movies and then Paper Moon when I was slightly older. Also the musical Oliver.
    6. Favorite hero/heroine in fiction/film: Heroines: Victoria Wood as a writer; Kathy Bates as an actress. Heroes: No book heroes apart from Bilbo Baggins (when I was ten); in film, the cheeky little boy in Cinema Paradiso and later Léon in the film of that name.
    7. The writer, alive or dead, you’d most like to meet: Woody Allen, as I’m nearly always amazed at how inventive he can be and how, against the odds, he so frequently gets cross-genre movies to work, certainly during his Crimes and Misdemeanors period.
    8. Your reading/film-watching habits: I don’t read that many books as I find it hard to give authors the benefit of 50 or 60 pages to get into it. I far prefer books that grab me almost immediately, but with their style and outlook on life, not with purely mechanical plot like Dan Brown or John Grisham. I find those stories generally too thin to keep reading. I frequently start books and leave them if they don’t hold my interest. As far as films go, I go to the cinema at least once a week. I also watch endless boxed sets: generally US drama such as Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, The Wire, House… I really got into The Bridge and Spiral. My worst DVD marathon took place in the early series of 24, when I watched 13 episodes over a single weekend.
    9. The book you’d most like to see made as a film: On Mermaid Avenue, a great American novel that I’ve optioned and written a screenplay from.
    10. The book you plan to read next / film you plan to watch next: The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green; currently, I don’t have any films I’m looking forward to watching.

    * * *

    Bravo, Tim! If we ever host the Displaced Oscars, something we’ve been threatening to do for some time now, you’ll definitely be receiving a statue.

    So, any COMMENTS or QUESTIONS for Tim, or PITCHES for why you’d like to read the book? Don’t forget, there’s a free digital copy on offer…

    And if you can’t wait to read the book or don’t win, Adventures in LA-LA Land is available from Amazon. Be sure to grab a copy! You can also visit Tim’s writer site, like his book’s Facebook page +/or follow him on Twitter.

    STAY TUNED for next week’s (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!

    Related posts:

    This expat arrived in the tropics without any saucepans—but then cooked up a potboiler of love, horror and adventure!

    LDF in DR Collage

    Las Mameyes, Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic (Morguefiles); Lindsay de Feliz (her own photo).

    My guest today, the author Lindsay de Feliz, was scuba diving in the Maldives when one night she found herself on a tiny island in the middle of the Indian Ocean gazing up at the stars, the warm water lapping up against her toes.

    She thought about life, love and the meaning of the universe. And then she had an epiphany: she no longer wanted the life she had made for herself in the UK. She would leave her husband of ten years, her cats, her house, her cars and her successful career, and buy a one-way ticket to Paradise (she hoped).

    “What about your saucepans?” her mother responded upon hearing of this momentous decision. Possibly she was thinking her daughter had gone potty, but instead of saying that, she talked about the set of expensive pans she and Lindsay’s father had bought her for her birthday and Christmas the previous year.

    Lindsay did not pack her saucepans and, when she accepted a job as a diving instructor in the Dominican Republic, was glad she didn’t—especially once she’d settled down with her Dominican boyfriend, Danilo. His son, who lived with them as well, had a habit of throwing pans in the bin because he didn’t like washing them.

    Yet her mother’s question stuck in her mind, and she decided to write a memoir called What About Your Saucepans?, which was published last year.

    I am thrilled to have the chance to talk to Lindsay about this memoir today, which I found an extraordinarily gripping read. Although Lindsay finds her pot of gold in terms of a man who loves her and a life on her own terms, it all goes to pot at a couple of points. And how she copes with these setbacks is as interesting as anything she has to say about the details of life within the country that has the distinction of being the most visited in the Caribbean (though her account of Dominican life is compelling, too).

    And now, before we start, can you hear me banging on a saucepan as I yell out: BE SURE TO LEAVE A COMMENT; YOU’LL HAVE A GOOD CHANCE OF WINNING A DIGITAL COPY!

    * * *

    Saucepans-Cover_pmHola, Lindsay. ¿Que lo que? Can we start, please, by having you tell us what prompted your decision to write a memoir after a decade of living in the Dominican Republic?
    I used to send monthly emails to friends and family about what I was doing and many of them said that I should write a book. I know people often say this, but the longer time went on the more the idea started to grow on me. However, the major prompt was when I was shot by a couple of burglars I’d apprehended at the gate to my home. The bullet passed through my throat and then went straight through my right lung. I made it to the local hospital being carried, then draped over the back of a motorbike, and eventually in a car. After a botched tracheotomy, I was taken to a hospital in the capital, where they put in chest drains. I went home after 12 days.

    Wow! So being shot was what motivated you to write about your expat life?
    There were lots of things I couldn’t remember about the incident—to this day, my recollections of it are a bit fuzzy—so I asked those who helped me what happened, and then wrote it all down. That became a chapter in the book, and then I filled in before and after.

    C5 Bullet stuck in my back 2 weeks after the shooting

    The bullet went through Lindsay’s lung and got stuck in her back. Here it what it looked like two weeks after the shooting (Lindsay’s own photo).

    Did you ever think of writing a novel instead? I ask because your memoir almost reads like a novel. I felt as though I get to know all the characters and missed them when I put the book down.
    No, I never thought about writing a novel—my life was like a novel!

    I understand the life you left behind in the UK was somewhat more mundane. Can you describe a typical day?
    Typically, I would drag myself out of bed at around 5:30 a.m. in the dark. Get showered and dressed in a power suit making sure high heeled shoes and jewelry matched. Wrap up warm and walk 20 minutes to the train station. Train to Central London. Tube to the city. Another tube to Canary Wharf. Total journey time around two hours assuming no delays, which there often were. Work out in the gym and then walk or train to the office. Work all day long, maybe lunch at The Ivy with agencies or journalists, then the same journey home again, getting home around nine and falling into bed to do the same thing the next day.

    What was the trigger (so to speak) that made you decide to pack it all in and become a scuba diving instructor?
    I adored scuba diving in tropical places and managed to go a few times a year and it just seemed daft to work so hard to pay to go diving when I could dive all the time and earn enough to live off doing something I loved.

    How did you end up in the D.R., of all places?
    I started off in the Maldives, then went east to Asia, found it impossible to obtain work permits so ended up in Menorca, an island in the Mediterranean belonging to Spain. I decided I should learn Spanish as I already spoke French and German (as an instructor, the more languages you can speak the better). I wanted to get back to the tropics and a job came up in the Dominican Republic, so off I went.

    Every pot will find its lid

    February is a month for celebrating romance and love. How did you meet Danilo, the Dominican man who became your second husband?
    I had seen him around, but I wasn’t even thinking about a relationship. My plan was simply to learn Spanish then head for Costa Rica and work as an instructor there as the diving was supposed to be excellent. One night at a bar Danilo was there and offered me a lift home on his scooter.

    Was it love at first sight?
    No, although he was seriously cute. But once Dominicans decide that you are the one, they are like Rottweilers and never let you go! He pursued me with a vengeance.

    Lindsay&family

    A happy family, Caribbean style: Lindsay with her husband, Danilo, and two sons.

    Your courtship led to a ready-made family (his kids) and marriage. Was that a difficult decision?
    Not at all. Danilo moved in with me after a couple of weeks courting—as I said they move fast, and as soon as he moved in I was called his “wife” (the vast majority of Dominicans don’t actually get married they just live together but are known as husband and wife). He moved his three children in a week later. We were like that for three years, so most of the big cultural adjustments had already taken place—and there were many, which I discuss in the book. He gave me what I wanted in terms of doing everything to make me happy and to make my life easier, and most of all he made me laugh.

    But isn’t “happily ever after” particularly challenging for those of us in cross-cultural marriages?
    I must admit, due to the fact we were from such different backgrounds I doubted that we would ever become soul mates, in the way you dream of as a child. However, over the past couple of years—we have now been together for 12 years—he has become my media naranja, as they say here—my half an orange—and is totally my soul mate, my best friend and more. Much I think is due to fact that he is now at university, so we have more “intellectual” conversations, and my Spanish is now much more fluent than it was in the early days. We still laugh all the time and I could not contemplate life without him.

    If ifs and ands were pots and pans…

    Looking back over the decade you’ve lived in the Dominican Republic, what was your most “displaced” moment: when you thought, what’s a nice girl like me doing in a place full of superstition, political corruption, thievery, and the many other cultural quirks you mention in your book?
    You are right, there are many—so many I don’t know where to start. Maybe squatting down to have a pee in the sugar cane fields, taking photographs of dead people in their coffins as their families wanted a picture and had no camera, going into a store and being asked to wait while they catch a rat, going to a jail to get prostitutes out, delivering a baby to a Haitian women on the mud floor of her hutand of course having been shot, which, although I didn’t realize it at the time, meant being taken to hospital draped over the back of a motorbike because there are no ambulances or emergency services where I live.

    Goodness, that’s quite a selection! Can you also pinpoint your LEAST displaced moment, when you felt you were much more comfortable living in that place than in your native UK?
    I feel like that every day now as I have become totally adjusted to Dominican life. Dominicans call foreigners like me aplatanado—literally, “like a plantain banana,” signifying we’ve become one of them. Nowadays I don’t care what I wear, no make up, material possessions are not important, I don’t get annoyed if the car is scratched—a whole different set of values to those I had before. Instead of dragging myself out of bed, I leap out, happy to see what the day has to bring. I go downstairs and look across at the mountains and watch the sun rise drinking fabulous Dominican coffee. I have never been happier. I talk in the book about my search for joy. Those moments of pure joy that you experience occasionally. Now here I have them every single day. No one could ask for more.

    Could you ever live in the UK again?
    No, I could never live in the UK again. In the D.R., there are very few rules, which, while it does give rise to some problems, also means one has the freedom of being able to park wherever you want, smoke a cigarette where you want, not wear a seat belt if you choose not to, and so on. I love that. Also, in the UK, Danilo and I have experienced racism—groups of youths making monkey noises on the trains—because I am white and he is brown. I could never ask him to suffer that. Here we have never been made to feel uncomfortable.

    Does your husband feel the same way?
    My husband loves the organization in the UK, the fact that people queue, the lack of litter in the street and the trains. But even if we did want to live in the UK, we couldn’t as the new immigration regulations mean that I would have to earn a salary I could never earn, and he would have to speak pretty fluent English, which would be very hard for him.

    Panning for a publisher

    Moving on to the book: what was the most difficult part of the writing process for you?
    The first draft was easy. I tend to think for days about what I want to write—in bed before I go to sleep, when I am walking the dogs… I wait and wait and wait until I am bursting to write it down. It is so satisfying when you actually write then. Just like when you eventually find a toilet when you have been dying for a pee for ages. The hard bit was changing it to incorporate what the publisher and editor wanted. They wanted me to write much more dialogue, which I found hard, and to talk about things I didn’t really want to talk about. I didn’t want to hurt anyone, and in a memoir you really need to tell the truth. They were right, of course, and the book was much much better as a result; but it was difficult for me to describe all of the emotions.

    You published with Jo Parfitt of Summertime Publishing. How did that happen?
    The path to publishing was not an easy one. I wrote to literary agents and publishers, and some said no and others told me to get it edited and then resubmit—which I did, but it all cost money. I think in some instances they were just helping out their editor mates as they all said no even after I resubmitted it. In the meantime, I’d started a blog of the same name, which began to build me an audience ready for when the book came out. In the end I found Jo Parfitt, who directed me to a great editor, Jane Dean. Between them they knocked me and the book into shape.

    What audience did you have in mind for the book, and has it been reaching those people?
    Originally, I had in mind people who were interested in the Dominican Republic. Yes, it has been reaching them, but it is constant work to make sure you find them and tell them about the book. Luckily, the reviews have been fabulous and those who read the book have said that everyone should read it, not just those who like the DR.

    I agree, I think it appeals on many levels, not just to those with an interest in the Caribbean.
    Thank you for saying that. Apart from being about life in the Dominican Republic, it’s a love story, a horror story, it has adventure, and I like to think that it might make some people reevaluate their lives and what is important to them.

    Do you have any advice for others who are writing memoirs and hoping to publish them?
    Firstly, write the memoir. Do it. It is great fun and also cathartic. Never stop writing at a point where you are stuck or it takes ages to pick it up again. Stop when you know exactly what you want to write next. I would also say don’t give up when you are looking for a publisher, just keep at it. It must have taken me over a year at least to find Jo. And when I did she set me targets to achieve, which gave me a purpose and a goal. You must also be honest with yourself as to whether people will be interested in your story and what it can do for them, not just what it might do for you. And finally, don’t be arrogant and precious when your editor and publisher suggest changes. They know the market a million times better than you. Take their suggestions on board. In the end it will produce something much better than you could on your own.

    10 Questions for Lindsay de Feliz

    Finally, I’d like to ask a series of questions that I’ve asked some of our other featured authors, about your reading and writing habits:
    1. Last truly great book you read: In the Time of the Butterflies, by Julia Alvarez, a historical novel about the Mirabal sisters, who opposed the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic.
    2. Favorite literary genre: Murder mystery
    3. Reading habits on a plane: I haven’t been on a plane since Kindles and such like came out(!). But I used to read novels—the latest Patricia Cornwell or Tom Clancy—which I would buy at the airport.
    4. The one book you’d require President Obama to read, and why: Mine. Because I know he would enjoy it, it would make him smile and help him to understand all of the Dominicans in the USA. He would also enjoy the part about Dominican politics. I can just see him reading bits of it to Michelle in bed in his stripey pajamas and them both laughing.
    5. Favorite books as a child: Enid Blyton‘s The Famous Five series; the What Katy Did series by Sarah Chauncey Woolsey, under her pen name Susan Coolidge; Heidi; and books about horses and ballet dancers. As I moved into my teens I loved Georgette Heyer books.
    6. Favorite heroine: Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
    7. The writer, alive or dead, you’d most like to meet: This is someone who hasn’t yet published a book so I hope that counts: Aisha Ashraf. Her writing simply blows me away and I could never write like she does. I am a story teller and she has a way of touching your heart. I would love to meet her one day.
    8. Your reading habits: I don’t read as much as I would like now. However, when the electricity goes off (which it does here quite a lot) I grab a book and devour it. I also read books online by other Summertime authors which they send to me.
    9. The book you’d most like to see made as a film: Mine again! I know it would make a great film. My dream is to go to the Oscars. I just need to make it happen.
    10. The book you plan to read next: Linda Janssen’s The Emotionally Resilient Expat. She is another Summertime author, and I am really looking forward to getting into this one.

    * * *

    Thanks so much, Lindsay. Readers, what I love about Lindsay is her attitude. Some of us might think that she went out of the frying pan (a life she could no longer stand in the UK) and into the fire (getting shot in the Caribbean), but she doesn’t see it that way at all. In fact, as she explains in the book, after surviving the shooting, she has even more purpose in life and even more devotion to her adopted home.

    So, any COMMENTS or QUESTIONS for Lindsay? Do you think you would react in the same way to hardships?

    And don’t forget, there’s a copy of the book to be won for the best comment! NOTE: If you can’t wait to read the book or don’t win, What About Your Saucepans? is available from Amazon, Apple iTunes, Kobo and Barnes and Noble. And you can also start following Lindsay on her blog, of course!

    STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, another episode in the life of our fictional expat heroine, Libby, told from the point of view of her husband, Olivera rare treat! (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

    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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    Trevi Fountain blesses American woman’s coins, granting her true love, a new life abroad, and now a book (we’re giving it away!)

    Catherine Tondelli book signing photoWhile an expat in Japan, I mastered the ritual of tossing coins into the offering box, or saisenbako, at the Shinto shrine or Buddhist temple while clapping twice (to attract divine attention) and then making a short prayer.

    In the West, of course, we toss coins into fountains and make a wish, but I’d never been one for doing that.

    I might start trying it, though, now I’ve read Catherine Tondelli’s memoir, Three Coins in the Fountain, which recounts the luck she had in finding a mate the moment she tossed three coins into the Trevi fountain in the Città Eterna.

    Sounds like a pitch for a Hollywood film, doesn’t it? Except, wait a minute, that film has already been done (in the 1950s)!

    And it’s real life we are talking about here, not the movies.

    Besides, Tondelli has kindly granted me three wishes:

    1. She will answer some questions about her memoir as well as her writing process (see below).
    2. She will GIVE AWAY TWO COPIES (hard copy or Kindle) to the two readers who toss in the best comment below.
    3. She will make the book available for free download for a short period—to be revealed at some point in our weekly Displaced Dispatch. (What? Not a subscriber? SIGN UP NOW!)

    Before we start, I should mention that Tondelli’s book has been likened to another book recounting travels in the wake of divorce: Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert. But for me, a half-Italian American, Tondelli’s more restricted itinerary makes a a lot more sense. Who needs India and Bali when you can easily get the whole package—great food, a renewed faith in relationships and family, and love—in Bella Italia?

    Like me, Tondelli is half-Italian, and I like to think it’s that ancestry that made her realize the truth of Madonna Louise Ciccone’s assertion: “Italians do it better.”

    * * *

    3-Coins-in-Fountain-by-Catherine-Tondelli_dropshadowWelcome, Catherine. I read your book not long after I’d finished Imperfect Pairings, by Jackie Townsend, which we featured in this space this past November. But that was an autobiographical novel based on Jackie’s marriage to an Italian man. So here’s my question: did you ever consider telling your story as fiction, or perhaps using it to develop a film script for a romantic comedy?
    I originally thought about writing it as a novel, but my story was so unique and it gave so much hope to women who have given up all hope of ever finding the man of their dreams after 40 years old. Most people would never believe that stories like this really do happen and that true love will find you as easily as tossing some coins in a fountain. I also felt that many people could relate to my crazy stories of growing up in a large family. In the 1960s it was normal to have families of seven or more children; but, with the exception of Cheaper by the Dozen, there is very little written about large families. You have a lot of crazy stories when you grow up with ten siblings!

    Yes, I noticed in the press release for the book that you grew up in Chicago as one of 11 kids who were left behind by a deadbeat, jazz musician dad. Can you tell us a little more about your relationship with the man who bequeathed you the surname “Tondelli”? After all, he features in the book quite a bit as well.
    I had a very challenging relationship with my father and harbored resentment towards him for many years. I was only 12 years old when he walked out on my mother. It had a huge impact on the relationships I had and the men I chose. A daughter’s first bonding with any man is with her father: he is her first boyfriend, role model for the men she chooses. We often repeat what we know rather than what we want: we need “familiar,” even if it’s unhealthy. I kept choosing unsuitable men until fate stepped in and finally tossed me a “get a good man” coin to throw in the Trevi fountain.

    Did you and your father ever reconcile?
    I didn’t speak to him for twenty years. We finally reunited when I was attending a conference in Las Vegas and he was a musician playing on the strip. I called him and we had dinner together. We hugged and kissed at the end of the evening: it was a huge healing moment in my life. I was never as close to him as I was to my mother but we had a good relationship up until the day he passed away one year ago. Writing about him also helped me to heal.

    Sono pazzo di te (I’m crazy about you…or am I just crazy?!)

    Now turning to the man who would become your husband, the handsome and irrepressible Fausto. Since romance is a big part of what your book is about, I’d like to recount the first moment when the pair of you set eyes on each other. Newly divorced, you were traveling in Italy with your mom and had by that time reached Rome and the Fontana di Trevi, where your mother handed you three coins and urged you to wish for a nice man to come into your life. At that very moment, you heard an Italian man say: “Eeffa you wanta your wish to comb true, you avv to trow the coins witah your layft (h)and as eet’s closer to your (h)art…”
    Yes, and then he asked if I knew “de meaning of da tree coins”:

    “Da first coin, you find your love in Rome, da second coin, you return to Rome and the t(h)ird coin, you marry in Rome.”

    And that’s what happened: he and I fell in love, I returned, and we got married.

    Chi ama me, ama il mio gatto (Whoever loves me, loves my cat)

    Jackie Townsend entitled her book “Imperfect Pairings” because she thinks Americans have an idyllic view of cross-cultural marriage with Europeans, thinking it sounds very romantic—whereas the reality tends to be culture clash after culture clash. You seem to believe in the romance while also acknowledging there were hurdles along the way. After you got over assuming Fausto was gay, you suspected you might be just one in a long line of fountain pick-ups. And even after he at last won your trust, you and he had to struggle to get used to each other’s habits. He did not take well at first to sleeping with your beloved Siamese cats, for instance.
    Three Coins is not your stereotypical girl-on-holiday-meets-man-of-her-dreams-and-lives-happily-ever-after. Yes, we did meet on my trip to Italy, but falling in love and moving to Italy was the last thing I’d expected. I came to Italy only after I had worked for three years in London and only when finding a good job in Rome. And when he proposed, I called my sister.

    I like that you put a map at the beginning of the book, showing all the destinations you and Fausto traveled to together, before you decided to live in the same place. I presume Italy and Italian culture were an adjustment?
    Even though I grew up in an Italian American household, the cultural learning curve for me was huge.
    My mother descends from Irish stock, and Fausto couldn’t believe his ears when I told him my Irish grandmother had put money aside in her will to host a luncheon following her funeral for all her friends and family. When his father passed away, we went down to the morgue to say our last goodbye and then off to the church and finally the cemetery, all within two hours. No lunch, no funeral home, no photographs—it was all too fast, no time to mourn to grieve with family or friends. A real Mork & Mindy moment for me.

    Was that your most displaced moment: when you thought, what’s a nice girl like me doing with an Italian?
    That’s one, and another would be the Christmas after we moved into our new palazzo in Rome. I went to our five neighbors in the building and brought them Christmas cookies I made and a bottle of Spumante. Fausto looked at me with all my plates of cookies and bottles of Asti in my hand and said: “My love, what are you doing??” I went on to explain that we always bring something over to the next door neighbors in America for Christmas. He just stood there and smiled and said “We don’t do that in Italy.” I said, well, we’re going to start now!

    Can you also pinpoint your least displaced moment, the first time you realized you felt much more comfortable with him and in Italy than you do with a man from your own culture in the U.S.?
    I think it was when there was a Lazio (Rome) football game on TV and instead he took me to see a classical music concert at the Auditorium. He wasn’t telling me all night how much he was giving up for me…he really enjoyed the concert! I am a big baseball fan, not soccer. I was thrilled.

    Non si serra mai una porta che non se n’apra un’altra (When one door closes another opens)

    Moving on to the writing of the book: What was the most difficult part of the writing process?
    Being constantly turned down by traditional publishers. Also, people I knew who already had books published weren’t very encouraging. Luckily, I didn’t let them get me down. After shopping it around for about six months, I decided to self publish. I realized with all my marketing and PR experience I could do a better job then they could in promoting my book in getting it to the right audience.

    I see that you’ve listed Francesca Maggi as a co-author. How did that relationship work?
    I was lucky as she was an editor and also an author and a friend. She had just published Burnt by the Tuscan Sun, and I asked for her help on the editing process. I gave her my manuscript and she polished and refined it pointing out my weaknesses and suggested options to strengthen those areas. She was instrumental in getting the flow right and helped with the technical elements. She was a natural choice for me as we share a common love of Italy and America, and she knew my husband well.

    Can you offer any advice for others who are writing memoirs and hoping to publish them?
    Don’t get discouraged. Publishing a book is not easy but if you have a good story, you now at least have options to get it out there. I love this quote by women’s fiction writer Jennifer Weiner:

    The difference between people who believe they have books inside of them and those who actually write books is sheer cussed persistence—the ability to make yourself work at your craft, every day—the belief, even in the face of obstacles, that you’ve got something worth saying.

    What audience did you have in mind for the book, and has it been reaching those people?
    I really thought the target would be women between 20 and 60 (I do get a lot of emails from women like myself, and am happy they can relate), but I have been amazed at how many men also have written to me to say how much they enjoyed reading it. Obviously anyone who loves Italy, old-time romance, or stories of expat life in Europe would find it entertaining.

    What do men like about the book?
    I’ve had some nice comments from men who said that they were taking notes on Fausto’s techniques… Many of them also grew up in a large family. Also, Fausto was still a bachelor at 50. His story, too, can be inspiring!

    Living La Dolce Vita

    In your book you question whether Americans have their values in the right place given that we take so little vacation compared to people in Europe. Have you continued to feel this way about the U.S. since marrying Fausto and settling down in Rome?
    Two years ago I decided to live like the Romans do and started working for myself so I could spend more time in the US visiting family and friends and also have more time to enjoy La Dolce Vita.

    Do you think you could come back to live in the United States? What would be the adjustments?
    After living in Italy for more than 12 years it would be very difficult for me to return to live in the US. Fausto and I have discussed moving back to California as he also acts in film and there are many more opportunities, but then we thought: how can we go and live in a city where they close the restaurants at ten o’clock? It would be very difficult to replace our lifestyle in the US. That said, I would love to transport the US postal office here as Italy still doesn’t have postal stamp machines. I bring my book and my computer now when I go to the post office as I know I’ll be spending the day there.

    10 Questions for Catherine Tondelli

    Finally, I’d like to ask a series of questions that I’ve asked some of our other featured authors, about your reading and writing habits:
    1. Last truly great book you read: Blood from a Stone, by Donna Leone, part of her crime series set in Venice.
    2. Favorite literary genre: Biographies or autobiographies: real-life stories are always so much more interesting than anything you could make up. That said, I also enjoy reading fiction.
    3. Reading habits on a plane: I usually have long flights as my mother lives in San Diego and I fly from Rome three or four times per year to see her couple that with all the travel I do for my work (am working on events in Dubai, Nairobi, Singapore and London at the moment). I always have three or four books in my library at home that I wait eagerly to put in my carry-on bag for my long, hopefully peaceful journey. I am old fashioned and still like to feel the paper when i read a book.
    4. The one book you’d require President Obama to read, and why: Jimmy Carter’s book Our Endangered Values: America’s Moral Crisis. I believe that Jimmy Carter has been one of our great leaders yet he is so humble. He was my 95-year-old grandmother’s favorite president. He tells us that for example the USA gives far less foreign aid to developing countries than most people imagine. And, much of this aid goes to certain select countries whose loyalty we are trying to buy rather than because we want to help the poor. The book opened up my eyes to understand how we are perceived internationally. It will give Obama a good reminder that values and morals are more important than being powerful.
    5. Favorite books as a child: Charlotte’s Web, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
    6. Favorite heroine: I have many but at the moment it is Malala, the girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban and survived.
    7. The writer, alive or dead, you’d most like to meet: Beatrix Potter. I loved her books as a child, and she was also one of the early pioneer woman who broke the male barrier in publishing.
    8. Your reading habits: I like to read in bed with my two Siamese cats (Stella and Luisa) on my lap.
    9. The book you’d most like to see made as a film: Three Coins in the Fountain, of course!
    10. The book you plan to read next: E-Squared: Nine Do-It-Yourself Energy Experiments That Prove Your Thoughts Create Your Reality, by Pam Grout. She provides experiments that prove our thoughts really do create our reality.

    * * *

    Thanks so much, Catherine. Readers, your turn! Any COMMENTS or QUESTIONS for Catherine? What would YOU wish for with your three coins, having heard her story? Come on, Valentine’s Day is coming! Surely, someone out there aspires to be the next heart wearing the valentine of the Frank Sinatra song?

    STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s TCK TALENT column, by Lisa Liang.

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