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

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

—ML Awanohara

Dear Displaced Diary,

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

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

But before I tell you about that…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continuing with a book club discussion of…my book!

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

…a self-publishing seminar at my old local library

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

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

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

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

…and one last school visit!

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

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

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

Which brings me back to Hong Kong…

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

Shannon Young and Seabounds

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

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

Thank you for following my writing journey.

Shannon
www.shannonyoungwriter.com

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

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with snippets of worldly wisdom, exclusive book giveaways and our nominees for the monthly Alice Awards. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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DIARY OF AN EXPAT WRITER: Will she, or won’t she, on Christmas Day? (We’re taking bets!)

diaryexpatwriter_christmas2014This past summer Shannon Young took the decision to quit her day job to become a full-time writer in Hong Kong, where she lives with her half-Chinese husband. As regular readers of the Displaced Nation will know, she has kindly agreed to chronicle this experience on our behalf.* Her December diary entry appears on Christmas Day for a reason—read on!

—ML Awanohara

Dear Displaced Diary,

This is my fourth update on my new life as an expat writer in Hong Kong. As I type this, I’m sitting in the Hong Kong International Airport waiting for my flight home to Arizona for the holidays. My plane is a little late, giving me time to reflect on the past four months.

I’ve written a lot about the bigger milestones I’ve reached this fall. They include the release of two books, one traditionally published and one self-published, speaking at a literary festival, and signing an audiobook deal.

These moments have been amazing, but right now I really want to talk about the work-a-day process of being a writer. I’ve finally settled into a routine, and that’s the part of this whole adventure that I love the most. Here’s what a day in the life of this expat writer is like:

Morning

I get up when my husband leaves for work around 9:15 am. I go straight to my computer to check my email, sales ranking (this is a bad habit), and Facebook.

At some point, I grab some breakfast (usually yogurt) and make a cup of tea. Over breakfast, I catch up on my favorite publishing blogs, read the news, and take care of any miscellaneous internet and email tasks.

Next I either take a shower or go to the gym (where I listen to audiobooks on the treadmill). I’m ready to work by 11 am or 12:30 pm.

I walk to a coffee shop, usually the Starbucks near me that has a tall table where I don’t have to hunch over my laptop. I typically write for three or four hours at a stretch. I only do more if I’m really on a roll. I’ve found that any more than four hours of actual writing time becomes counterproductive.

Late afternoon

When I hit a good stopping place I head home to make a late lunch or take a detour somewhere to eat and read. Those stopping places are often when I’ve been working at a tough problem like a segment of dialogue that doesn’t sound right and I don’t feel like I’m making any progress. Rather than continuing to chew at it, it helps to leave it and think about the problem throughout the rest of the day. Often I’ve come up with a way to tackle the issue by the next writing session.

After lunch I take care of more miscellaneous tasks like writing blog posts, answering emails, and doing research. I find that even if I’ve exhausted my writing energy for my book-in-progress, I can still blog and work on other things. The change of pace and change of location help me to continue being productive past the four-hour mark.

Evening

I usually work straight through until my husband gets home. Sometimes I stop to read, but I think that counts as work these days. I read widely, staying caught up on my genres while seeking inspiration from other types of literature. I read writing craft and publishing business books too, but not too often. I find it’s generally more productive to practice than to read about how to do things.

I don’t write in the evenings, except on Tuesdays when a regular group of writers gathers at a local coffee shop for two or three hours to work side-by-side on our own projects. I make a point of only going to that particular coffee shop on Tuesdays, and the habit helps me to be productive even if I’ve already been writing for a few hours earlier in the day.

My daily rituals

I’ve been reading a book lately called Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. It’s a collection of short descriptions of the work habits of famous writers, artists, and composers by Mason Currey. I’m reading a few entries at a time, and it’s amazing how similar the habits of the artists are. Like me, they work for a solid chunk of time (often three to four hours) and then devote the remainder of the day to correspondence and other tasks. Over a lifetime, they produce an incredible amount of work like this.

One theme I’ve noticed is that very few of the writers profiled actually waste time waiting for “the muse.” They just sit down and do the work. They recognize that although inspiration is helpful, you can’t sit around waiting for it. At the end of the day, you still have to put in the hours.

Looking to tomorrow…

For now, I’m putting in the hours and getting the work done. The jury is still out on whether this new path will be sustainable. I’m bringing in a bit of money and selling a few books, but I’m not there yet. I know it’ll take more books and more satisfied readers recommending my work to their friends before I can call this experiment a success. For now, I am happy with the process. I have my routine. I might even keep working over the holidays just because I love it.

In On Writing, his singular meditation on the writing life, Stephen King writes about how he used to tell interviewers that he wrote everyday except for Christmas Day. In the book, he says that was a lie. He even writes on Christmas. Perhaps I’ll do the same.

Well, my plane is boarding now. Thank you for all the encouraging comments over the past four months. I’ll keep you updated on my writing adventures in the New Year.

Happy holidays!

Yours,

Shannon Young

shannonyoungwriter.com

* * *

Readers, it’s time to place your bets. Here’s the question:
Will she or won't she

*Shannon Young has edited an anthology, How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit? True Stories of Expat Women in Asia (2014), from which she is sharing some excerpts. We’re calling them “chunks” of dragonfruit—as they taste so delicious! Be sure to sample a few, if you haven’t already…

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with snippets of worldly wisdom, exclusive book giveaways and our nominees for the monthly Alice Awards. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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Staring at the sun — and 3 little “nothing” moments in my displaced life

Yesterday in San Francisco, at the corner of Folsom and 8th, I saw a middle-aged man holding up a sheet of dark glass and staring at the sun through it. “It’s beautiful,” he said to me as I passed him on the sidewalk, “so beautiful.”

I smiled in reply to him, secretly wary that he just another cracked, panhandling prophet in a city full of them.

“Do you want to look at the sun through it?” he asked, indicating his sheet of glass. I looked at him confused. “It’s welder’s glass,” he said by way of explanation.

Yes, he must be mad, I thought, and just before I was about to smile a “no, thank you,” and carry on walking, albeit at a hurried pace, he held the glass up at me, and through it, like some wonderful magic trick, the sun appeared as dark disc apart from a brilliant cresent of light at the bottom. That there was a partial solar eclipse had completely passed me by. I hadn’t been able to see the effect with the naked eye, the sun looked larger, a little hazier, but nothing out of the ordinary and it would have passed me by, but here on this particularly street corner was this happy, smiling man performing what at first seemed like a magic trick, and making sure that a small moment of joy wouldn’t pass me. So I took hold of this stranger’s sheet of glass and looked straight at the sun through it, and he was right — it was so beautiful.

This week, The Displaced Nation asked if I could write about three chance encounters experienced in my adopted homeland that I found moving or bittersweet. Moments like I experienced yesterday on Folsom and 8th.

This ties in with an idea that has long interested me, and inspires my personal blog, Culturally Discombobulated — it’s what I think of as little moments of nothing*. Moments that on the surface may seem mundane, or insignificant, but that move you or are the catalyst for deeper thoughts. My own little dipped madeleines.

As this is something I do at times on my personal blog, I am going to reproduce here three little moments of nothing that I have already been posted over there.

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1) A rock and a hard place

A garage forecourt in Kingman, Arizona is not the sort of place you expect to visit on a sightseeing tour. But a sightseeing tour is precisely what I am on, and a garage forecourt in Kingman, Arizona, is precisely where I find myself. In fact, this is the second time today I’ve found myself on this same depressing patch of asphalt.

To be fair, I should clarify that I have been on a bus tour of the Grand Canyon and now, late in the day, we are making our way back to Nevada. We’re certainly not stopping in Kingman for reasons of historical interest. We are not here to learn that it was in Kingman that Clark Gable and Carole Lombard were married. Gable driving the two of them all the way here from Hollywood in his cream-colored roadster during a break in the filming of Gone with the Wind. In the town they purchased a marriage license from a dumb struck clerk named Viola Olsen before being married by the nearest Methodist Minister they could find. We are not here to learn about the town’s connection with Route 66. We are not here to learn that it was in Kingman that Timothy McVeigh renounced his US citizenship, turned his home into a bunker and began making homemade bombs.

No, this is a purely pragmatic stop; a convenient place on the I40 to stretch the legs, grab a bite to eat, and empty the bladder. In the morning on our way out to the Canyon we stopped here. I bought a ham sandwich at a Chevron garage as I couldn’t stomach the thought of my other option — McDonald’s — that early. The women working in the garage were pleasant, hefty, corn-fed girls. All three had the same hairstyle, an architectural triumph of ringlets and hairspray piled high atop their heads, it looked like it belonged in a 1987 High School Prom. Once back outside on the forecourt a number of men tried to pan-handle me. There was, I thought, something off about the place. By its very nature, you expect a stop like this to be full of folks on the move, but instead there was an unsettling stillness. A number of the people gave off the impression that they’ve been standing around in this same forecourt all their adulthood. It could be that some of the sketchier elements in the town have a rough idea of what the sightseeing bus’s itinerary is — and they come especially and try and get some change out of the tourists.

And now after a long day, we’re back. A bus load of predominantly foreign tourists, here to pay a brief visit like some cut-price UN delegation: Japanese, Thai, Italian, Canadian, French, Australian and British make up our contingent. Some of us are loud and overbearing, and some of us think that everything needs to be documented by our cameras, and some of us have spent all day complaining, and some of us have spent all day gushing in delight, and some of us — if the snoring has been anything to go by — have spent all day asleep, and we are all thoroughly sick of the sight of each other.

Thanks to the evening breeze, the forecourt smells even more strongly of gasoline, pitch and fried grease than it did earlier. Off we all trot, against my better judgment, to the McDonald’s. Every night it’s a different cast, but it’s always the same show that the locals get to enjoy when the sightseeing tour stops here: a tired group of hungry tourists that mewl and bark and garble in their strange tongues and accents. We soon take over and overwhelm the McDonald’s; we create long lines for the toilets, even longer lines for the food along with a white noise of strongly accented English and misunderstood orders.

It’s all too much for one Arizonian. I think it’s one of the men that pan-handled me early in the day. He has a similar looking beard, the same sun-blistered complexion, and the same jittery demeanor.  He is angry with the Frenchman queuing behind him for what he perceives as an invasion of his personal space, and he is getting irate with how long it is taking the Turkish family in front of him to order, but their English is poor and they and the cashier are struggling to make themselves understood. When he finally gets to place his order and is waiting for his chicken McNuggets, he scans carefully all of the other people waiting in line, and scowls at these interlopers with their ridiculous anoraks and backpacks. He takes his McNuggets and barges his way out through the line, needlessly aggressive. As he passes, he elbows me. “F***in’ furriners,” he mutters.

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2) “In my father’s house.”

The shoes of the man sat opposite me on the “E” train are made from black leather, long since scuffed to grey. They are on the whole unexceptional, but for a large fleur-de-lis that has been embossed below the lacing. Their one time appropriateness for special occasions has been worn away.

On the subway and on the underground I often find myself staring intently at the shoes of my fellow passengers. It is not from a fetish, it is just that I keep my eyes on the floor, avoiding eye contact with those around me, or I keep my eyes on the page of a book I am reading. A few minutes before, when we pulled into a station, I stopped reading, put my book on my lap, and cast my eyes to the floor. Occasionally a glance is stolen, such as the one I make at the man wearing the fleur-de-lis shoes. He is a thin, middle-aged black man wearing a blue suit that like his shoes is faded by wear.  He sings “In my father’s house.” Well, he sort of sings “In my father’s house.” It is not the whole hymn that he regales the train with, it is just that one phrase — half-sung, half-shouted every thirty seconds or so. Looking up I see that most of the other passengers have their eyes to the ground, particularly when he sing/shouts “In my father’s house,” though every time he does that he looks around. I don’t feel he looks around for a reaction, but for recognition. Perhaps feeling that things have descended again into commuter quietness, he again sing/shouts “In my father’s house.” I put my eyes to the floor and look at the fleur-de-lis pattern.

Queens Plaza is his stop. As he leaves the train, he notices the book in my lap — God: A Biography, by Jack Miles. He seems happy with my reading material and looking at me, he sings/shouts “In my father’s house” as if I’m the only of his “E” train flock that understands the importance and virtue of his ministry. Then he leaves the train before I have time to explain that reading a book called God does not make me virtuous as he might think it does, and that the book is a critical look at the Old Testament. It considers God a literary character and so casts him in the light of literary theory. Not that I would have said that if I had the time.

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3) Angels and iced tea

In this almost empty coffee shop three elderly women, lifelong friends perhaps, crowd round a table and converse over iced tea. They talk at length about their new pastor, about his energy and his youthfulness. They talk at length about angels, about their unwavering belief in them and their experiences of them. The loudest of the women, her hair an unconvincing shade of red, starts to talk about her youngest granddaughter — about how she’s as sharp as a tack, but hasn’t she started asking the trickiest of questions. The red-haired woman confides to her two companions that she has spoken with their youthful and energetic pastor about how to respond to these questions.

For instance, she tells the other two, only the other day the granddaughter had said, “Grandma, why do we have to go to Church?”

She was, she freely admits, flummoxed by how to answer, but then she remembered the pastor’s words. “Aw, sweetie, that’s a matter of faith.”

Yesterday, she continues, when she was driving her granddaughter home from school the girl had asked, “Grandma, why do we call trees trees?”

She once again patiently said to her granddaughter, “Aw, sweetie, that’s a matter of faith.”

In the almost empty coffee shop the three women gently laugh at the ridiculous things that children say, take a sip of iced tea, and start talking about angels again.

*The film director Max Ophüls once wrote about art: “Details, details, details! The most insignificant, the most unobtrusive among them are often the most evocative, characteristic and even decisive. Exact details, an artful little nothing, make art.” Most of my life I seem to spend in search of moments of little nothings that I end up attaching great importance to. It probably makes me a nightmare to deal with it as a friend or companion.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, an account of la dolce vita from a fresh perspective!

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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