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THE ACCIDENTAL EXPAT: Moving on to fabulous, fragrant (and fatiguing!) Hong Kong

THE ACCIDENTAL EXPAT
At the moment when women all over the world are demanding a right to be heard, columnist Indra Chopra is here to remind us that an expat spouse is a person in her own right, with her own voice. Something else that makes her column well timed: it is about Hong Kong. I can guarantee her descriptions (particularly of food!) will put you in the mood for Chinese New Year, which is just around the corner… ML Awanohara

In a previous post, I described my family’s expat life in Muscat, Oman. Our next big adventure was a move to Hong Kong, which took place after a planned hiatus of six years in our home country.

I agreed to the Hong Kong move, not because of the Indian family tradition of a wife walking seven steps behind her husbandbut because I, too, am into adventure.

Join me as I take you into the fabulous, fragrant place I initially encountered.

* * *

Water brings luck

No sooner had I agreed to our move to Hong Kong but I am looking down from a rental suite on the 38th floor of Harborview Horizon in Hung Hom, Kowloon, at the teal waters of Victoria Harbour. There is a line of vessels—scampering ferries, catamarans with orangey-brown sails, nose-in-the-air cruise ships with names like Star Virgo and Pisces, rusty junks, barges and sampans—silhouetted against the vast blue sky, with brawny mountains in the distance.

I spend the entire day settling in while taking sneak-peeks at the unfolding harbour scenes. By the time night falls, it looks as though someone has taken a painter’s brush and dabbed sequined color on the concrete structures in the distance and then streaked the water in rainbow hues…

On the day of our arrival in Hong Kong, a friend told us that staying near water brings luck. Hm, is that what the Britishers felt when they first set foot in “The Fragrant Harbor” in 1841, and is that why they stayed for so long?

fabulous-victoria-harbour

A taste of “home”

The so-called City Island is eons ahead of staid Muscat, and I find myself unsure of how to approach my new life: as a novice or as a widely traveled person critically appraising what was on offer?

Being Indian, I am naturally drawn to Chungking Mansion (Nathan Road, in Tsim Sha Shui, Kowloon), a building full of small, family-run Indian and Pakistani restaurants serving traditional food. Believe me, the best Indian snacks or spices in Hong Kong can be found in little peek-a-boo stores under stairs or between shops—dark patches one could easily overlook while being bombarded with DVDs, mobile phones, suitcases, watches, currency exchangers, not to mention steady streams of locals and foreign tourists. I would taste the best butter chicken I would eat during my time in Hong Kong at a Pakistani eating-place on one of the floors of Chungking. I like the feeling that no one can ever get to the bottom of this cavernous, mysterious place. The possibilities are limitless.

a-taste-of-home

Fabulous…and fragrant

Our fresh-off-the-boat year is mesmeric…and exhausting. We are constantly meeting new people and making new friends among Hong Kong’s potpourri of nationalities. I never get homesick, except for family, thanks to the sizable Indian diaspora.

Now, it would be easy to be a stay-at-home wife who joins the various kirtan (prayer) groups, coffee mornings or kitty parties. Watching me deliberate on which Indian ladies to befriend, a British friend is surprised: “What’s the big deal, aren’t you all Indians?” Well, yes, but each of us has our own individual traits.

But something within me desires a whole set of new experiences. I know I won’t rest until I can understand more about the vignettes of daily life I keep witnessing as I navigate my new surroundings.

Perhaps energized by Hong Kong’s Autonomy Movement, I start asserting my own autonomy. Joining the crowds on the Peak Tram and the Mid-Levels escalator, I step out of my comfort zone and start peeking into the curtained windows of posh villas and spa treatment facilities that reek of Chinese herbs and other concoctions. I sense there is something unique about this place. Part of it is a sensibility but there is also an aroma that is manifestly Chinese.

I start taking day trips to Macau, China’s Las Vegas clone. I queue up for weekend ferries to the outlying islands of Chueng Chau, Lama, Lantau, Peng Chau, Pui Oh, Tai Wan Long, and Sai Kung. I even join some treks and hikes, including to the Ng Tung Chai waterfall, the biggest in Hong Kong, and within the lush, secluded greenery of the New Territories.

I visit the former Kowloon Walled City (Kowloon Walled City Park), the history of which traces back to the Song Dynasty (960–1279), when an outpost was set up to manage the trade of salt.

Strolling through subterranean air-conditioned passages or along overhead walkaways, I find aspects of my adopted home enchanting. I stand mute in front of the iconic lions as I reach the front of the HSBC Main Building in Central, which was designed by British architect Norman Foster. Catching sight of the International Finance Centre (IFC), I visualize French Spider-Man, Alain Robert, doing loops atop its towers; and, as I make my way through the high rises of Central, Wan Chai and Causeway Bay, I feel like Moses as he walks through the parting seas in The Ten Commandments.

Hong Kong has an excellent public transportation system, and I even manage solo travel to Lo Wu, which lies on the border between Hong Kong and mainland China, though I do not cross over to Shenzhen as I still don’t have my China visa.

On brutally hot days, I hop on a bus or a train and escape to an unknown neighborhoods in search of alfresco cafes, local designer stores, tearooms, parks and gardens, art galleries or libraries.

Whenever I feel I have seen and done it all, I have a niggling doubt there is more.

fabulous-and-fragrant-hk

Fabulous, fragrant…and fatiguing

Although Hong Kong still has pockets of antiquity here and there, with links to the region’s rich historical past, much of the region is in flux. For instance, Sheung Wan, one of the earliest settled places by the British, and part of the Central and Western Heritage Trail, is rapidly turning into a dining hotspot and bustling shopping mecca. The same is true of Sai Ying Pun, an area once known for its small lanes and historical buildings.

Similarly in Kowloon, Sham Shui Po—Deep Water Pier in Cantonese—the peninsula’s commercial and industrial hub, is fast becoming a street-shopping mecca.

Talk about change—one has only to look upwards at the constantly changing skyline. Hong Kong has more skyscrapers than anywhere on the planet, with its notorious shoe-box apartments piled atop shopping malls piled atop subways stations. Then, two years ago, a giant wheel suddenly landed in the midst of all these shifting layers, giving Hong Kongers their own version of the London Eye: what a fantastical embellishment to this swathe of reclaimed land!

Not long after my initial arrival, my feet are in urgent need of pampering. I have never done so much city-walking before—so followed the lady handing out leaflets in one of the by-lanes to a third-floor cramped salon that offered reflexology massage. It’s not one of the cleanest experiences, but soon I will have my favorite places, where I take visiting friends and family when they, too, are in need of some down time…

Travel writer Paul Theroux has said that travel is a state of mind. In Hong Kong, the fear is you may never get out of that state… No sooner have you taken in the brightly colored tong laus (19th-century tenement buildings) than you find yourself in a murky alley full of yan ching mei (the essence of humanity). It can be difficult to take in the sounds of traffic and never-ending foot-falls, the smells of traffic fumes, cigarette smoke, raw meat and fish…and not feel overwhelmed.

Making my way around this cacophonous Island city, I pick up many lessons, two of which stand out:

  1. Silence is golden—best exemplified by unblinking people in malls, the surging and pushy crowds of the MTR, and the mute cashiers at general stores.
  2. Survival is an art. You have to learn how you deal with the guttural rudeness of fruit sellers in wet markets, the pestering sales-peddlers of “genuine fake” watches and purses on Nathan Road, and the “No cheap” snide comments of shop assistants in brand showrooms once they notice you’re from the Sub-continent. After a while, I begin to comprehend the “I stay in a beach-side villa” hand-flick of long-time expat residents, the “couldn’t care less” attitude of locals, the jostling Mainlanders on weekly shopping sprees, and the hired helpers laying siege to open spaces and parks on weekends.

I shadow a friend as she navigates past umbrella-poking pavement walkers; impervious-to-others, 70+ matrons pushing carts laden with used cardboard boxes; cell-phone strollers; feisty old ladies twirling to “Sugar Sugar Honey Honey” in a neighborhood park; and Rambo seniors swimming in the cold waters of Hung Hom Bay. Little by little, I am getting in step.

It’s food!

A member of my writing group suggested I should spice up my writings rather literally, with more mentions of food—not a difficult task when it comes to Hong Kong, which entices its visitors into alleys, eateries and restaurants with its distinctive smells.

It is not long before I learn there is more to Chinese cuisine than my favorite dishes of Indian-Chinese Manchurian chicken, chow mien and hot & sour soup. In my various gastronomic quests on both sides of the Island, I discover finger-licking fish balls, succulent dim sum dishes, as well as slurpy wanton noodles, at the cha chaan ten (traditional Chinese eateries). In time my list of favorites comes to include:

Food is a kind of entry point into the mysteries of Hong Kong, the key to pinning down some of its elusiveness. I learn what people consider to be esoteric or exotic (e.g., snake soup, whole pigs or fish varieties) and become aware of the apparently important need to distinguish between dim sum, the word for a traditional lunch or brunch where one eats small portions of food served with tea, and dumplings, consisting of small pieces of dough wrapped around various fillings (meat, veggies or even fruit). Dumplings are not dim sum but a dim sum dish.

By making the restaurant rounds—from Michelin starred restaurants. to neighborhood open-air food stalls or dai pai dong, to book cafes and fast food outlets—I come to know parts of Hong Kong I might not otherwise have encountered.

Most important of all, I discover The Toothpick: the fine art of flicking food particles from in between tooth gaps, after one finishes eating. It is fascinating to watch all the Chinese people immediately reach for a toothpick at the end of every meal. A friend always carries a packet of toothpicks because “some eating places do not place it along with sauces and the salt-and-pepper set.” Now I, too, am addicted and my mouth craves that instant gratification.

its-food-hk

* * *

In John le Carré‘s The Honorable Schoolboy, it is said at one point that “when you leave Hong Kong it ceases to exist.” That was not my experience. After a seven-year stay, Hong Kong never ceases to exist for me.

To be continued…

* * *

Thank you, Indra! As always, you bring a unique lens to your travels and expat experiences. I wonder, does Hong Kong seem familiar in some ways to you because of its British colonial heritage, not unlike India’s? —ML Awanohara

Indra Chopra is a writer/blogger passionate about travel and curious about cultures and people. Her present status is that of an accidental expat writing to relive moments in countries wherever she sets home with her husband. With over twenty years of writing experience Indra has contributed to Indian, Middle Eastern publications and online media. She blogs at TravTrails

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Photo credits: Opening visual: Airplane photo and India photo via Pixabay. Other photos supplied or else downloaded from Pixabay.

TCK TALENT: Tanya Crossman takes her talent with mentoring TCKs to the next level: a resource-rich book


Columnist Dounia Bertuccelli is back with her second Adult Third Culture Kid guest, who has had a particularly productive year.

Hello readers! Welcome back for my second TCK Talent column, where I am happy to introduce author and TCK mentor Tanya Crossman. Tanya is ending 2016 on a high note as this was the year she had her first book published: Misunderstood: The Impact of Growing Up Overseas in the 21st Century (Summertime Press), a work full of insights into the hearts and minds of Third Culture Kids and, for Tanya, a true labor of love.

Tanya is familiar with what it is like to grow up in other cultures from her own experience. Born in Australia, she grew up mostly in Australia (Sydney and Canberra) but also spent two of her teenage years in the USA when her family moved to Greenwich, Connecticut, due to her dad’s IT career. Being a 13-year-old in such a different part of the world played a major role in shaping Tanya’s adult identity. As she put it to fellow Adult Third Culture Kid, Janneke Muyselaar-Jellema, of the DrieCulturen (Dutch for “three cultures”) blog:

I think it showed me there’s a whole world of opportunity out there, and not to limit myself to what is “normal” in Australia.

After completing a Bachelor degree in Asian Studies at the Australian National University in Canberra, Tanya moved to Beijing for a study year abroad—and ended up staying for 11 years. During that period she also spent a lot of time in Cambodia. She moved back to Australia about two years ago, where she’s been learning to navigate repatriation while completing a Master’s program in Sydney.

It was during her time in China that Tanya began to work with other Third Culture Kids. This became her passion, and, even now that she is back in her passport country, she continues advocating for TCKs.

* * *

Congratulations, Tanya, on the publication of Misunderstood. That’s an amazing accomplishment! How did you develop the ambition to write your own book on this topic?
Thank you for featuring me, Dounia. As you mentioned, I mentored Third Culture Kids who were living in China for years, listening to them and learning how they felt about life. At a certain point I started receiving requests from parents for advice as well as invitations to speak to interested groups both in China and other places. People would ask for resources, and while I was able to point to some excellent works, I couldn’t find anything that represented the angle I spoke from—so eventually I wrote my own book.

“If there’s a book you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” —Toni Morrison

Tell me, how does Misunderstood differ from other TCK resources?
Misunderstood is different because I act as an advocate and a “voice” for young TCKs. I’m trying to express how they really feel about the experience of growing up in a third culture. They have a different experience of the world to their parents. Recognizing this is essential for giving them the support they need. I interviewed nearly 300 TCKs and surveyed 750 TCKs during the writing process, and there are statistics as well as quotes from this work throughout Misunderstood. I explain the TCK perspective but I also articulate how many of them feel—often in their own words.

Who would you say is the primary audience for the book?
My initial goal was to write for parents, teachers and care workers, but I later re-wrote the contents to cater to young adult TCKs as well. Most of them are processing their childhood experiences and finding their place in the world, and I think it will help them to discover there are other people who have felt the same way, and to be given vocabulary to explain their experiences to others.

tanya-crossman-bridges-gap

I know you were a TCK for just two years, and in another English-speaking culture. But I assume that your experience of living in Connecticut (where I now live, btw!) was also a motive for writing this book? And did writing the book help you process your TCK experience?
Only indirectly. I have to say, I knew nothing about TCKs before I began mentoring them in Beijing. I certainly didn’t connect my two years in the United States to their experiences. Once I got into working with TCKs, I started reading the literature (particularly Pollock and Van Reken’s Third Culture Kids: Growing up Among Worlds). As a result, I began to understand and process what I’d felt while living in Connecticut as a teenager. While my Third Culture experience differed from the teens I was working with, I could see there were points of overlap, which was what had helped me make the initial connection. It gave me a head start in understanding the landscape of their inner lives.

What are your hopes for Misunderstood?
My biggest hope is that it ends up in the hands of people around the world who will find it helpful. I want young TCKs to read it and feel understood and empowered. I want parents to read it and feel encouraged because they are able to see their children’s experiences in a new light. Already I am getting responses from TCKs, parents and other expatriate advocates, sharing the ways in which Misunderstood has encouraged or challenged them. That sort of feedback is exciting and humbling. It makes it all worth it.

“Australia doesn’t really feel like “home” anymore. Beijing feels like home…” —Tanya Crossman

You recently repatriated to Australia—how has that experience been?
Repatriation has been HARD!! The first three months I hardly left my room unless I had to. After about ten months I had this feeling of “waking up” and feeling like a person again. It’s really only in the last couple of months that I’ve started to feel anywhere near normal. I’ve been here almost two years now, and although I feel settled enough in my current life, it does feel quite temporary—although that’s partly because I’m in a program of study, which gives me a concrete end date (about a year from now). I definitely expect to head overseas again after that, though I’m open to staying in Australia if the right opportunity comes up.

If you do end up settling in Australia, aren’t you afraid you may get “itchy feet”?
I get itchy feet if I don’t get on a plane every few months, no matter where I’m living! I’ve managed to make two overseas trips in the two years I’ve been back, and I have another planned in a few months’ time.

tanya-crossman-itchy-feet

Are you working on anything new at the moment? Are there plans for a second book?
Mostly I’m working on my completing my master’s degree, though I do have a side project looking at creating reading guides for Misunderstood—in large part prompted by conversations with a few expat mums (in China, South Africa and Thailand) who were interested in using Misunderstood for group discussions.

Please share any other information or links you would like our readers to know about.
There are lots of great resources about TCKs out there, including some great books released in the last five years. Other than the classic Third Culture Kids which I mentioned before, the books I recommend most often are:

Another great resource is Ellen Mahoney’s TCK mentoring organization Sea Change Mentoring.

It’s generous of you to cite these additional resources for us. Thanks so much, Tanya, for this interview!

* * *

Readers, please leave questions or comments for Tanya Crossman below. If you’re interested in learning more about her book, please visit Tanya’s author site. You can also connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.

Born in Nicosia, Cyprus, to Lebanese parents, Dounia Bertuccelli has lived in France, UK, Australia, Philippines, Mexico, and the USA—but never in Lebanon. She writes about her experiences growing up as a TCK and adjusting as an adult TCK on her blog Next Stop, which is a collection of prose, poetry and photography. She also serves as the managing editor of The Black Expat; Expat Resource Manager for Global Living Magazine; co-host of the monthly twitter chat #TCKchat; and TCKchat columnist for Among Worlds magazine. Currently based on the East Coast of the United States, she is happily married to a fellow TCK who shares her love for travel, music and good food. To learn more about Dounia, please read her interview with former TCK Talent columnist Lisa Liang. You can also follow her on Twitter.

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Photo credits: Photos of Tanya supplied. All other photos from Pixabay with exception of Greenwich photo in first collage: Greenwich, Connecticut, by Doug Kerr via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

BOOKLUST, WANDERLUST: From Hong Kong’s dreamy harbour to Dublin’s gritty streets—Displaced Reads for the end of autumn!

booklust-wanderlust-2015

Attention displaced bookworms! For this month’s column, Beth Green —perhaps understandably given the political turbulence in the United States (where she’s from) and Europe (where she lives)—is having an escapist moment.

Hello again, Displaced Nationers!

It’s the most beautiful time of year in Prague—the golden peak of autumn. The trees outside my window have turned various shades of yellow and red, and the air brings a nice crisp bite that has me reaching for gloves and a scarf while also relishing the thought of an afternoon or weekend morning spent reading!

Now, I’m one of those readers who picks a different book for every mood, meaning I usually have more than one book on the go at a time. Lately, I guess I’ve been feeling romantic—or perhaps escapist, as ML out it in her intro—because I kept coming back to, and finally finished, two books by fellow Displaced Nationers that focus not only on wanderlust but, ahem, other lusts.

Both are books I’ve had on my reading list for months, and shame on me for not getting to them sooner!

shannon-young-ferry-tale

Ferry Tale, published by our own columnist Shannon Young in February, invites the reader to a meet-cute in Hong Kong, one of my all-time favorite cities.

The story follows the fate of American singer Katrina. She has fled all the way to Hong Kong to get away from an embarrassing incident that unfortunately was videoed and went viral on YouTube. In her heart of hearts, she knows that she can’t run away from the Internet, but her desire to shed her past compels her to lie to the handsome Canadian-Hong Konger banker she meets on the city’s iconic Star Ferry. To throw him off her track, she gives him the name of a local Instagram star, whom she closely resembles. It’s a tale of mistaken identities and misplaced hurt that resolves itself in a satisfyingly sweet finish.

I loved how Ferry Tale lets us explore Hong Kong through the eyes of newcomer Katrina while also providing an insider’s perspective through the characters she encounters. Author Shannon lives in Hong Kong, and her love for her adopted home shines through in her writing.

And do I even have to say that I enjoyed the romance, which was tender, funny and charming? Three cheers for true love found on a ferry! (Shannon, I know you have a dashing half-Chinese husband. How much of this was based on your own experience?!)

alli-sinclair-midnight-serenade

Meanwhile, Alli Sinclair‘s Midnight Serenade, which I mentioned in a previous column under its Australian title Luna Tango, was released worldwide this summer. Part of Alli’s Dance Card series (another title, Under the Spanish Stars, launches in December), Midnight Serenade whisks the reader off to the late-night dance halls of Argentina in a story line that alternates between the present and post-WWII.

Australian journalist Dani is getting over her recent heartbreak by immersing herself in research about Argentine tango—the dance that stole her mother, Iris, away from her when she was small. Iris ran away to Argentina, leaving Dani in the care of her grandmother, and subsequently became one of the country’s most famous professional dancers. Once in Argentina—and with the help of smoldering Carlos— Dani learns to love the dance she has always hated—and in the process uncovers a deadly family history.

Before reading this book, I didn’t know much about tango or about Argentina, but Alli provides enough context to give the reader both a sense of the most passionate of ballroom dances and what is like to live in this part of the world—not only in Buenos Aires but also in the country’s rural areas. Alli has the travel creds to pull this off: now living back home in Australia, she used to work in South America as a mountain and tour guide.

shamini-flint-inspector-singh

But, readers, by now you should know that, although I enjoy reading the occasional romance, in fiction I generally turn to mysteries and detective novels for slightly darker escapes. One of my recent reads has some of both: Singapore-based author Shamini Flint‘s Inspector Singh Investigates: A Frightfully English Execution, which came out in April. This is the seventh of Flint’s books featuring the dour Sikh Singaporean detective, Singh. As I mentioned in a previous post, our hero Singh travels in almost every book (each book takes place in another international locale), and this time he is being sent to dreary old London (his very first visit) as part of an international officer exchange. Oh, and one more new twist: his wife is determined to accompany him! She says she wants to come along to shop for souvenirs and visit previously unknown relatives, but she also decides to serve as his sidekick!

Inspector and Mrs. Singh, we learn, are not the most romantic of couples. Like most South Asians, they had an arranged marriage and fell into their traditional roles, with each spouse inhabiting completely separate spheres.

Inspector Singh’s assignment is to provide a cultural bridge for the Metropolitan Police to better investigate a cold case involving the murder of a young Asian woman. While he works the case, he thinks his wife is out shopping at Harrod’s and meeting her cousins for tea. And she is—but she’s also determined to help him in the investigation, whether he wants her to (or knows she’s doing it) or not. Their adventures infuriate each other—while also drawing them closer together.

Mrs. Singh’s antics, along with the inspector’s Poirot-esque point-of-view chapters, provide a comical overlay to the rest of the well-planned plot, which is comfortably dark, touching as it does not just on murder but also on home-grown terrorism and stalking. Another feature of the book I very much enjoyed was the portrayal of London through the eyes of the sardonic Singaporean inspector.

tana-french-the-trespasser

And, seeing as we’ve just passed Halloween season, which never fails to put me in the mood for a psychological thriller or two, I’d like to share one more book that I was able to tick off my to-be-read list recently—by my favorite Irish author (and fellow ATCK) Tana French (I wrote my very first column about her!). As mentioned earlier this year, I couldn’t wait to get ahold of the sixth book in her Dublin Murder Squad series, The Trespasser, which came out this month.

All of the books in French’s series follow the squad of murder detectives serving the Irish capital, but each book picks a different protagonist, with a similar but slightly rotating cast of secondary characters. The Trespasser is told from the point of view of Antoinette Conway, now the squad’s only female detective. She and her partner (we’ve met them both in other books as minor characters), Stephen Moran, are called out to investigate a domestic violence case, but then it turns into such a tangled mess, they’re not sure they’ll be able to stay on the squad when it’s finished.

The book plays with different variations on the theme of trespass. Conway feels like an outsider at work, and Conway’s own family history involves boundaries she isn’t sure how to—or if she wants to—trespass herself. Likewise, the victim and the culprit both trespassed on each other’s lives in different ways before the murder.

Like French’s other books, this one is deeply atmospheric. Dublin in January is one of the best places I can think of to set a mystery. I tried something different with this novel—I listened to the audiobook version instead of reading a paper or e-book. I don’t think I’ll continue getting audiobooks, but for this title in particular it was a nice experience. The narration was done by an Irish voice actor, and the accents did bring the setting to life.

* * *

Before I bow out, a quick peek at some of the displaced reads on my Kindle now:

A Lover’s Portrait, by Jennifer S. Alderson: Gripping so far—and when can I plan my next trip to Amsterdam?!)
Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul, by Lisa Morrow: I’m excited to get this deep look into Istanbul, a city I’ve visited only briefly. And I enjoyed the two interviews with Lisa that appeared on this site recently.
Coins in the Fountain: A Midlife Escape to Rome, by Judith Works: It just got a great review from Kirkus—“Armchair-travel books are rarely as good as this one”.
Murder in G Major, by Alexia Gordon: After The Trespasser I craved another mystery set in Ireland—I can’t get enough!

How about you, Displaced Nationers? What’s on your Kindles for late fall? And do you have an opinion to add to the Kindle/old-fashioned print debate that ML raised in the last Displaced Dispatch? Plus let’s add audio books to the mix! We’d love to hear from you in the comments…

As always, please let me or ML know if you have any suggestions for books you’d like to see reviewed here! And I urge you to sign up for the DISPLACED DISPATCH, which has at least one Recommended Read every week.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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

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DIARY OF AN EXPAT WRITER: Taking time off to look backwards on how far I’ve come…and forwards to the next goals

Diary of an Expat Writer
It’s been a while since we’ve heard from American expat in Hong Kong and aspiring writer Shannon Young. She actually gave herself a break this summer—and as soon as she came back at it, pieces started falling into place…

Dear Displaced Diary,

Did you have a nice summer? Mine was a great mix of family time and travel. Highlights included hanging out with my adorable nephew in Arizona, visiting my grandparents in Oregon, catching up with old friends in New York City, and riding a moped around Bermuda with my husband.

After the intensive work of the previous six months, it was a much-needed chance to clear my head and remember how to be a human being again.

As I shared at the start of the year, I needed to kick into high gear in the first part of 2016 or else start searching for a new day job.

As a consequence, I barely looked up from my computer for six months, during which I wrote and launched the first two books in my new YA Steel of Fire fantasy series, within six weeks of each other.

After the intensity of the winter and spring, the summer break gave me a chance to step back and take stock of how far I’ve come along the journey into a writing career.

From travel writer…to fantasy author

I started my career writing about Hong Kong. I envisioned myself as a travel writer because that seemed like the natural path for an American girl abroad. But the more I’ve written, the more it has become clear that my interests and skills are better suited for fantasy and science fiction. Those early projects were important practice for the kind of work I’m doing now.

It’s common for writers to draw inspiration from the world around them even if they’re not travel writers. I’m sure you expats know what I’m talking about. You encounter a natural wonder or a style of clothing or a cadence of speech. It works its way into your brain, whether you write it down in that moment or not. Eventually it comes back. It may not be in the same form. You change it to align with the needs of your story world, or you remember it a bit differently than it was in reality. In fiction, you get to write from the inspiration rather than describing exactly what you saw—and that’s what makes it so much fun.

Living abroad has helped me to write fantasy because I get to see so many different places and meet people from all over the world, even if none of them wield magic or ride dragons (so far). It has also helped me look at the place I came from with fresh eyes.

MAGICAL HONG KONG: Inspiration for fantasy writing?

MAGICAL HONG KONG: Inspiration for Shannon’s swashbuckling fantasies?

From teacher in Arizona…to writer in Hong Kong

While I was in the States, I took a few days to finish the second draft of Dance of Steel, which will be the third book in my five-book Steel and Fire series. I completed the draft on my 28th birthday in my favorite coffee shop in my hometown, Gilbert, Arizona. I used to spend hours grading essays at that very coffee shop during my first year as a teacher.

At the time I was applying for jobs in Hong Kong, both at schools and with publishers, and it hadn’t even occurred to me to try writing books.

It was fun to mark my progress in a place where I could see how far I’d traveled, both physically and in my career as a writer.

MARK OF PROGRESS: From the coffee shops of Arizona to the Starbucks of Hong Kong

MARK OF PROGRESS: No longer grading papers in an Arizona coffee shop, Shannon is drafting fantasy novels in a Starbucks in Hong Kong.

From vacation mode…back to the grind

I’m writing a five-book series, so I’m always thinking about where my story is going. A long project requires stamina and a steady course, but sometimes moving out of your usual routine can help to get the creative juices flowing again. Having already planned to finish the final draft of Dance of Steel upon my return to Hong Kong after a month off, I was already thinking about what would happen in the next book.

My husband and I took a meandering road trip through Oregon and California before catching our flight to New York. Whenever it was my turn to drive, I’d pass the time on the road thinking through what would happen in the fourth book. I’d write notes in the evenings, but it was helpful to let the story unfold like a movie as I drove. It made me appreciate how much writing you can do when you’re not actually writing. You have to let those ideas develop and see if they really have legs. (Not to worry, I didn’t crash into anything!)

Once we were back in Hong Kong, I hit the ground running to make my editor deadline for the final draft of Dance of Steel. After a month away from the computer, I spent about 100 hours at Starbucks over the course of 12 days.

Hong Kong cooperated by being furiously rainy and dreary for all 12 days.

At 136,145 words, Dance of Steel has ended up being my longest book by 40,000 words.

It was a great way to get back into my routine—and it warned me to budget more time for each draft now that my books are getting longer. Finishing a book is a always a marathon, but I need to continue to work on my pacing.

From aspiring…to official full-time author!

The good news is, six years after I left Arizona, I’m officially making a living as a writer(!!). The month of May was the tipping point, when I published the second book in my Steel and Fire series, Duel of Fire, and my sales began to take off. This series has done exponentially better than my previous (Seabound) fantasy series.

Dance of Steel is the sixth novel I have published under my Jordan Rivet pen name. In the four months since, I’ve met or exceeded my previous day-job income.

And one more exciting piece of news: I signed with a literary agent to represent the auxiliary rights to the series and have now secured a three-book audio deal!

I will have to keep working hard and publishing often to maintain this momentum, but for now, it’s an exciting milestone to celebrate.

steel-and-fire-series_sept-2016

Onwards and upwards…

It’s good to be back at work after the time off. I’m now 80,000 words into the fourth book in the series (not counting thousands of words of notes).

My goal is to finish in time for a Christmas or New Year launch. I’m also working on getting out to writing and social events more often and establishing a sustainable working pace that allows me to put out a book every three or four months.

I’m in this for the long haul now. I want to keep learning, stay excited about the process, and make each book better than the last one:

Thank you, my dear Displaced Diary, for all your help and encouragement along the way!

Yours,

Shannon Young
AKA Jordan Rivet
www.shannonyoungwriter.com
www.jordanrivet.com

* * *

Shannon, I was watching an interview with the playwright Edward Albee, aired to commemorate his death earlier in the month, and he said that whenever he was writing a play, he would “see and hear” the characters in his mind and wait for them to tell him where his story was going. Your road-trip method sounds a little like his! Thanks once again for sharing your latest news. It’s uplifting! ~ML

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DIARY OF AN EXPAT WRITER: How to swashbuckle your way into productivity (whether you’re a writer or not)

Diary of an Expat Writer
American expat in Hong Kong and aspiring writer Shannon Young officially met her monthly income target in April, and in May had already achieved that target in 20 days. How did she get so productive?

Dear Displaced Diary,

It’s hard to believe it has already been two months since my last entry. The past five months have been exceptionally productive. As I mentioned in a previous entry, I wanted to get my new fantasy series off the ground by publishing the first two books within two months of each other. At that time, the first book, Duel of Fire, had just come out.

Well, I’m happy to report that Book 2, King of Mist, launched this past week!

First two steel and fire books

For this entry I thought I’d take a step back to tell you about how I stay focused now that I am self-employed and my deadlines are generally self-imposed. (Even if you’re not a writer but are one of those expats with a side-gig or remote career—I suspect many trailing partners fall into this category—my strategies may be useful to you as well.)

The other reason I want to talk about this is that I’ve had a rather unproductive week—at least from a writing standpoint. The weeks when I release a book, it’s way too tempting to spend all my time refreshing my sales graph. So I also want to remind myself what I do to stay productive in hopes that it will get me back in the groove.

So here it is: Shannon’s Productivity Plan or, given that I’m now writing swashbuckling fantasy: How to Swashbuckle Your Way into Productivity.

Keep regular hours.

I go to Starbucks every day at 11:00 a.m. and stay until 6:00 or 7:00 p.m. My mood and feelings on any given morning do not dictate whether or not I show up for work. I’ve tried going in earlier, but I find that I don’t usually get in the zone until 11:00 anyway, so I don’t force it. (Between you and me, not having to get up early is the best part of being a writer!) I catch up on news and social media, read emails, and check sales stats over breakfast before I leave the apartment, so I won’t be distracted by those things when it’s time to get to work.

Don’t take weekdays off.

It’s all too easy to reward yourself with days off when you work for yourself. I honestly think the biggest key to my productivity is that I don’t take days off except on extremely rare occasions. If I finish a book or draft on Wednesday, I start the next one on Thursday. Starting a new project is hard. If you simply roll right into it, you get to keep your momentum, and don’t have time to feel daunted by the challenges a new project presents.

Do take weekends off.

Burnout is real. I want to sustain this career for the long haul, so I don’t work weekends unless I’m on a serious roll or approaching a big deadline. I’ll sometimes go to a café for a few hours on a weekend afternoon—but I treat that as a bonus (as I quite enjoy writing), rather than a necessity.

Use the chunky method.

I block out my to-do lists by week rather than by day. I find it’s a lot more effective to set a word-count goal of, say, 15,000 in a week versus 3,000 per day. That way if you have a rough day, you’ll have a chance to make it up. Feeling like you’ve failed or haven’t lived up to your expectations for yourself can kill your productivity.

This method is especially helpful for edits, which are much harder to divide up by word count. One day you might edit 20,000 words and the next you might only get through 10,000 with the same amount of time and effort. If you plan to finish a draft within a given two-week period, you have some leeway on your day-to-day progress.

This method also makes it easier to figure out when a book will be finished so I can reserve my editor and cover designer at the right time. I also often group related tasks and tackle them all at once. Don’t feel bad if you miss a task on any given day. And if you finish your tasks early in the week, you can get more writing done!

Use breaks strategically

I’m now at the point where I can write for 6–8 hours in a single day, but I do usually hit a wall around the 4- or 5-hour mark. This is when I eat a late lunch and sometimes switch to another task (like email) for a little while before jumping back into the book. I don’t need to tell you how important it is to control your Internet and phone usage. Keep it confined to your lunch breaks! I’ve written before about the importance of sustaining writing focus: it’s a muscle you have to exercise.

What if you get stuck?

I’m definitely in the “writer’s block is a myth” camp. I believe if you show up and keep working, you will eventually break through the wall. No existential angst required! However, sometimes you have days where it’s harder to get in the zone. When this happens I have three tactics that usually work:

1 – Stay in the chair.
Keep your usual working hours, even if you’re not getting much done. Chances are you will find your groove a lot sooner than if you give up and go home.

2 – Work on something else.
You’re writing more than one book, right? Switch to a different one. Work on your outline by hand. Do a different essential task. Make sure you’re still in your chair. Checking something else off your to-do list is a great way to get back the motivation you need to keep writing. This is the strategy I’ve been using this week. I prepared an audition script for the forthcoming Seabound audio book and listened to samples from dozens of narrators. It was really exciting to wake up to a handful of completed auditions this morning!

3 – Read something good.
This is the method for when all else fails. Nothing helps to get the juices flowing in your head like reading a good, fast-paced novel. Make sure you choose a story you can get lost in without your writer or editor brain getting in the way. I have a few trusted authors who I know will give me a satisfying reading experience, including Lindsay Buroker and Sarah J. Maas. This isn’t a time to try a new writer. Stick to your favorites when you’re stuck.

Set big goals.

I’ve written before about what keeps me motivated. I want to build a career that I can sustain indefinitely without having to get piecemeal teaching work. The thought of that keeps the fire alive, even when work becomes a slog. I’ve barely looked up from my computer for the past five months. But I’ve also finished and published three novels in that time, one of which I hadn’t even started before the beginning of 2016.

In April of this year, I officially met the monthly income target I established as a signifier of whether I was going to make it or not. In May I passed that milestone in 20 days. So I guess this is my job!

Thanks for staying with me, diary. Reaching this target has taken longer than I expected at first, but it has been a great journey. I still feel like I’m just getting started!

Readers, I hope some of these tips will be useful in your own writing or self-employment journey. Do you have any other productivity strategies you’d like to share?

Now it’s time to jump back in to Steel and Fire Book 3!

Yours,

Shannon Young
AKA Jordan Rivet
www.shannonyoungwriter.com
www.jordanrivet.com

* * *

Shannon, I am definitely one of those people who needs to swashbuckle my way into  self-discipline, particularly when it comes to writing. I can always think of an excuse to procrastinate! I really value your advice, and am sure other readers will as well. Thank you, as always! ~ML

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Photo credit: The swashbuckler was downloaded from Pixabay.

CULTURE SHOCK TOOLBOX: Expats, don’t wear ear protectors when neighbors offer advice, and confidence works like a charm!

Clockwise from top left: Rashmi Dalai author photo (supplied); one of her kids’ Bali t-shirts (for sale online); toolbox (Pixabay); and cover of Dail’s cookbook.

Transitions enthusiast H.E. Rybol talks to a star writer for Wall Street Journal Expat for this month’s column.

Hello, Displaced Nationers!

Today, I’m introducing you to Rashmi Jolly Dalai, a writer and communications strategist who divides her time between New York City and Singapore. Rashmi writes about cultural diversity, identity, Third Culture Kids and more on her blog and for Wall Street Journal Expat. One of her most popular articles for the latter concerns the addictive nature of expat life (yes!).

Rashmi grew up in rural Pennsylvania, the child of Indian immigrants. She claims she hasn’t retained much of her Indian heritage, calling herself in a recent blog post

“an ABCD, American Born Confused Desi, someone who should hang on to her culture but didn’t.”

Her own two children, both under age nine, have parents from America and India, grew up in China, and now live in Singapore. While raising her son and daughter, Rashmi has published a rhyming bilingual (Chinese-English) picture book called Mika the Picky Eater, followed by a bilingual collection of recipes for kids of all ages called The Picky Eater’s Cookbook and another bilingual children’s book, Sasha the Stubborn Sleeper.

And now she has helped her children launch a creative project called Smiling Designs for Kids. “The kids designed their own t-shirts in Bali and have started selling them online,” she explains. “It’s the modern-day third culture kid version of a global lemonade stand, complete with a social mission. They donate 25 percent of the proceeds to Pencils of Promise, a charity that builds schools around the world.”

Rashmi also serves on the board of Kundiman, an organization “dedicated to the creation and cultivation of Asian American literature.”

She kindly took the time out of her intense schedule to share some of her culture shock stories with us. Join us as we talk about not listening to your neighbor, good luck charms and more…

* * *

Hi, Rashmi, and welcome to Culture Shock Toolbox. Tell us, which countries have you lived in and for how long?

Outside the United States (my home, as you explained), I’ve lived in London (two years), Shanghai (seven years), Indonesia (six months) and Singapore (since August of last year). We moved to London for my work, to Shanghai for my husband’s work, to Singapore for both of our works. Our son suffered from a lot of pollutant-related respiratory issues in Shanghai, so that explains our stay in Indonesia for six months. We took him to Bali to get healthy. Plus, I wanted to live there.

In the course of your many cultural transitions, have you ever ended up with your foot in your mouth?

Sure, I’ve had many awkward cross-cultural moments. Like most Americans, I’ve made the mistake of calling trousers “pants” in London—“pants” means underwear in British English. When learning Mandarin during our stay in China, I frequently confused the word “four” for the word “dead”. People rolled their eyes, laughed a bit and corrected me. I find that people are very forgiving of strange foreigner behavior, especially when it’s not badly intentioned. I also once spent a month eating tofu and spinach to lose weight—blithely ignoring my Chinese neighbor’s warnings that the combination can cause kidney stones. It did.

How did you handle that situation? Would you handle it any differently now? What are the tools that you think are most useful for adapting to this kind of scenario?

If given a second chance, I definitely would’ve listened to my neighbor’s advice about the kidney stones.

Photo credit: Spinach-Tofu, by Kenneth Lu via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Right! Did you hear that? Don’t wear ear protectors if it means tuning out advice from local residents. Rashmi, can you think of a situation you handled with finesse, and why do you think that was?

While in Bali, I learned how to drive stick shift. This was no small feat as the roads are dangerously busy and narrow, but I was determined to experience the island on my own terms. I think my positive attitude acted like a good-luck charm. I managed to drive a local van for six months without knocking over a person or damaging the car—total wins under the circumstances.

I like that story! If you had any advice for someone moving abroad for the first time, what tool would you suggest they develop first?

Don’t take yourself too seriously. Ask questions before you judge. Learn, learn, learn. And make sure you consult with locals about which tools to use for coping with unfamiliar foods and living conditions.

Photo credits: (top row) Scooter, by Frank Douwes via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Shiva shell charm via Pixabay (it transforms and mutes negative energy); (bottom row) An all too common sight in Asia, by Rollan Budi via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); Good old stick shift, by Matt via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Thank you so much, Rashmi, for taking the time to share your culture shock stories with us! We travelers can always use a reminder about the need to take our cues from local residents, or else we may need to invest in a new tool—a pop-out punch to get rid of those kidney stones?! And adding some good luck charms, such as positivity and humo(u)r, to our toolboxes is particularly welcome advice for the Displaced Nation. We’re a site that prides itself on not taking cross-cultural tensions too seriously and finding a path to a more relaxed expat life.

* * *

Have I got that right, Displaced Nationers? How long did it take you to realize the importance of seeking out, and heeding, local advice? And how about humor: has it played an important role in helping you manage intercultural situations? I’d love to hear your stories! Share them in the comments below…

If you want to learn more about what Rashmi Jolly Dalai has to say, I recommend you visit her author site and keep an eye out for her Wall Street Journal Expat posts for further inspiration. You can also like her Facebook page and follow her on Twitter.

Well, hopefully this has you “fixed” until next month.

Until then. Prost! Santé!

H.E. Rybol is a TCK and the author of Culture Shock: A Practical Guide and Culture Shock Toolbox and the newly published Reverse Culture Shock. She loves animals, piano, yoga and being outdoors. You can find her on Twitter, Linkedin, Goodreads, and, of course, her author site.  

STAY TUNED for more fab posts.

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LOCATION, LOCUTION: Scottish expat writer Clare Kane’s novel immerses readers in 1930s Shanghai—plus we’re giving away her book and Donna Leon’s latest!

New columnist Tracey Warr arrives with her first interview guest, the displaced Scottish writer, Clare Kane. **NOTE: Help celebrate her opening column by becoming one of the lucky readers to win Clare’s book and Donna Leon’s latest. Details below.**

My guest this month is novelist Clare Kane. She was born in Scotland but has lived most of her life elsewhere. After studying Chinese at Oxford and working as a Reuters journalist in Madrid, she is currently living in Shanghai, where she works in marketing for TNS (she has a fellowship with WPP, the world’s largest communications services group). She spends her free time exploring the city’s past which she vividly evokes in her debut novel, Electric Shadows of Shanghai.

(And when she’s not writing about the past or researching markets, she’s writing about fashion and why we wear what we wear.)

Electric Shadows of Shanghai creates a fascinating world populated by British diplomats and wives, American journalists, glamorous stars of the Chinese silent film and Russian taxi-dancers turned ballerinas. It poignantly captures how the dreams and desires of these expat and Chinese inhabitants of the city lead them to interact and clash.

Electric-Shadows-high-res-cover-400x

Clare and I share a publisher, Impress Books, but have never met.

Let’s meet her now and hear her views on location, locution.

* * *

Welcome, Clare, to Location, Locution, and thank you for agreeing to be my very first guest. Can I ask which came first, story or location?

Location without a doubt. I’ve always been fascinated by China, and most of my short fiction writing is set there. But time also plays a part. As you pointed out in your introduction, my novel Electric Shadows of Shanghai is set in the 1930s, a particularly rich era in Shanghai’s history when as a free port it attracted people from all over the world: Jews fleeing Nazi Germany, White Russians escaping the Bolsheviks and plenty of adventurers looking to make their fortune.

The story couldn’t have taken place anywhere but Shanghai in the 1930s. Plots are built on conflict and the tensions that existed then helped shaped the story. China was pushing towards modernity, women were bobbing their hair and young men were returning from overseas educations to promote foreign ideas of democracy but these advances were overshadowed by political tensions, the constant threat of Japan and inequalities between rich and poor.

I knew I wanted to write about Shanghai, which has long been my favourite place in the world. Prior to living here each visit was a jolt to the senses, a reminder I was alive. The novel was also driven by my interest in Ruan Lingyu, a silent film actress from the time popular for her modern fashions, progressive ideas and films tackling tough social realities. I also wanted to write about the Russians who came to Shanghai, aristocrats who found themselves working as bodyguards and nightclub dancers (and those were the lucky ones). And I’d long had an idea in my head about a British couple coming to the city and it tearing their marriage apart (as it still does to this day). I pulled these various threads together into one plot and that is Electric Shadows of Shanghai

What techniques do you use for evoking place in your stories? After all, the action takes place long ago.

First, I have to get a hold on the atmosphere myself. With Shanghai it’s easy: I live here. Evoking the past is harder, but not impossible. The city is full of Art Deco haunts almost unchanged from their glory days in the 1930s, where for a moment you can feel like you’ve travelled in time. I also think that despite all the changes that have taken place over the last century, Shanghai probably feels very much as it did in the 1930s. A place of possibility, drawing eclectic characters from around the world. The seedy underbelly that existed then is still here now. And the clash of high and low living—cocktail bars next to noodle stalls—is still very much present.

But I don’t think you should bore the reader with lengthy descriptions of place. It’s about building on any impressions they may already have of a place by weaving in details to the narrative and letting their imaginations do the rest. No reader is a blank slate and I’ve found that even people who have never been to Shanghai nor given the place much thought have an impression of exoticism and glamour when they hear “Shanghai”. It’s my job to build on that, encouraging certain ideas and tearing down others.

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

Tapping into senses other than sight is vital. Descriptions of buildings and landscapes get dull very quickly. I find it’s the snippets of sound, the wafts of smell, that really build a place in the mind. But the people are perhaps most indicative of a place. Not in terms of what it looks like on a map but in how it shapes people. When I look at the characters in my novel many of them are striving, determined to build something in the city, while others are more dissolute, giving in to the sleaze and losing themselves to the night. Each type—and no character is completely clear-cut—reflects their surroundings in their actions.

Can you give a brief example from your writing that illustrates place?

These are the opening lines of Electric Shadows of Shanghai:

Over a million women in Shanghai and one in thirteen a prostitute. Another myth of the Orient, Will thought, when Rollo told him a couple of hours earlier. But he recalled it now on the threshold of the Paradise, its neon promise reflected on the cobbles of the alleyway darkening in milky dusk. They were right on the edge of the International Settlement now, where the sombre society of the Bund gave way to the sweet tang of the night that made the two syllables of Shanghai so thrilling to the foreign ear.

I wanted to plunge the reader into Old Shanghai right away, and I tried to do this both through literal description and by inviting the reader to recall their own impressions of Shanghai (“so thrilling to the foreign ear”).

You live in Shanghai and describe yourself as a Chinese history geek. IN general, how well do you think you need to know a place before using it as a setting?

I have written about places I’ve never visited and I don’t think writers should rule somewhere out just because they aren’t personally familiar with it. Writing is about imagination, after all. It depends on how key place is to the story, how much knowing where this street meets that one impacts on the plot. You run the risk of offending people if you misrepresent a place and doubly so if you’ve never even been there. But if it’s the mood of the place that matters—the bustle of New York in the 1980s, the bleakness of the North Korean countryside—rather than the reality of it, I don’t think we should be precious about places. But research is always key. If you’re not going to research a place, why use it? Just invent a place instead.

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

One of my favourite authors is Janice Y K Lee, who has written two novels about Hong Kong. Both are incredibly evocative. She captures the place on every level: the physical look and feel of it and the society that populates the islands. She very gently unravels all the tensions of the place and I love that in her latest book, The Expatriates, she does that through the stories of various women living there.

I’m also a big fan of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I know absolutely nothing about Nigeria but she brings it to life with every word. She makes the reader feel totally comfortable, unveiling place and history as part of an engaging story. I love that she weaves the stories of everyday people into huge historical events. She humanises history. And like Lee, place is key to her novels. They couldn’t take place anywhere else.

Clare's picks for novelists who have mastered the art of writing about place

Clare’s picks for novelists who have mastered the art of writing about place

Thanks so much, Clare.

* * *

Readers, any questions for Clare? Please leave them in the comments below.

And if you would like to discover more about Clare, you can visit her author site. You can also follow her on twitter.

*******************************BOOK GIVEAWAY*******************************
To celebrate the launch of this new series of interviews, I am giving away:

1) A copy of Donna Leon’s new Brunetti novel, The Waters of Eternal Youth, the 25th in this excellent series, available for the first two readers (US addresses only for this one I’m afraid!) to email Tracey with the names of Brunetti’s wife and children. Answers to traceykwarr@gmail.com

2) A free ebook (via Apple iBooks store) of Clare Kane’s Electric Shadows of Shanghai for the first two readers (anywhere) to email Tracey with the name of the main river that flows through Shanghai. Answers to traceykwarr@gmail.com
****************************************************************************

À bientôt! Till next time when my guest will be an English novelist living part-time in France and writing about Portugal in her new novel.

* * *

Thank you so much, Tracey! Shanghai in the 1930s was its own kind of displaced nation, so what a great choice of author/book to kick off the series. And that giveaway—it’s fabulous! —ML Awanohara

Tracey Warr is an English writer living mostly in France. She has published two medieval novels and her forthcoming novel, Conquest: Daughter of the Last King, set in 12th century Wales and England, will be published by Impress Books in the autumn.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab post!

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Photo credits: Top of page: (LOCATION ROW) Author photo and book cover (supplied); The World Book (1920), by Eric Fischer via Flickr (CC BY 2.0). (LOCUTION ROW) “Writing? Yeah.” by Caleb Roenigk via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); 24 Shanghai street scene, by mksfca via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0); Shanghai street scenes 1, by Wolfgang Staudt via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

DIARY OF AN EXPAT WRITER: A tale of two names, Shannon Young (expat writer) and Jordan Rivet (hipster expat writer)

Diary of an Expat Writer
The last time we heard from American expat in Hong Kong and aspiring writer Shannon Young, she was hatching some big plans for 2016. So, how many books has she managed to crank out since? Prepare to be amazed…!

Dear Displaced Diary,

As you may recall, two months ago I laid out my goals for the beginning of 2016:

  1. Finish and publish Ferry Tale, a love story set in Hong Kong, under the name Shannon Young.
  2. Compile and publish a box set of the Seabound trilogy.
  3. Finish and publish Duel of Fire, the first book in my new fantasy series, under the name Jordan Rivet.

I’m happy to report I’m right on track:

#1 Ferry Tale launched in ebook and paperback just in time for Valentine’s Day. It’s a classic romantic comedy with a modern twist, featuring an American woman and a Chinese Canadian man. Here’s the cover, designed by James at GoOnWrite.com:

Ferry Tale_cover

#2 The Complete Seabound Trilogy Box Set launched in March, along with one of my most successful promotions to date. This is a compilation of the post-apocalyptic adventure set at sea that I released over the course of 13 months, starting in November 2014. (I’ve reported about my progress on this in previous diary entries.)

#3 Duel of Fire is finished, edited, polished, and formatted. It went on sale last Friday, April 1st, right on schedule (no fooling!). Here is the cover from Deranged Doctor Design. PLEASE NOTE: It costs $0.99 for the first week, so definitely pick up a copy SOON if you like sword fights, magic, adventure, and a hint of romance!
Duel Of Fire - Jordan Rivet_cover

I’m currently hard at work on the sequel, King of Mist, which will come out in May.

What’s in a (pen) name, really?

You might notice that these books are published under two different names. Shannon Young is the name given to me at birth, and I picked my pseudonym, Jordan Rivet, myself.

Have you ever wondered about that, Dear Diary? Were you thinking I might have a dual personality?

The simple answer as to why I write under two names is branding. Looking at those two book covers, which hopefully communicate their genres at a glance, you’d never know the same person wrote the books. They are not similar in any way, so you would never scan past Duel of Fire in a listing of books on Amazon and think: “It’s another Shannon Young book! I have to stop and click!”

Ferry and Fire covers

You probably wouldn’t even be looking at the same lists. Although some readers enjoy both epic fantasies and romantic comedies (I like to read both, after all), for the most part these books are targeted to distinct groups.

To some, I am known as Shannon Young

The Shannon Young “brand” is already quite eclectic. It includes a bit of travel, a bit of romance, some stuff about being an expat, and some stuff about being a millennial. These bits and pieces are a reflection of my writing journey—and myself as a person. However, they haven’t established me as a type of author in the way that, say Nicholas Sparks, Jodi Picoult, or Malcolm Gladwell are understood to represent a particular type of book.

Indeed, although my Shannon Young work represents me as a growing and changing person, my first love as a reader has always been fantasy and science fiction.

Diary, I seem to be evolving in the direction of a Nora Roberts. Roberts is of course known for one type of fiction (romance), whereas her pseudonym, JD Robb, is famous for another type (futuristic scifi police procedurals). Except that I’m approaching it the other way around: building a brand around my pseudonym first, as my Jordan Rivet books outsell my Shannon Young books by a significant margin. Launching the Jordan Rivet name meant launching an income-generating career.

Enter: Jordan Rivet

When I started the Seabound Chronicles, a post-apocalyptic adventure set at sea, I already knew it wouldn’t match my existing books. My readers wouldn’t necessarily follow me quite that far across a genre divide. I also knew I’d likely write some high fantasy when I became a good enough writer to try my hand at my very favorite genre of all. Since I’d be starting from scratch with my readership, I figured I’d go the whole way and create a new Science Fiction & Fantasy (SFF) brand.

The Jordan Rivet name has never been a secret identity (unlike JK Rowling’s Robert Galbraith), but I had fun choosing the name and thinking about how to present the brand. It was a creative exercise just like developing a character for a novel. I wanted a name that was:

  • gender ambiguous (hello, scifi readers!)
  • uncommon enough that I’d no longer be confused with all the other Youngs out there (they are legion).

And the name I settled on even pays homage to one of my favorite fantasy writers (RIP Robert Jordan).

I like to think of Jordan Rivet as the cooler, sexier version of myself. She works harder, writes faster, is better at writing dialogue, and takes more risks than the more introspective Shannon Young.

Shannon meet Jordan

You expats will likely recognize this split-personality complex. You probably feel like a different version of yourself depending on which country you are in at any given time. And you know what it’s like to resume an old role when you return to your home country for a visit and pick up right where you left off as soon as the holiday ends.

Surprisingly, it’s possible to do this as a writer as well.

Two publishing paths diverged in a narrow . . . hipster neighborhood?

Diary, as you may have gleaned from my previous entries, there’s a further way Shannon Young and Jordan Rivet differ: in their publishing paths. I’ve only ever queried agents and publishers and signed traditional book deals as Shannon Young. It’s very much a hybrid name and includes some small press titles, an audiobook deal, a Kindle Single, and some self-published work. As Shannon Young, I’ve been able to speak at the Hong Kong International Literary Festival and present the traditionally published “stamp of legitimacy” that some outlets still require.

But Jordan Rivet is an indie name all the way. I’ve never submitted a Jordan Rivet story to an agent. I publish the books when they are edited and ready, not when someone tells me I can. It has been incredibly empowering to take this path, and it has prompted me to improve my writing and to pay more attention to the market.

And you know something, Diary, I have a good feeling about Duel of Fire, a book that wouldn’t exist yet if I were still waiting for the Seabound series to make its way through the traditional pipeline.

Obviously, different methods are right for different books and different types of writers. But indie publishing has allowed me to take my work to the next level, and I can’t wait to see the outcome of the launch that began this past weekend. Don’t forget to pick up your discounted copy pronto!
Duel April 1

So, Diary, that is the story of why I write under two different names. When people ask me what I write in real life, small talk gets a bit complicated—a bit like when a Third Culture Kid being asked where they’re from! (My author pages on Amazon make a lot more sense!)

Until next time,

Shannon Young
AKA Jordan Rivet

p.s. to Diary Readers: Do you have experiences you can share where you’ve adopted different personas in different situations? Do these personas come with different names too?

* * *

To answer your question, Shannon, I definitely think we expats and former expats are candidates for multiple names. We’re after all the kind of people who like to live out our fantasies, and some of us even write about them. Thanks for being one of them, Jordan! 🙂 ~ML

STAY TUNED for more fab posts!

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Photo credits: Photos of Shannon and her books were supplied.

BOOKLUST, WANDERLUST: 6 writers talk expat- and travel-themed books: last year’s faves, this year’s must-reads

booklust-wanderlust-2015

Attention displaced bookworms! Our book review columnist, Beth Green, an American expat in Prague (she is also an Adult Third Culture Kid), has canvassed several international creatives for their favorite expat- and travel-themed books of 2015, along with what’s on their bedside tables in 2016.

Hello, Displaced Nationers!

Last month I wrote to you about my Goodreads Reading Challenge, which, at 34 books and counting, is still proving (ahem) something of a challenge.

For this month’s column, instead of focusing on my 300-book goal, I decided to find out what other international creatives, several of whom have been featured in this column and/or on the Displaced Nation, have been reading.

I asked each of them to answer these two questions:

  1. What were the best books you read last year on displaced/expat/travel themes?
  2. What books are you looking forward to this year in the same or similar genres?  

Their responses are nothing short of tantalizing!

So much so that I’m now wondering…can I squeeze any more in?!

Please take a look:

* * *

MARK ADAMS, bestselling author

For the last several months I’ve been working on a new book about Alaska, so the 49th State has occupied a lot of my reading hours. Naturally, I’ve reread John McPhee’s classic Coming into the Country and Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild. But two slightly less well-known books with an Alaska connection have really stuck with me.

John Muir and the Ice That Started a Fire_coverThe first is John Muir and the Ice that Started a Fire: How a Visionary and the Glaciers of Alaska Changed America, by Kim Heacox (Lyons Press, 2014). This is a great example of history that comes alive by weaving names, dates and events with passion for a cause, in this case environmentalism. Today, Alaska’s shrinking glaciers are viewed mostly by passengers aboard cruise ships who look up while sampling their breakfast buffets. To Muir, though, they were living things, mysteries that held timeless wisdom. Heacox makes a stirring argument that Muir’s early trips to Alaska jump-started the modern conservation movement.

Deadliest_State_coverThe second book is Kalee Thompson’s The Deadliest Sea: The Untold Story Behind the Greatest Rescue in Coast Guard History (Harper-Collins, 2010). When I realized that my book research was going to take me deep into the Bering Sea, which I wasn’t even sure I could place on a map, I reached for a copy of this. I’m not sure it was the right choice for someone who’ll be sailing those frigid and famously turbulent waters soon, but any readers who like tales along the lines of The Perfect Storm or Black Hawk Down will find that Thompson’s tick-tock re-creation of this lifesaving mission really places them amid the freezing chaos of the action.

Sunnys_Nights_coverOne book I’ve already read and loved in 2016 takes place very far from Alaska. It’s Tim Sultan’s delightful Sunny’s Nights: Lost and Found at a Bar on the Edge of the World, a memoir that tells the story of a curious young man who lands in Brooklyn in the mid-1990s after a peripatetic and somewhat disorienting youth in Laos, the Ivory Coast and Germany. Sultan finds a home at what must be the strangest tavern north of New Orleans—Sunny’s opens only one night a week and its clientele runs from Mafiosi to nuns—and takes on the bar’s namesake owner as a sort of surrogate father. It’s a stained-glass window offering a nostalgic glimpse of a Brooklyn that has largely vanished.

The Seven Storey Mountain_coverNow, a book I’m looking forward to reading this year: The Seven Storey Mountain, by Thomas Merton (Harcourt Brace; Fiftieth Anniversary ed., 1998). When I attended Catholic school in the 1970s, there were probably copies of Thomas Merton’s huge bestseller in every classroom, which is a shame, because most grade schoolers would be more interested in reading the phone book. Now that I’m older and no longer required to recite the Lord’s Prayer along with the Pledge of Allegiance every morning, I have the life experience that pushes one to ponder big questions, such as the meaning of life. Merton made that leap much earlier; he was an urbane, Ivy League-educated writer who abandoned a budding career at age 23 to cloister himself in a Kentucky monastery. (As a writer, I’m almost as awed by his decision to donate all royalties to his monastic order.) This is the story of his circuitous path toward embracing a life of pure spirituality.

Mark Adams is the bestselling author of Meet Me in Atlantis: My Obsessive Quest to Find the Sunken City, which was reviewed for this column in May of last year.


JENNIFER ALDERSON, expat and author

Savage Harvest_coverLast year, while researching my third novel, I was lucky enough to come across Carl Hoffman’s Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller’s Tragic Quest for Primitive Art (2014) It is simply one of the best nonfiction travel adventure stories I have read in a very long time. An award-winning American journalist, Hoffman recounts his fascinating journey to Papua New Guinea, where he retraces the last art-collecting expedition made by anthropologist Michael Rockefeller. He juxtaposes his own travels through the Asmat region with a fictive reconstruction of Rockefeller’s final days before his mysterious disappearance, based on extensive archival research and new eyewitness accounts. He effortlessly combines mystery, adventure, personal self-discovery and colonial history into one captivating novel.

The Travelers_cover
When reviewing my bookshelf last week, I noticed I’ve bought quite a few international thrillers and mysteries featuring American expat protagonists this past year. So in that vein, I’m most looking forward to reading Chris Pavone’s The Travelers, (Crown, March 2016). Pavone is an American writer whose first novel, The Expats, is set primarily in the capitals of Luxembourg, Belgium and France. That book was a stylish, fast-paced thriller, yet what caught my attention the most was the lyrical and natural way in which he described these cities without slowing the plot down. His latest thriller promises to crisscross South America and Europe. I can’t wait to read it!

Gallery Pieces_coverAnother mystery/thriller I just learned about is Gallery Pieces: An Art Mystery, by Larry Witham (Archway Publishing, 2015). It’s about an American art expert who travels through Europe attempting to track down artwork stolen during World War Two. it sounds like a great story. Editor’s note: Larry Witham is a former journalist and foreign correspondent who became a full-time writer and artist (painting and drawing) around ten years ago.

Jennifer S. Alderson is the author of Down and Out in Kathmandu and American expat in the Netherlands.


MARIANNE BOHR, Displaced Nation columnist and memoirist

TheRentCollectorOf the travel/expat books I read in 2015, three come to mind immediately. The first is The Rent Collector, by Camron Wright (Shadow Mountain, 2013). This gritty yet heart-warming story is set in the largest municipal dump located on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, a country about which I knew little. A couple with a chronically ill son live in a hovel in the dump, surviving day-to-day from what they can salvage and sell. They struggle to pay the titular rent collector, a bitter, alcoholic woman, every month. Books play a key role in this tale of perseverance.

Wright was inspired to write the book by his son Trevor’s 2012 documentary, River of Victory, who in turn was inspired by the people he met when volunteering as a humanitarian aid worker for the Cambodian Children’s Fund.

A Sport and a Pastime_coverLast year I also enjoyed reading the classic novel A Sport and a Pastime, by James Salter, which was originally published in 1967. (it was republished by Open Road Media in 2012). It’s an erotic tale told in tight prose that takes place in a small town in France. I couldn’t put it down.
Editor’s note: James Salter, who died last year, had a passion for European culture and particularly for France. Though he eventually became a full-time writer, he started his life as an officer in the United States Air Force, just after the end of World War II, and was stationed overseas, in Korea, Germany and France.

Coconut Latitudes_coverAnother book I enjoyed was The Coconut Latitudes: Secrets, Storms and Survival in the Caribbean, by Rita M. Gardner. It’s a coming-of-age memoir set in the Dominican Republic, where Gardner’s father transplanted his young American family. What begins as a dream of life in paradise soon takes a few wrong turns. The book, which came out a year before mine with She Writes Press, was a Gold Medal Winner for Autobiography/Memoir at the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Awards. Editor’s Note: Rita Gardner is a Displaced Nationer who was interviewed for A Picture Says… and featured for Valentine’s Day. Her book was on our “Best of 2014” list.)

Things Can Only Get Feta_coverThis year, I’m looking forward to reading Things Can Only Get Feta: Two journalists and their crazy dog living through the Greek crisis, by Marjory McGinn (2nd Ed.; Pelagos Press, 2015)
I’ve read many memoirs about expats on the isles of Greece, but this one by a transplanted Scottish couple intrigues me because of its location on the Mani Peninsula of the Peloponnese. The rugged landscape and fierce independent people of this part of Greece has always been on my list to visit for an extended period of time, and I can’t wait to delve into this volume. Editor’s note: Marjory McGinn’s sequel, Homer Is Where the Heart Is, made the Displaced Nation’s Best of 2015 nonfiction expat books.

TheDiscoveryofFrance_coverAnother volume on my bedside table is The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography, by Graham Robb (W.W. Norton & Company, 2008). I have owned this book for almost eight years, ever since it was published. I am a Francophile through and through and yet, the book keeps getting pushed aside for others. A history of France from the perspective of its provinces, it received outstanding reviews when it was published, and I am determined to read it in 2016. Editor’s note: For those who like stories of displacement, the author, Graham Robb, is originally from Manchester, UK, but took his Ph.D. in French literature from the University of Tennessee. He married an alumna of Vanderbilt University, and they live in Oxford, UK.

Peanut Butter and Naan_cover Another book on my to-read list is Jennifer Hillman-Magnuson’s Peanut Butter and Naan: Stories of an American Mom in the Far East, which came out with She Writes Press in 2014. This story by a woman whose husband is transferred from the US to India intrigued me the moment I read a review. They uproot their family of five children from their pampered existence in Nashville, Tennessee, to India, where they encounter extreme poverty, malaria, and no conveniences. I’m particularly interested in reading about how the children reacted to the move.

Marianne C. Bohr is the author of Gap Year Girl: A Baby Boomer Adventure Across 21 Countries, which came out last year with She Writes Press. It was on the Displaced Nation’s Best of 2015 list for expat nonfiction. She also contributes an occasional column, World of Words, to the Displaced Nation.


JESSICA PAN, expat and memoirist

TheUnbecoming_coverThe best book I read last year about displaced/expat/travel themes was The Unbecoming, by Rebecca Scherm (Viking, 2015). It’s about a first-class jewel thief Julie from California, who’s really Grace from Tennessee. She makes her way to Paris, where she works for a shady antiques restorer, turning out objets d’art that are exquisite fakes. I loved how the protagonist re-invents herself in Paris—and yet, of course, her past comes back to find her. Gripping and inventive, with an unpredictable love story.

This year I’m looking forward to reading Cities I’ve Never Lived In: Stories, by Sara Majka, which came out with Graywolf Press in January. Cities_Ive_Never_Lived_In_coverOnce again, these linked short stories are about reinvention, which is one of my favorite things about living abroad (and I like to think about the many versions of myself I’ve formed and perhaps left in Beijing, Melbourne and now London).

Majka’s is the second book to come out in a collaboration between Graywolf and the journal A Public Space, to which Majka has contributed (they are also promoting her book). She made her debut in the journal seven years ago with the short story “Saint Andrews Hotel”; you can read it here.

Jessica Pan is the co-author of the 2014 memoir Graduates in Wonderland: The International Misadventures of Two (Almost) Adults. A graduate of Brown University, she worked as an editor of an expat magazine and a TV report in Beijing, earned a journalism degree in Melbourne, Australia, and now makes her living as a London-based writer.


H.E. RYBOL, Displaced Nation columnist, adult TCK and author

Write_This_Second_coverOne of the best books I read last year was Write This Second, by Kira Lynne Allen (Prashanti Press, 2015). Written in verse, the book tells the author’s story about overcoming trauma and reclaiming her life. Allen searingly chronicles a childhood blown apart by racism, incest, and rape, and a young adulthood marred by addiction, domestic violence and post-traumatic stress—but then she finds redemption in the recovery process and healing in her art. A sense of displacement permeates part of the book. Like other readers, I found the experience of this book life changing.

Thank You for Being Expendable_coverAnother book I enjoyed reading last year was Thank You For Being Expendable: And Other Experiences, by Colby Buzzell (Byliner, 2015). Buzzell is an Iraq War veteran, and he wrote these stories, 36 in total, over a decade of making his way back home. Though there were aspects of his adventures I didn’t appreciate, I really took to his style. Like Kira Lynne Allen, he is honest and unfiltered. I also liked that he takes his readers to China, England and other places exploring underground culture while he attempts to return to civilian life and the sense of being expendable.

Florence_and_Me_coverMy last pick for top 2015 reads is Florence and Me: The story of how the city of Florence befriended an American girl from Brooklyn, by Elaine Bertolotti (self-published, 2014). Bertolotti is a proud Italian American whose grandparents were born in Italy. She moved to Florence in the 1970s and taught English while also somehow managing to start up her own art studio and sustain an artistic career. She took pains to master the Italian language as well. Bertolotti says she likes to think of herself as one of the pioneers who paved the road for all the Americans who’ve followed her into the expat life in Italy. Her book is a short, fun read.

My Life on the Road_coverThis year I’m looking forward to reading Gloria Steinem’s My Life on the Road (Random House, 2015). Can’t wait!
Beth’s note: I’m also reading this, this month. It’s great so far!
Editor’s note: Steinem’s book, her first in 20 years, is on the Displaced Nation’s Best of 2015 expat nonfiction list. We gave her the status of honorary expat for her extensive travels within and outside the United States.

HE Rybol is the author of Culture Shock: A Practical Guide and contributes the Culture Shock Toolbox column to the Displaced Nation.


SHANNON YOUNG, expat, author, and Displaced Nation columnist

Here Comes the Sun_coverOne of the best books I read last year was the memoir Here Comes the Sun: A Journey to Adoption in 8 Chakras, by Leza Lowitz (Stone Bridge Press, 2015). Lowitz is an American woman who travels to Japan and falls in love with a Japanese man and begins a life with him in Tokyo. Together they pursue adoption and start a yoga studio. What I liked: Lowitz writes about her experiences with heartfelt vulnerability. Her prose is often poetic as she gets at the heart of the displaced experience and explores a longing for motherhood that took her by surprise. Editor’s note: Leza Lowitz still lives in Tokyo with her husband and son. She calls herself an “accidental global citizen.” She is the author of 17 books in several different genres.

Seafaring Women_coverAnother book I enjoyed was Seafaring Women: Adventures of Pirate Queens, Female Stowaways, and Sailors’ Wives, by David Cordingly (Random House, 2009). It’s an account of the lives of women during the golden age of sail. These are true stories of women who left their homes to go to sea and settle in port towns all over the globe. What I liked: This book is a different take on the displaced theme. It explores the lives of real women who had a unique kind of expat experience in the great seafaring days. As with modern expats, some went to sea for adventure, some were pursuing employment opportunities (occasionally but not always disguised as men), and some were accompanying spouses. One thing’s for sure: nothing is better than real-life female pirates!

The Expatriates A Novel_coverThis year, I’m most looking forward to The Expatriates, by Janice Y.K. Lee (Viking, January 2016). Lee’s novel follows the lives of three expatriate women in Hong Kong. Why I’m interested: Lee’s first novel, The Piano Teacher, was one of the first books I read about Hong Kong. In fact, I bought it on the plane after visiting my now-husband several months before moving to Hong Kong to be with him. I’m looking forward to reading her new novel about the expatriate experience and comparing it to my own life as an expat here.

Shannon Young is a Hong Kong-based expat, Displaced Nation columnist (she contributes the bimonthly column Diary of an Expat Writer) and author of the new release Ferry Tale.

* * *

Thanks, everyone, for your contributions!

Still not seeing the right book for your next armchair adventure? Browsing ML’s great posts about fiction and nonfiction reads for 2016 is an excellent place to start. And, if you’re interested in Asia, I’d also recommend this blog post by Australian-born British novelist and writer Renae Lucas Hall, who writes about Japan. She’s listed some very intriguing books about Japan that she read in 2015 or will be reading in 2016.

So, readers, what’s on your bedside tables, and are you planning to add any of the above books?

Till next time and happy reading!

As always, please let me or ML know if you have any suggestions for books you’d like to see reviewed here! And I urge you to sign up for the DISPLACED DISPATCH, which has at least one Recommended Read every week.

STAY TUNED for more fab posts!

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

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BECAUSE WE (ALMOST) MISSED IT: Best of expat nonfiction 2015

Best of Expat Nonfiction 2015

As some readers may recall, I posted, at the end of January, a “best of” list of fiction works by, for, and about expats and other international creatives that came out in 2015.

I know, I know, it should have come out in early December.

And now it’s nearly the end of February, and I still haven’t posted my list of nonfiction books that appeared last year: all of those lovely memoirs, photo guides, guides to expat life, and so on.

But then Leap Day arrived, and I thought to myself: we only get an extra day every four years; why not take the leap and tackle my nonfiction list (so much longer than the fiction one!) once and for all?

Today I present the fruits of my Leap Day labors. May I suggest that you follow my example by springing for one or more of these for your Kindle? Spring is, after all, just around the corner… 🙂

(Hm, if it’s not too late for a New Year’s resolution, I resolve to publish my “best of 2016” list in December. Harumph, do I hear you say? Yes, you are right: famous last words!)

PLEASE NOTE: The books, which include indie as well as traditionally published nonfiction works, are arranged in reverse chronological order.

* * *

The Other Paris_coverThe Other Paris (October 2015)
Author: Luc Sante
Expat credentials: Born in 1954 in Belgium, Sante emigrated to the United States with his family in the early 1960s. On his first visit to Paris, with his mother when he was not quite nine years old, he found the city exciting. Returning as a college student, he couldn’t get enough of the City of Light and spent time hanging out with the literary expat community. Sante currently lives in Ulster County, New York, and teaches at Bard College.
Synopsis: The book surveys the Paris underworld in the 19th and 20th centuries. It echoes Sante’s 1991 debut, Low Life, which provided a similar glance toward the history of New York City, where Sante lived for many years. Both books celebrate the outcast, the criminal, and the bohemian.
How we heard about: From a review by Molly Haskell in the New York Times’s Sunday Book Review.


My Life on the Road_coverMy Life on the Road (Springtime Books, October 2015)
Author: Gloria Steinem
Expat credentials: Born in Ohio and based for many years in New York, the 81-year-old Steinem had an itinerant childhood and has traveled widely throughout the world, first as a journalist and then as a feminist leader. We count her as an international creative!
Synopsis: In her first book in 20 years, Steinem recounts the highlights of her travels across the country and the world to champion women’s rights, listening to stories that changed her perspective. She picked up the idea of a “talking circle,” for instance, during her extensive travels in India.
How we heard about: Steinem’s interview with Charlie Rose.


Polish-Your-Poise-NYT-coverPolish Your Poise with Madame Chic: Lessons in Everyday Elegance (Simon & Schuster, October 2015)
Author: Jennifer Scott
Expat credentials: Jennifer was a foreign exchange student in Paris who lucked out when her hostess turned out to be the epitome of chic and also took the time to teach Scott, a keen learner, about how to develop a personal style and lead a stylish life. Now back in her native California, Scott has applied these lessons to her everyday life and has published a “Madame Chic” book series.
Synopsis: Recalling the tips she received from her Parisian mentor, Scott addresses topics such as proper attire at social events, good grooming, communication skills, hospitality, being a good guest, and interactions with neighbors and strangers. (This is the third book in the series.)
How we heard about: We interviewed Scott about her debut work just before Simon & Schuster came knocking.


Behind the Indian Veil_coverBehind the Indian Veil (Liah Design Private Limited, September 2015)
Author: Sephi Bergerson
Expat credentials: An award-winning Israeli photographer, Bergerson has lived in India for more than 13 years, of which seven were spent working on this project.
Synopsis: Bergerson traveled the length and breadth of India experiencing, witnessing and documenting a greater variety of Indian weddings than any person on the planet. The book presents images and written stories from nuptials that took place in a vast assortment of Indian communities.
How we heard about: Bergerson’s first book, Street Food of India, was listed by the New York Times as one of the top ten cookbooks of 2010.


Beautiful Affliction_coverBeautiful Affliction (She Writes Press, September 2015)
Author: Lene Fogelberg
Expat credentials: A native to Sweden, Fogelberg has lived elsewhere in Europe as well as in the United States, Indonesia, and now Malaysia.
Synopsis: Imagine finding out, just after you’ve made a big move to the United States with your family, that you’re in the last stages of a congenital fatal heart disease. Fogelberg, who is also a poet in Sweden, tells the story of her affliction with unflinching honesty, deep emotion, and exquisite detail.
How we heard about: Fogelberg was one of several expat writers to be “wonderlanded” on the Displaced Nation.


WaitingfortheTulipstoBloom_coverWaiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul (September, 2015)
Author: Lisa Morrow
Expat credentials: Born in Sydney, Australia, Morrow dropped out of university to go overseas. She hitchhiked through the UK, traveled in Europe and arrived in Turkey just as the Iraq War was starting. She ended up staying three months in the Anatolian village of Göreme, in Cappadocia, an experience that changed her life. She trundled between Australia and Turkey while finishing her university degree and then moved to Göztepe, on the Asian side of Istanbul, for a time. She has produced two collections of stories about her experiences in Turkey in addition to this full-length travelogue, which covers her decision to move to Istanbul permanently more than five years ago, this time with her husband in tow.
Synopsis: This is the story of Morrow’s unexpectedly bumpy transition into becoming an expat in Istanbul with her husband. Morrow takes a deep look into the challenges of intercultural living: what is it like to live as an expat and adjust to a new culture? For a start, there is the need to master the language. And then there is the Turkish bureaucracy, which can’t be avoided because of the need for work permits, health insurance, and real estate. So, did the tulips eventually bloom?
How we heard about: Morrow’s works are on several “best books on Turkey” list, and we hope to feature her memoir on our site this year.


The Dead Ladies Project_coverThe Dead Ladies Project: Exiles, Expats and Ex-Countries (University of Chicago Press, September 2015)
Author: Jessa Crispin
Expat credentials: When Jessa Crispin was thirty, she burned her settled Chicago life to the ground and took off for Berlin with a pair of suitcases and no plan beyond leaving. Half a decade later, she’s still on the road. As it says on her author site: “She currently lives nowhere in particular.”
Synopsis: This is a memoir about Crispin’s personal journey, but the itinerary includes a number of locations that attracted artists who were in need of breaking free from their origins and starting afresh (e.g, Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, who started over from nothing in Switzerland), which gives Crispin pause for reflection.
How we heard about: From Crispin’s essay in the Boston Review: “How not to be Elizabeth Gilbert.”


WayofWanderlust_coverThe Way of Wanderlust: The Best Travel Writing of Don George (Travelers’ Tales, September 2015)
Author: Don George, with foreword by Pico Iyer
Expat credentials: Though he lives in California, George has visited 90 countries and is one of America’s most acclaimed travel writers. He is the author of the best-selling Lonely Planet’s Guide to Travel Writing. He qualifies as an “international creative”!
Synopsis: George takes us on a “mind travel” through Pakistan, Paris and Peru (among many other places) while also sharing something of his own life journey. A must-read for wannabe travel writers.
How we heard about: We follow Don George and National Geographic Traveler, where he is a columnist and editor at large, on Twitter.


Gap Year Girl_coverGap Year Girl: A Baby Boomer Adventure Across 21 Countries (She Writes Press, September 2015)
Author: Marianne C. Bohr
Expat credentials: Bohr is based in Bethesda, Maryland, but for her extensive travels we have given her a permanent pass into the land of international creatives.
Synopsis: In the 1960s and ’70s, thousands of baby boomers strapped packs to their backs and flocked to Europe, wandering the continent on missions of self-discovery. Many of these boomers still dream of “going back”―of once again cutting themselves free and revisiting the places they encountered in their youth, recapturing what was, and creating fresh memories along the way. This is the story of how Marianne Bohr and her husband, Joe, did just that.
How we heard about: Bohr is a Displaced Dispatcher and since last year has been contributing a “World of Words” column to the Displaced Nation.


Between River and Sea_coverBetween River and Sea: Encounters in Israel and Palestine (Eland Books, August 2015)
Author: Dervla Murphy
Expat credentials: Born in Ireland as an only child, Murphy developed a determination to travel and see the world from an early age. In the event, she became a superb adventurer and prolific writer. Her first book, Full Tilt, describes her bicycle ride from Ireland to India, through Iran and Afghanistan. Though she still lives in Ireland (the town where she grew up), she belongs to our tribe of “international creatives.”
Synopsis: In her late seventies, Murphy took buses and tramped through the cities, villages, olive groves and pathless hills of the West Bank over five months in 2009 and 2010. She also spent three months in Israel in the winter of 2008-9, and met a wide cross-section of its residents. This book reports on the open conversations Murphy had with people she encountered on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
How we heard about: From an essay in the Boston Review by Jessa Crispin: “How not to be Elizabeth Gilbert.”


How Not to Travel the World_coverHow Not to Travel the World: Adventures of a Disaster-Prone Backpacker (August 2015)
Author: Lauren Juliff
Expat credentials: Born in London, England, Lauren has spent the past several years visiting over 50 countries across five continents and is still searching for a place to call home. She blogs at Never Ending Footsteps.
Synopsis: Juliff tells the story of how someone who never thought she would venture out of her miniscule comfort zone has become a full-time traveler and writer, as well as a “walking disaster.” She says her example shows that transformation through travel is possible, even when terrible things happen to you.
How we heard about: Social media


Deconstructing Brazil_coverDeconstructing Brazil: Beyond Carnival, Soccer and Girls in Small Bikinis (Springtime Books, August 2015)
Author: Simone Torres Costa
Expat credentials: Born in Brazil, Costa has had successive international relocations throughout her adult life, both alone and with her family, with stays in the USA, Sweden, Poland, and Italy. After 15 years abroad, she moved back to Brazil and rediscovered an interest in Brazilian culture.
Synopsis: Costa attempts to “deconstruct” Brazil for foreign visitors. As she told editor Jane Dean in an interview, she wants expats to get beyond carnival, soccer, and girls in small bikinis to see what makes Brazil tick, which involves delving into the nation’s history.
How we heard about: From Jo Parfitt, the founder of Springtime Books.


From Venice to Istanbul_coverFrom Venice to Istanbul (BBC Digital, July 2015)
Author: Rick Stein
Expat credentials: Stein, who is an Englishman of German descent and was educated at Oxford, is a part-time expat in Sydney, Australia—his wife is Australian and he has a restaurant in New South Wales.
Synopsis: The book presents the recipes Chef Stein collected in his travels in the Eastern Mediterranean.
How we heard about: The book accompanies Stein’s BBC Two cookery series in the UK.


The Good Shufu_coverThe Good Shufu: Finding Love, Self & Home on the Far Side of the World (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, June 2015)
Author: Tracy Slater
Expat credentials: A writer and an academic in her native Boston, Slater was sent to Japan to teach in an executive MBA program, where she met and fell in love with one of her students, a Japanese salaryman in Osaka. They married and she moved to Japan, where she lives in Greater Tokyo with her husband and daughter.
Synopsis: Slater narrates a moving story of letting go of her identity as an independent American woman to become part of a couple and an entirely different culture, where her chief identity is that of foreigner (gaijin) and housewife (shufu).
How we heard about: The Displaced Nation is a big supporter of Tracy Slater and her work, and we hope vice versa!


year of Fire Dragons_coverYear of Fire Dragons: An American Woman’s Story of Coming in Age in Hong Kong (Blacksmith Books, June 2015)
Author: Shannon Young
Expat credentials: Originally from Arizona, Shannon lives in Hong Kong with her Eurasian husband.
Synopsis: In 2010, Young followed her Eurasian boyfriend to Hong Kong, eager to forge a new love story in his hometown. But when work sends him to London a month later, she embarked on a wide-eyed newcomer’s journey through Hong Kong – alone. This is the story of her adventures teaching English in a local school and exploring Asia with other young expats. Oh, and reader—she married him.
How we heard about: Young writes the popular Diary of an Expat Writer column for the Displaced Nation.


Inside the Crocodile_coverInside the Crocodile: The Papua New Guinea Journals (Matador, June 2015)
Author: Trish Nicholson
Expat credentials: Born in the Isle of Man, Nicholson was destined from an early age to become a world traveler, culminating in five years of living in the wilds of West Sepik province of Papua New Guinea. She has since retreated to a quiet New Zealand hillside.
Synopsis: Nicholson has written a memoir of her adventures of working in development aid and serving as Honorary Consul in the Land of Surprises, as PNG is known. While based in the province of West Sepik, she had to contend with crocodiles, sorcery, near-fatal malaria—the list goes on.
How we heard about: Lorraine Mace interviewed Trish Nicholson about her memoir and other “scribblings” for Location, Locution.


TurkeyStreet_coverTurkey Street: Jack and Liam move to Bodrum (Springtime Books, May 2015)
Author: Jack Scott
Expat credentials: Scott is a former expat in Turkey. He has since repatriated to Norwich, England.
Synopsis: In the sequel to his popular memoir, Perking the Pansies, which was based on his expat blog of this name, Scott continues to narrate, in his dryly entertaining style, the Anatolian adventures he and his partner, Liam, embarked on after moving from London to Bodrum. Note: This particular expat tale has a surprising finale.
How we heard about: Jack Scott is a former Displaced Nation columnist.


The Year of Living Danishly_coverThe Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country (Icon, May 2015)
Author: Helen Russell
Expat credentials: A British journalist and former editor for MarieClaire.co.uk, Russell traded London for Jutland, Denmark, when her husband got a job at Lego. She now works as a Scandinavia correspondent for the Guardian as well as writing a column on Denmark for the Telegraph.
Synopsis: When she was unexpectedly given an opportunity to live in rural Denmark, Russell decided to give herself a year to uncover the Danish formula for happiness. She presents her findings in this book: where the Danes get it right, where they get it wrong—and how we might just benefit from living a little more Danishly ourselves.
How we heard about: Helen Russell’s column in Telegraph Expat.


My Paris Dream_coverMy Paris Dream: An Education in Style, Slang, and Seduction in the Great City on the Seine (Spiegel & Grau, May 2015)
Author: Kate Betts
Expat credentials: Before she became a fashion editor at Vogue and the youngest-ever editor of Harper’s Bazaar, Betts was an expat in Paris. She moved there shortly after graduating from Princeton for a journalist internship, learning French, and ended up staying on. Although she now lives in New York, she says: “Paris has always stayed with me, close to me, and I’ve continually felt nourished by it.”
Synopsis: Betts reminisces about how she came of age as a fashion journalist while living in Paris in the 1980s, the highlight of which was working for Women’s Wear Daily under the legendary John Fairchild.
How we heard about: How we heard about: New York Times book review by Alexandra Jacobs (reviewed the same time as Brooks’s book).


Greekscapes_coverGreekscapes: Illustrated Journeys with an Artist, 2nd ed. (May 2015)
Author: Pamela Jane Rogers
Expat credentials: Born in North Carolina, Rogers left America after the break-up of her 12-year marriage and ended up settling on Poros, where for more than 26 years she has made her living as an artist.
Synopsis: This is Rogers’s memoir, edited by Bryony Sutherland. The second edition includes a selection of Rogers’s paintings, as requested by her readers.
How we heard about: Social media


Always Pack a Party Dress_coverAlways Pack a Party Dress: And Other Lessons Learned From a (Half) Life in Fashion (Blue Rider Press, May 2015)
Author: Amanda Brooks
Expat credentials: The ultimate American glamour girl, Brooks married the British artist Christopher Brooks and now lives with him and their two children on his family’s farm in Oxfordshire, UK.
Synopsis: After spending two decades in the fashion world that culminated in her appointment as creative director at Barney’s, Brooks abandons that plum post to become a Yankee in Queen Elizabeth’s court, moving to a farm in the English countryside where she spends her days on fields and in barns, among animals and children. This memoir is her swan song to the world of fashion.
How we heard about: New York Times book review by Alexandra Jacobs (reviewed the same time as Betts’s book).


The Expat Partners Survival Guide_coverThe Expat Partner’s Survival Guide: A light-hearted but authoritative manual for anyone accompanying their partner on an overseas assignment (April 2015)
Author: Clara Wiggins
Expat credentials: Born in Cuba to British diplomat parents, Wiggins started traveling as a baby and hasn’t stopped since. She has visited nearly 70 countries and lived in 12—the twelfth being South Africa, where she recently moved with her husband and two daughters.
Synopsis: Drawing on the expert advice of more than 70 expat partners who have been there, done that and survived to tell their tales, Wiggins has produced an authoritative how-to guide for expat partners, aka trailing spouses. She is of course an expert herself, having spent her childhood as a trailing daughter accompanying her diplomat parents on various postings including the Philippines and Venezuela. She later saw life from the other side, when posted to Jamaica. More recently, she has been moving around with her young family because of her husband’s postings to Islamabad, St Lucia, and South Africa.
How we heard about: Social media.


AdventuresofaRailwayNomad_coverAdventures of a Railway Nomad: How Our Journeys Guide Us Home (Café Society Press, April 2015)Author: Karen McCann
Expat credentials: A fourth-generation Californian, McCann lived in Cleveland, Ohio, with her husband for two decades before the couple moved to Seville, Spain, “for a year” and decided to make it their home.
Synopsis: McCann, who works as a freelance journalist and writer, provides an account of the attempt she and her husband made to recapture the spontaneity of travel in their youth by walking out of their Seville home with no more than a small bag and three-month Eurail pass in hand to see where life would take them.
How we heard about: One of her blog posts.


A Million Sticky Kisses_coverA Million Sticky Kisses: The Story of a Gringa Teacher in Chile (April 2015)
Author: Sally Rose
Expat credentials: Born and raised in the piney woods of East Texas, Sally Rose lived in the Cajun Country of Louisiana, the plains of Oklahoma, the “enchanted” land of New Mexico, and the Big Apple, New York City, before moving overseas to Santiago de Chile. She is now reviewing the prospects for her next overseas “home.”
Synopsis: In 2009, Sally Rose’s life-long dream of teaching English abroad becomes a reality when she goes to Chile as a volunteer teacher. Some days, her dream is more like a nightmare as she struggles with both the language and the culture. From avaricious school owners to chaotic classrooms, she is confronted with the complexities of being a “stranger in a strange land” while striving to make a difference for her students.
How we heard about: Rose was one of the writers to be “wonderlanded” on our site last year, and she is currently contributing a “perpetually perplexed peripatetic” expat column to the Displaced Nation.


HomersWheretheHeartIs_coverHomer’s Where The Heart Is: Two journalists, one crazy dog and a love affair with Greece (Pelagos Press, April 2015)
Author: Marjorie McGinn
Expat credentials: Born in Scotland, McGinn moved to Australia as a child. As an adult she has worked as a journalist in both Sydney and the UK. With a life-long passion for Greece, she set off in 2010 for an adventure in the Mani region of the southern Peloponnese. She and her partner, also a journalist, and their dog ended up staying four years. They are now back in Britain, living in East Sussex.
Synopsis: This is the second book in McGinn’s planned Peloponnese trilogy telling the story of what it was like to live in a remote village in southern Greece just as the country was sliding into economic crisis. The first was Things Can Only Get Feta, and the third is due out this summer.
How we heard about: From an article McGinn wrote for Telegraph Expat.


Daughters of the Samurai_coverDaughters of the Samurai: A Journey from East to West and Back (W. W. Norton, April 2015)
Author: Janice P. Nimura
Expat credentials: An American, Nimura married a Japanese man who was raised as a Third Culture Kid in Seattle; he refused to accompany his parents back to Japan when he was in his teens. After their marriage, the couple moved to Tokyo for a while. Nimura claims to have become more Japanized than her husband did, even learning the language. They couple now lives in New York City.
Synopsis: In 1871, five young girls were sent by the Japanese government to the United States. Their mission: learn Western ways and return to help nurture a new generation of enlightened men to lead Japan. Nimura reconstructs their Alice in Wonderland adventure.
How we heard about: Reviewed by Christopher Benfey for the New York Times‘s Sunday Book Review.


India Hicks Island Style_coverIndia Hicks: Island Style (Rizzoli, March 2015)
Author: India Hicks
Expat credentials: Born in England to famed decorator David Hicks and Lady Pamela Dicks (her grandfather was Lord Mountbatten, her godfather is Prince Charles, and she was a bridesmaid at his wedding to Lady Diana), Hicks has lived for many years on Harbour Island, in the Bahamas, with her partner, David Flint Wood, and their five children.
Synopsis: Hicks offers an illustrated guide to achieving her bohemian decorating style, which combines carefree Caribbean culture with British colonial form and formality. She takes us right insider her family’s enclave in the Bahamas.
How we heard about: A slideshow on Architectural Digest.


PassageoftheStork_coverPassage of the Stork, Delivering the Soul: One woman’s journey to self-realization and acceptance (Springtime Books, March 2015)
Author: Madeleine Lenagh
Expat credentials: Lenagh grew up as a Third Culture Kid and is a long-time expat (inpat?) in the Netherlands.
Synopsis: Using poetic vignettes and commentary by archetypes from Nordic mythology and fairy tales, Lenagh tells the story of her life-long struggle to put down roots and find a sense of permanency. She lived in Europe until age five because of her stepfather’s job as a military attaché; grew up in Connecticut; and then circled back to Europe, which she toured around, financed by her parents, at age 21. Her travels ended when she arrived in the Netherlands broke and took a job as an au pair. Did she know she would still be in Holland four decades later?
How we heard about: From her publisher Jo Parfitt; plus we have featured her photography in an “A Picture Says…” post.


Laughing All the Way to the Mosque_coverLaughing All the Way to the Mosque: The Misadventures of a Muslim Woman (Virago, March 2015)
Author: Zarqa Nawaz
Expat credentials: Born in Liverpool, England, to Pakistani parents, Nawaz was raised in Toronto. A successful Canadian journalist and broadcaster, she now lives in Regina, Saskatchewan.
Synopsis: Nawaz tells us what it’s like to be a practicing Muslim in Canada—from funeral rites to Rice Krispie squares—with a great sense of humor.
How we heard about: From one of the Virago editors, who said it was one of her favorite books of the year. She said it made her hoot with laughter while also teaching her about what it’s really like to be a Muslim in Western society.


Neurotic Beauty_coverNeurotic Beauty: An Outsider Looks at Japan (Water Street Press, March 2015)
Author: Morris Berman
Expat credentials: Berman emigrated from the US to Mexico in 2006, where he currently lives.
Synopsis: In Berman’s view, craftsmanship is Japan’s cultural soul, but in the 20th century, the country lost its way in trying to catch up to the West. This century, however, Japan has a chance to recapture its soul and become the first post-capitalist society, one where living is more important than owning.
How we heard about: Review by Peter Van Buren in HuffPostBooks.


Wonderlanded_coverWonderlanded: Life as an expat in China
(February 2015; note: also published in German)
Author: Kristina Kinder
Expat credentials: After working and studying in Spain, Kinder, who trained as an architect in her native Germany, decided to take the leap in 2010 and move to China. Initially she went to Shanghai—but then found herself in the running for a freelance architecture job in Kunming, a small city in Yunnan Province. She has since adopted Kunming as her home.
Synopsis: Kinder uses Alice in Wonderland allusions—for instance, she describes the three-and-a-half-hour-long flight to Kunming as a “crazy tea party,” where “everyone is chattering and shouting across the seats while holding the obligatory tea bottle”—along with her own whimsical illustrations, to tell the story of how living in China has enabled her to pursue her dream of becoming an artist.
How we heard about: Through our Alice in Wonderland connections, Alice being one of the themes on the Displaced Nation from its start nearly five years ago.


Going Gypsy_coverGoing Gypsy: One Couple’s Adventure from Empty Nest to No Nest at All (Skyhorse Publishing, February 2015)
Author: David and Veronica James
Expat credentials: Since becoming empty nesters, this American couple has led a life of “perpetual motion,” the highlights of which they report on their popular blog Gypsynester.com. We consider them to be honorary expats. They are certainly international as well as being highly creative!
Synopsis: In telling the story of their lives, David and Veronica James show that it’s possible to do things backwards: marry, have kids, and then go gypsy.
How we heard about: We follow them on Twitter.


Pearl River Drama_coverPearl River Drama: Dating in China: A Memoir (January 2015)
Author: Ray Hecht
Expat credentials: Born in Israel and raised in the Midwest, freelance journalist Hecht moved from California to China in 2008. He now lives in Shenzhen, China.
Synopsis: The story of a Western male’s sexploits in the Far East is as old as the hills, but Hecht somehow makes this a story about every expat. The book is based on stories he already told in his blog.
How we heard about: Through Jocelyn Eikenburg’s interview with Hecht on her blog about cross-cultural relationships in China, Speaking of China.


Leaving Before the Rains Come_coverLeaving Before the Rains Come (Penguin Books, January 2015)
Author: Alexandra Fuller
Expat credentials: Born in England and grew up in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Zambia, Fuller currently spends much of her time in a yurt near Jackson, Wyoming.
Synopsis: This is Fuller’s third expat memoir. Her first two covered the first 20 years of her life, which she spent on a farm in revolution-torn southern Africa, the child of British expats. In this book, the focus is on the men in her life: her fatalistic father and her American (now ex-) husband, with whom she relocates from the wilds of Africa to the tamer wilds of Wyoming. They have three children, but then the marriage unravels.
How we heard about: Fuller is an outstanding memoirist and a master of writing about the displaced condition.

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Tell me, what have I missed? Kindly leave your recommendations for memoirs and other nonfiction works for, by, and about expats that came out in 2015 in the comments!

ML Awanohara, one of the Displaced Nation’s founders and its current editor, has a section in the weekly Displaced Dispatch where she mentions the latest expat books. Why not subscribe for the new(ish) year?

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Photo credits: All photos via Pixabay.

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