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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: Best of expat fiction 2015

The title of this post is a lie: you didn’t miss anything. It’s we who missed our deadline of publishing, at the end of 2015, a list of books for, by and about expats.

Dare I suggest that our procrastination could prove fortuitous? Most of us have more time to read now that the holidays are over and the doldrums have set in—along with, for some of us (I refer to those on the East Coast of the USA), a spell of blizzardous weather. What better time to curl up with a book that in some way relates to the themes of international adventure and displacement?

Without further ado, allow me to offer my curated list of the best novels by, for, and about expats and other international creatives in 2015. (Nonfiction coming soon, we promise!)

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

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Year of the GooseYearoftheGoose_cover_400x (Unnamed Press, December 2015)
Author: Carly J. Hallman
Expat credentials: A native Texan, Hallman lives in Beijing. This is her first novel.
Synopsis: A comic novel about China’s era of the instant tycoon, which has been described as “unhinged”, “outrageous”, “deranged” and “hilarious. The oligarchical, tabloid-driven society it portrays is not unlike our own, which may be why the book was listed as one of the BBC’s 10 books to read in December 2015 as well as selected for the December 2015 Indie Next list.
How we heard about: The Anthill blog


TheNavyWife_cover_400xThe Navy Wife (December 2016)
Author: Helena Halme
Expat credentials: Originally from Finland, Halme has lived in the UK with her British husband for many years.
Synopsis: The sequel to Halme’s well-received autobiographical novel The Englishman (reviewed here by Displaced Nation founder Kate Allison), which concerns a long-distance romance between a Finnish woman, Kaisa, and a British naval officer, Peter. We see the couple, despite having tied the knot, facing a number of obstacles and threats to living happily ever after—especially when Kaisa doesn’t take well to the life of a military spouse in a foreign country.How we heard about: Social media, and a comment by Halme on one of our posts.


Seafled_cover_400xSeafled (November 2015), Burnt Sea (August 2015) & Seaswept (April 2015)
Author: Jordan Rivet (aka Shannon Young)
Expat credentials: An American, Young has lived in Hong Kong for the past few years with her half-Chinese husband, a Hong Kong native.
Synopsis: A post-apocalyptic adventure series set on a souped-up cruise ship, featuring a prickly female mechanic named Esther. The series, called the Seabound Chronicles, consists of three books and a prequel.
How we heard about: Young writes the popular “Diary of an Expat Writer” column for the Displaced Nation.


TheJapaneseLover_cover_400xThe Japanese Lover (Atria Books, November 2015)
Author: Isabel Allende
Expat credentials: Born in Lima, Peru, to a Chilean diplomatic family, Allende lived in various countries, including Chile, Bolivia, and Beirut. As an adult she worked in Belgium and elsewhere in Europe; she also lived for over a decade in Venezuela. She currently lives in San Rafael, California.
Synopsis: A cross-cultural love story that sweeps from present-day San Francisco to WWII-era Poland the United States. It explores questions of identity, abandonment, and redemption.
How we heard about it: Who hasn’t heard about it? It was one of the most anticipated books of 2015!


TheDisobedientWife_cover_400xThe Disobedient Wife (Cinnamon Press, November 2015)
Author: Annika Milisic-Stanley
Expat credentials: Born to Swedish and Anglo-German parents, Milisic-Stanley grew up in England and now lives in Rome. She says she based the plot on stories she heard when living in Dushanbe as a humanitarian aid worker for several years.
Synopsis: The story of the friendship that forms between a poor, courageous local woman in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, and her employer, a trailing expat wife married to a British diplomat.
How we heard about: An interview with Kristin Louise Duncombe, an American writer who has lived in Europe since 2001.


CrimeRave_cover_400xCrime Rave (The Margins Press, November 2015)
Author: Sezin Koehler
Expat credentials: Koehler is an adult Third Culture Kid who lived in Prague for some years and now lives in Florida. She has written several posts for the Displaced Nation, including a two-part series listing movies that depict the horrors of being abroad or otherwise displaced.
Synopsis: The second installment to her debut novel, American Monsters. Picking up where that one left off while jumping genres, the new book presents an alternate universe in which goddesses have free reign over humans, trauma goes hand in hand with superpowers, and Marilyn Monroe lives.
How we heard about: A Facebook post by Koehler


ADecentBomber_cover_400xA Decent Bomber (November 2015)
Author: Alexander McNabb
Expat credentials: A Brit who has been working in, living in and traveling around the Middle East for some thirty years, McNabb was featured on The Displaced Nation three years ago for his “Levant Cycle” trilogy.
Synopsis: Another political thriller—but this one is set in Northern Ireland and concerns a former IRA bomb maker who is drafted against his will into joining the War on Terror.
How we heard about: He sent us a heads up, and Beth Green reviewed the book in her last column. She found it well researched, well written and an enjoyable read.


ThePalestInk_cover_400xThe Palest Ink (Lake Union Publishing, October 2015)
Author: Kay Bratt
Expat credentials: Bratt lived in China for almost five years, where she “fell in love enough with the people to want to write about them forever.” She has since repatriated to the hills of North Carolina. (She is also the author of a memoir, Silent Tears: A Journey of Hope in a Chinese Orphanage. )
Synopsis: A story that depicts the coming-of-age of a sheltered son from an intellectual family in Shanghai, during a tumultuous period of Chinese history: the Cultural Revolution.
How we heard about: Kindle promotion.


Olivia&Sophia_cover_400xOlivia & Sophia (Monsoon Books, October 2015)
Author: Rosie Milne
Expat credentials: A native Brit, Milne has lived all over Asia; she currently lives in Singapore, where she runs the Asian Books Blog.
Synopsis: A fictional account of the lives of the first and second wives of the founder of the British trading post of Singapore, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles. Set in London, Java, Sumatra and Singapore, against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars—the story takes the form of two fictionalized diaries, one by each of Raffles’s wives: Olivia Devinish and Sophia Hull. Milne “takes us away from the cold, damp confines of Georgian London to the muggy, hostile tropics and to the titillations and tribulations of a life far away from home.”
How we heard about: When Rosie Milne was “wonderlanded” on our site, we published a couple of excerpts from the book.


NowhereChild_coverNowhere Child (Black Dot Publishing, October 2015)
Author: Rachel Abbott
Expat credentials: Abbott fled from the corporate life to Italy, which gave her the opportunity to start writing psychological thrillers. Her first one was a break-out hit on Kindle, and she hasn’t looked back. Currently, Abbott divides her time between Italy (where she lives in an apartment in an old fort, which overlooks the sea) and Alderney, in the Channel Islands (just off the coast of France). But although the expat life gave her a new career as a writer, Abbott sets her books mostly in her native Manchester.
Synopsis: A stand-alone novella featuring the same characters as Abbott’s Stranger Child. Eight months ago Tasha Joseph ran away, and her stepmother, Emma, has been searching for her ever since—as are the police, since Tasha could be a vital witness in a criminal trial.
How we heard about: Lorraine Mace interviewed Abbott for her Location, Locution column in December.


TheHundredYearFlood_cover_400xThe Hundred-Year Flood (Little A, September 2015)
Author: Matthew Salesses
Expat credentials: Salesses was adopted from Korea at the age of two and often writes about race and adoption. This is his first full-length novel.
Synopsis: The mythical and magical story of a 22-year-old Korean-American’s escape to Prague in the wake of his uncle’s suicide and the aftermath of 9/11. He tries to convince himself that living in a new place will mean a new identity and a chance to shed the parallels between himself and his adopted father.
How we heard about: Social media


TheDressmaker_cover_400xThe Dressmaker (Penguin Books, August 2015*)
Author: Rosalie Ham
Expat credentials: Born and raised in Jerilderie, Australia, Ham now lives in Melbourne. Like most Australians, she has had a period of traveling and living overseas.
Synopsis: A darkly satirical tale of love, revenge, and 1950s fashion. After twenty years spent mastering the art of dressmaking at couture houses in Paris, Tilly Dunnage returns to the small Australian town she was banished from as a child. She plans only to check on her ailing mother and leave. But Tilly decides to stay, and though she is still an outcast, her exquisite dresses prove irresistible to the prim women of Dungatar. Note: The book is soon to be a film starring Kate Winslet and Liam Hemsworth.
How we heard about: A book review in the New York Times
*Originally published in 2000, this is the film adaptation of the book.


CirclingtheSun_cover_400xCircling the Sun (Ballantine Books, July 2015)
Author: Paula McLain
Expat credentials: None! Her breakout novel, The Paris Wife, was about an expat: Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley Richardson, whose passionate marriage ended as her husband shot into literary stardom. This time her focus is the Happy Valley set, a decadent community of Europeans in 1920s colonial Kenya. As she told NPR in a recent interview:

You know, I wrote most of The Paris Wife in a coffee shop in Cleveland. I don’t have to tell you that a Starbucks in Cleveland is about as far away from a Parisian cafe as you can possibly get. And I also wrote about Kenya, the wild African frontier, from my home in Cleveland without having ever gone there. You can’t really visit colonial Kenya, can you? You can’t really visit Paris in 1922, except in your imagination.

Synopsis: Based on the real-life story of the fearless and captivating Beryl Markham, a record-setting aviator who became caught up in a passionate love triangle with safari hunter Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen, who as Isak Dinesen wrote the classic memoir Out of Africa.
How we heard about: A New York Times review by the expat writer Alexandra Fuller.


TheAmbassadorsWife_cover_400xThe Ambassador’s Wife (Doubleday, July 2015)
Author: Jennifer Steil
Expat credentials: A Boston-born former journalist, Steil is married to a Brit who once served as ambassador to Yemen, where a suicide bomber attacked him. She is also the author of The Woman Who Fell from the Sky, a memoir about her experiences running a newspaper in Yemen. She lives in Bolivia, where her husband is the European Union ambassador.
Synopsis: A harrowing account of the kidnapping of an American woman in the Middle East and the heartbreaking choices she and her husband, the British ambassador to an Arab country, must make in the hope of being reunited.
How we heard about: Shortlisted in the New York Times Book Review as a “marriage plots” novel.


TheStarSideofBurnHill_cover_400xThe Star Side of Bird Hill (Penguin Press, June 2015)
Author: Naomi Jackson
Expat credentials: A Third Culture Kid, Jackson was born and raised in Brooklyn by West Indian parents. After attending the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she traveled to South Africa on a Fulbright scholarship and earned an MA in creative writing from the University of Cape Town.
Synopsis: The story of two sisters, ages ten and sixteen, who are suddenly sent from Brooklyn to Bird Hill in Barbados after their mother can no longer care for them. The young Phaedra and her older sister, Dionne, live for the summer of 1989 with their grandmother Hyacinth, a midwife and practitioner of the local spiritual practice of obeah.
How we heard about: Shortlisted in the New York Times Book Review as a “coming of age” novel.


TheWolfBorder_cover_400xThe Wolf Border (Harper, June 2015)
Author: Sarah Hall
Expat credentials: Born in northwest England, Hall lived in Wales while attending Aberystwyth. She went on to study in Scotland (St. Andrews) for an MA, where she met and married an American law student. Though the marriage was short-lived, its legacy was substantial: a move to the US proved the catalyst she needed to embark on novel writing. The pair was based in the small town of Lexington, Virginia, after her husband was awarded a scholarship to a nearby law school. At that time, Hall visited the Idaho reservation that appears in this book. She currently lives in Norwich, UK.
Synopsis: About a controversial scheme to reintroduce the Grey Wolf to the English countryside, which brings zoologist Rachel Caine, who has lived a solitary existence in a remote section of Idaho, far away from her estranged family in England, back to the peat and wet light of the Lake District. The novel explores the fundamental nature of wilderness and wildness—as well as the frontier of the human spirit.
How we heard about: A book review in the New York Times


IntheCountry_cover_400xIn the Country: Stories (Knopf, June 2016)
Author: Mia Alvar
Expat credentials: Born in the Philippines, Alvar was raised in Bahrain and the United States. She now lives in New York City. This is her first book.
Synopsis: A collection of nine short stories about Filipinos living overseas. Alvar has imagined the lives of exiles, emigrants, and wanderers who uprooted their families from the Philippines to begin new lives in the Middle East, the United States, and elsewhere—and, sometimes, turned back again.
How we heard about: A book review in the New York Times


TheDiversClothesLieEmpty_cover_400xThe Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty (Ecco, June 2015)
Author: Vendela Vida
Expat credentials: Born and raised in San Francisco, Vida is the daughter of two immigrant parents: a Swedish mother and a Hungarian father. She has become known for producing “travel trauma” narratives, exploring the lives of competent women who feel disintegrating marriages for distant lands (i.e., the Philippines, Finland and Turkey). Her latest novel, considered to be her “finest work” to date, was inspired by a trip she took to Morocco where her bag was stolen.
Synopsis: A literary thriller that probes the malleability of identity, told with lush detail and a sense of humor. Robbed of her money and passport in Casablanca, Morocco, an American woman feels free to be anyone she chooses.
How we heard about: A book review in the New York Times.


ChinaRichGirlfriend_cover_400xChina Rich Girlfriend (Doubleday, June 2015)
Author: Kevin Kwan
Expat credentials: Born and raised in Singapore, Kwan has lived in Manhattan for the past two decades. He says he still craves “craves pineapple tarts and a decent plate of Hokkien mee.“
Synopsis: Follows the story of the culture-shocked Rachel Chu as she searches for her mysterious birth father in Shanghai in hopes he’ll walk her down the isle at her upcoming wedding. The book is a sequel to Kwan’s 2013 bestseller, Crazy Rich Asians, picking up a few years after those events. Both books take place in the world of Hong Kong and Singapore’s super-super elite.
How we heard about: A book review in the New York Times


TheRocks_cover_400xThe Rocks (Riverhead Books, May 2015)
Author: Peter Nichols
Expat credentials: Nichols grew up partially on Mallorca (while attending boarding school in England), where he got to know other Northern Europeans. He has worked in advertising and as a screenwriter, and a shepherd in Wales. He divides his time between Europe and the United States. In 1997 he produced a riveting memoir, Sea Change, telling of the time when he set off alone across the Atlantic in his beloved 27-foot wooden engineless sailboat, Toad, which he and his (now ex-) wife had lived on for six years, fixing it up, making it into their home, sharing adventures on it.
Synopsis: A tragic double romance, told in reverse, primarily set in a seaside resort in Mallorca and its enduring expat community.
How we heard about: From a book review in the New York Times.


coming-home_cover_400xComing Home (Mira, April 2015)
Author: Annabel Kantaria
Expat credentials: A Telegraph Expat blogger who has been featured on the Displaced Nation, Kantaria has lived in Dubai with her family for several years.
Synopsis: The story of a woman living in Dubai because she wants to flee the pain of her brother’s death but then heads for home upon receiving word of her father’s sudden death. Kantaria says that writing the book helped her “explore that push and pull and sense of displacement you feel when you have a foot in two countries.”
How we heard about: A Telegraph Expat post on expat-themed summer reads, by Rosie Milne


APlaceCalledWinter_cover_400xA Place Called Winter (Grand Central Publishing, March 2015)
Author: Patrick Gale
Expat credentials: Born in the Isle of Wight, Gale was an expat of sorts when his family moved to London. During his misspent youth, he lived at one point in a crumbling French chateau. He now lives on a farm near Land’s End.
Synopsis: The story of a privileged Edwardian man who has a homosexual affair and, for fear of arrest, is forced to abandon his wife and child: he signs up for emigration to the Canadian prairies. He reaches a world as far away as possible from the golden suburbs of turn-of-the-century England. The story is loosely based on a real-life family mystery of Gale’s gentleman great-grandfather. The plot in a nutshell: “To find yourself, you must sometimes lose everything.”
How we heard about: Gale was a featured author at the Port Eliot Festival, which takes place yearly on an ancient estate in Saint Germans, Cornwall, UK.


TheArtofUnpackingYourLife_cover_400xThe Art of Unpacking Your Life (Bloomsbury Reader, March 2015)
Author: Shireen Jilla
Expat credentials: A journalist-turned-novelist who now lives in London, Jilla has been an expat in Paris, Rome, and New York. The Displaced Nation did a feature on her first novel, Exiled, about a British expat wife in New York.
Synopsis: The story of a group of university friends who set out on the holiday of a lifetime, a safari in the Kalahari, only to find they don’t have much in common any more.
How we heard about: Social media and then Beth Green interviewed her.


TheTehranText_cover_400xThe Tehran Text – The Tana Standish Spy Series #2 (Crooked Cat Publishing, February 2015)
Author: Nik Morton
Expat credentials: Morton spent 23 years in the Royal Navy, during which he had the chance to visit (among others) Rawalpindi, the Khyber Pass, Sri Lanka, Tokyo, Zululand, Mombasa, Bahrain, Tangier, Turkey, Norway, Finland, South Georgia and the Falklands. He has also traveled widely in his private life. He and his wife are now retired in Alicante, Spain.
Synposis: Second of Morton’s Cold War thrillers featuring psychic spy Tana Standish (first was The Prague Papers). Iran is in ferment and the British Intelligence Service wants Tana Standish’s assessment. It appears that CIA agents are painting too rosy a picture, perhaps because they’re colluding with the state torturers…
How we heard about: Lorraine Mace interviewed Morton for her Location, Locution column last July.


Outline_cover_400xOutline (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, January 2015)
Author: Rachel Cusk
Expat credentials: Born in Canada, Cusk spent much of her childhood in Los Angeles. She moved to the UK in 1974 and is a graduate of Oxford University. She now lives in London.
Synopsis: About a divorced writer who lives in London with her two youngish children, covering the several days she spends in Athens, where she has gone to teach a writing class. She ends up spending time with a much older Greek bachelor she met on the plane.
How we heard about: A book review in the New York Times

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Tell me, what have I missed? I’m sure I’ve missed loads!! Kindly leave your recommendations for novels 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 year?

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

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

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Photo credits: All photos via Pixabay or Morguefiles.

DIARY OF AN EXPAT WRITER: Still reeling from reaching the end of my 4-book series in 3 years!

Diary of an Expat Writer
American expat in Hong Kong Shannon Young quit her day job a year ago to become a full-time writer. Here’s the latest entry in her expat writer’s diary.

Dear Displaced Diary,

Yesterday I finished writing the Seabound Chronicles. It’s hard to wrap my head around that sentence:

I…AM…FINISHED…WRITING…THE…SEABOUND…CHRONICLES.

I first got the idea for this series, set on a post-apocalyptic cruise ship called the Catalina, three years ago. I wrote the first words on November 1st, 2012. The series has been my primary writing project ever since, influencing what I read, research, and think about on a daily basis. And now it is complete.

The total word count for the series is 322,000. That works out to 80,000 for Seabound, 73,000 for Seaswept, 73,000 for Burnt Sea, and a whopping 96,000 for Seafled.

Photo credit: Chart via Pixabay.

Photo credit: Chart via Pixabay.

I’ve spent hundreds of hours in this world…

The characters have become increasingly real to me as I’ve figured out how they think, what happens to them, how they react. I’ve lost count of how many dreams I’ve had set on cruise ships. They never take place on the actual Catalina or include characters from the books, but they are often incredibly vivid.

I’ve been walking around for the past day trying to figure out how I feel about this ending. To be honest, I feel hazy, almost hung-over. My reactions are a little slower, lights are a little too bright, and I’m not sure what to do with myself.

Part of this is likely because my week writing the final draft was very intense. I taught five days at two schools far out by the Chinese border. In order to meet my deadline, I stayed at Starbucks until closing several nights that week, and spent eight straight hours writing on both Wednesday (a public holiday) and Sunday.

Except when teaching, I was totally disengaged from the real world. I’m sure I still owe some people some emails.

Trying to get my head around how this feels…

I’m reminded of when I graduated from college. I honestly feel like the three years I spent writing this series was akin to getting a degree. I now have a Masters in Writing Seabound. And like many degrees (my double major in Classical Studies, for example), it’s something I’ll never use again. At least, not directly.

Photo credit: Graduation—my masters degree, by Sarah Stierch via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Photo credit: Graduation—my masters degree, by Sarah Stierch via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Soon, I’ll be able to look at the lessons I learned from this series and apply them to the next one, which is already in progress.

Soon, I’ll be able to step back and remember that the series isn’t really finished because I still have to format and upload the final book.

Soon, I’ll be able to appreciate that my readers are still deeply engaged in this world and there are more of them out there who haven’t discovered it yet.

Soon, I’ll be able to break this down into a nice takeaway message or two.

But today, I am just absorbing the feelings…

There’s some joy, some sadness, some melancholy, some triumph. Right now all I can do is feel and process. And maybe even write down those feelings. Isn’t that what diaries are for?

Thanks for listening.

Yours,

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

The Seabound Chronicles is a post-apocalyptic adventure series set on a souped-up cruise ship. It features a prickly female mechanic named Esther. The first three books are out now under the pen name Jordan Rivet. The final book, Seafled, launches on November 30th.

Photo credit: Cruise ship via Pixabay.

Photo credit: Cruise ship via Pixabay.

* * *

Wow, that’s quite a milestone, Shannon—congratulations! It makes sense to me that you feel both happy and relieved as well as numb and somewhat bereft. It’s been an intense three years! Readers who are also writers, can you relate to Shannon’s mixed emotions? Please share your own experiences in the comments. ~ML

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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

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DIARY OF AN EXPAT WRITER: The highs, but also the lows, of the writing life

Diary of an Expat Writer
American expat in Hong Kong Shannon Young quit her day job a year ago to become a full-time writer. Here’s the latest entry in her expat writer’s diary.

Dear Displaced Diary,

As you’ve no doubt noticed over these many months, most of my entries have focused on the good things happening in my life as a writer. I prefer to take an optimistic view of my progress. But there are hard days, too—when I don’t see the results I’d like or accomplish as much as I want. On such days, uncertainty and frustration overwhelm the logic telling me I’m on the right track. Yesterday was an especially low day, so this month I want to share with you a sense of the ups and downs of the expat writer’s day-to-day existence—take you on a kind of roller coaster ride.

One of the worst lows: Comparisonitis

I try not to obsess over how other people’s books are selling (except for research purposes), but the desire to look at a comparable book’s sales rank and wonder why mine isn’t doing as well can creep in like an evil sprite. That can lead to insecurity and jealousy over things that are 100% out of my control.

That way lies madness!

The flip side of comparisonitis is reading a great book and feeling like I’ll never be able to write something as good. I’ll say to myself: “Of course they’re selling better than I am! Their book is gripping and sexy and funny and I can’t put it down! Why can’t I do that!”

Borders in Ann Arbor, by Joanna Poe via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Borders in Ann Arbor, by Joanna Poe via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

How I deal with it: The old adage about the overnight success that takes ten years is absolutely true. Behind every book that takes off like a shot there’s a writer who has put in the time, sweat, and tears to get to that tipping point. I have to remind myself, sometimes on a daily basis, that I’m putting in the work now that will hopefully pay off in a big way later (both from a sales perspective and a skill perspective). This is a craft, and I am still an apprentice in many ways. I also need to remind myself to focus exclusively on the things I can control, such as writing the best books I possibly can—and occasionally stepping away from the Internet.

One of the best highs: Fans!

Yes, I officially have fans. This month I received my first fan letter for the Jordan Rivet books from someone who is in no way connected with me or anyone I know. She wrote me again this week to tell me that she finished Burnt Sea and loved it!

While I was in Arizona, I also got to meet up with two different readers who are friends with my mom (one read Seabound before I ever met her, the second I’ve known for many years). One told me she felt star struck to be having coffee with me. The other had highlighted her favorite passages from Burnt Sea and shared them over Chipotle. To hear that she enjoyed these sentences I’d been poring over for months was incredibly gratifying. Both women made me feel great about my work—and that kind of encouragement can’t be understated, especially on the low days.

Jodan Rivet fans

Stateside Jordan Rivet fans Trine and Julie (photos supplied).

Another low: Rejection

I’ve chosen the indie-publishing road for my Jordan Rivet books, and it comes with its own share of rejection. There are a few promotion sites that are real heavy hitters. I’ve been accepted by some of the big ones, but rejected by the biggest of all (Bookbub). Sometimes this is just a matter of scheduling, but it still stings.

Much of my work as Shannon Young is not self-published, though. I’ve been waiting for a response on a particular piece for six months. This week I finally got an answer: no. It’s time to reassess and decide whether I want to release this particular work as is or develop it into a longer project.

Rejection Mug

Photo credit: “Journal of Universal Rejection” coffee mug, by Tilemahos Efthimiadis via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

How I deal with it: Even though six months have elapsed since I submitted the piece, I’m realizing I may need to step away from it a bit longer before I can make a clear-eyed decision. There are a lot of emotions tied up in rejection, and I need to make an intelligent decision about whether to move on, keep trying, or do something differently. That takes time and perspective.

A kind of high: Not reading reviews!

This high isn’t what you might guess. The reviews for my work have generally been positive, but for me the real triumph is that I’ve finally gotten to a place where I no longer read my reviews. I’ve come to realize that, at the end of the day, reviews exist for readers, not for writers. They are there to help other people decide whether or not they’ll like a book and to give the reviewers a chance to express their thoughts about it. None of that has anything to do with the author.

If I do read my reviews—including positive ones—here’s what happens: I fixate on the critiques. I can’t help it. I’m an optimistic person, possibly confident to a fault, yet it’s always the critiques I remember. And you know what, diary? There’s absolutely nothing I can do to fix things at that point. The book is done and dusted. I can’t change it. So why obsess over the one thing that didn’t work for a reader who enjoyed the book as a whole?

(Note: I follow my writers’ groups’ critiques like gospel. I’m always trying to improve my work, but when a book is finished and published that no longer applies.)

Thus reading reviews is a recipe for utterly futile stress. So while I am incredibly thankful for people who take the time to write reviews (and they’re essential for the success of a book), I won’t read them. Instead, I’ll focus on making every book better than the last.

Yet another low: Missed deadlines

I’ve mentioned before that I like to make checklists and to-do lists for myself. Crossing off items on time or early never fails to make me happy. On the other hand, if I miss my deadlines it can be equally frustrating.

Case in point: my new part-time teaching job starts on October 5th. The timing of the classes means I’ll have to rework my writing schedule to stay productive. I wanted to finish the final book in the Seabound Chronicles before then. My goal was to finish the current draft on Friday. Well, on Monday the book was 80,000 words. By Friday, it had grown to 86,000 words, but I had only reached the 51,000-word mark in my edit. Adding all those scenes took a lot more time and thought than anticipated, so now I probably won’t finish the draft until Thursday at the earliest. This leaves me with less buffer time than I had hoped before the Great Schedule Shuffle begins.

Photo credit: Pixabay.

Photo credit: Pixabay.

How I deal with it: Like always, I need to glue myself to my chair and just get on with it! The book will be finished when it’s finished, and I’m not going to put out a half-baked project (or even 80% baked). The worst thing I could do would be to let frustration or impatience paralyze me.

The knack of staying on an even keel

This emotional rollercoaster is normal for a full-time writer. It’s important not to let either extreme get in the way of my work. The key is to accept the reality of the lows and to figure out ways to deal with them so as not to become derailed.

Thank you, Displaced Diary, for giving me a chance to process. Sometimes that’s all it takes to get the day turned around and become productive.

Yours,

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

* * *

Shannon, thank you for giving us such a clear window onto the highs and lows you’ve experienced as a full-time writer. TBH, it brings me back to the days when I was a graduate student in the UK and how frustrated I felt on the days when my thesis-writing wasn’t going well (or at all). When you have to keep producing page after page, you can become very isolated, and you’re already feeling somewhat isolated to begin with as an expat. It’s great you have found such a supportive writers’ community in Hong Kong. You also seem to have a much better ability than I did at the same age, to trust in the process! Readers who are also writers, can you relate to Shannon’s vacillating emotions? Please share your own experiences in the comments. ~ML

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DIARY OF AN EXPAT WRITER: How I spent my summer vacation

Diary of an Expat Writer
American expat in Hong Kong Shannon Young quit her day job a year ago to become a full-time writer. Here’s the latest entry in her expat writer’s diary.

Dear Displaced Diary,

It’s still blazing hot here in Hong Kong, but the kids are heading back to school and expats are returning from home leave visits to their families across the globe.

Speaking of school kids: In the tradition of every good elementary school student, I thought I would report to you on how I spent my summer vacation.

Every July since moving to Asia in 2010, I’ve boarded a plane for the US and headed to Arizona, where my parents and siblings live, or to Oregon, where my grandparents live. From the moment I stepped off the plane, I would enter a whirlwind of visits, barbecues, catch-ups, family dinners, appointments, Five Guys runs, overdue conversations, and late-night chocolate-chip-cookie-baking hangouts.

This year, however, I stayed put in Hong Kong. A friend was visiting during the two weeks when my whole family is normally in Oregon, and I knew I needed to focus on my writing in order to hold to my publication schedule. I was a full-time teacher for five years, but I gave that up a year ago, remember? As a writer, I get to keep working right through the summer!

All work…

I mentioned in my last diary that I’m taking a part-time teaching contract this fall. I don’t yet know exactly how the part-time hours will affect my writing schedule, so I’m buckling down to finish the remaining books in The Seabound Chronicles, a post-apocalyptic adventure series set at sea, as soon as possible, which as you know I write under the name Jordan Rivet. My goal is to have all four books out in time for Christmas. Over the course of the summer I finished, edited, proofread, formatted, and uploaded the full-length prequel Burnt Sea. It officially went live on August 30th!

Burnt Sea_live on Aug 30

I found that despite the stifling conditions of summer in Hong Kong, I wanted to work more and more, including on weekends. I typically write for five hours a day, five days a week, but adding in three hours or so on some Saturdays and Sundays helped to up my game. When it is hot and rainy by turns, installing myself in an air-conditioned coffee shop feels like the sensible thing to do!

Hong Kong summer collage

Photo credits (top to bottom): it’s been a long rainy life, by Jaume Escofet; Big Buddha, Po Lin Monastery on Lantau, Hong Kong, by Robin Zebrowski, and Cafe, SOHO, Hong Kong, by Stephen Kelly; Rainy day in Hong Kong, by Jeremy Thompson. All via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

This summer I also completed two substantial revisions of the final book in the Seabound Chronicles, one in July and one this past week. This included writing the actual ending scenes to the series, which was pretty cool. A few people are reading the draft right now, and I’ll be ready to dive into another round of revisions when I get their feedback in mid-September. The full series is weighing in at 306,000 words!

…and some play

Writing is a lot of fun, but sometimes it’s good to step away from the work to have other kinds of fun. I took a break to show our friend around (although she did some solo sightseeing as well). We got to revisit some of the great Hong Kong sites, fitting in jaunts to Lamma Island, Stanley, the Big Buddha, and other famous Hong Kong attractions–and eateries. I love any excuse to go to Din Tai Fung (a chain that originated in Taiwan, it specializes in soup dumplings).

Through the prompting of some very active friends, we also went hiking (taking one of the toughest walks in Hong Kong on what turned out to be the hottest day in 130 years!) and spent a weekend on Lantau, one of the large outlying islands. We stayed in an old village, very atmospheric, where we trekked through a river to get to a kite-surfing lesson and spent a day enjoying the waves at an out-of-the-way beach.

It was a nice reminder that Hong Kong is home to wonderful natural beauty, and it doesn’t actually take that long to escape the concrete jungle.

Hong Kong Natural Beauty

Photo credits: Kite-surfing beach on Lantau Island and view of the greenery (supplied).

…and some play/work

Another bit of fun was when Kevin Kwon, the author of bestselling novel Crazy Rich Asians, now being made into a film, came to Hong Kong for a Q&A session at the KEE Club. The event was the first weekend in August, and any other summer I would have missed it. Instead, I got my book signed and listened to the charming and unassuming author talk about his work. (The visit was part of his tour for the sequel, China Rich Girlfriend, which, incidentally, was announced in the Displaced Dispatch.) He told us he is working on the next installment in the series.

Kevin Kwan Talk HK

Photo credits: Kevin Kwan book cover art; Kwan at the KEE Club in Hong Kong (supplied).

Which reminds me that in addition to lots of writing, I crammed in time for plenty of reading this summer. Highlights included:

I’ve always read a lot, but I’m finding that it’s more important to carve out time than it was in the days when I had a long commute every day. I believe my upcoming part-time job will involve a fair bit of commuting, so I’m looking forward to having built-in reading time again. I read to learn and I read for enjoyment, and there are never enough hours in the day…

All in all, it has been a successful summer full of literary pursuits and unexpected adventures…

…with a plot twist!

It turns out I’m going back to the US after all! My husband noticed an eye-wateringly affordable Cathay FanFare, so just last week I booked a ticket home. I left on August 30th, so I was actually in the sky when the people who pre-ordered Burnt Sea saw the book pop up on their Kindles.

I’m looking forward to a quick visit that will mostly involve monopolizing the attention of my eight-month-old nephew. I’ll hang out with my siblings, eat a whole bunch of American food, and be ready to dive into the fourth draft of the Seabound finale when I return! I enjoy pushing through the work, but sometimes it’s important to step away and enjoy a bit of downtime, too.

But enough about me! What did you get up to this summer, Displaced Diary? What was your favorite summer read? Do you have any amazing adventures to report?

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

* * *

Shannon, I must confess that I never made it all the way through a Tokyo summer, it was just too hot and humid! I’m impressed that you made it until August 30th. Readers, do you have any summer achievements worth sharing on your creative pursuits? Please leave in the comments. ~ML

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DIARY OF AN EXPAT WRITER: How far I have come in a year…and what’s next

Diary of an Expat Writer
American expat in Hong Kong Shannon Young quit her day job last year to become a full-time writer. Here’s the latest entry in her expat writer’s diary.

Dear Displaced Diary,

I write to you on the occasion of my one-year full-time writing anniversary!

One year ago I quit my job as an English teacher to write full-time. As I’m wrapping up my anniversary month, I’m taking some time to reflect on what I’ve learned and accomplished. I’ve described for you many of the details of my work over the past year, but in this missive I want to step back and consider the big picture.

One thing I’ve gone on about at some length is my affection for outlines and checklists, so before talking about what’s next, I’ll share a few lists: overarching goals I set at the beginning, struggles along the way, milestones achieved.

Intense! Shannon's to-do list, displaying just a few months of her year of full-time writing.

Intense! Shannon’s to-do list for February to May of this year.

Taking stock of Year One

Goals set at the beginning:
-Write full-time for at least six months.
-Complete the Seabound Chronicles (post-apocalyptic series) and publish it independently.
-Promote the release of my traditionally published travel memoir.

Challenges I encountered along the way:
-Establish a daily routine.
-Manage my expectations after a slow start to sales.
-Block out sales stats and reviews to focus on writing.
-Settle in for the long haul.

Milestones achieved:
-Completed three of the novels in the Seabound series: Seabound, Seaswept, and Burnt Sea (launches August 30th).
-Wrote early drafts of two novels (Seafled, a new book), one short non-fiction project (TBA), along with numerous articles and posts.
-Promoted the Hong Kong release (November) and worldwide release (July) of my memoir, Year of Fire Dragons.
-Stretched savings to keep writing for an additional six months.
-First 100-sales day.
-First 10,000-word writing day.

COMING SOON: Burnt Sea, the prequel for Shannon Young's Seabound Chronicles, due out in September.

COMING SOON: Burnt Sea, the prequel for Shannon Young’s Seabound Chronicles, due out in September.

Coming to an assessment

Overall, this has been a very positive year. I love the work, and I’m seeing a steady rise in sales. I’m learning a lot about the business and how to actually move books. Some of the things I’ve learned are helping me to streamline my strategy for the coming year (price promotions supported by advertising sell more books than blog tours, for example, and take WAY less time away from writing). My writing process is becoming more efficient, and the more I write the more ideas I have. But there’s another facet to any career change that needs to be addressed . . .

The money!

I haven’t reached my income targets yet. Although I am writing full-time, I am not making a full-time living (an amount that is different for each individual; I live in an expensive city, but we have no children). I’ve been living on the money I saved during the nine months between when I paid off my last student loan and when I got my last teaching paycheck.

Amazon now sends me a decent check every month and I’m seeing promising and consistent sales trends. I estimate that my monthly sales will produce enough income for me to continue writing full-time by Christmas.

What’s next?

At this point I’m close enough to the tipping point that it doesn’t make sense to look for a new permanent job. However, my savings are running low so I’ve decided to take a ten-week part-time teaching contract to get me through to that tipping point, beginning in October.

My new challenge over those ten weeks will be to maintain my writing momentum with a different schedule. I’ll only be teaching for two hours a day, but it will require a new routine and renewed focus during the rest of the working day.

I don’t yet know the details of my new post. Just in case it turns out to be more disruptive than anticipated, I’m doubling down during the two months between now and the start of the contract. I plan to finish the rewrites for Seafled, the final book in the Seabound Chronicles, by the end of September to make sure my publication schedule continues uninterrupted. While I’m doing the part-time work, I’ll use the rest of the day to write rough drafts for my next series!

I’m looking forward to getting out and about in Hong Kong a bit. Hopefully the ideas will flow and the more constrained schedule will push me to new levels of productivity. I completed all the books published under my Shannon Young name and wrote early drafts of three of the four Jordan Rivet novels while working full-time, so I know I can do this.

That’s it for now, dear Diary. I talk about my writing anniversary in a new video here if you’d like to take a look.

Thanks for everything!

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

* * *

It must be a sign of aging but for me it seems like only yesterday that Shannon embarked on this writing adventure, and my, she has accomplished a lot! But, alas, money is a perennial concern for creative types of any ilk, including those who live in far-flung places like Hong Kong (that’s an expensive city!). Readers, any thoughts, words of encouragement or other kinds of responses to Shannon’s latest diary entry? Please leave in the comments. ~ML

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DIARY OF AN EXPAT WRITER: After the hard slog of producing second book in series, the rush that comes with boost to sales

Diary of an Expat WriterAmerican expat in Hong Kong Shannon Young quit her day job last year to become a full-time writer. Here is her latest entry in her expat writer’s diary.

Dear Displaced Diary,

Last month, I told you all about my writing process—all the work that goes into a book before it ever shows up in an editor’s inbox. It’s a slow process requiring perseverance and many hours sitting in a chair every day. And then there’s copyediting, formatting, and a final proofread, after which I finally hit publish.

That’s when things get interesting.

This month, I would even say amazing.

But we’ll get to that. First, let me refresh your memory on where we are. Diary, as you will recall from previous entries, I’ve been writing my post-apocalyptic series, the Seabound Chronicles, under my Jordan Rivet pen name for two-and-a-half years now. The first book, Seabound, came out in November. Sales have been modest, with complimentary reviews but rankings that won’t set the world on fire.

My intention has always been to put out Book Two before doing bigger promotions and (hopefully) seeing bigger results. With the publication of the sequel, Seaswept, at the beginning of this month, I finally had the chance to set that plan in motion.

Seaswept and Seabound Paperbacks

Jordan Rivet’s Seabound Chronicles is now a real series, with the publication of Book Two, Seaswept, earlier this month.

She’s got high hopes…

Here’s how it went down. When I released the second installment in the series, it generated sales and a bit of attention for the first book. A few days after Seaswept came out, I put Seabound on sale for $0.99 and advertised it with a couple of book recommendation sites.

My hopes were high, especially as soon I’ll need to decide whether or not to get a new day job. Displaced Diary, as you’ve been following my expat writer journey for a while, you’ll know my big goal is to make a full-time living as a writer, and I’ve been working hard under my own name and a pen name to achieve this. But my savings are running low, and Hong Kong isn’t exactly famous for its low cost of living.

The sale on Seabound lasted five days. For the first two, I booked smaller promo sites—some free, some charging a few dollars for the ads. The sales were similarly modest: 10 on day one and 14 on day two.

To be honest, I was disheartened. Even though these results were consistent with the reach of the smaller promotional sites, I’d hoped for more. If I couldn’t get the ball rolling with multiple books out, maybe it was time to polish up my CV. Failure would mean going back to teaching or hoping for a job opening in Hong Kong’s tiny publishing industry.

For those two days I felt . . . underwhelmed. I dug into the draft of another book to keep from obsessing over my sales graphs, but found myself clicking over at least once an hour anyway. More often than not, nothing had changed.

On the third day…

It was time to bring in the big guns. I’d booked ads on such sites as eReader News Today, Free Kindle Books and Tips, and BookSends. These sites were supposed to get my discounted title in front of tens of thousands of additional readers. And some of those readers decided to buy.

On Day Three, I woke early to over 60 sales. It was already my best sales day ever, and I hadn’t even had my coffee. I spent most of the day glued to my computer, watching the spike tick upward. The numbers climbed and climbed, finishing with a three-digit total.

Throughout the weekend of the promotion, I refreshed my sales dashboard regularly. For three straight mornings I woke to sales multiple times better than my previous best day.

I had scheduled lunches with friends and spent Sunday afternoon on a boat—but snuck off to the restroom to check my ranking every chance I got. Seabound reached the top 1,800 overall in the Kindle store and ranked in the highly competitive Dystopian and Post-Apocalyptic categories for the first time. It even took the #1 spot in Sea Adventures for a little while.

My angst of the previous days was starting to look a bit silly.

Checking sales of self-pubbed books on Amazon

Checking Amazon sales becomes an obsession for self-published authors.

High apple pie in the sky…sales!

It turns out it’s a real rush to see my books climbing the rankings. I experienced a bit of this when my Kindle Single, Pay Off launched with prime placement on Amazon, but sales of the Seabound Chronicles have now surpassed those of the Single. My goal of making a living off my Jordan Rivet pen name feels more and more possible.

The promo has ended but the sales haven’t. This has been the best month of my career. In fact, it has been so good that May sales of Seabound and Seaswept, are double the Seabound sales for the previous six months, and we still have a week to go. I’ll be able to press on to the summer before making any decisions about new jobs or new careers.

Diary, I’m reporting this good news in case you were feeling a little anxious after last month’s post. That one was all about the work: sitting in a chair, outlining, writing and rewriting and rewriting and rewriting. The work is 99 percent of this job. But every once in a while you get to watch the results rolling in—and it’s kind of awesome.

A writer’s “One Percent”

Next month I’m going to see a different set of results, when my traditionally published travel memoir launches worldwide and in e-book (it has been out in Hong Kong since November). This is the very first book I ever sat down to write, so I’m proud that it’ll finally be out in the world. But I’m also proud that I’ve taken what I’ve learned and kept writing. I’m sitting down to start the fourth draft of the Seabound prequel right now.

And so it goes.

Thanks for enjoying this 1 percent event with me as well cheering me on through the 99 percent days, Displaced Diary.

Here’s to many more Mays for us both!

Until next time,

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

* * *

Readers, it’s encouraging to hear that light can be at the end of the expat writer’s tunnel. Any words of congratulations for Shannon, thoughts on this recent sales experience, or questions for her on marketing techniques, please leave in the comments. And be sure to do so soon, before she gets swept up in the excitement of her memoir coming out next month!

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DIARY OF AN EXPAT WRITER: My writing process, now being applied to a shiny new book series

DiaryExpatWriterAn American expat newlywed in Hong Kong, Shannon Young took the momentous decision last summer to quit her day job and launch out as a full-time writer. She’d given herself until Chinese New Year to see if she could make a living but has now postponed the decision—something we’re actually rather glad about as her expat writer’s diary can continue!

—ML Awanohara

Dear Displaced Diary,

It’s a hazy, jet-lagged time for me right now. Ever since I returned to Hong Kong from London last week, I’ve been awake through the night and struggling out of bed at noon or later. One advantage of setting my own schedule is that I can afford these late starts and still get plenty of work done during the afternoons and evenings (and in the hours past 3:00 a.m., it turns out). On the other hand, I don’t have a boss and a required start time to get me back on track—so could be on London time for a while yet.

But the work goes on no matter what time it is or where in the world I happen to find myself. I’m currently waiting for Seaswept, the second book in the Seabound Chronicles, to come back from my editor.

The cover for Jordan Rivet's latest book

The cover for Jordan Rivet’s latest book

As soon as it arrives I’ll jump into the final stages of proofreading and publication.

In the meantime, I’m working on my next book series.

That next book will be the first installment, which I’m aiming to release upon completion of the Seabound Chronicles.

It has been a while since I began an all-new project with all-new characters set in an all-new world. I’m trying to apply the same writing process I’ve been using for the Seabound books to the new idea.

So far it’s going well!

Since you, Dear Diary, are the vessel for my intimate thoughts about the writing process, today I want to share with you how I approach a new book. I developed this method while working on the four books in the Seabound Chronicles. As you know, all four are now completed—but in vastly different stages. Book 1 is published. Book 2 is finished and with the editor. Book 3 (the prequel) is in the third draft. Book 4 is a rough draft.

You may think I have too many projects on the go at once, but this in fact is the key to my writing process, as you’ll soon see.

"Emptying the NaNo bag at last," by  Anne-Lise Heinrichs via Flickr ().

“Emptying the NaNo bag at last,” by Anne-Lise Heinrichs via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

STEP ONE: The Idea

You can’t force yourself to come up with an amazing concept for a new book, but you can help the inspiration process along. Before producing Seabound, I knew I wanted to write a fast-paced story with high stakes and cool world-building, probably science fiction or fantasy, but I needed an idea. Then one day I hopped on a boat and spotted the cruise ship that inspired my post-apocalyptic Seabound series. It took more than just seeing a cruise ship, of course, for the concept to take hold. It took leaving my mind open and not forcing things, so that my subconscious could oblige.

With the Seabound Chronicles under way, the hope entered my mind of coming up with another fantasy project to work on; but this time I wanted an original take or some kind of cool mash-up. I held that thought for months and cycled through various ideas (a secret agent in a fantasy world? a fantasy apocalypse?); but none of them felt quite right. Then, suddenly, the idea was there when I arrived at my usual Starbucks. I could see it plain as day. I was actually supposed to be working on Seaswept edits, but instead I opened up a new Word doc and hammered out notes for several hours.

STEP TWO: Characters and Worlds

Once I had the concept of the world, the characters followed quickly on its heels. For some of these characters, I used a method similar to the one described above, where I had a general sense of what the person should be like, and then when I saw someone who matched the idea in my head, fleshed out my portrayal. (I spotted “Esther” walking down the Mid-Levels escalator with a camera around her neck that became a pair of storm goggles; “David Hawthorne” walked into one of my regular coffee shops dressed like an investment banker and wearing memorable black-framed glasses.)

"Mid-levels escalator blur," by Maureen Didd via Flickr.

“Mid-levels escalator blur,” by Maureen Didde via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

For other characters, I started with people I’ve encountered as a jumping off point to develop key aspects of their personalities, appearances, and roles they would play in the story. I spent several writing sessions scribbling notes on the characters and describing the basic structure of the world they inhabit. I held off on writing the first chapter for as long as possible because I wanted to give the ideas time to mature. I also worked out the world’s magic system, which I’m treating differently than in a typical fantasy novel.

STEP THREE: The Rough Outline

As my ideas for the story became more concrete, I wrote a rough outline of the plot. This is a back and forth process. As I developed more ideas for the story I’d go back and flesh out the existing characters or create new ones. My outlines typically follow a three-act structure and they absolutely must include the main conflict and climactic scene. Outlines are essential for my process, but I don’t do a strict chapter-by-chapter plan at this stage.

For the new fantasy project, I’ve now written a very rough outline for a five-book series. Even so, I’ll have to get further into the first book before I know whether the story will support all five books in the plan.

STEP FOUR: The Rough Draft

I am now 16,000 words into the rough draft for my newest book. I’m a huge believer in writing fast, messy first drafts.

I wrote three of the four rough drafts for the books in the Seabound Chronicles during three consecutive National Novel Writing Months. I didn’t worry about whether they would be any good at this stage. I told myself I can always take things out and rewrite as needed. This method really helped me keep up the story’s pace.

Seaswept is the only one of the Seabound books for which I wrote the first draft over a longer period (about six months, during which I took a break to rewrite my memoir, Year of Fire Dragons). The edits for this volume were actually more difficult than for the other titles.

Writing the first draft is a bit like watching a movie play out—it’s best if you can do it without too many gaps.

STEP FIVE: Rest and Repeat

As soon as I finish a draft I put it away, something Stephen King recommends in his book On Writing. The work needs to sit for a bit and I need to get some distance from it before I can rewrite effectively. But I don’t stop writing. At this stage, I’ll start the next book.

Go back to Step One and repeat!

STEP SIX: Read and Rewrite

With another rough draft under my belt, I’ll go back to the first one, print it out, and read the whole thing. I’ll make tons of notes as I go, but I won’t rewrite until I’ve completed a full read-through.

At this stage, I also create a more detailed outline. My rough drafts follow a basic plot structure, but sometimes they take unexpected twists, and I like to leave room for those in the new outline. Other times, I find gaps or pacing issues that I’m not aware of until I step back and look at the book as a whole.

When I do my first read-through, I plug the events of the rough draft into a storyboard. I use this one, which covers a classic plot progression over twenty chapters. I write the basic plot points in where they occur, paying attention to gaps in the storyboard. Then I may plan additional chapters for my next draft.

Stories are actually quite similar in structure, so the books often fit quite neatly into the storyboard with only a bit of tweaking. I don’t like doing this at the outset because I want to leave room for those unexpected twists—let the ideas come out once I’m really living in the draft.

After I’ve worked out what changes need to be made based on my read-through and storyboard, I rewrite the book from the beginning. I do all this in the same document and keep a lot of the first draft, but I also add thousands of words, fleshing out scenes and filling in chapters. At this stage, I’m still not worried about how neat the actual writing is.

STEP SEVEN: Rest and Repeat

I put that new draft away and then go back to do the second draft of the second book. Or the first draft of the third book. Or the third draft of the last book in the last series. You get the picture. It gets complicated from here, and this is why I have so many books on the go at once. Each time a draft needs to rest, I’ll have something else to work on.

And so on!

My process continues like this, and the books get better with each draft. I also become a better writer with each draft. By the time I wrote the final draft of Seaswept last month, I was far better writer than when I wrote the first draft in early 2013.

After I’ve done at least two, usually three, drafts, I ask other people to read the book and give me feedback. Then there will be more notes, more drafts, more hours spent sitting in the chair and refining the story and the prose.

Some problems are just easier to solve on the second (or third or fourth) rewrites.

I estimate that each book goes through five or six drafts before I send it off for editing. I’m hoping that as I become a better writer it’ll take fewer drafts to get the book where I want it, but the important thing is that I try not to get bogged down by worrying whether any one draft is good enough. Taking this approach is liberating, and it allows me to get a lot of work done.

"Edited Version of First Book," by Joanna Penn via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

“Edited Version of First Book,” by Joanna Penn via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

So, Dear Diary, this is my writing process as it exists so far. I’m having fun applying it to my shiny new project.

Seaswept will be out soon and then I’ll be doing another draft of Burnt Sea, the prequel, but in the meantime it’s exciting to have another series on the go!

Thanks for following along on my writing journey. I hope this glimpse at my process might be helpful for another budding writer or two. It is certainly helping me get my brain back in order so I can get back to work

I remain yours,

Shannon Young/Jordan Rivet
www.shannonyoungwriter.com
JordanRivet.com

* * *

Readers, Shannon has graciously shared her writing process with us this month. By breaking it all down, she almost makes it seem easy! (You can tell that she’s been a teacher.) So, what do you think—any responses to her methods, questions, words of encouragement for her next endeavor? Do let her know in the comments!

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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LOCATION, LOCUTION: Canadian writer Lee Strauss uses busy, multicultural Dresden as setting for romance

Location Locution_LeeStrauss

LOCATION, LOCUTION: JJ Marsh (left) talks to author Lee Strauss about the craft of setting contemporary romance novels in foreign locations.

In “Location, Locution” expat crime series writer JJ Marsh chats with fellow displaced fiction writers about their methods of portraying place in their works. Her guest today is contemporary romance and speculative fiction writer Lee Strauss. Born near Chicago to Canadian parents, Lee might have grown up a California girl had it not been for Vietnam, which caused her parents to retreat back to Canada. At age 22, she married Norm Strauss, a Canadian folk rock musician—and signed up for a life of adventure. They have traveled extensively overseas and live part-time in Germany.

—ML Awanohara

Lee Strauss is the author of the Minstrel Series, a collection of contemporary romance novels set in the singer/songwriter world, taking place in Germany and England; the Perception Series, a trilogy of young adult dystopian novels; and several works of YA historical fiction. Under the alter ego of Elle Strauss, she writes fanciful younger adult stories about time travel, mermaids and fairies.

Lee is the married mother of four grown children, three boys and a girl. Because of her husband’s job as an indie folk musician, she has traveled to twelve European countries, Mexico, fourteen states, and six Canadian provinces. Currently, the couple divide its time between Kelowna, a town in British Columbia’s temperate Okanangan Valley, and Dresden, Germany. When not writing or reading Lee likes to cycle, hike and do yoga. She enjoys travel (but not jet lag :0), soy lattes, red wine and dark chocolate.

Now let’s talk to Lee about how she has woven European settings into several of her books.

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Which came first, story or location?

It was a simultaneous decision. My singer-songwriter husband and I spent some time brainstorming on how we could merge our two worlds, indie publishing collaborating with indie music artists, and the idea for the Minstrel Series was born. (Each of the books has accompanying music.) The first two books, Sun & Moon and Flesh & Bone, are song titles of music used in the books. We live part of the year in Dresden, Germany, and I just knew that the books had to be set there, right in our neighbourhood.

Minstrel Series Set in Dresden

Cover art from first two books of the Minstrel Series; (middle) view of Dresden’s historical center, from the same spot where Canaletto made his famous painting.

I’ve also written a WW2 historical novel called Playing with Matches, about a group of boys growing up in Hitler Youth. The story takes place in Passau and Nuremberg. Traveling to both cities made a huge difference in getting the setting and ambiance right.

Playing with Matches Collage

Clockwise, left to right: Cover art; Nuremberg citiscape; view of Veste Oberhaus, a 13th-century fortress in Paussau, in lower Bavaria, Germany.

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

Nothing like living in the middle of it! The street and building in Dresden where we lived are featured in great detail in Sun & Moon and Flesh & Bone. Many readers comment on how they feel like they visited Germany while reading my books.

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

All three. I share a lot of Dresden images on Tumblr, including not just landscape but also food and the local culture.

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

Here’s a passage from the Minstrel Series, describing a scene in Dresden:

Katja stood in one of the cutaways on the old stone bridge over the River Elbe that joined the Altstadt with the Neustadt, the old city with the new.

She shivered despite her winter jacket and the scarf wrapped around her neck and strummed her guitar with fingerless gloves. The limestone dome of the Frauenkirche—the Church of our Lady—peaked out over the city’s ancient, baroque skyline. Like all the buildings in the historic center, it had been completely demolished during the Second World War. The entire city was rebuilt to look much like it had before it was destroyed. In essence, the old town was now the new one, and the new town the old one.

It was majestic and awe-inspiring to look upon.

Most days.

Katja’s guitar case lay open at her feet. She’d thrown in the few cents she’d found under the sofa cushions, hoping to lure other donations.

The cold wind kept people hunched over and moving at a fast pace across the bridge, most with chins tucked down and hands shoved into deep pockets. No one took the time to stop and listen, much less drop money in her case.

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

Spending time living there is the absolute best way. There’s so much you see and learn about a place over time. The second best is to visit in person. After that, talking to people who have lived or visited there along with research and Google Earth.

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

Maeve Binchy has a wonderful way of pulling the reader deep into Ireland. (My next book in The Minstrel Series will be set in Ireland and Boston, where I’ve lived.) Susan Grafton does the same for Southern California with her Alphabet Mystery series, set in the fictional city of Santa Teresa, based on Santa Barbara.

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Readers, if this interview has piqued your curiosity about Lee Strauss and her creative array of fiction works, we encourage you to visit her author site.

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

STAY TUNED for the next fab post!

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DIARY OF AN EXPAT WRITER: Shifting base to literary London, where it all began

DiaryExpatWriterAn American expat newlywed in Hong Kong, Shannon Young took the momentous decision last summer to quit her day job and launch out as a full-time writer. She’d given herself until Chinese New Year to see if she could make a living but has now postponed the decision until the end of next month—which we’re actually rather glad about as it means she’s still with us!

—ML Awanohara

Dear Displaced Diary,

It’s a blustery morning here in London and time for another update on my life as an expat writer. You may remember that I do not, in fact, live in London. I’m taking a break from my writing life in Hong Kong for a visit that combines the Easter holidays with my husband’s business trip.

I am still making the most of not having a day job by staying in the UK for nearly three weeks.

Of course the work never stops for a working writer. I spent the first four days of the holiday finishing up the final revisions of Seaswept, the sequel to my post-apocalyptic adventure at sea called Seabounda job that can be done anywhere, really!

Jordan Rivet in London

Shannon Young aka Jordan Rivet showing off her first book on a tea break in London; photo credit: Shannon Young.

As I mentioned in my last post, the revisions on Seaswept were a bit of a slog, but I really got into the groove by the final pass. I have to admit it was kind of magical to wake up with the sun (or clouds) in this famous literary city, write for a few hours, go for a walk, and then do a bit more writing before the jet lag knocked me out. London has always been a source of inspiration for me, and the setting somehow seemed right for ending my work on this book.

In addition to the beautiful buildings, blue historical plaques, and bridges (have I ever told you, dear diary, how much I love bridges?), I’ve found another source of inspiration in London: a friend from Hong Kong.

Expat connections are everywhere

As Displaced Nation readers know, we expats have a tendency to move on often, either to a new country or back to where we came from. Expat life is a constant rotation of hellos and goodbyes. While it’s sad when friends leave, it’s pretty cool to acquire connections all over the world.

A friend from my writers’ group in Hong Kong returned to the UK nearly two years ago, but she has maintained her link with the group and her role as true cheerleader for my work. Recently, she decided to embark on a similar literary adventure by taking time off work to write!

I met up with her at the cafe and bookshop run by the London Review of Books and spent nearly four hours writing and talking about writing together. (I also ate hummus on toast that came with real worms on the side, but that’s another story.) It was a joy to have a friend in a city thousands of miles away from both my home country and my country of residence, all thanks to this expat life.

The day I sent the final draft of Seaswept to my editor, my Hong Kong friend took me on a literary tour of Highgate and Hampstead—and, of course, a trek across the rain-soaked trails of Hampstead Heath. In between breaks for tea and hot cross buns, she showed me the home of Samuel Coleridge (and the alley where he bought his laudanum), a garden straight out of a Jane Austen novel, and a pub visited by many notable figures throughout its 200-year history. As we walked, I was reminded again and again of just how old this city is and just how much has happened in its streets. It’s the setting for some of my favorite novels, novels that made me want to be a writer myself.

Photo souvenirs from Jordan Rivet's London walks. At bottom: Hampstead Heath with a view of Kenwood House, a former stately home.

The houses of Highgate and the expanses of Hampstead Heath, with former stately home Kenwood House in distance. Photo credit: Shannon Young.

As my writing journey continues across the globe in Hong Kong, it’s nice to remember its origins and to soak in a bit of history in the company of someone who is just as excited about it as I am.

Beginnings, revisited

During my time in London, I’m also revisiting the origins of my own expat life. As you may recall, Dear Diary, I met my husband in London during a semester abroad. We ended up in Hong Kong, but our early romance took place here. The memories have been flooding back over the past few days as we walk by all the places where we shared sweet moments: first meeting, first date, first kiss.

I wrote about our romance in the first book I ever started, Year of Fire Dragons. It’s mostly about Hong Kong, but I can’t tell my Hong Kong story without starting in London.

Hong Kong tends to change very quickly, with restaurants and shops going in and out of business all the time. Buildings are torn down and rebuilt completely in the space of months. But London seems largely the same. Back in this place with this man, it’s easy to remember why I decided to follow him across the world.

LondonKiss+Year of Fire Dragons

A firey romance in London led Shannon to the land of Fire Dragons and her first book, a memoir (photo credit: pixabay).

What’s on the horizon?

Well, the sun is breaking through the clouds over the city. I’d better head out to make the most the sunshine before the rain and wind return.

I have two weeks to go in London. During that time, my editor will be working on Seaswept, which should be ready to launch by April 30th. Meanwhile, I’m looking ahead to my next project: the prequel to the Seabound Chronicles. Then it will be time to finish Book 3.

But I’m already working on my next series. I’ve written a rough outline and the first 10,000 words. While I’m enjoying the flood of inspiration and nostalgia in London, perhaps I’ll tap out a few more chapters. If there’s one thing I’ve learned on this expat writing journey, it’s that places have power. I don’t want to miss out on anything London has to offer in the next few weeks.

Thanks for following along on my writing journey around the world.

Yours,

Shannon Young/Jordan Rivet
www.shannonyoungwriter.com

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

* * *

Readers, Shannon’s diary post this month has made me nostalgic for my own days of living in London. Sigh! It sounds as though she’s making the most of her time in the Big Smoke with walks on the Health and so on, but if you have any further recommendations for her remaining two weeks (any bridges you think she should see?), do let her know in the comments!

STAY TUNED for more fab posts!

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

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

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

—ML Awanohara

Dear Displaced Diary,

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

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

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

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

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

And now for the moment of truth!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giving myself pep talks and jealously guarding my time

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

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

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

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

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

Six-month report card

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

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

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

It’s time to make a decision.

Dun da da da!

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

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

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

As always, I’ll keep you posted.

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

Yours,

Shannon Young/Jordan Rivet
www.shannonyoungwriter.com

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

* * *

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

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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

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