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Jackie Townsend’s novel examines a cross-cultural relationship up close, imperfections and all


Jackie Townsend in Rome (photo used with her permission)

As a veteran of cross-cultural relationships (I am now on my second marriage to someone from another country), I tend to fancy myself as something of an expert on the topic. On the one hand, I know the joys of living in an intimate relationship with someone from another culture. On the other, I am only too aware of the pitfalls, a few of which I listed in an early post that still gets lots of hits: “Cross-cultural marriage: Four good reasons not to rush into it.”

I was therefore delighted to come across the novel Imperfect Pairings, by Jackie Townsend. From the outset of the book, I could see that here is a writer who understands that marrying someone from another country not only means marrying the family—but marrying the culture, by which one means the REAL culture, not the tourist version.

The imperfect pairing at the center of Jackie’s novel are Jamie, an American career woman, and Jack/Giovanni, who received his education at MIT but is from an old Italian family. The reason he has two names? Because, when he gets to Italy, he “literally turns into another person with another name,” as Jamie informs her mother at one stage.

Unsure of the relationship at first, Jamie finds herself powerfully drawn to Jack/Giovanni. Not only is he physically attractive, but he’s a man of hidden depths, who seems to understand her better than anyone else.

Eventually, the pair get married—but it’s not a fairytale wedding in the Italian countryside. Rather, it happens in city hall—Jamie has offered to help Jack get his green card. But despite this rather unromantic beginning, the couple grow close, and Jamie gradually immerses herself in Giovanni’s life, especially after he quits his job in the United States to help out with resurrecting the vineyards on his family’s estate.

As one reviewer said of Jackie’s novel:

It’s a brilliantly-written small gem, with exquisite detail and equally exquisite crafting of language, by an American author with her own Italian husband and her own Italian experience. It’s a guidebook to Italy, and a guidebook to how Italians really live their lives.

So can love cross borders? Fortunately, Jackie has agreed to answer some questions about her own life and the book. And she has kindly offered to GIVE AWAY ONE FREE E-COPY to the person who leaves the most interesting comment!

* * *

ImperfectPairings_cover_pmHi / ciao, Jackie. Thanks so much for agreeing to be our featured author this month. First can you tell us what made you decide to write a novel focusing on a cross-cultural relationship between an American woman and an Italian man?
I am 16 years married to an Italian who came to the U.S. for university and stayed.

And you called the novel “Imperfect Pairings”–why?
I got tired hearing all the oohs and ahs: “Oh you’re married to an Italian, how wonderful!” It’s so much more complex than that, and I wanted to dispel the notion of the romantic Italian love story, but in a real and true way, which means also dispelling the romanticism of relationships. The novel is about a couple dealing with real issues and real life, and learning to love each other even more in the midst of all that.

Did writing the book help you to process your own experience of getting into a cross-cultural relationship?
My own experience of being married to a foreigner exposed me to the parallels between cultural differences and marital differences. Entering a foreign country can be like entering a relationship and vise versa. To get to know someone, to understand them, you need the cross the border into their country, the country of their mind and soul. But even if you do eventually learn their “language,” you will never speak their native tongue, not really anyway. Which leaves the question, “Is it possible to ever really know the person you love?”

How much of the book is autobiographical?
Only about thirty percent of the story is autobiographically based. It took me much longer than Jamie to truly open myself up to my Italian family. Part of my writing the book, is homage to that, and them.

The Italian wine-making industry figures large in the novel. Did that emerge from an actual experience?
My husband’s family lives outside Turin, in Northern Italy, not far from the Barolo region. They did once have a summer villa there, where they made wine, and this is what inspired me to use wine and the resurrection of the family vineyard as a catalyst for the story. I love the way Italians treat wine, casually, like a member of the family, an old friend. Wine is a relationship. It requires love and care and tending to if it’s going to survive and grow, and, still, you don’t know what that wine will ultimately be, how it will taste. It became the perfect metaphor for the book.

Why a novel and not a memoir?
I’ve always written fiction, that’s the genre that comes naturally to me. I like the freedom, the idea of letting the characters take the story where they want to go, as when Jamie and Giovanni head to Southern Italy, to Napoli, at the end of the story.

Staying on the theme of your own life and travels, how and where did you meet your Italian husband?
My husband grew up in Italy, Australia, and Bangkok. He moved to the United States for college. We met four years later at business school in Berkeley. I had no idea he was Italian. He was raised in international schools and learned English very early on and worked hard to fit in, to have no Italian accent. But in Italy, he’s the opposite, staunchly Italian and working hard to rid himself of his American accent because he needs this sense of heritage, of home.

The inner nuances of Italian life

In the book you describe Jamie’s many displaced moments: her initial discomfort at being thrown into a physically demonstrative family that loves sitting down to home-cooked meals; her surprise at discovering that her American values of self-reliance and a can-do spirit do not really register with Giovanni’s people; and, perhaps most shockingly of all, her perception that her husband’s allegiance to football trumps all else. At one point she actually wonders if she and he have been “raised on different planets.” What was your most displaced moment when visiting Italy with your husband?
In the beginning of our relationship, it was knowing that he might be embarrassed my me, and my rather bawdy Americanism.

That reminds me of the first time Jamie and Giovanni visit Italy, not long after they’ve met, and she suggests that he sleep in her room. He gets angry and says: “It’s just not something you do here.” I know that you and your husband live in New York City. Have you ever considered moving to Italy?
Early on we had lofty dreams about living in Italy. The idea sounded romantic, but the reality was that the more and more we visited, the more and more I realized that moving to Italy would mean essentially moving in with his family—more disconcertingly his mother, a lovely kind woman, but also, well, I’ll let you imagine. The other reality was that it’s not easy to move to Italy and work. Job opportunities there just can’t compete with those in the States. Will we give it all up some day and move there? We’ll see.

What was your least displaced moment, when the Italian way of life made sense, and you felt as though you belonged in that part of the world—or as Jamie puts it when she comes to tolerate football, “accidentally entered some alternative universe”?
Three years ago our Roman cousin (the inspiration for the character Silvestro) asked me to be the godmother to his third child. Italians take this duty seriously, and I was very touched that he asked me, for Romans can often be all about Rome, and yet he skipped over all these other family members, even my husband, for the Americana. I’ve never felt so naturally a part of things (this, after 12 years)—standing in this magnificent church in the center of Rome, holding his baby in my arms as the priest christened him, trying not to shake or trip or fumble, surrounded by all of our Italian family, those who had so easily and truly made me part of their lives. I think I finally let myself believe it. It takes time, years, for cultural barriers to fall down, to really get to know someone from another country. But what I’ve learned is that you can. It’s something I would never have believed earlier on in my relationship with my in-laws.

That’s a touching story. Does having a non-American husband make you look at life in the United States any differently? In the book, Jamie comes to reappraise her sister and brother-in-law’s values after being exposed to a different part of the world.
Absolutely. It gives me perspective. My husband’s view is always global, from the outside in, sometimes infuriatingly so. While my view, the view of most Americans, will be from the inside out. We are the center of the world. But in fact, we are not. You can’t get this perspective, I don’t believe, unless you are intimately involved with another country, you “marry” them. I feel so lucky to have this experience and perspective in my life.

Self-publishing, a Writer’s Digest prize & praise from Italian Americans

Moving on to the book: What was the most difficult part of the book-writing process?
My writing is very subtle. I want my readers to read between the lines, to feel what’s going on in the quiet places. In as such, bringing out the romance between Jamie and Giovanni proved difficult. Because I believe that love is very personal and private, between two people only, and so to expose Jamie and Giovanni’s love felt like I was tainting it. I had to get past this. Knowing when to let love surface, getting the balance right, was difficult. It took a lot of time, and many of rewrites.

What was your path to getting it published?
I self-publish my novels through my own imprint, Ripetta Press. It’s a decision I came to a few years back when my first novel, Reel Life, came close but ultimately had no success in finding a publisher. When Imperfect Pairings came along, I didn’t even bother trying to find a publisher. I became accustomed to the freedom of being able to do what I wanted with the book. And I was going to have to market it myself anyway.

Are you comfortable with indie publishing—is it working for you?
It’s become relatively easy to self-publish, though it might not be for everyone. In my case, I’m able to garner enough press and sales to sustain myself and find inspiration. Speaking of self-publishing, Imperfect Pairings just won an honorable mention award for literary fiction in the Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book awards, which of course I was very pleased about. My plan is to have the book translated, first in Italian, and work to find an international distributer.

Wow, congratulations! And well deserved. I must say, was impressed by how elegantly and lyrically you write. So what audience did you have in mind for the book? Has it been reaching those people?
Some people from the pure Romance genre got a hold of my book early on, and were wildly disappointed. This is not your typical Italian love story, and far from your steamy romance. It’s an adult romance, and people who get that really enjoy it.

The best reception of the book has been from the Italian American community, people who have some connection with Italy, second or third generation transplants. Many of those readers can really relate to the idea of an Italian’s displacement and the differing cultural dynamics between America and Italy.

I noticed your first book was about sisters, and this book has a sister relationship at its heart. Are you working on the next book now? What is about, and will it have a pair of sisters?
Funny you should ask. Yes, my next book has a sister theme. Two young adult women from different countries and cultures—one is Italian and one is American—will discover that they have the same father.

I presume you have a sister or sisters in real life?
Yes, I have two sisters (and a brother) who drive me crazy. But I love them. They provide inspiration for a lot of material!

10 Questions for Jackie Townsend

Finally, I’d like to ask a series of questions that I’ve asked some of our other featured authors, about your reading and writing habits:
1. Last truly great book you read: Hologram for a King, by Dave Eggers.
2. Favorite literary genres: Fiction, novels and short story collections, both classical and contemporary.
3. Reading habits on a plane: I travel frequently, and often far. Planes are my excuse to spend uninterrupted hours getting lost in a novel. I travel with my Kindle. It gives me this sense, tucked into my purse, that I’m traveling with all my books.
4. The one book you’d require President Obama to read, and why: 1984, by George Orwell but only because I couldn’t think of anything else.

5. Favorite books as a child: To Kill A Mockingbird; Catcher in the Rye.
6. Favorite heroine: Dorothea in Middlemarch
7. The writer, alive or dead, you’d most like to meet: Joan Didion
8. Your reading habits: At night, before bed, but I will also sometimes get up and read in the morning, for inspiration. I am always inspired to write when I read great fiction.

9. The book you’d most like to see made as a film: Mine.

10. The book you plan to read next: The Lowland, by Jhumpa Lahiri

* * *

Thank you, Jackie! As mentioned, I loved the book—everything from the big picture of the cross-cultural relationship to the little details, like Jamie having to get used to the fact that Italians don’t snack between meals. I also love something you said just now: “Entering a foreign country can be like entering a relationship and vise versa.” I believe there’s something in this book for every expat or serious traveler.

Readers, how about you? Any further questions for Jackie, or comments? Remember that if you leave a comment, you’ll be eligible to receive a free e-copy of the book! So, comment away! Extra points, as always, if you’re a Displaced Dispatch subscriber!

The winner will be announced in our Displaced Dispatch on November 30, 2013.

Can’t wait to read the book? You can always order a copy at Amazon.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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Images: Jackie Townsend in Rome; book cover art.

For TCK writer Cinda MacKinnon, fiction is a way to revisit “homes” she has cherished

Cinda MacKinnon CollageWhen I first returned to the United States after my extended expat journey, I remember humming to myself:

There’s a place for me,
Somewhere a place for me.

But then last month, when I went to see our monthly columnist Elizabeth Liang perform her one-woman show, Alien Citizen, I realized that my displacement, which took place as an adult, does not compare to that of Third Culture Kids. Most expats have been global residents by choice, whereas TCKs had no choice in being dragged around the globe by their parents. They and they alone have earned the epithet of “global nomad”.

Elizabeth has found a place for herself in theatrical circles. And today we talk to another adult TCK, Cinda Crabbe MacKinnon, who has found a place in fiction writers’ groups. Based on the first novel she produced, tellingly entitled A Place in the World, it seems fair to say that Cinda thrives on creating fictional characters whose lives resemble her own in some way, and then placing them in a part of the world where she has fond memories of spending some portion of her formative years, as a TCK.

In brief, A Place in the World centers around a young American woman named Alicia, who marries a Colombian and goes to live on his family’s remote coffee finca in the “cloud” forests of the Andes Mountains. Calamities strike one after another and Alicia ends up running the finca alone.

According to the book description, A Place in the World is a romantic adventure story, with a multicultural cast of characters, in the same vein as Isak Dineson’s Out of Africa.

Unlike Dineson’s work, however, it is not a memoir. Cinda may have loved her time in Colombia, but she didn’t marry a Colombian. And though she always wanted to be a biologist, she became an environmental scientist instead.

Well, enough from me. Let’s find out more about Cinda, why she wrote the book, and the book-writing process. And don’t forget to comment at the end of the interview! As Cinda has agreed to be this month’s featured author, we will be giving away ONE FREE E-COPY of her book to the person who leaves the most interesting comment!

* * *

APlaceintheWorld_coverCinda, pura vida. Thanks so much for agreeing to this interview. Let’s begin at the beginning: what made you decide to write a novel about an American woman who lives in the cloud forests of Colombia?
Well, like all writers the story was simply in my head. Contrary to what I’d been told to do, I wrote for myself, without the idea of publishing—at least when I first got started. But I guess there were also some motivating factors. As you mentioned, I grew up as a Third Culture Kid, or TCK. My family lived in Greece, Germany, Colombia, and Costa Rica because my father was in the United States Air Force and then worked as an attaché to American embassies. I spent my formative years—and by far the longest time—in Colombia and Costa Rica. I wanted to be a rainforest biologist. That didn’t happen, but I’ve been able to live this dream through my protagonist, Alicia. Writing the book gave me an excuse to visit and study tropical nature in several places.

What impact did writing about the experience have on you overall—did it help you process what you’d been through as a TCK?
I love Latin America—the setting and culture are comfortable to me. The book gave me a chance to write about the people in that part of the world who were enormously kind to me. Growing up as a girl without a country, I came “home” for the first time to the States for college and felt totally out of place. Writing gave expression to some of this unanticipated culture shock.

What kinds of books have influenced you as a writer?
When I look at my Goodreads list of top 40 favorite books I see there is a definite multicultural theme: 30 are set in other countries, written by foreign authors or about expats. A few eclectic examples:

  • The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver
  • Crime and Punishment, by F. Dostoyevsky
  • Zorba the Greek, by N. Kazantzakis
  • Tortilla Curtain, by T.C  Boyle
  • Small Kingdoms, by A. Hobbet
  • How the García Girls Lost Their Accents, by J. Alvarez
  • Eva Luna, by I. Allende
  • Caravans and Hawaii, by James Michener
  • The Thorn Birds, by C. McCullough
  • Pillars of the Earth, by K. Follett;
  • The Paris Wife, P. McLain;
  • Lost in Translation (different from the movie), by N. Mones
  • Dreaming in Cuban, by C. Garcia.

A fish out of water…

As you know, we like to talk about “displacement” on this site. When you were growing up as a TCK, what was your most displaced moment?
When I was working in New Zealand as a young adult. I’d lived in four or five different countries and could make myself understood in several languages so wasn’t expecting that to be a problem in NZ. I remember being with a colleague trying to order a milkshake, and the lady behind the counter asked me to repeat myself. “A chocolate milkshake, please,” I said as clearly as I could. She looked at me blankly and said, “Say it one more time dear, I’m trying very hard to understand you, but your accent is so thick.” As we left the shop, I told my work mate, “I don’t know what I got, but it sure isn’t chocolate!” Alistair smiled and replied, “I thought you asked for ‘banahnah’”!  Go figure!

Yes, having been to New Zealand, I can kind of imagine that! What was your least displaced moment, when you felt that the peripatetic life suited you, and you were at “home”?
As an eighth grader arriving in Costa Rica from Colombia. My first week I was accepted as part of the class and invited to a party. I spoke Spanish and felt I fit in. Costa Ricans are a hospitable people, but I think I was also especially lucky to have been in that particular class. They were—and are—an exceptionally nice group of people; they still meet every month or so for dinner, and any classmate who happens to be in town is invited to drop in. I found life in Costa Rica to be nurturing.

You mentioned the counter culture shock you experienced when coming back to America for college. What was the biggest challenge you faced at that moment?
Well, it wasn’t one thing but all the little things: I was dressed “wrong”, didn’t know the music, had never been to a football game… I just really felt like a fish out of water and wanted to go back to Costa Rica—so, after a couple years, I did! (For a while…)

Clearing the writing & publishing hurdles

Moving on to A Place in the World: what was the most difficult part of the book-writing process?
Beginnings are the most difficult for me, as well as writing synopses for agents and publishers. In general, however, the answer is: time. Finding time to write while I was still working; finding time to meet my indispensable writing critique group; and once edited and published, finding time to speak at bookstores, do interviews, and write posts for my own blog!

What was your path to publishing?
Like any previously unpublished author, I had a difficult time. I had one agent hold onto my novel for six months as we discussed strategies and then (with the downturn in the markets) told me they had decided not to handle unpublished writers anymore. This has become a mantra with traditional publishers. (J.K. Rowlings was turned down dozens of times before finding a publisher for Harry Potter.) After a couple of years (during which time I was polishing the manuscript with my critique group), I decided to “indie” publish. There is a range of providers between traditional publisher and self publishing; and my publisher, VirtualBookworm, is one of those in the middle. I paid for my own editor (she was great—an expat who married a Latino) and a very small fee towards printing; but I get a bigger percentage per book than with a big publisher. I’ve been happy with all the support they have given me and would do it again.

What audience did you intend for the book? Has it been reaching those people?  Can other kinds of expats, who haven’t lived in Latin America, relate to Alicia’s story as well?
I think of it as “mainstream” fiction that will appeal to anyone who likes to read about other places and cultures; but yes, it has been popular with expats. I rather thought that alumni from the overseas schools I went to would be interested, and that has been the case. I’m heartened and amazed at the support and e-mails I’ve received from adults of all ages.

Are you working on any other writing projects?
Yes (she says hesitantly). Hesitantly because, as you might guess from what I’ve already told you, I’m working pretty much FT—and finding time for creative writing is harder than usual! I do have several ideas that I’ve started: one set in Hawaii, another in Costa Rica, and a third in Europe. This last might be of interest to your followers, as it will be about a group of kids in an international school in Switzerland written from the point of view several different characters, taking their experiences into adulthood. And then my writers group thinks I should do a memoir. So I don’t know which of these schemes will “win”, but I intend to set priorities before the New Year.

10 Questions for Cinda MacKinnon

Finally, I’d like to ask a series of questions that I’ve asked some of our other featured authors, about your reading and writing habits:
1. Last truly great book you read: The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, comes to mind, but how great is great? I could go back to Zorba the Greek, by Nikos Kazantzakis.
2. Favorite literary genre: Literary and mainstream—especially multicultural or historical.

3. Reading habits on a plane: Anything—even the airline magazine in a pinch, but I usually take my Kindle with a good novel. Also, planes provide great down time to write!

4. Book(s) you would recommend to other TCKs, expats: Other than my “multicultural” fiction list above, it would be two books: Tales of Wonder, a fascinating autobiography about growing up in China almost a century ago, by Huston Smith; and I’m a Stranger Here Myself—Bill Bryson’s funny take on coming home after years abroad.

5. Favorite books as a child: Fairy Tales, by Brothers Grimm. When I was a little older, the Nancy Drew mysteries and I enjoyed reading Dr. Seuss to my little brother.
6. Favorite heroine: In fiction: Nancy Drew? In real life: There are too many to choose just one.

7. The writer, alive or dead, you’d most like to meet: Barbara Kingsolver and John Steinbeck.
8. Your reading habits: I take a break every afternoon and I get a little reading in, and then my husband and I always read before turning out the light.
9. The book you’d most like to see made as a film: A Place in the World! Seriously, two fans have suggested this and I love the idea. I visualize the opening as the cloud forest seen from the air and then zooming in to the tiled roof house with the veranda and bougainvillea. (This is actually a possibility! A colleague of mine is a script writer and mentioned that it would make a good movie.)
10. The book you plan to read next:  I just started Flight Behavior, by Barbara Kingsolver. Then I’ll probably read The Old Way: A Story of the First People, by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, or Cristina García’s new novel, King of Cuba.

* * *

Thanks, Cinda! Though I’ve never been to Colombia, I find myself enamoured of the idea of finding a place for myself in a cloud forest. It’s actually an apt metaphor for how many of us “displaced” types live: with our heads in the clouds, pretending we are somewhere else half the time.

Readers, how about you? Is your head in the cloud (forest) after listening to Cinda? BTW, if you’re as new to Colombian cloud forests as I am, I suggest that you check out Cinda’s Pinterest boards. You can also get to know her better by visiting her author site and blog, and liking her Facebook page.

And don’t forget to comment on this post! Extra points, as always, if you’re a Displaced Dispatch subscriber!

The winner will be announced in our Displaced Dispatch on November 2, 2013.

NOTE: If you can’t wait to read the book, you can always get a softcover copy here and the e-book version in various formats on Smashwords or Amazon.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, when monthly columnist JJ Marsh talks “location, locution” with best-selling Brazilian author Paulo Coelho.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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Images (left to right): Valle de Cocora in Columbia, with wax palms towering over the cloud forest, courtesy McKay Savage on Flickr (Creative Commons license CC BY 2.0); Cinda MacKinnon as a child in Colombia; Cinda MacKinnon now (she lives in northern California); and Cinda with her husband in front of Monserrate, a mountain that dominates the city center of Bogotá, Colombia, taken just this past summer.

Don Quixote & Sancho, John Steinbeck & Charley…Olga & George? A travelogue for the expat annals (plus we’re giving away a copy!)

Olga Vannucci CollageWhen I first stumbled across Olga Vannucci’s memoir, Travels with George, I wondered whether the title alluded to John Steinbeck’s book Travels with Charley, about his road trip across America in the company of his French standard poodle, Charley.

Turns out, I got it right. Born in Italy, Olga went to Brown University and currently lives in rural New Jersey. As she tells it, she was driving through Doylestown, Pennsylvania, one day when Steinbeck’s travelogue popped into her head, and she knew she wanted to call her book “Travels with George.” When she announced this to her son (the “George” of the title), he said: “So I’m the dog?”

As you can gather from this story, mother and son make quite a pair.

Olga says she’s no Steinbeck, though she does prefer a plain and honest writing style. Also like Steinbeck, she had the desire to see her native land again.

So, how did she find the Italy of today: did she still fit in? And what did her sidekick, George, the blonde all-American kid, make of his mammina‘s homeland? Did he enjoy these escapades or feel puzzled by his mother’s motives? Perhaps the story he saw himself in wasn’t Steinbeck’s at all, but a modern Italian version of Don Quixote, in which he occupied the role of a skeptical Sancho Panza?

Olga has kindly agreed to give away one copy of the book to the reader who is keenest to find out the answers to these questions (see giveaway details below).

But before we get into that, let’s talk to Olga and hear some more about the travels that inspired her to put pen to paper…

* * *

Travels with George Book CoverCiao, Olga! Let’s begin at the beginning. Tell us more about your decision to take a trip to Italy with your young son and write about it.
I was born in Italy (Milano), lived in Brazil two different times as a child, and came to the United States to attend college. I’ve been here ever since. When my son was seven years old, I realized suddenly that I hadn’t been back to Italy in ten years, and I went, taking him along. I thought he would learn about Italy and acquire a feel for what it’s like. I also hoped he would learn some Italian. I don’t know how much of that was accomplished, but I loved showing him around. We went back four more times over the course of six years (he is now 14). I wrote the book about those trips: a mix of travelogue, personal history, and little anecdotes, with some humor.

What impact did writing about the experience have on you—did it help you process your childhood memories?
It was wonderful to see the locales of my childhood again. At this point, my memories are either indelibly fixed or just gone—for instance, I can remember clearly sitting on the steps with my friends Sassello, in Ligurio, as I recount here:

[My sister and I] had two friends in Sassello, two girls the same age as [us]—Paola and Maria Elena. They spent their summers thirty meters from where we spent ours, and we spent hours and hours of every day together.

[George and I] walk by the steps where we used to sit. I expect to see them, I expect them to be there, but they’re not. No one is. It’s all the same, but it isn’t.

Did you also learn something about yourself, in taking these excursions down Memory Lane?
I did find out about my current self through the book, but primarily from what others told me my words said about me—for example that I’m kind, funny, and honest. It was also interesting to hear from others about the things that they could relate to in the book, ranging from the more profound to the totally mundane situations. That was amazing, to realize that what I wrote spoke to others.

George’s ordeal

Do you think it will help George someday, in understanding part of his heritage that might not otherwise be accessible?
George has not read the book because, he says, “I was there, I don’t need to read about it.” I do hope and trust that both the experience and the writing will be a part of him, that he will consider the book a gift.

What was your most displaced moment when you & George were touring Italy, when you thought of yourself as a stranger within your homeland?
I always struggle with whether I am Italian or, at this point, American, or, more likely, not really either one. What makes me feel at home in Italy is the fact that it’s largely so unchanged. What makes me feel displaced is that the people of the older generation, my parents’ generation, who are the people I particularly associate with Italy, are passing. They’re my biggest connection with Italy, and they will soon be gone. After that, I may feel displaced…

I gather you don’t feel nearly as comfortable with younger generations of Italians?
Yes. I’m not sure why not. Possibly because the younger generation is doing its own thing and is more all over the place, unlike the older, which has stayed put.

What was your least displaced moment, when it all seemed to make sense for you and George to be there—that you fit right in?
On all the trips we visited my aunt, my mother’s sister, and stayed at her house, where we slipped naturally into being part of the family. I had coffee with her in the morning, we planned meals, I helped her water her garden, George fed her goldfish, and we watched television in the evening.  There was not an ocean or even a smidge of formality between us.

I love the description you provide of your aunt in the book:

My aunt is a lovely person, she’s beautiful and she likes to dress well. She’s 80 now, and she still looks good in her clothes, she wears fashionable clothes. She is cheerful and tells funny stories. She loves to do stuff and see people, she’s chatty. She’s fun to be around.

In that same passage, you mention the “recurring nightmare” of finding food that George likes to eat. What was the most challenging thing about traveling with a young child?
I did not realize how jarring the experience would be for George. To me, Italy is pleasant, and while I knew it would all be new to him, I didn’t realize how different it really was. Being in a completely unrecognizable place where he didn’t understand the language was way outside his comfort zone. I also probably didn’t verbalize things enough. I could have prepared him more and explained things better.

The other thing about traveling with a small child is that I, as the adult, had to be “on” 100% of the time.  Not only did I have to plan and handle everything, but I also had to manage him and make sure I didn’t lose him, which was something I actually worried about, and when I became stressed I had to try to hide it so he wouldn’t become stressed, which I didn’t do very well. He’s very perceptive.

What do you think he took from the experience?
The knowledge that he can survive a terrible ordeal… Possibly I took him on a few too many hikes up hills. It wasn’t always fun and idyllic. I do believe that the trips will serve as a foundation for him to understand that the world is large and diverse and for him to appreciate differences.

The potential perils of writing about one’s offspring

What was the most difficult part of the book-writing process?
It was hard to write about others and protect their privacy at the same time, particularly with my son. I find him very amusing, but he doesn’t intend to amuse me, and he is sensitive to it. He thinks I’m making fun of him, basically. So I’m always walking that line, writing about him, but trying to be respectful of him.

I understand you decided to self-publish the book. Why is that, and do you have any advice for other writers who opt for self-publishing?
I made some attempts to get an agent but ultimately I went with self-publishing because I didn’t have the patience to wait. What I like about self-publishing is that it’s all mine, I created the book cover, I chose the font, I decided to favor the comma over all other punctuation, and it’s been incredibly fun and very rewarding.

There are so many options today to publish and distribute and get the word out, and it can be done without a big financial investment. All you need is the investment of time. Given that this is your passion, you want to spend your time on it anyway. And there are so many people who are open to help. I would encourage other writers not to be afraid to ask. Putting your thoughts out there to share with others is a gift, and people respond very kindly.

What audience did you intend for the book, and has it been reaching those people?
I thought it was a mother/son book, which it is, but it’s very much a book for people who love Italy, who have been there, or who plan to go. My writing is very direct and the book is written in the present tense, so readers feel like they’re there along with me. It combines some very personal time in Italy–with family or revisiting places of personal significance—with visits to the big tourist destinations like Venice and Rome.

Are you working on any other ambitious writing projects?
I am working on a book about traveling with George in America. It’s not an organized itinerary, it’s just places we’ve been or will go to. Mostly in the northeast, plus San Fran and Arizona. It’s still in the infant stages, this project. But I promise it will be extra funny!

10 questions for Olga Vannucci

Finally, I’d like to ask a series of questions that I’ve asked some of our other featured authors, about your reading and writing habits:
1. Last truly great book you read: Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, by Alexandra Fuller, about growing up in Africa.
2. Favorite literary genre: Definitely travel!
3. Reading habits on a plane: I don’t like to fly so I bring an easy-reading book that I know will keep me engaged, and paperback so it’s lightweight.
4. The one book you’d require President Obama to read, and why: He has such a tough job. I would wish, not require exactly but only wish, for him to read a book that his daughters like, so he can have a topic of conversation that they can share and enjoy. He will then tackle his job rejuvenated.
5. Favorite book as a child: Mary Poppins—the P.L. Travers book and the Disney movie, too. I think I had it in both languages. It was just magical, different, not at all like my daily life with my mother and sister.
6. Favorite heroine: Martha Gellhorn, who was a great journalist and writer. She was married to the literary giant Ernest Hemingway yet always retained a strong sense of herself.
7. The writer, alive or dead, you’d most like to meet: I would like Calvin Trillin to take me out to eat in New York, in the Village, to all his favorite eating places. It might take several days because he has a lot of favorite eateries. I would like to hear all about Alice, about his daughters, and about his long and brilliant career.
8. Your reading habits: I read in bed every single night, and I have been reading more during the day recently. I’ve been deliberate about carving out more time in the day, when it’s otherwise easy to get caught up in other activities.
9. The book you’d most like to see made as a film: Any book that takes place overseas, so I can see the place in which the events take place.
10. The book you plan to read next: Hard to tell… I have a stack of some thirty books in my bedroom, and I’m not sure which one is next. I may need to devise a lottery system to determine the reading order…

* * *

Grazie tanto, Olga! Your story certainly sounds amusing while also saying something profound about parent-child relationships and the quest to go home again. Something to rival the wisdom of Steinbeck or Miguel de Cervantes, for sure.

Readers, it’s time for you to ENTER OUR DRAW TO WIN A FREE COPY of Olga Vannucci’s book, by entering a comment below. Olga says she will favor comments that tell her why you’d like to read about her and George’s adventures.

Extra points, as always, if you’re a Displaced Dispatch subscriber!

The winner will be announced in our Displaced Dispatch on September 28, 2013.

To read more excerpts from Travels with George, go to Olga Vannucci’s author site. You can also keep up with her on the book’s very active Facebook page. Also feel free to order the book from

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s quota of Global Food Gossip. Rumor has it, Joanna Masters-Maggs has something particularly tasty in store for us!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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Images: Olga Vannucci and George, interspersed with Italian scenery. Of the George photos, Olga writes:

Let me provide the audio from George: “Where are we going? How much longer? I have something in my shoe. I want to go back. Why are we doing this? Do you know where we are? Do you know where we’re going? Mammaaaaaaa!”

Meet author Rosie Whitehouse, who trailed her spouse into a war zone (and enter to win her book!)

Rosie Whitehouse CollageOne of the expressions I picked up from living in England for many years is “Keep the home fires burning.” For some reason, that expression, along with the WWI song from which it comes, is running through my head as I contemplate talking to today’s featured author, Rosie Whitehouse (click here to hear it being sung):

Keep the Home Fires Burning,
While your hearts are yearning.
Though your lads are far away
They dream of home.
There’s a silver lining
Through the dark clouds shining,
Turn the dark cloud inside out
Till the boys come home.

For me, Rosie is an up-to-date version of what the songwriters had in mind. Educated at the University at London, with a career as a BBC journalist, she chose to stay at home with her children and keep the house warm and welcoming, and the family’s spirits up, while her husband, the journalist Tim Judah, went off to report on various wars for The Economist and other newspapers.

Rosie even went the further step of moving the family home to be closer to Tim for a time. Ironically, she kept the home fires burning in the very place where World War I began, the Balkans. She flew out to a crumbling Bucharest—it had been knocked down by the notorious Ceaușescu, whose secret police killed hundreds during Romania’s 1989 revolution—with one child in tow and another one on the way.

Then, when it seemed possible that her own home could go up in flames as war spread across the former Yugoslavia, Rosie did not give up. She stayed for a total of five years before returning to London, by which time “keeping the home fires burning” was second nature both for her and the couple’s five kids (Tim carried on covering wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Congo).

Having revived her career as a freelance journalist, she decided to write her first book: Are We There Yet? Travels with my Frontline Family—a copy of which we’ll be giving away! (See details below). The book is a tribute to families who have been “burners of the home fires,” whose emotional pain tends to go unheralded. It is also, in her words, “quite funny.” (Hey, growing up in Bucharest, Belgrade, Croatia and Bosnia can be fun!)

By now you must be as curious as I am to meet the intrepid Rosie Whitehouse and learn more about what motivated her to seek out such an unusually displaced (at least by most of our standards!) life. I note that she has an Irish mother—perhaps that explains it?! (I’m thinking Queen Boudicea…)

* * *

AreWeThereYet_cover_dropshadowHi, Rosie. In your book you say that your husband’s journalist colleagues in Romania, all of whom were single, were shocked to hear he had a two-year-old son and another child on the way. Did people often tell you you were crazy?
Yes, lots of people thought I was crazy.

As a former journalist with a background in Russian studies, do you think you felt a tinge of envy for Tim’s opportunities—which made you want to be on the scene?
Not really, as I would not have been able to cope with going to morgues and so on.

I know you’re going to challenge our definition of “displacement,” but I’ll go ahead and ask: what was your most displaced moment during your stay in the Balkans—when you had to explain Daddy’s muddy boots (he’d been walking in a mass grave), when you visited empty supermarkets, or when you heard the first shots of the conflict in Bosnia while strolling around Sarajevo with the kids?
Those things were reality so in that one doesn’t feel displacement. Quite the opposite in fact. I was intimately plugged into life and death at those moments.

How did you keep yourself sane?
I coped with stressful moments by bunkering down. I wouldn’t send the kids to school and cuddled up with them instead. As long as I shut my front door, where ever I am and whatever is going on, and it is just us, I am able to feel at home.

But getting back to your question about displacement: My best moment in a foreign country was when I saw my mother drive off in a taxi in Bucharest and realizing that apart from my two year old son I didn’t know a soul in the country (my husband was away in Albania for weeks). Wow, at last no one to tell me what to do! Freedom!

More seriously, most displacements do not happen by choice, and my most displaced moments have been as a result of this. I recount a story in the book when I took the kids to Berlin ten years ago. My mother-in-law was born there but fled in 1933 as she was Jewish. The family settled in Paris. As a result I have half French children who speak fluent French and we don’t speak a word of German.

It was a rather stressful visit as we searched for old family homes, one of which the family were still trying to reclaim. My daughter Esti got a headache. I pointed to the department store and suggested that we go in to buy an aspirin. It was Wertheims. My mother in law’s mother was a Wertheim and was murdered in Aushwitz. Esti said:

What, first they give me a headache by stealing the department store and murdering my great granny–and now I am expected to go in and buy an aspirin to make it better? You have to be kidding!

That’s displacement.

Child-rearing on the frontlines

What was the biggest challenge about having children with you on the frontlines?
The biggest challenge was often the simplest thing such as getting them something to eat and getting hold of baby milk.

Did anything surprise you?
Life never ceases to surprise me where ever I am and what ever is going on. The terrible things and the good things always amaze me.

What do you think the kids got out of the experience?
The kids learnt a lot. My eldest son, Ben, would ask about why there was no food in Romania. For me it was a matter of telling simple tales of communism and 1917. For him it began a life-long interest in Russia. He is following in his father’s footsteps.

My eldest daughter, Esti, would like to work for an NGO like Human Rights Watch.

For all of us, it drew us closer together. We are a tight-knit family.

I’ve heard of war reporters feeling bored when they come back to “reality” in their home countries. Did your family experience any of that after five years in the Balkans? What was it like to go “home” again?
Going home is just as difficult as moving to a new country. By the way, the wars didn’t stop either after we got back. My husband has since covered lots of wars and famines including Afghanistan, Iraq and the Congo.

Writing a book, but from the backlines

After you left the Balkans, it took quite a few years before you decided to write the book. What was the catalyst?
It was during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. I was standing in the supermarket and they had just installed a TV with a live feed from Iraq by the checkout. Some soldiers were running across a street in Basra, where some of the heaviest fighting took place, followed by a reporter and camera man. All of their faces were clearly visible. My husband was in Baghdad covering the story for The Economist. I had actually popped out for five minutes of fresh air before the bombers took off from the UK and the countdown to the blitz on Baghdad began.

I realized, to my horror, you could be buying a packet of frozen peas and watch your husband killed in front of your eyes. I know this thought had never entered the mind of the supermarket manager who had simply installed the TV to attract customers.

That evening I found my ten-year-old glued to a grainy grey screen showing an image of Baghdad as the cruise missiles were expected. What do you say? I had to make dinner and she had to do her homework. The UK had a huge debate about the war and the way it was covered, and I felt nobody knew what it was really like to be part of it and a kid to boot.

I also found that very quickly after the Berlin Wall came down that people forgot in Western Europe just how hard life had been under communism, especially in Romania and Albania. No surprise in that, really, as since 1945 most people in Western Europe just forgot the East existed.

I also found people in the UK quick to judge and condemn people in Southeastern Europe as being violent and prone to war. I wanted them to realize we are no different. That is why I’ve also included a chapter on Ireland in the book.

And I wanted to describe the multicultural experience of bringing up half-French, half-Jewish, part-Irish children in various countries, something I found fascinating.

Was it also part of your mission to show others what it is like to be married to, the child of, a war reporter?
Yes, not just to a war reporter but also those who are married to soldiers—especially those who are part-time soldiers and live in the community.

Did you have any personal motives in writing the book, to help you process what you’d been through and to provide your children with a record of where they’d lived?
No, not really. I didn’t write it for us but to make people think about what was going on. I am sure that the kids will appreciate it when they are older.

What was the most difficult part of the book-writing process?
Getting time to do it. I often wrote with my computer on the kitchen side as I was cooking dinner, which was good as I could hear kids talking; and as I was writing about them, it helped to have them there doing their thing.

Did you find it easy to find a publisher for the book?
No it was hard. publishing is a tough business. I started my own publishing company, Reportage Press, which closed a few years ago. Are We There Yet? is on Amazon as a self-published download these days. We also have a number of journalist friends who are taking the self-publishing route quite successfully.

What audience did you intend for the book? Did you think it would also appeal to other kinds of expats, who don’t go to war-torn countries?
Yes, there is a large expat element to the readership, and I know the book has touched the hearts of women feeling lonely and bewildered in a new country. I have been hugged and kissed by quite a few of them. One lady said reading the book had saved her marriage. I’m not sure it was me, but I hope I helped her realize it wasn’t so bad being lonely in London. It is hard being in a strange country with children. It is you who have to interpret it for them and as you are far from the family support group and friends, it is inevitably all up to you to be their world. It’s a tough job. That said, the book is far from serious. It’s actually quite funny.

Can you give us some examples of humorous moments in the book?
The kids are a laugh a minute, so whatever was going on they would often say or do something funny. For example:

For me the market in Piaţă Amzei is the focal point of life in the city centre [of Bucharest]…

“Let’s see the old ladies with the cheese. Come on!” shouts Ben as he darts out of the pushchair and into a smelly covered hall, where they sell heaps of yellowy looking curds, which are akin to feta.They are covered in flies.

The old women with their long black skirts and headscarves beckon him over and offer him little crumbs. He watches their lips and toothy grins with fascination. They look unnerving, like witches with crunched up dirty teeth, but he doesn’t run away. He has come deliberately to stare at them. He studies an old lady’s face carefully as she says something he can’t possibly understand. He is like his father, never frightened of anything and intrigued by the smallest thing. He loves the bizarre and the quirky.

* * *

“Where’s Mr Parking? Why doesn’t he find us a space?” asks Ben as we drive up and down the street outside our flat. Ben loves Mr Parking. I can’t see him anywhere.

Mr Parking is the man who organises the parking lots outside Belgrade town hall. It’s an elegant 1880s building that was once the royal palace and is right next to our block of flats. For a tip, he lets us park in the lots reserved for local officials. I haven’t seen him for weeks and have to be careful where I put the car, or we’ll be towed.

“I think he has gone back to Bosnia to fight, Ben.”

“What!” Ben is horrified.

“Why? I want to park the car. Doesn’t he want to stay here?”

“No, I expect he wanted to go home and defend his village.”

“Where is his village?”

“He’s from eastern Bosnia, the bit between here and Sarajevo [Bosnia’s capital city]. He told Dad he comes from Kamenica. It’s in one of the last bits there that’s still under Muslim control.” It’s a village close to the town of Srebrenica [the town where a massacre took place in 1995, said to be a crime of genocide].

“What! He’s a Muslim?” Ben is amazed: “But he looks like everyone else!”

“Of course, he does! You don’t look different if you’re Muslim. Bosnians look the same whether they are Muslims or not.” My mother has just sent him a book about the Crusades.

“I thought Muslims looked like Arabs.”

Are you working on any other ambitious writing projects?
I would like to write an expat guide to Britain. I spend a lot of time explaining Britain to people as I live in an expat world in the UK to a certain extent as my children have been or go to the French Lycée, and we have a lot of foreign friends who live in London.

Ten Questions for Rosie Whitehouse

Finally, I’d like to ask a series of questions that I’ve asked some of our other featured authors, about your reading and writing habits:
1. Last truly great book you read: Malaparte is on my mind as I am driving to Ukraine. His book on the 1941 invasion of Russia is unforgettable.
2. Favorite literary genre: Novels
3. Reading habits on a plane: Nothing. I am too tense on a plane as I hate flying. If I am calm enough I love to look out of the window.
4. The one book you’d require President Obama to read, and why: My son Ben’s book on Russia: Fragile Empire: How Russia fell in and out of love with Vladimir Putin. It’s a great portrait of contemporary Russia. I am his mum—what else am I supposed to say to this one?
5. Favorite books as a child: I loved Little House on the Prairie but above all I loved the stories my dad used to tell me.
6. Favorite heroine: She doesn’t have a name. She is one of the millions of women who have struggled to keep their families together against the odds. These are the mums who keep the world turning.
7. The writer, alive or dead, you’d most like to meet: I always wanted to meet William Shirer. He must have had an extraordinary experience living in Berlin at the start of World War II. Perhaps the ultimate expat experience! I suggested an interview programme with him to BBC World Service in the 80s but they didn’t have the cash to send me to America to do it. A pity as he died after that.
8. Your reading habits: I read a lot. If you want to write you have to read. I also have to read a lot for work.
9. The book you’d most like to see made as a film: None, really. If you love a book, the last thing you want is for it to become a film as you have the pictures in your head and they are your pictures not someone else’s.
10. The book you plan to read next: Vasily Grossman‘s An Armenian Sketchbook is in my suitcase. I love Grossman. He is a fantastic writer. If you haven’t read Life and Fate, you have really missed out.

* * *

Thanks so much, Rosie! Personally, I found your story very moving and think we should confer on you a “home fires” medal for all you’ve achieved!

Readers, it’s time for you to ENTER OUR DRAW TO WIN A FREE COPY of Rosie Whitehouse’s book. Rosie is giving away ONE COPY and will favor comments that tell her why you’d like to read the book.

Extra points, as always, if you’re a Displaced Dispatch subscriber!

The winner will be announced in our Displaced Dispatch on August 2, 2013.

Rosie Whitehouse is a parenting journalist and mother of five. She is one of the UK’s leading experts on family travel. She has written widely on family matters and traveling with children for The Sunday Telegraph, The Independent, The Guardian, The Daily Mail, Sunday Express, Family Circle, The Economist, and others, as well as for the Web sites and She has also spoken at events and on television and radio on parenting matters, promoting her travel books and her autobiography, Are We There Yet? Travels with my Frontline Family. You can follow her latest adventures at

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post in our Olde vs New World series, by guest blogger Claire Bolden.

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Images (clockwise from left): Rosie Whitehouse at “home” in London; Ben and his baby sister, Esti, living it up on the balcony in Bucharest (July 1991); Ben trying on his dad’s new bulletproof jacket, with Rosie’s mother in background (Belgrade, May 1992).

Getting carried away with author Lisa Egle on a magic carpet, or is it a chicken bus? (Win a copy of her travel memoirs!)

Lisa E Collage for TNBack in the days when my nieces were small—and I’d just repatriated to the United States after quite a few years abroad—I got to know them again through long bouts of playing make-believe at my mother’s (their grandmother’s) house.

We particularly enjoyed Magic Carpet. We had our own home-made version. Adorning ourselves in Grandma’s silk scarves, we would plonk down on her quilted bedspread for a flight of fancy, à la Arabian Nights (not for us the Disney version!):

Whoever sitteth on this carpet and willeth in thought to be taken up and set down upon other site will, in the twinkling of an eye, be borne thither, be that place nearhand or distant many a day’s journey and difficult to reach.

I trust this anecdote will explain why I’m so excited about hosting new author Lisa Egle today. It’s Magic Carpet time again, and this time I get to be the kid, listening to Egle tell of the off-the-beaten-track adventures that are captured in her travel memoirs, Magic Carpet Seduction.

Hey, we even have prizes! Two of our readers will be the lucky recipients of a copy of Egle’s book (see giveaway details below). The giveaway is now over! 😦

Hmmm… The only thing is, I suspect that before we board the Magic Carpet, Egle will ask us to ride on a chicken bus. (Leave the silk scarves at home, girls!)

* * *

MagicCarpetSeduction_cover_pmHi, Lisa! I won’t need too much persuasion to be seduced by your writing. I’m already a follower of your travel blog, ChickyBus. And I know you’re an American like me, living in New Jersey. Why made you decide to travel in the first place?
After taking short solo trips in the U.S. back in the 1990s, I went on a two-week group tour of Egypt and thought it was the most exciting thing I’d ever done. I then went on another tour, of Ecuador, which turned out to be a life-changing experience (for many reasons, including the fact that I moved there a few months later). While living in Ecuador, I began to travel independently and realized how much I enjoyed it. From that point on, I entered the ranks of “travel addicts.”

How many countries have you been to at this point?
In total, I’ve been to 36 countries, on five continents. I was an expat twice: in Ecuador for a year and half and in Spain for a year. Recently, I spent two months in Indonesia.

And home is now New Jersey?
Yes. I’m a full-time ESL professor at a two-year college in Bloomfield.

I don’t get it. Is a “chicken bus” magical?

Where does the epithet “Chicky Bus” come from?
“Chicky Bus” is the name of one of the stories in my book. It’s about a quirky 12-hour “chicken bus” ride I took in Central America that led me to have epiphanies about living in the moment. When I started my blog, I thought “ChickyBus” would be a cool domain name—one that related to travel and one that people would remember. I also liked it as a blog concept. I’m the “driver” taking readers—”passengers”—on “rides” with me, allowing them to experience the same random moments and unexpected journeys that I do.

There’s also a deeper meaning, however. “Chicky bus” is a metaphor for my unique style of travel—being in the moment while venturing off the beaten path and taking risks (nothing too crazy, of course). It refers to that place of magic and self-discovery that I find wherever I go.

Why did you decide to publish some of your travel stories as a book?
Years ago, while blogging about general topics on a site called, I began sharing travel tales. The feedback was incredibly positive; people were inspired and entertained by what I wrote and said they felt like they were right there with me. After a while, I decided to go all the way with it, to write more stories and to compile them into a book—four major “rides” to different regions of the world (and a total of 9 countries: China, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Turkey, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon).

Are any of your chapters based on blog posts?
Interestingly, none of the stories are based on blog posts. I wrote most of the book before I started ChickyBus. There are, however, a few stories (simplified versions) on the blog that came from the book.

Mostly magical connections

We like to talk about “displaced moments” on the Displaced Nation. We can see you’ve experienced your fair share: from close encounters with Carpet Casanovas in Turkey, to meeting with a hermit in the Lebanese mountains, to experiencing political intrigue in a Chinese classroom, to receiving a marriage proposal on that infamous chicken bus in Nicaragua. But we still have to ask you: which is the MOST displaced moment that you’ve included in this book?
The moments you mention were truly unique ones and—believe it or not—I didn’t feel as displaced as one might think. Because I was in the moment and going with the flow, I felt quite comfortable and that I was where I needed to be.

There were a few instances, however, in which I did have that “displaced” feeling—the most extreme of which occurred in China.

It was 1999 and I was teaching English at a university in Changsha in Hunan Province, which was definitely considered off the beaten path back then. For most of my time there, I was in a deep state of culture shock. I struggled with many things, from freedom of speech issues to getting to know my students. There were many “displaced moments”—and even days. Fortunately, after a while, things leveled out and went more smoothly.

So from what you’ve just said, I guess there is a lot of competition for your LEAST displaced moment, when you felt you actually belonged with all of these characters you discovered off the beaten track?
One of my least displaced moments (and possibly favorite) was when a friend and I ended up spending the night with a Mexican family we barely knew. They’d invited us over for lunch. We were planning to take a bus to another city that night because we had to fly home from there the next day. It got later and later and because we were so comfortable, we didn’t want to leave. We ended up staying (and sleeping in two very tiny beds, slightly larger than coffins) and having a wonderful time being part of the family.

P.S. A little Boone’s Farm wine went a long way in helping make us even more comfortable…

Don’t exit until the rug has made a complete stop!

Okay, time to get off that chicken bus and onto that magic carpet. On your post announcing the book’s publication, you say:

So imagine that my book is the equivalent of an invitation to a Bedouin lounge of sorts. If you decide to join me, we’ll get comfy on the cushions and share some tea (or coffee or whichever beverage you like). When you’re ready, I’ll start telling you my favorite travel tales—and together, we’ll take a magic carpet ride.

Why did you choose this metaphor, and indeed use “magic carpet” in your title?
When I was a kid, my friends and brother and I used to sit on the front porch and listen to my mother telling us stories. Years later, I found myself doing the same thing with friends and later, on a blog. Then, I spent time with the Bedouins in Wadi Rum, Jordan. We told our own stories while sharing tea and sitting on the sand under a tent or on a cushion inside a house. In retrospect, I believe that the “invitation” into the Bedouin lounge has something do with each of these experiences.

Re: the title, when people see the words “magic carpet,” the freedom to travel anywhere, magically, usually comes to mind. Also, “Magic Carpet Seduction” is the name of one of the stories in the book. It’s about two men, seemingly different, trying to sell me a carpet and what happens I see through their each one’s sales pitch/ploy.

Also in your blog post announcing the book’s publication, you confess to being exhausted. (I confess to having had similar feelings after long games of Magic Carpet with my nieces!) What was the most challenging part of the writing process?
Mostly, it was finishing the book, editing it and formatting it while maintaining my blog and my full-time teaching job, and being on social media. At times, it was difficult to prioritize and I often felt burnt out.

Overall, however, I would say that editing took a lot out of me. There were a few times when I thought I was finished with a certain stage of the process; then, I’d realize that I wasn’t. Having said this, that is where I learned the most and what helped me become a better writer. So, in the end, it was a positive experience.

Capturing the magic of self-publishing

Why did you self-publish the book?
I took this route mostly because I wanted creative control; I believe the book is unique and slightly nichey. Also, I didn’t want to have to spend a lot of time pursuing an agent and traditional publisher. Mostly, I wanted to get the book done my own way and on my own schedule.

Can you offer any tips for others who are contemplating going down this path?
My best tips for anyone who’d like to self-publish are:

• Hire a professional editor and a proofreader—two (even three) people. Also, get a critique done before you pass the manuscript on to an editor. It’s important because each editor has his/her own specialty and will probably catch something another didn’t.

• Have a cover professionally designed. I know there are ways to do this cheaply or yourself, but it’s worth spending money to do this right since the cover is first thing that people see when searching for a book.

• Have your blog (and social media accounts) set up/established before you publish the book. I’ve seen many people do it the other way around. They finish and publish their book, then set up a blog and join Twitter. Many aren’t sure what to do—they just tweet about their book and don’t interact with others. This tends to hurt them more than help them.

• Don’t give up. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I wanted to quit just because of the sheer amount of work (blog, social media, the book itself, etc.) You can burn out very easily and, if you’re not careful, your health can suffer. Keep going, though, and you’ll cross that finish line!

What audience did you have in mind when writing the book?
I’ve always envisioned the audience as:

  • armchair travelers and those who take tours and fantasize about breaking away
  • other independent travelers/expats
  • non-travelers with an interest in countries often in the news
  • anyone curious about the cultural perspective/insights of a female American traveler.

Is it reaching those readers?
I don’t know the customer demographics yet, but I know that a few men have written reviews on Amazon—and that makes me happy. As is the case with ChickyBus, the book is for people of all ages and both genders. It’s definitely not just for women.

I see you’ve opened your own publishing company and are working on some more ambitious travel-cum-writing projects. Can you tell us some more about that?
I set up a small publishing company for a number of reasons, including accounting and taxes. More than that, I thought it made sense because I will be publishing more books and hopefully, a collection of travel tales written by others. This is a longer-term goal, but definitely something I’m considering for the future.

Are you already working on your next book?
I’m currently working on a trilogy about Native American-style healing journeys in the U.S. (in the Northeast and the Southwest). After that, I’ll hopefully wrap up the rough draft of a book about life-changing experiences I had in Ecuador. That, like the trilogy, would fall under a “spiritual travel” genre.

10 Questions for Lisa

Finally, I’d like to ask a series of questions that I’ve asked some of our other featured authors, about your reading and writing habits:
1. Last truly great book you read: Grey Wolves and White Doves, by John Balian
2. Favorite literary genre: Political thrillers; travel literature.
3. Reading habits on a plane: (what kinds of things do you tend to read and by what means?) Now, because I own a Kindle, this is much easier. I usually have several books to choose from: one I’m sure I’ll love and lose myself in and—a few that I’m curious about. One thing I love to do on a plane (and during my trip) is keep a journal. During my return flight, I re-read the journal and re-experience the trip. I almost always do that and love it!
4. The one book you’d require President Obama to read, and why: Hmmm. That’s a tough question. Maybe my book? I’d want him to see that there are Americans who embrace the rest of the world, despite the media’s distortions of it. Also, I think my book would show him how travel, the way I approach it—focusing mostly on meeting the locals—can help people to connect in a very real way and to overcome cultural misconceptions, ultimately helping make world peace more attainable. Another reason I’d want him to read it is because I think it would provide good escapism since it’s quite humorous. He’s got a tough job and might enjoy it for the entertainment value alone.
5. Favorite books as a child: The Outsiders, a coming-of-age novel by S.E. Hinton; and Go Ask Alice, by Beatrice Sparks.
6. The writer, you’d most like to meet, who is no longer living: Aldous Huxley
7. The writer, you’d most like to meet, who is still alive today: Daniel Keyes
8. Your reading habits: I have a pretty short attention span, so there are many books that I start to read that I don’t finish. However, if a book really gets my attention, then I can’t stop. It becomes something I look forward to and put aside other things to do. Unfortunately, since I started my blog a few years ago, I’ve been reading less than previously. I spend more time reading other blogs and articles than reading actual books. When I seem to read the most is when I’m traveling and find myself without Internet. I end up loving it, too.
9. The book you’d most like to see made as a film: A cyber suspense I’ve written about two women who “meet” on the Internet and what happens when the bond they’ve formed takes a dysfunctional and frightening turn. It’s now in rough draft form (about 15,000 words), but I’m hoping to publish it on Amazon (just for Kindle) in a few months.
10. The book you plan to read next: Actually, there’s a book I’m itching to finish reading—and that’s Shantaram. I always start it and then get interrupted. It’s a very long book (over 900 pages). I think Gregory David Roberts is an awesome writer. His storytelling ability—the way he writes dialogue, how he describes characters, settings and situations, and the way he uses metaphor—makes his experiences incredibly real to me.

* * *

Thanks so much, Lisa! That was absolutely magical, a carpet ride to write home (to my nieces) about! And that chicken bus? It wasn’t half bad! 🙂

What about you, readers? Has she seduced you?

Lisa Egle writes a blog, Chicky Bus, the concept of which is “finding yourself off the beaten path.” Over the past three years, it has been recognized on two “Top 100” lists of independent travel blogs. Egle is also Assistant Professor of ESL at Passaic County Community College in Paterson, New Jersey, where she teaches students from all over the world, especially Latin America and the Middle East. She holds a BA in Social Sciences from New York University and an MA in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Lisa recently published a humorous piece in OH SANDY! An Anthology of Humor for a Serious Purpose (sales of which help victims of Hurricane Sandy), and an article on one of her quirkier adventures in Indonesia in LifeLift, the blog. She received an honorable mention in the 77th Annual Writer’s Digest Contest, in the Inspirational category.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, by guest blogger Elizabeth Liang, who will be updating us on her one-woman play about the TCK life, Alien Citizen.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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Images (clockwise, starting top left): Lisa at the home of her Cirassian-Jordanian friend, Souzan, with whom she was staying before the latter’s move to New Jersey(!) [this photo is in the book]; Lisa at a wedding in a Minangkabau village in Sumatra (hey, you can’t attend without posing with the bride and groom); Lisa camping in San Blas, Panama, during rainy season and a full moon (a displaced moment, to be sure, as the local Kuna indigenous believe that a full moon equals a curse); and Lisa after being recruited to be on a famous TV show in Damascus, which aired during Ramadan afforded an opportunity to meet one of the most famous actors in Syria—Qusai Khouli (she is wearing a late 1800s outfit, in case you were wondering). The painting in the center is “The Flying Carpet,” by Viktor Vasnetsov (1880), courtesy Wikipedia.

Talking to Kate Allison, writer of serialized expat fiction (we’re giving away her first book!)


Taking_Flight_dropshadowToday I find myself in the enviable position of having to introduce my co-blogger and good friend, Kate Allison. As one of the founding members of the Displaced Nation, she needs no introduction to our regular readers, many of whom are as awestruck as I am at her ability to churn out well-c

rafted, entertaining episodes of Libby’s Life week after week, month after month.

For the uninitiated: Kate’s stories center on Libby Patrick, a thirty-something stay-at-home mum who has trailed her spouse, Oliver, from their native UK to Woodhaven, Massachusetts—a small New England town that, in Libby’s own words, “makes Stepford look like inner city gangland.” The Patricks live there with their three small children: preschooler Jack and infant twins, Beth and George. (At one point they also had a dog, Fergus—don’t ask.)

Libby keeps a diary of her expat adventures, and during the past two years, Kate has churned out a whopping 76 entries, an average of three per month.

In consequence, a number of us (even those who aren’t trailing spouses with families) have become certified Libby addicts—always looking forward to the next installment!

If we need a “fix” between episodes, we can go to Kate’s companion site dedicated to Libby and all things Woodhaven, where not only do we receive more information about Libby and the characters she encounters in Woodhaven, but we can also read additional posts from the other characters’ points of view!

And now there is another exciting development: Kate has just self-published the first year of Libby’s expat life in a single volume, Libby’s Life: Taking Flight. I highly recommend this aggregated version to anyone who is new to the Libby phenomenon…

And you’ll never guess what? We are giving away two copies!!! (Details below.)

But before we get to that, let’s visit with Kate and find out more about her. Having visited with her non-virtually, I can report that she really does live in a small New England town similar to Woodhaven.

What inspired her to create the lovely and loveable Libby, and what possessed her (I don’t think it’s too strong an expression) to commit herself to the potential folly of writing a novel online? Her temerity cannot be underestimated, I think you’ll agree…

* * *

Why did you decide to write a book about a trailing spouse, and how long have you been at this?
I first started “Libby’s Life” on my own blog (now extinct) just before Displaced Nation launched, a little over two years ago. I published three episodes there, and then transferred Libby to The Displaced Nation.

Libby didn’t start out as a book; she started out as a fiction blog because I found it difficult to blog about my personal life which, frankly, isn’t very interesting to anyone else. It’s easier for me to mesh snippets of facts into the fictitious world of Woodhaven. I was uncomfortable writing about my own family members—just because I like writing doesn’t give me the right to invade their privacy—but every now and then, certain incidents in Libby have happened in real life.

For example, when my son was a toddler, he was obsessed with toy cars, just as Jack is now. And the episode about Winter Storm Alfred, when Libby loses power for several days because of a freak snowstorm at Halloween, is based on a real situation. We were without power for four days ourselves after that same storm.

Fortunately, unlike Libby, we don’t have a man-eating landlady who lets herself into our house to sniff my husband’s sweatshirts.

Have you found out anything new about yourself, your own feelings of displacement, in the process?
Libby is at the beginning of her displacement journey. I’m quite a few years ahead of her, and have had to trawl through old memories to imagine how she would feel in certain situations. So the fact that I have to do that suggests I’m not terribly displaced anymore and I’ve come further than I thought.

Turning to Libby, what is her most displaced moment?
Probably when they first moved into their temporary apartment, next to a Limey-hating NRA supporter who liked shooting air soft pellets at the rhododendrons in the back garden. Poor Libs! She was quite traumatized. And also last year, when she went back to England for the first time and everything felt foreign—a reversed displacement.

What is her least displaced moment?
I think it was fairly recently, when she met Willow Reeves. Willow is from Brooklyn, very no-nonsense. She’s the first American friend Libby has made outside the expat Coffee Morning Posse, that hasn’t been via an introduction. It’s a sign that Libs is starting to fit in.

According to a recent article in the business section of the New York Times, serialized fiction, where episodes are delivered to readers in scheduled installments much like episodes in a television series, has been the subject of an unusual amount of experimentation in publishing in recent months. You seem to be ahead of the game in that respect. What have you learned from your two-year-long experiment?
I’m amazed at the number of people who do seem to follow the episodes, and yes, it is like a TV soap opera. I think Aisha at Expatlog commented a while ago that it filled the EastEnders void for her. But I didn’t intend it to be like that when I first started, envisaging instead a few blog posts dealing with certain aspects of moving abroad. I certainly hadn’t envisaged me still doing it two years later.

The main thing it’s taught me is that when I have to write a story because I’m on the Displaced Nation schedule to do so, I can do it. Novelist Peter De Vries famously said:

I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning.

It doesn’t matter what type of writer you are—his philosophy is a good one.

What has been the most challenging part of the book-writing process?
Thinking up new topics for story lines. Every now and then I’ll put out a plea for ideas. A friend of mine jokingly said she’d like to see headlice as a Libby topic, and lo! There were headlice.

I now keep track of all the characters and story lines on a timeline program. I can see the last time a character came in, in which story line, in which episode, and I can plan ahead.

Theoretically, anyway. My actual way of planning is to sit in front of the blank screen and panic about a post that’s due in two days’ time. But I’m getting better. I even know what is going to happen in September.

What made you decided to publish the first year of Libby’s Life as a book?
I ended Libby’s Life: Taking Flight ends with Libby’s first Christmas in the United States because that was a natural break in the story. Libs had just started to spread her expat wings at that point, hence Taking Flight.

What do you intend to follow it up with?
The next one will be called Cargo Hold. Well, she’s pregnant with the twins, you see.

What audience do you intend for the Libby books?
It probably falls in the unflattering genre of “hen lit” — chick lit for the more mature woman. It seems most popular with women from thirty onwards, but then again, a friend of mine, a man who is now in his 70s, is an avid fan, so who am I to say?

What aspect of it is proving the most popular—any surprises?
Regarding the audience’s nationality, I expected it to be most popular with English women who had moved around a bit, but it turns out that one of Libby’s greatest cheerleaders is an American lady who is a keen armchair traveler. That’s pretty encouraging. (And thank you—you know who you are!)

Are you working on any other writing projects? (When’s the next book coming out?!)
At the moment I’m rereading/rewriting the 2012 episodes so I can turn them into either one or two short ebooks later this year. Additionally, I’ve gone back—yet again—to the WIP that triggered a lot of Libby characters. Woodhaven, Maggie, Melissa, Patsy, and all the Giannis were around in my imagination and in draft form long before Libby came along. The WIP is the story of Maggie’s daughter, Sara, a Woodhaven native now living in Somerset, England (my own native neck of the woods). Much of it is set in the 1980s, so you get to meet Maggie, Melissa et al when they were younger. Not sure when it will be finished…but making it public through this answer is a good spur.

10 Questions for Kate

Finally, I’d like to ask a series of questions that I’ve asked some of our other featured authors, about your reading and writing habits:
Last truly great book you read: There are two I’ve read several times in the last few years and each time thought “Damn, I wish I’d written that”: The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, and Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson.
Favorite literary genre: Sigh. Call me predictable. Women’s fiction and travel. Anything by Joanne Harris is a great combination of the two.
Reading habits on a plane: Either some piece of fluffery from the airport bookshop or a book I’ve already read from my Kindle. My Kindle is stuffed with classics, free ebooks, and review copies for TDN. But I have to have a paperback for the times you’re required to Turn Off All Electronic Devices. If I don’t have a paperback, I’ll write in a notebook, and chances are it will be notes on a conversation taking place near me. I’m a compulsive eavesdropper. Be warned.
The one book you’d require President Obama to read, and why: ML, I really hate getting into politics! Pass!
Favorite books as a child: Anne of Green Gables; E Nesbit books, especially The Railway Children; Enid Blyton‘s Malory Towers; Sadlers Wells series by Lorna Hill; anything by Noel Streatfield; the William stories by Richmal Crompton.
Favorite heroine(s): Maggie Tulliver (George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss) and Emma Woodhouse (Jane Austen’s Emma).
The writer, alive or dead, you’d most like to meet: Roald Dahl. I really would like to know for myself if he was as sick-minded as his books are.
Your reading habits: In bed.
The book you’d most like to see made as a film: I’m looking forward to Robert Redford’s version of Bill Bryson’s A Walk In The Woods. And I’d love to see one of my favorite books in question #1—Behind the Scenes at the Museum. But it would have to be set in the English city of York, as it is in the book, not Americanized and set in Philadelphia or wherever, as so often happens.
The book you plan to read next: My “to read” list gets ever longer. At the top is The Hare With Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal. At the bottom, just added, is Hilary Mantel‘s Wolf Hall. And a whole lot of others in between.

* * *

Thanks so much, Kate! Long live Libs!!!

Readers, now it’s your chance to ENTER OUR DRAW TO WIN A FREE COPY of Kate Allison’s first Libby book. Kate is giving away TWO FREE COPIES and will favor comments that offer storyline ideas for future Libby posts, which will also get included in Libby at some point!!!

Extra points, as always, if you’re a Displaced Dispatch subscriber!

The winners will be announced in our Displaced Dispatch on June 1, 2013.

STAY TUNED for the next episode in the life of our fictional expat heroine, Libby! (What, not keeping up with Libby? How could you resist after reading this interview?!?!? Sign up NOW for our Displaced Dispatch and you’ll receive the first three chapters!!!)

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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Born to run the Shikoku Pilgrimage—and write a book about it (which we’re giving away!)

AMY ChavezWe dedicate today’s interview with distance runner Amy Chavez to those affected by the Boston marathon bombings. Our hopes and prayers and encouragement are with you.

When it comes to long-distance running, I couldn’t put it better than the American cowboy Will Rogers once did:

We can’t all be heroes because someone has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by.

I simply haven’t got the necessary strength, both physical and mental, for that kind of endurance test.

Is it any wonder, then, that I’m feeling intimidated by the prospect of talking to Japan-based expat Amy Chavez about her 900-mile run around Shikoku Island? We’re talking ultramarathon here.

The redoubtable Amy hails from Ohio but has lived in Japan for many years, where she is a well-known writer and columnist for the leading English-language newspaper, the Japan Times.

In 1998, she spent five weeks during March and April running the traditional pilgrimage on Shikoku Island. In essence she ran a marathon per day (sometimes more). And although the weather and conditions were pleasant enough—it was cherry blossom season—it was cold at night, and there were many mountains, though the roads were the worst part “because pavement is hard on the feet, knees, etc.”

Last month Amy published a book with Volcano Press about her record-breaking adventure (almost needless to say, she was the first person to accomplish this feat), Running the Shikoku Pilgrimage: 900 Miles to Englightenment—a copy of which we are giving away!!! (Details below.)

But first I want to find out more about what motivated her on her epic—and energetic—journey, including any challenges she faced in writing her book.

* * *

Pilgrimage-Cover_pmSo, Amy, I understand you decided to run the 900-mile-long Shikoku Pilgrimage after being laid off by the university where you were teaching in Japan. What made you think that running vast distances might be the answer?
Physical challenges have a certain appeal. I was interested in the physical journey, as I think most foreigners are when they walk the pilgrimage the first time.

But you didn’t walk it; you ran it!
For some reason I have never discovered the joy of walking. I dreaded the thought of walking 900 miles, the distance from San Diego to Oregon. But running is somehow different. When people go running, it’s not unusual to run 10 km or more, three or four times a week. People hardly ever do that walking. Instead, they walk around the block and come back. Runners don’t do that. We’re in for the long haul.

Did making this journey allow you to see Japan in a new way?
I was able to see Japan much more objectively. I went from being in my own little world where everything was centered around me—thus when my world crashed, so did I—to being an observer of Japanese culture in the framework of the pilgrimage. So there was a fundamental shift from being a part of the university, where the students and the university relied on me, my teaching skills, and my commitment, to being part of the pilgrimage that didn’t really care whether I did those things or not. The pilgrimage doesn’t care whether you show up or not, whether you complete it or not, whether you understand how it works. In other words, it’s not about you at all. So suddenly you’re on the other end, trying to understand what it is that the pilgrimage is trying to give you, on its own terms, and what you can learn and take away from it.

What was your most displaced moment on the journey?
I’d never felt displaced in Japan until I lost my job. It was a very big thing for me because I had put so much time, effort and love into that job. Suddenly, without warning, I was let go, all because I was a foreigner. I just couldn’t get my head around that. So the journey started as a result of this unnatural feeling of being displaced. The people who had treated me like family had suddenly tossed me out on the street. I was searching for ways to deal with my feelings toward Japan and Japanese people.

“The person who starts the race is not the same person who finishes the race.” [Marathon sign]

How did your feelings toward Japan evolve once the journey got underway?
I was able to see the pilgrimage as this microcosm of Japanese culture. If you’re ever wondered why the Japanese do things or act a certain way, you can find out through this historical context of Buddhism, and the Shikoku Pilgrimage which has been walked for over a thousand years. The purpose of the pilgrimage—to reach enlightenment—has never wavered over the centuries.

You became less and less displaced?
Doing the pilgrimage is often referred to as entering a mandala. You have to leave your safe, secure world and cross over into an unknown world where you are no longer in control. Once you accept this, and surrender yourself to the pilgrimage, you will no longer feel displaced.

Wise words! How long did it take before you surrendered?
It happens for different people at various parts of their pilgrimage but for me, this happened about one third of the way through, or two weeks into, the pilgrimage. Suddenly everything fell into place. I had finally learned to go with the flow and let things happen to me rather than trying to control things that happened to me. We are so used to taking control of our lives: we plan our trips down to the finest detail, we budget monthly, weekly and even daily, we get the right job. But life doesn’t care how much you’ve planned. Life continues to throw us curve balls—your car dies, you come down with an illness, you lose your job. Despite our steadfast planning, that’s not how life works.

It’s is not how the pilgrimage works either. Despite your intentions to do something a certain way, the pilgrimage will constantly present you with challenges—things you’d never planned on. Once you surrender to the ways of the pilgrimage, you no longer feel displaced. You no longer struggle with the elements, the terrain or nature. Instead, you become one with them.

Not surprisingly, this is one of Buddhism’s life metaphors as well.

Another ultramarathon—writing the book

I believe you chronicled your Shikoku adventure in the Japan Times?
Actually, I wrote six columns for the Japan Times. I also kept a diary, but that was separate from the columns.

Once you’d decided to write a book about the experience, what was the greatest challenge?
Time. It takes an enormous amount of time to write a good book. It’s all consuming, a full-time job. On top of that, I still had my weekly deadlines for the newspaper and other publications I write for.

Your book is coming out 15 years after you made the pilgrimage. Why the delay?
It’s not unusual to have so many years between a story and a published book. There’s the year (or longer) it takes to write, there’s the year-long (or longer) search for a publisher, the six months negotiation with the publisher(s), and then the two-year process from book contract to published book. So already five years has passed, and that’s with no bumps along the way.

Then there’s also timing. No one was really interested in my story at the time I did it. But things have changed drastically since then. NHK has had a popular TV series about the pilgrimage, previous books about the pilgrimage have run their course and gone out of print (thus creating a demand for something new), and ultra-running has become one of the fastest growing sports in the world.

Did you derive any new insights from revisiting the adventure?
That’s another reason I think you see so many books that are published a decade or so after they happened is because people often need distance before they can really understand their own journey. How can you talk about how an experience has changed you, or changed your life, if you haven’t had time to prove that it really has? Time gives one perspective. And with time comes wisdom. I was just reading a book the other day and couldn’t help but think it would have been so much better if the writer had waited a decade or so tell his story. He, nor his writing, had matured yet; his book had no arc, it offered no wisdom.

So while I wish my book could have been published a long time ago, I know it’s a much better book because I waited.

What audiences do you intend for the book?
There are three: those interested in Japan, those interested in Buddhism, and those interested in running. The book was officially released in March, and the reviews are just beginning to come out, so it’s too early to tell if those are the audiences the book will attract.

How about people who don’t know Japan—would they enjoy it, or would you be running circles around them?
You would have to have some innate interest in other cultures to get the most enjoyment out of the book—which I think most Displaced Nation readers have. But even if you are only interested in people’s amazing feats and accomplishments, you should enjoy the story, too. It is an adventure travel story about a girl who ran 900 miles that happens to take place in Japan.

Running the Shikoku Pilgrimage sounds like a hard act to follow. Are you working on any other ambitious travel projects that will one day be books?
I have an original hand-written diary of my great-great grandfather’s journey through Japan’s Inland Sea to the Philippines on a ship in 1900. In 2004 I decided to trace his journey in a sailboat. Unfortunately, the trip was cut short when we had to be rescued at sea, and we lost the boat. Determined to finish the trip, however, we bought another sailboat and set out again in 2012. This time we finished the trip despite dodging four typhoons, two tropical storms and running into a reef. I haven’t decided whether the title of the book should be Little Titanic or Storm Girl.

What do you think?

Love it! (Hmmm … the limb doesn’t fall far from the tree.)

10 Questions for Amy

Finally, I’d like to ask a series of questions that I’ve asked some of our other featured authors, about your reading and writing habits:
Last truly great book you read: Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. It’s always the last great book I read.
Favorite literary genre: Adventure travel, memoirs.
Reading habits on a plane: E-books only. Whatever is stacked up still waiting to be read. I also read tons of magazines.
The one book you’d require President Obama to read, and why: Any book on the current farming industry and feedlots. Save the cows!
Favorite books as a child: Anything about horses.
Favorite heroine: I admire Nora Ephron.
The writer, alive or dead, you’d most like to meet: I’d like to go fishing with Ernest Hemingway.
Your reading habits: Mostly non-fiction. More and more creative non-fiction. A little bit of fiction.
The book you’d most like to see made as a film: I’ve learned that books and film are completely different genres, so don’t dare compare them.
The book you plan to read next: Right now I’m reading The Annotated Reminiscences of Lafcadio Hearn. Next I’m going to read Strength Training Past 50. (Hey, you asked!) Oh, I might read Waging Heavy Peace, by Neil Young, before the strength training one, but I haven’t decided yet. Oh, I just remembered, my Dad wants me to read A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles, by Thomas Sowell, so I better read that one next.

* * *

Readers, now it’s your chance to ENTER OUR DRAW TO WIN A FREE COPY of Amy Chavez’s book. Please leave a comment telling us about a physical challenge you’ve set for yourself, preferably in an international setting, and what it taught you. Extra points if you’re a Displaced Dispatch subscriber!!!

The winner will be announced in our Displaced Dispatch on May 2, 2013.

Readers lucky enough to live in the LA area: Amy will be signing books and meeting readers at the LA Times Festival of Books April 20 held on the USC campus, Los Angeles. Look for her in the Kinokuniya booth from 12:00 to 1:30 p.m. Copies of her book also available for purchase. April 21, she will be speaking at the Koyasan Buddhist Temple in Little Tokyo from 1:00 p.m. Public welcome.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post and for a post on Friday about our fictional expat heroine, Libby. (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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Images: Amy Chavez; Meditating Cat (a character in the book); and Daruma Doll (drawing by Deborah Davidson)—all supplied by Amy Chavez, with permission granted by Davidson. The other two images—of the running feet and the cherry blossoms—are from morguefiles.

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