Friday, January 23, 2015

Writing about the old country

Writer Abroad is working on a travel book about Switzerland and it often makes her wonder—is writing this making her attempt at repatriation easier or harder? On one hand, it is therapeutic to write about the country she spent the last eight years living in. It keeps her connection to the country strong and will help maintain the author platform she built there. But on the other hand, it’s terrible to write about hiking around the longest glacier in Europe and be stuck in the flat American Midwest where no one hikes, let alone walks.

Missing the old country these
days…especially in spin class.
Writing this book is actually giving her strange side effects. She is physically aching for the great outdoors. And she didn't know it was possible to actually do that. It was especially acute this morning, when she went from writing about snowshoeing in the Alps to an indoor spin class--where riding up a hill involved a small click to the right of the bike's tension knob, instead of the winding castle-topped hill she used to ride up every week when she lived in Baden.

In any case, this travel book (one of four book projects at the moment—yes, Writer Abroad is crazy) is a kind of love letter to Switzerland since it includes over 100 things to do and places to go that Writer Abroad experienced as extraordinarily beautiful—or just very typically Swiss—during her many years wandering around with her GA, or country-wide train pass. It’s a book she hopes will inspire others who are in the country for a few days—years—or even a lifetime—to see Switzerland in new ways. She's learning to, without even being there. 

If you're a re-pat, does it help you to write about your "old" country?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Art of Slow Writing

Writer Abroad is reading a great new book called, The Art of Slow Writing, by Louise DeSalvo. But to be honest, Writer Abroad is surprised she likes it.

This is because Writer Abroad finds a lot of books about writing tiring or a waste of time. Why? Because reading them takes away time from writing. In her experience, a lot of people spend more time talking about what they do than they do actually doing it. Writers are no exception. That’s why if Writer Abroad is going to read, which she does consider part of her job, she wants to read books in the genre and/or on the topic she is currently writing about—these typically provide more inspiration to her than a book about writing.

Writer Abroad’s passion for doing rather than talking about doing stems from her days as an advertising copywriter when her colleagues spent most of the day playing ping pong and talking about advertising—instead of creating the actual television commercial or print ad. And then they’d start working at 6 p.m. when Writer Abroad was ready to go home. It drove her nuts, mainly because she was seen as non-productive if she left at 6 p.m., despite having worked at least eight hours more than many of her colleagues at that point.

Now that she has more control over her time and is beginning 2015 by finally becoming a full-time freelancer, she vows not to waste a minute of her work time. Luckily, The Art of Slow Writing doesn’t waste her time. Each chapter takes only a couple minutes to read and gives a lot of good information in that space.

So far, highlights of the book include a discussion of the process journal, which is a journal writers keep to track what we accomplish and how we accomplish it—and our feelings about everything. A process journal is an ongoing conversation with ourselves about our work. By reading past process journals we can understand how we felt during different points in our projects—and remember that our current feelings are normal. Writer Abroad is now inspired to begin a process journal.

In the book there is also a discussion of the importance of another kind of journal, called a “notebook” by Joan Didion, where the writer writes down “how it felt to be me” at a particular time. This kind of journal helps us remember who we used to be, and we can later draw on it for essays, memoir, or even for a character in a novel. Writer Abroad doesn’t usually keep a notebook, but she is now convinced she should, especially when she reads over the notebook she did keep, which was during her daughter’s first year. She can see now that it is hard to remember who she was as a new mother emotionally, even if she can remember specific incidents—like wishing she were a man during that time since they had it so much easier!

Another chapter in Slow Writing talks about taking time off, which is also important for creativity. Time away from work is so important for everyone, and yet Americans don’t seem to understand it—or if they do, they aren’t given the proper amount of time off to truly relax.  Instead, their “time away” is ping pong at the office (or worse, “pajama day at the office”). But sorry, anything at the office isn’t a vacation no matter how much fun it supposedly creates. After living for almost a decade in Europe, Writer Abroad vows to continue taking at least a month of time off each year. The difference it makes in her work is real.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Make Your Own Luck in 2015

Happy Old Year. 

Writer Abroad would like to take a moment to celebrate 2014. It was a big year in many ways. She published her first book, which has sold almost 1200 copies since May. She secured a distribution deal with one of the publishers that originally rejected the manuscript. She wrote for several new publications, including Brian Child, CNN Travel, and Fodor’s. And oh yeah, she changed continents. At least for the time being.

In any case, 2014 taught Writer Abroad a lot. Mainly, that success as a writer is up to you. You can wait for others to decide to offer you something. Or you can create your own luck in 2015 and make your dreams come true yourself. 

For Writer Abroad, it took ten years of writing, ten years of making contacts, ten years of learning about promotion and advertising, and ten years of learning about the publishing industry before she felt ready for Book Number One. And that’s the other lesson: in a world where publishing is more accessible than ever, patience is key. Publishing when you’re not ready can do more harm than good. But if you are ready, Writer Abroad says this: 2015 is waiting for you to take success into your own hands. Won’t you join her in pursuing it?

Happy New Year.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Expat Author Book Gift Guide

Finally, a gift guide that includes new books written by expats (or former expats). Below is a short list of books published within the last year by writers who have previously been featured on this website. The list is organized by the country the writers used to live in (or still currently live in). 


Since Big in China, which was optioned for film, Alan Paul has written a new book, One Way Out: The Inside History of the Allman Brothers Band. Read his previous interview with Writer Abroad.

Kristin Bair O’Keefe has a new novel, The Art of Floating, which follows her debut novel, Thirsty. Read her previous interview with Writer Abroad.


Dirty Bertie: An English King Made in France is Stephen Clark’s newest book. Among his many others include A Year in the Merde. Read his interview here.


Philip Graham’s latest book is How to Read an Unwritten Language. He is also the author of The Moon, Come to Earth, which is a collection of stories about his time in Portugal. Read his interview here.


Diccon Bewes’ most recent book is Train to Switzerland: One Tour, Two Trips, 150 Years and a World of Change Apart. It follows the success of Swiss Watching. Read more here.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

International Writers’ Round-Up

Here’s where Writer Abroad has been finding information and inspiration over the last couple weeks:

Beautiful essay by Jennifer Berney in Literary Mama about moving in an attempt to find the right place. Writer Abroad recently moved as well, and can relate to the essay’s non-conclusion. Is there ever a location that’s perfect? What do you think?

A new book, Windows on the World, by Matteo Pericoli, features the views of fifty writers around the world along with short essays about what the writer sees. Would make a great Christmas gift.

Feeling nostalgic about her former adopted country, Writer Abroad couldn’t help but fall in love with the photography of Ursula Sprecher and Andi Cortellini, who captured Swiss social clubs in all of their glory. From the Pigeon Fanciers’ Club to the Knitting Club, these photographs tell one of the best stories of the Swiss people Writer Abroad has seen for a long time. She wonders what an American version would look like.

Finally, for those interested in traditional versus self-publishing, Tucker Max has given writers a new option: Only using traditional publishers for what they do best: distribution.  Attention, Authors: I Tripled My Royalties, and You Can Too

Where have you found inspiration lately? Leave a link.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Oh, America...

After living abroad for over eight years and then going back to the US, it's easy to see all the strange things there are about home. Writer Abroad would explain a few of them here, and she's writing an entire book about them now, but here's a preview told in pictures.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Repatriation: The Art of Losing

Writer Abroad couldn't help but relate to the following post, written by Jill Boyles.

I don’t know what to do with myself. After having lived in Poland for almost two years, my husband and I returned to the USA. Mind you, I’ve lived abroad before, Turkey and China, and flew home to visit family and friends with the knowledge that I was going back. This time, I don’t know if I’ll ever go overseas again and writing that halts my breath. Breathe . . 

Two days ago, I opened a memo application on my computer, and a to-do list popped up, which I had written while living in Warsaw. A reminder of who I was then:  an expat. A reminder of who I am now:  an ex-expat. I was formerly absent from my country but not anymore. I’m present to drive to the store, to fold the laundry, to take the trash to the curb. During my absence, I walked across Plac Defilad with snow falling on park benches and lampposts, illuminating a dark, winter evening made warmer from the steamy kebab stand, the meat’s pungent scent pricking my nose.

I have a travel blog I started last year but don’t know what to do with it. My husband and friends encourage me to continue. Travels in the US, they say. I give this much thought, but writing about the States feels disingenuous, like I’m pulling the wool over my readers’ eyes. In truth, I would be disingenuous to myself. I’m no longer that person writing about this; I’m now this person writing about that. Last month, I deleted a post and submitted it for publication.

After I had arrived home from China, my dad asked if I wanted to go to a baseball game. I said that I’d rather watch a Chinese man pee in a bush – a common sight in the part of China where I had lived. His face cracked like porcelain. My intention was not to hurt him, but the mention of going to yet another baseball game, well . . . been there, done that. Fresh from China, I craved exciting experiences. Something I wanted my dad to understand. Instead, I sounded like a petulant child. I can never take back that moment.

Traveling familial territory is treacherous. The terrain dips in ways you never expect.

I’m about to move to a new state at the opposite end of the country. I’ll have trouble adjusting, and this frightens me. Different accent, different behavior, different climate. I search for the fearless, adventurous woman who lived and worked in other countries, who spoke with vowel harmony, tones and seven cases. It’s different here, not fitting in with your own people. Not like over there, where not fitting in is a faded, oversized sweater worn on weekends.

The speaker in Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “One Art” tells us “the art of losing isn’t hard to master.” A laundry list of lost items like keys, a mother’s watch, houses, and continents are met with the assurance that these losses aren’t disasters, not even losing a loved one.

Unlike Bishop, I haven’t lost a beloved although in some ways it feels like it. What I am doing is practicing the art of losing. When I want to say nie, I say no. When I want to catch the server’s attention to add ice to my drink, I put my hand down. When I correspond with overseas friends, I pause and look about me:  I am here, in this room, in this country.

Jill Boyles is a writer from Minnesota, USA. Her work has appeared in The Minnesota Women’s Press and Focus on Dalian, among other publications. Her blog is The deleted blog post mentioned in this blog post will be in the November issue of Calliope Magazine.


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