Sunday, December 19, 2010

10 Great Gifts for International Writers

At the first mention of Christmas, Writer Abroad gets so hyper and determined that she regresses, oh, about 27 years. To give a little order to her madness, she’s complied a list of gifts that are perfect for the international writer in your life (hint, hint).

One: iPod Touch

Make calls on Skype. Download Swiss train timetables. Record interviews. This little gift just keeps on giving—wherever you are in the world.

Two: Noise cancelling headphones

Concentrate on long-haul flights. Concentrate at an ad agency. Or just live in a little English bubble.

Three: Airline miles

Got a lot of miles piling up and don’t know what to do with them? Now you do.

Four: Book Depository Gift Certificate

Free shipping, worldwide. This means a writer abroad can divide big orders into smaller ones to avoid customs charges without having to pay more for shipping. Oh, the things we think about.

Five: A taste of home

Kraft Mac & Cheese. Jif peanut butter. Duncan Hines brownie mix. Need I say more?

Six: Magazine subscription

When your phone bill, local newspaper, and bank statement are all in German, an English magazine in your mailbox is like Christmas.

Seven: AvantGuild Membership

MediaBistro is a useful site for many writers abroad. With an AvantGuild membership, they can gain access to exclusive content like how to pitch articles and discounts on online classes.

Eight: Online Writing Class

Give a gift where English is a given: on the Internet.

Nine: Skype Credit

Get the writer in your life to stop writing and start talking. For about $30, your writer can call unlimited landlines or cell phones in the United States for an entire year. Including yours.

Ten: Moleskine Notebook

What writer doesn’t need one of these? You can even give them a City Notebook for their adopted home.

Ok writers, what do you want that I've forgotten?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

International Writing Round-Up

It has been a few weeks since Writer Abroad collected a virtual goodie bag. So in honor of the giving season, here we go:

Swiss News, Switzerland’s National English Journal, is looking for experienced freelance journalists interested in writing about politics, finance, and news. You must be a native English speaker and have a valid Swiss work permit to apply.

Erika Dreifus publishes a newsletter for writers filled with submission alerts, upcoming writing contests, writing resources and more. To check out the latest issue, click here.

Alexis Grant founded a Travel Memoir Writers group over on Facebook to discuss triumphs, challenges, and questions writers have when writing travel memoir. You can request to join here.

If you write personal essays, MediaBistro recently updated their personal essay markets listing. You must be an AvantGuild member to read the content. Otherwise, you can check out my collection of paying personal essay markets here.

If you missed the Zurich Writers Workshop this fall, one of its instructors, University of Oxford Fiction Tutor Amal Chatterjee, has announced a spring writing workshop for poetry and fiction writers. It will be held in Amsterdam from April 15-17, 2011.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Writer Interview: Diccon Bewes in Switzerland

In honor of this website's one-year anniversary, Writer Abroad is pleased to welcome Switzerland-based author and travel writer Diccon Bewes to her little space on the big wide web. His first book, Swiss Watching, was partly inspired by a writing exercise at the Geneva Writers' Conference as well as his interest in proving that there was more to Switzerland than just skis and cheese. Since being published earlier this year, Swiss Watching has become a bestseller in Switzerland.

Join Writer Abroad as Diccon discusses how to go about researching an entire country, how to find an agent, as well as how to successfully promote a book while working a full-time job.

Congratulations on such a great book on what exactly, makes the Swiss tick. One of the things I liked about it was how you managed to make what could have been a dry, factual explanation of Swiss history interesting—and even funny. Do you have any tips for other non-fiction writers on how to make facts fun?

Infotainment is such a horrid word, but for me it sums up what non-fiction should be about: informing and entertaining readers at the same time. We’ve all endured dry, dull books where even the facts are boring. My three tips:

1. Write what you would like to read. Look at the books you have enjoyed and ask yourself why they were good.

2. Find your own voice. It isn’t just fiction that needs a distinctive voice to bring the text to life. Non-fiction is so much better with a dash of personality.

3. Factoids are often better than facts. People love trivia so ferret out those lesser-known nuggets to give readers those ‘Did you know?’ moments. E.g. forget penknives and milk chocolate, think toilets ducks and LSD, also Swiss inventions.

How has living in Switzerland influenced you as a writer?

Well it gave me the material for a bestselling book! And it has made me more conscious of the English I use. Knowing that Swiss Watching was going to be read by many non-native speakers made me choose my words very carefully; not exactly dumbing down but trying to find a turn of phrase that would cross the linguistic divide. Equally, now that I spend half my life in German, I make the effort to find native English speakers to talk to. Nothing worse for a writer than to lose the total command of your own language!

Do you think a Swiss could have written Swiss Watching? Why or why not?

No, because it often takes an outsider to look inside. Many of the things I wrote about, such as how to say cheers or using 1000-franc notes, are so normal to the Swiss that they don’t notice them – or wouldn’t think they’re interesting to others. Even with something like Swiss history or politics, because it was all unknown to me, it was easier for me to get an overview and cherry-pick the best bits. A Swiss-written Swiss Watching would be a very different book indeed – a lot more commas for one thing.

How does one go about researching an entire country?

Slowly. Writing a book like Swiss Watching is really only possible if you live in the country concerned. As a travel writer, I could visit a place for two weeks, then write a few thousand words on it. As an author, I needed to have material for 100,000 words and that sort of research is hard to gather on short visits, especially as it is as much observational as factual. Just as well Switzerland isn’t the size of Russia.

You talk about how the book was born at a writing workshop in Geneva. How important is it for writers to attend conferences and workshops?

My answer three years ago would have been ‘not very’. Now it’s, go if you have a chance to. I went very reluctantly, hating the idea of writing things on spec then having them dissected in public. But it was a great experience, free from public humiliation and full of possibilities. I was even moved to write a blog post about it.

The best reason to go is not just to be creative but to meet other writers; in doing so you realise that you are not alone in the world, that others have exactly the same problems as you, and that writing can lead to something.

Did you write a book proposal for Swiss Watching? Or how did you go about finding an agent?

Every book is like a marriage – it starts with a proposal. Non-fiction ones are slightly different as agents & publishers don’t expect a full manuscript at that stage. Instead I had to research the market so that I could answer every possible question about readership, competition, etc. And then have a chapter-by-chapter synopsis of the book, plus the whole opening chapter in perfect form. It took me the best part of three months to write my proposal, partly because I have a day-job, partly because I was stumbling in the dark learning as I went. But it was worth every minute.

Finding an agent also took research time. I used two books that list agents (Writer’s Market, and Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook, both updated annually), and worked through them to find agents who were interested in taking on travel writers. Then I checked the agents’ websites about submission guidelines, and finally sent something off to six of them. And waited. Three days later I had a contract with an agent in the UK – and yes, I know how lucky I was to get one so quickly. By the way, the other five all said no, though by the time I got their replies, I had signed my contract.

Your book has been selling well. Do you think your book has filled an unmet niche? Are people more interested in Switzerland than they used to be?

Switzerland has always interested people, and not just chocolate-lovers like me. The first bit of research for the book was to ask 100 non-Swiss what they immediately associated with Switzerland (just like in the game-show). All 100 gave an instant answer (Top 5 were mountains, cheese, chocolate, banks and cuckoo clocks). I’m not sure that would happen with a similar –sized country like Bulgaria. At the moment, with so much uncertainty around, Switzerland is also viewed as a welcome oasis of stability – especially if you’re rich. Plus the fact that the Swiss keep making headlines with their banks and controversial votes. It all keeps the interest alive.

Perhaps the surprising thing is how well it has sold to the Swiss themselves, despite only being available in English. In just five months, the book became the No 1 bestselling English book of 2010 in Switzerland. It seems that the Swiss are as curious as any other nation to discover how a foreigner living here sees them and their country.

You’ve been touring Switzerland and talking at many bookshops, you’ve got a blog, and you’ve had interviews in magazines. Can you talk about the marketing and promotion of a book like Swiss Watching?

Two words: hard work. Having a small publisher based in London meant that all of the Swiss legwork was down to me: sending letters to the press, organising bookshop talks, going to expat fairs, answering emails, doing interviews, et and all around my day-job. No author these days can sit back and expect the publisher to do it all, unless you’re John Grisham. And of course, success breeds more work, so that each interview led to another, each talk pushed the book sales up so generated more interest. Fun and rewarding but tiring, especially when half of it was in German. The bonus was that with me so busy in Switzerland, my publisher was able to concentrate on the UK and US, getting press coverage there, making sure Amazon was always up-to-date, liaising with tourist boards, etc. Such a division of labour was only possible because of the book itself; if I’d written about tiddlywinks, then the Swiss interest would naturally have been far less.

You spent ten years as a travel writer, writing for Lonely Planet and Holiday Which? What, in your opinion is good travel writing?

Ooh, that’s difficult. Not easy for me to be objective, but I’d say writing that has a sense of place, so that an armchair traveller could enjoy it as much as someone in that country. A lot depends on the product – a guidebook is a very different creature to a travelogue and the two have to be written accordingly. My editor at Holiday Which? always said that the most important thing is to know your audience and write for them. So true.

What are you working on next?

Once Christmas in the bookshop (my day-job) is over, I can think about starting the research on my next book. All top secret at the moment. Until then, my blog is more than enough to keep me busy.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Thanks for the interview, especially as it was all in English.

To purchase Swiss Watching, click here. For more about Diccon, visit his website or his blog.

Friday, November 26, 2010

How to make a living as a writer: move

Outsourcing. As a writer, I always considered myself safe from this growing trend. How could someone outsource me? I am creative. I am educated. Someone living halfway across the world couldn't do my job.

Think again.

In her 2008 book, This Land is Their Land, Barbara Ehrenreich pointed out that even local news organizations like were hiring journalists in India. To cover, yes, local news in Pasadena. From New Delhi. I guess Google Earth and YouTube help, but how can a reporter in India really know what is going on in California? Who cares, I guess, if they save the news organization money so that its CEO can earn even more.

Last year, when looking into a blogging job, I noticed that this particular website's Paris writer didn't even live in Paris. Can you blame her? How could she? The site only paid its writers with ad revenue. The worst part is, its readers probably don't know this. If this isn't shady journalism then I don't know what shady journalism is. Oh yeah, Fox News.

All of these trends send a clear message. If we're going to be writers abroad and actually be able to make a living wage, then the place to write from isn't Paris, isn't London, and it certainly isn't any city in Switzerland. No. The place to write from is India.

How else can we afford to write for pennies? According to Dian Vujovich, ten years ago the standard pay for a freelance writer was about $1 a word. Have experience and expertise and you'd get double or more. But now, publications want to pay professional writers 10 cents a word. Or 5. Or, like our great source of local Parisian news mentioned above, they don't even want to pay that.

But there are some places that still pay well, you say. You're right. But they make up for the pay by turning greedy in the rights department, buying rights to your work in media that hasn't even been invented yet. Trying to imagine retaining copyright to your work is like trying to imagine Wal-Mart paying its employees a living wage.

I don't know what the solution is to all of this is, except to make sure you can do something on the side that's still hard to outsource. Like dishwashing.

How do you feel about the way writers are treated? What can we do?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Working as a Copywriter Abroad

As some of you know, by trade, I am a copywriter and I've worked for ad agencies on two continents. Working internationally can be a challenge for anyone–copywriters included. Here are a few things to consider when working abroad as a copywriter:

1. Sense of humor. As an American and generally sarcastic person, I like a good dose of, well, sarcasm. But in many cultures, Swiss included, sarcasm just doesn't translate. There are a few exceptions. One of my favorite ads in Switzerland right now is a billboard in the Zurich Airport for IWC, a Swiss watch company based in Schaffhausen. This ad, I am almost 100% certain, was written by an English copywriter (see image above). Airports, in general, are filled with ads in English. And you can usually tell which ones were written by native speakers and which ones weren't.

2. Lost in translation. Not only is sarcasm lost in translation, but when writing headlines and copy, a copywriter with international experience knows to avoid most plays on words or phrases like "cute as a button." This just won't translate well to French, German, Italian, Romansch and who knows what else. I avoid the phrase "cute as a button" on principle, but one of the hallmarks of a good copywriter is that they can play with words and phrases. But a copywriter working in an international environment must often reconsider their cleverness.

3. The which English question. Most American or British writers consider their English standard English. But not in an international environment. In Switzerland, some companies and brands use American English and some use British English. To work as a copywriter abroad, it helps to know the differences between English and English.

4. Flexibility. When I worked for an American ad agency, we had an entire department devoted to proofreading and editing. As a copywriter, I just came up with ideas, wrote scripts and copy, and other people proofed the stuff before it was ever seen by a client. But when you're working as an English copywriter abroad, you are most likely all these departments in one. You don't just write copy. You fix bad English translations (often harder than writing something from scratch). You edit. You proofread. You translate. The scope of the job is much wider.

Have you worked as a copywriter abroad? If so, what has your experience been like?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Why should a writer write a blog?

Should a writer abroad write a blog? Wow. Say that 10 times fast.

I was recently at a writing conference when someone asked if they should start a blog. The instructor said her agent required her to blog, but she didn’t really see a benefit.

Fair enough.

But I disagree.

Especially for writers abroad—those of us who have yet to sell a bestseller, at least—a blog is a way of reaching out to the rest of the world, of doing something productive with an internet addiction that, if it’s anything like mine, goes something like this: Gmail. Hotmail. Friend Blog. Facebook. NYtimes. Guilt. Random site. Repeat.

I admit it. I am a broken record, the 21st century version. I know I have an addiction worthy of a Swiss rehab clinic, but I’m not going to do anything about it except, well, google “Internet addiction.”

Unlike most things in Switzerland, the virtual world is always open, and it’s much more comfortable than the real one—it doesn’t try to talk to me in a language I can’t understand, disguise mayonnaise in packages other than jars, or stop me from recycling bottles over the lunch hour.

So I blog.

At first, I just wrote One Big Yodel for my mom. But about a year into writing it, I realized I loved blogging. I was meeting people through my blog. I was feeling less isolated because of my blog. And later, I started getting writing jobs because of it.

Why write a blog if you’re a writer? The list goes on and on. My blog has led to radio interviews, emails from agents, a fantastic support network of other writers—one who has actively tried to help my career—and more.

The point is this: you never know where a blog will take you.

Hopefully, it’s out of your apartment.

Catherine Sanderson’s blog, for example, resulted in a six-figure book deal.

If you’re still not convinced, try writing a book proposal sometime. You’ll see why you need a blog when you get to the marketing section.

But. None of these reasons can be why you blog. You must love to blog. A blog is a lot of work. It’s time consuming. If you don’t like blogging, it’s not going to be rewarding.

What do you think? Should a writer keep a blog? If you have a blog, has it helped your writing career?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Five scary things about writing from abroad

In honor of Halloween, here are a few freaky things to consider about the international writing life.

Currency fluctuation. In the last few years, the dollar and the pound have tumbled. If you’re living abroad and getting paid in the local currency, you may not care. But you would care, for example, if you lived in Switzerland and wrote for U.S. publications. Four years ago, if I wrote an article for $300, that meant SFr 381. Now if I write that same article, I only get SFr 291. That’s SFr 100 different, and not in my favor.

Banking issues. A U.S.-based freelancer recently emailed me asking how I dealt with depositing U.S. checks from abroad. Short answer? I don’t. I let my mother do that (thanks, Mom). Why? If I deposit an American check into my Swiss bank account, I will be charged a fee (A large fee. This is Switzerland, after all.). If you live abroad and write for publications back home, make sure you designate a hometown banker to take care of your checks so you avoid unwanted charges and hassle.

Maintaining clients. For some publications, it doesn’t matter where in the world you’re located. But for others, you can't take it with you. For example, I used to write for an alternative newspaper in Richmond. But after moving abroad, being away from Richmond meant I couldn’t be on top of what was going on locally. So I no longer write for them. But luckily, other publications abroad have taken its place.

Interviews in foreign languages. The first time I interviewed someone for an article in German, it was absolutely schlecht. I recorded it, so I could transcribe it later, but it took me over five hours to type the half hour interview. What could be worse? Well, listening to myself asking questions in my bad German accent wasn’t exactly my idea of a good time.

Finding a support group. It can be hard to find a group of other writers to encourage you and give you feedback. Sure, there are often groups of hobbyists, but serious writers can be harder to find. For the first three years I was abroad, I was basically alone, at least writing-wise. It took me three years to find two other writers and form a critique/support group, but now that I have one, it is wonderful.

What’s been tough for you about writing from abroad?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Is it easier to write from abroad?

Sometimes I wonder if I’d be working on two books right now if I was still living in the U.S. I’m sure I’d be thinking about writing one, but I have a feeling life would have gotten in the way.

Before I moved abroad, I worked 50-60 hours a week as a copywriter, taught as an adjunct at the local university one night a week, contributed to the arts & culture section of a local newspaper, and also managed to find the time to sing in a choir.

Going abroad has taught me that other cultures are less work-crazy than mine. It has taught me to pace myself. That free time matters. While I sit down every weekday and write, I have learned to be a nicer boss to myself because otherwise I just end up feeling anxious and overwhelmed: in other words, I end up feeling American.

The culture, at least in most of Europe, is more relaxed than the United States. On Sundays in Switzerland, nothing is open except bakeries and cable car lifts. You are expected to either walk in the woods or linger over a coffee. I’m finally getting good at both. While I still get caught up in the whole American “if I’m not busy then I’m not worthy” sentiment, for the most part, I’m learning to take things one step (and one chapter) at a time.

When I hear from family back home that some stores will be open on Thanksgiving and that some offices are no longer honoring holidays such as Christmas, since their partner offices around the world may not also close on that day, I feel sad. I hope Americans will fight back. Maybe not as intensely as the French. But a little of the French “free time is sacred” spirit couldn’t hurt. Because if the U.S. is the land of the free, then why is everyone chained to their desks?

Did you go abroad as a writer or did going abroad make you a writer?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Getting some perspective

I like writing in the present tense. It gives a story a cinematic feel and it also helps me capture a moment in a way that shows, rather than tells. So I wrote most of my 87,000-word memoir in present tense. It worked, it flowed, but something was missing and I didn’t know what.

Thanks to some feedback at the Zurich Writers Workshop a couple of weeks ago, I now know exactly what was missing: the memoir needs more perspective. To achieve this, I am now going back and rewriting the chapters in the past tense in order to create more narrative distance and add a bit more reflection and cultural insight to the work.

It’s amazing that this little nugget of advice can make such a difference.

Any bits of advice you’ve learned at a class or workshop that you found immediately helpful?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Paris Literary Prize for a Novella

One of the reasons Writer Abroad likes workshops is that she learns about opportunities. This past weekend, at the Zurich Writers Workshop, she learned about the 2011 Paris Literary Prize.

As part of this contest, writers are invited to submit their initial 3,000 words and a synopsis via by December 1, 2010. The submission fee is 50 Euros. Shortlisted entrants will be required to submit their full novella (20,000-30,000 words) by mid-March 2011. The winner will be announced on June 16, 2011.

The prize is 10,000 Euros, a weekend in Paris, and a reading at the Shakespeare and Company bookstore.

The contest is open to writers who have not published a novella or full-length book. There is no limit to the subject matter.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Book Reading on Sunday

Attention Zurich-area book lovers. As part of the Zurich Writers Workshop this weekend, New York Times Bestselling Author Susan Jane Gilman and University of Oxford Tutor Amal Chatterjee will be giving a reading on Sunday, October 3rd, from 12:30-1:00 p.m.

The reading is free and open to the public. It will be held at Schoentalstrasse 8, 8004 Zurich. Writer Abroad looks forward to meeting you there.

And for any procrastinators still wishing to join the full conference, there are a couple spaces left in the fiction workshop. Click here to register.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

On not writing

My parents were visiting over the last two weeks, so instead of stressing over trying to balance my work with my visitors, I spent almost that entire time without writing anything. Since I'm a workaholic, I was kind of nervous about not writing, but it turned out to be easy. No book editing, no copywriting, no blogging, no emails, no essay writing, no queries, no nothing.

Out of not writing, came two ideas for my writing: one for a book and one for an essay.

I guess you could say that not writing is productive too. Maybe I should relax more often.

How do you schedule time away from writing? And if you have visitors that come for long periods of time, do they respect your work even if you work from home?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Guides to Gnomes and Literary Agents

I admit it. I have a gnome collection. It started about two years ago, when I read that gnomes actually originated in Switzerland. That article awakened a passion for lawn art I never knew I had. Since then I've collected gnomes from France, Germany, the U.S., and of course, Switzerland. (The ones in the photo above I bought at a flea market in Paris. As they are French gnomes, they are a bit delicate and prefer my living room to my garden.)

Anyhow. While I do not consider my gnomes dangerous, it doesn't hurt to be prepared, especially since I now own over 10 of these guys, some of which I've purchased second-hand. That's why I was excited to hear about Chuck Sambuchino's new book, How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack: Defend Yourself When the Lawn Warriors Strike (And They Will). Whether you have gnomes or not, it promises to be a fantastic read.

Lawn art attacks aside, Chuck also writes a great blog for writers called Guide To Literary Agents Blog. It includes advice from fellow writers, how writers landed their agent, and also highlights successful query letter examples. I've referred to it on many occasions while working on my memoir.

Anyone else out there own some garden gnomes? Or a good guide to literary agents?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Writer Interview: Janet Skeslien Charles in Paris

One of the reasons I started attending writing workshops (and founding my own) was to meet people. This summer, at the Paris Writers Workshop in July, I met Janet Skeslien Charles, who discussed her debut novel, Moonlight in Odessa, on a panel. After the discussion, I immediately bought her book. I finished it in just three days. It's one of the best novels I've read all year.

In this interview, the award-winning debut novelist talks about how living abroad inspires her work, how she uses humor so effectively, and why her first book, a memoir, remains unpublished.

Congratulations on a fantastic debut novel. One of the things I loved about it was how the main character, Daria (a Ukrainian), described Americans and the United States. The garage door openers, the sloppy clothes, having a fire in the summer by turning on the A/C, etc. Do you think you would have been able to see America so clearly without having lived outside it yourself? Or how does living abroad influence your writing?

Thank you for your kind words about the novel! For writers, I think it can be helpful to be on the outside. Living in Ukraine and then in France has made me see the United States in a new way.

So many things come down to perspective. For example, Daria was disappointed that the Americans she met didn’t care about their appearances. She had dreamed about meeting Americans who were as elegant as the characters she saw in Hollywood movies; however, in the new book I am working on, Jane, an American who lives in Ukraine, is dismayed that her Odessan neighbors and colleagues judge her solely on what she wears. Each point of view is valid.

Living abroad has made me more aware of the English language and of American culture, which was very helpful in writing Moonlight in Odessa, a story with a Ukrainian narrator.

The characters in Moonlight in Odessa are unique and very well developed. How did you go about creating them? Any advice for other writers on creating great characters?

Thank you. I worked a lot on Daria’s voice and thought about what made her who she is. She is also defined by the choices that she makes. My advice would be not to use narration to tell us who the character is, but rather to use actions to show us who the character is. My goal with the character Harmon was to make the reader re-evaluate him after every chapter, which meant that he had to evolve in a believable way.

My advice would be to write what you want to write, but remember that you must entertain your reader and keep your readers interested in your characters and in your story.

You just won the 2010 Melissa Nathan Award for Comedy Romance. Congrats! Do you have any tips for how to effectively use humor in writing?

I was thrilled to have received the Melissa Nathan Award. In my experience, humor is more challenging to write than drama, though when it is well done, humor seems effortless. It takes a lot of time and experimentation to find the limits.

In this book, I looked at the ironies and really tried to bring them out. Odessa is actually the humor capital of the former Soviet Union, and Odessans can laugh about everything from abortion to life under the Soviet regime.

An estimated 10,000 women enter the United States each year to marry men they meet on sites such as If you take a moment to look at this site or read some of the articles on my website, you can see that the subject of email-order brides is pretty dark, so I tried to use humor as a light to shine on this subject. I wanted to make people aware of what these women go through (though some are happy with their American husbands, others go through hell), without preaching or condemning anyone.

You wrote a memoir about living in the Ukraine before your wrote Moonlight in Odessa but didn't end up publishing it. What did you learn from that experience?

The novel Moonlight in Odessa is the first book that I published, but it is not the first I had written. I worked on a book-length memoir. Christopher Vanier, author of the recently published Caribbean Chemistry, helped so much in terms of editing and thinking about dialogue. Although the book was not published, it is how I learned to think about which details to add and which to leave out, how to make dialogue sparkle, and how to write a strong query letter.

How long did it take you to write Moonlight in Odessa and what was your writing schedule like?

It was two years of pure obsession. I did not do or think of anything else. If I was not writing, I was thinking about the next scenes.

In general, I tried to write sections of my novel in the morning and work on other projects (such as writing articles and essays; research on finding the right agent or markets for my essays; and developing query letters) in the afternoon. In the evening, I read, do research, and answer e-mail pertaining to my work. I try to stay away from the internet as much as possible, it is so easy to lose valuable time. But so often I lose the battle!

It took months to craft a polished query and synopsis for Moonlight in Odessa (which was submitted as Email-Order Bride), I went through several drafts. This is a writer’s first impression, and sometimes only impression, on an agent or editor, so it has to be perfect.

You currently live in Paris where you started a writing workshop at Shakespeare and Company. Do you have any advice for other writers abroad who are trying to find a support group?

Persevere until you find writers who are stronger than you are and who are generous enough to share their insights with you and to critique your work. In turn, be generous and read other people’s manuscripts and give thoughtful feedback. It may take time to find a supportive group. I have been part of four writing groups.

I enjoyed my time teaching at Shakespeare & Company because I met so many great writers and readers. I loved analyzing my favorite books with my students because the discussions were always so rich. For writers, reading is as important as writing.

What are you working on now? Will Daria make a return? (I hope so!)

I’m still working on the publicity for
Moonlight in Odessa
– the paperback comes out in the States in September, so I am setting up a month-long blog tour (I did a tour when the book came out in hardcover last fall).

I’m writing another novel set in Odessa. Daria is not the main character, but she does make a few appearances.

Thank you for asking such great questions!

For more visit:
Janet's website:
Order her book: Moonlight in Odessa

Friday, August 27, 2010

Online classes, video lectures, and expat lit

Writer Abroad has had a busy month. Copywriting projects, memoir editing, and Zurich Writers Workshop planning. And of course, watching men play a sport that involves fishing poles, balls, and shovels (see photo). But don't worry, she hasn't forgotten about the Writer Abroad interview series, featuring prominent writers living outside their home countries. Another installment is coming up next week. But in the meantime, here are a few links you might find useful:

Andrew Craft, a writing instructor that helped me organize my memoir last year, has launched Where Writers Write. It's a website dedicated to helping writers find their voices and finish their stories. It's especially useful for writers abroad, as he's offering both online courses and a study abroad program in London.

Expat author Robin Pascoe has completed a series of video lectures on the challenges of living abroad. Topics include identity loss for an accompanying spouse, traditional career challenges, and challenges involved in moveable marriages. You can view the video series here.

Writer Anastasia Ashman asks a great question over on Expat + Harem: Expatriate Literature may often be stocked in the travel section. But does it deserve a shelf of its own? I think so. Especially now that over 2 million people live outside of their country of birth. What do you think?

And finally, it wouldn't be a proper post without a little shameless self-promotion: Writer Abroad was honored to be featured over on author Janet Skeslien Charles' blog in an interview about being a writer abroad.

Any great new things you've discovered out there?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Split Personality

I do a lot of advertising copywriting (which one could argue is a kind of fiction...) but I also write a lot of non-fiction: personal essay and memoir. I don't know why, it's just what I write.

In June, I read the first ten pages of my memoir at a writing workshop. A couple people commented that the voice of the narrator was bubbly and fun.

I considered this a good thing. But then I thought about something: the narrator is me. And I don't really consider myself to be bubbly or fun. So am I lying on the page? Am I a different person when I write? What is going on?

Truth in memoir is something that's discussed a lot. I want to come across honestly on the page, but sometimes I wonder which person is really me--the one on the page or the one sitting here in my living room, burning my eyes out from staring at the computer way too long? If we're really the same thing, they why do we seem so different? Is it just my strange perception of myself? Do all writers have bipolar disorder? Are writers abroad naturally more confused than others? Or is something else going on?

Anyone else experience this or have an opinion?

A quick note: Registration is filling fast for the Zurich Writers Workshop. If you'd like to attend, click here to register now.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Register for the Zurich Writers Workshop

As the co-founder of the Zurich Writers Workshop, I wanted to let you know that registration for the October 1-3, 2010 event is now open. To ensure individual attention, space is limited to about 24 participants (12 in fiction and 12 in non-fiction). To reserve your spot before it's too late, register now! Below are descriptions of the two workshops that are being offered:

Memoir/Creative Non-Fiction

Instructor: Susan Jane Gilman

Do you have a personal story you’re dying to tell? Do people often say, “You should write a book”? This intensive, two-day workshop is designed as an informative and inspiring introduction to memoir-writing. Susan Jane Gilman will illuminate how to best put your experiences into words. She’ll address practical issues – such as how to structure a story, make a narrative compelling, and deploy imagery and humor to full advantage. She’ll also highlight what not to do as a writer. She’ll talk about editing and criticism, hold a workshop of student writing, and discuss the practical aspects to publishing, such as getting an agent, landing a book deal, and generating publicity. As an expat, Gilman will also touch upon the benefits – and challenges – of being a writer abroad.

This course will be led by New York Times Bestselling Author and NPR Contributor Susan Jane Gilman. The course will include over 8 hours of instruction, writing exercises, reading assignments, and critiques of students’ work, as well as a literary tour of Zurich. Participants should come with enthusiasm, an open mind, and a willingness to take creative risks. Ideally, workshop participants will be in the process of writing a personal essay or memoir.


Instructor: Amal Chatterjee

Themes, plots, conflict, character, details: how can a writer convey these? And, how can they be blended into a satisfying narrative? This day and a half course will explore each of these elements and how they can be balanced, leading up to a detailed outline, a short story or an extract from a novel to be shared and discussed in the group and with the course leader.

The course will be led by Amal Chatterjee, author of Across the Lakes and University of Oxford Fiction Tutor. Participants in the fiction section will receive over 8 hours of class instruction as well as a literary tour of Zurich. Ideally, workshop participants will be in the process of writing a short story or novel.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Learning to say no

"I'm sorry, I can't meet you this week," I told my friend.

"But you don't have a job," my friend said. She seemed to take it personally that I couldn't find a time to meet her for lunch in Zurich.

Story of my life. At least, my freelance life.

Somehow, just because I work from home, people think that I should always be available for an afternoon coffee, a lunch outing, or a shopping trip.

It doesn't work that way.

Here's the thing. I love being a writer. I love the freedom to choose my own projects, decide who I work with, and I love being creative on my own terms. And while my work sometimes feels like play, in reality, it's still work. Yes, I have more freedom than people with office jobs, but in return I also have to have more discipline.

One of the hardest parts about the writing life is learning to say "no". I'm still bad at that. Especially when the sun in shining in Zurich and my friends are going to the pool. But sometimes getting places tomorrow means going nowhere today.

Do you struggle with saying "no"?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Ameropeans and Other Strange Breeds

The longer Writer Abroad lives in Europe, the more Ameropean she becomes. Ameropeans are a unique breed of Americans that can see the United States from a distinctive viewpoint. For example, even though Ameropeans are Americans, upon visiting the USA, Ameropeans realize they are different. Here's why:

Ameropeans in America:

1. Do a double take when they realize they can understand conversations around them.
2. Order a small Coke and exclaim that it's way too big.
3. Suck on ice. It's so good.
4. Complain that both American coffee and American beer is watery.
5. Confuse the first and second floor at a department store.
6. Forget that tax is not included.
7. Forgo attending a writing conference because it's not easily accessible by public transport.
8. Get depressed in restaurants that don't have any windows.
9. Get depressed in restaurants that do have windows but have views of parking lots.
10. Freeze in air conditioning.
11. Rail against stores that are wasting energy by blasting A/C and leaving their doors open.
12. Dress up to go to the grocery store. Then regret it when Americans in sweats stare at them.
13. Notice how fat people are.
14. Wonder what the waitress is so happy about.
15. Wonder what everyone is so happy about.
16. Then realize it must be the root beer floats.
17. Feel overwhelmed by choice.
18. Feel overwhelmed by fast food.
19. Feel overwhelmed by white socks.
20. Feel overwhelmed that they will never be normal again.

Are you an Ameropean? Or Amersian? Or something else equally strange?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

3 Things the Alps Can Teach Us About Writing

This morning I woke up in my Alpine apartment and could hardly walk. After two days of solid hiking in the Alps, I was desperate to do at least one more hike. I went to the grocery store and bought a band-aid for my blister. But halfway to the lift station, I had to turn around. My foot hurt too much. The day before I had hiked over 7 hours. The day before that, over 4.

Which brings me to my writing. In hiking as in writing, I often push myself to the extremes. I need to work on pacing myself. So this week, no writing. And less hiking now too...

Here are a few things I've learned so far in the Alps.

1. Be patient. The fog will lift. You just have to wait. Maybe an hour. Maybe two days. The same goes for writer's block. Don't have a solution to a problem? Take a break. Wait it out. The answer will come. The fog will clear.

2. Pace yourself. A seven-hour hike one day may mean you can barely walk the next. Writing too much can be hazardous too. Last fall, I couldn't type for a week after working too much at my computer.

3. One step at a time. Yesterday I hiked to the bottom of the Aletsch Glacier. But then I had to hike back up. Over 300 meters up. It looked daunting. Until I stopped looking up and started looking across. Yes, with writing too, it's good to have a final goal. But if you don't take the steps in between, you'll never make it. You'll only dream it. That's why when I'm working on a book, I only write 1,000 words a day. One word at a time.

What has a summer vacation taught you about writing?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Zurich Writers Workshop

Sorry for the frequent mentions, but Writer Abroad is a little excited about the upcoming workshop in Zurich. Finally there is something in Zurich for people other than bankers, lawyers, and ladies who lunch.

Anyhow, yes. There will be a writers workshop in Zurich featuring Novelist and University of Oxford Fiction Tutur Amal Chatterjee and New York Times Bestselling Author Susan Jane Gilman. It will take place on October 1-3, 2010.

The workshop will be divided into two sections, fiction and memoir/creative non-fiction. Participants will receive over 8 hours of instruction in their chosen area as well as a literary tour of Zurich and the option to participate in possibly the first literary dinner ever that includes big bowls of melted cheese.

Today is the official website launch. Hope to see you over on Click here to sign up for the mailing list so you'll be the first to know when registration opens in August.

Also consider joining us as a sponsor. Yes, we like money (we live in Switzerland, after all), but more importantly we love help with spreading the word. If you can mention the workshop on your blog, mailing list, magazine or website we'll be glad to include a logo and link to your business/website/blog on our website. Danke and merci vielmal!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Contests, Workshops, and Alphorns

It’s been awhile since Writer Abroad did an international writing round-up, but you’ll have to excuse her. Frau V, concerned neighbor, has been doing Writer Abroad's gardening in her high heels. Again. But now that Writer Abroad has survived Swiss Gardening Boot Camp, Part II, she’s had time to gather some thoughts unrelated to her Katastroph of a garden.

Paris-based writer Laurel Zuckerman just announced a contest for the Best and Most Delightful Stores about Paris. All authors are welcome to submit. There's a 10 Euro entry fee. Deadline: November 30, 2010.

Author Philip Graham writes about how reading books on vacation is an escape from an escape. He welcomes your comments on the Companionable Presence of a Book.

The Zurich Writers Workshop has announced its guest instructors for its October workshop: Coming to Zurich will be New York Times Bestselling Author Susan Jane Gilman and University of Oxford Fiction Tutor Amal Chatterjee.

Looking to connect with writers working on travel memoirs? Join Alexis Grant’s Travel Memoir Writers twitter list.

Finally this post wouldn’t be complete if Writer Abroad didn’t toot her own horn. Yes. She went to Swiss Alphorn School and wrote a feature story for, on the growing popularity of the alphorn in Switzerland. She gives the alphorn students credit. It’s a hard instrument to play. But one note will get you a loyal audience. The cows love it.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Literary Snob

When I was growing up, my father read The New Yorker, had season tickets to the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and went out of his way to go to art films that were subtitled. When we were feeling brave, my sister and I would request to go to a Hollywood film at the normal movie theater, but my father would cringe at the mention of something so mainstream.

Instead, I was taken to museums on weekends and given quizzes, written in big, block Dad font, about what I had learned from the exhibits. I got subscriptions to Stone Soup while my friends read Seventeen. And I sang in a professional children's choir while my peers played in rock bands.

So now, to make up for it all, I read chick lit. And memoir. And mainstream novels. And ad copy. And the back of cereal boxes. And yes, The New Yorker. Sometimes. The humor parts.

I've been quite content since I left college.

But recently I went to a writing class that was filled with people like my father. It was filled with Dads.

During the class, I quoted Bill Bryson because we were discussing grabbing a reader's attention and I love the way his book, The Lost Continent, begins: "I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to."

The Dads were offended that I would mention something so mainstream. Poor Bill Bryson. Where did he go wrong?

Then I said I liked how Augusten Burroughs writes in the present tense because it really brings you into the moment.

The Dads were not impressed. Augusten Burroughs? Please. Writing in the present is too affected; action always happens in the past.

Finally, someone else spoke up. "I've always liked Ayn Rand."

Ayn Rand? Now all the Dads turned their wrinkled noses from me to her.

"What?" she said. "What is wrong with Ayn Rand?"

"Nothing," I said. "If her books make you enjoy reading, that's great."

The Dads didn't agree.

What do you think?


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