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Posts about interesting places I’ve been or want to visit

Claiming My Place in the World by Jennifer S. Alderson

Claiming My Place in the World by Jennifer S. Alderson

I thought I was so cool, handing over twenty-five Euros to a freshly washed junkie I’d met in a Red Light District coffeeshop, instead of one of the smellier ones lurking on the poorly-lit bridges crisscrossing the canals. As soon as he pocketed the cash, he scurried outside and charged down the street. I hurried after him, half-running to keep up. When he darted into a darkened alleyway, I froze and my guard went up. Was he robbing me, or worse? Before I could run, he’d already returned with a beat-up BMX mountain bike in one hand and a broken bike lock in the other. He passed me the handlebars and disappeared into the night.

Within minutes of my first cycling adventure on that crappy two-wheeler, I got knocked over by two huge Irish guys who’d unwittingly stepped into the bike lane. I’d only been in Amsterdam for a few days and was so fresh to the city I apologized to them.

When I later learned a true Dutchwoman would have responded with a string of expletives, I remember being furious with myself for not reacting ‘properly’.

It was the same when I lived in Darwin, Australia. Within a week, I was taking the piss out of the locals, loudly expressing my love of barbecue for lunch and dinner, and happily referring to the then Prime Minister by his derogatory nickname of ‘Johnny’. Locals often gave me funny looks; fellow expats simply nodded and asked for another charcoal-grilled sausage.

In Nepal, I scoffed at tourists using utensils instead of their right hand to eat, and laughed openly at those freaked out by the rather large insects and rodents scurrying about.

Whenever I move to a new country or city, I experience an almost primal urge to fit in. I can’t help but adopt local customs as my own, usually within days of arrival. I get edgy and irritated when people want to know what it’s like ‘back home’. I always have to bite my tongue, resisting the impulse to ask what they mean, this is home for now.

I’ve traveled through thirty countries and lived in three. For several years, I considered my backpack to be my best friend. I’ve obviously contracted a serious case of wanderlust. So why this desperate desire to assimilate?

If anything, my extensive travels have amplified this deep-seated need to belong, to feel as if I am a part of something – a stained glass class, volunteer organization, kayaking group, Frisbee team, or whatever tickled my fancy at the time. With hindsight I now realize my endeavors were a way of justifying my presence and claiming every new city as my own.

I did eventually buy a Dutch-style ‘grandma bike’ from a proper shop. After many months of searching, I found a decent place to live. I did most of my grocery shopping at the Albert Cuyp Market behind my apartment and spent my afternoons biking along the Amstel River or through the small fishing villages of Marken and Volendam. I did my best to befriend any and every Dutch person I came in regular contact with. And after a long year of intensive Dutch language classes, I was able to speak it fairly fluently. Despite the fierce competition, I was admitted into the (then Dutch language) Master’s degree program in Museum Studies at the University of Amsterdam. I was doing everything I could think of to root myself and set the foundation for my new life.

Yet even after living in Amsterdam for thirteen years – eight as a naturalized Dutch citizen complete with passport – I’m very aware that my Dutch is heavily accented, I don’t really get Amsterdammers’ cynical humor, and I don’t know most of the cultural icons of my husband’s childhood. My son will probably never live in – or really understand – the United States of America, the country I spent my formative years in, the land that shaped me.

Every time I think, now I’m one of them, a shop clerk or waitress will ask, “Where do you come from, South Africa? England? You have such a cute accent.” Or even more painful, “You’re Dutch is pretty good. My brother-in-law / co-worker / bus driver has lived here ten years longer than you and still can’t speak it.” Though it’s meant a compliment, remarks like these always deflate my ego and remind me that, no matter how perfect my accent or choice of words sounds to my ears, I’ll always be that foreigner who speaks Dutch with a funny accent.

The worst question by far, the one that really cuts deep and used to ruin my day, is: “When are you going back?” Back to where, I want to ask, but never do. Realistically, in a city full of expats working temporary contracts at a plethora of international corporations and foreign consulates, it is not a strange question to ask.

Yet when I do go back to the States to visit family, all I do is moan about having to drive everywhere, the fatty, salty foods on offer and the absurd selection of products available at any store you step into. Seriously people, does the world really need ten variations of chocolate chip mint ice cream?

I have to ask for directions wherever I go because my favorite cafes and shops closed or moved years ago, leaving me without any reference points. My open disapproval of typical American behavior and attitudes leaves my husband wondering why I lived in the good ‘ole US of A for so long. At the end of every trip, I leave feeling as if I’m the ultimate stranger in a strange land, yet this was once my home.

For a long time these questions about my accent and plans for returning to the States really bothered me. Then all at once, the aggravation disappeared. Or I should say, one day I finally accepted that this is how it was going to be for the rest of my life. My newfound homeland will never really accept me as a local, even though I see myself as one.

This realization has allowed me to connect with other expats, people I avoided like the plague when I first moved here. I no longer feel the need to ‘prove’ myself by only befriending those born here.

Because I am an outsider, I recognize and appreciate many of the wonderful facets Dutch society has to offer and value them perhaps more than locals do, those who have grown up with socialized health care, short work weeks, dirt-cheap child care, and state-subsidized culture institutions. Those who don’t know what it’s like to live in another society with a different set of values and priorities may never be able to truly appreciate their own.

Perhaps it is impossible to assimilate completely, to lose that outsider’s perspective. Frankly, I no longer want to. Being aware of the beauty inherent to the Dutch way of living makes being here that much more special. Why would I want to let that go?

 

About the Author

Jennifer S. Alderson worked as a journalist and website developer in Seattle, Washington before trading her financial security for a backpack. After traveling extensively around Asia and Central America, she moved to Darwin, Australia, before finally settling in the Netherlands. There she earned degrees in art history and museum studies. Home is now Amsterdam, where she lives with her Dutch husband and young son.

Jennifer’s travels and experiences color and inform her internationally-oriented fiction. Her first novel, Down and Out in Kathmandu: adventures in backpacking, is a travel fiction adventure through Nepal and Thailand. The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery, her second book, is a suspenseful ‘whodunit?’ which transports readers to wartime and present day Amsterdam.

Both books are part of an on-going stand-alone series following the adventures of traveler and culture lover, Zelda Richardson. The third installment in the series will be released in the fall of 2017.

On May 13, Jennifer will release a travelogue recounting her experiences as a volunteer and solo traveler in Nepal and Thailand, Notes of a Naive Traveler.

 

“The ride back to Kathmandu was comfortable and relaxing. There were more overturned trucks (the gas-powered ones seem to tip the most, I’m surprised there weren’t more explosions), goats being herded across the highway by ancient women, children playing games in traffic, private cars and buses alike pulling over in the most inconvenient places for a picnic or public bath, and best of all the suicidal overtaking maneuvers (or what we would call ‘passing’) by our bus and others while going downhill at incredible speeds or around hairpin turns uphill with absolutely no power left to actually get around the other vehicle.”

Trek with me through the bamboo forests and terraced mountaintops of Eastern Nepal, take a wild river rafting ride in class IV waters, go on an elephant ride and encounter charging rhinoceros on jungle walks in Chitwan National Park, sea kayak the surreal waters of Krabi and snorkel in the Gulf of Thailand. Join me on some of the scariest bus rides you could imagine, explore beautiful and intriguing temples, experience religious rituals unknown to most Westerners, and visit mind-blowing places not mentioned in your typical travel guides.

This travelogue also provides insight into the experience of volunteering at a Nepali school and living with a traditional family during a long-term homestay, where religion and ritual still rule daily life.

A touch of self-discovery is inherent to this kind of journey, one spurred on by a young woman’s attempt to figure out what she wants to do with her life.

Notes of a Naive Traveler is a must-read for those interested in learning more about – or wishing to travel to – Nepal and Thailand. I hope it inspires you to see these amazing countries for yourself.

Front cover artwork: ‘Folly in Divinity’, acrylic on canvas by Don Farrell

Release date: May 13, 2017

Pre-order Notes of a Naive Traveler: Nepal and Thailand now on iBooksKoboAmazon, Barnes & Noble NOOK and Smashwords.

Staying ‘In The Moment’: One Author’s Adventure in Travel Writing by Jennifer S. Alderson

Staying ‘In The Moment’: One Author’s Adventure in Travel Writing by Jennifer S. Alderson

So far this month we have been introduced to three travel memoir authors – Melissa Burovac, Jill Dobbe and Anne Hamilton – and their unique stories. It has been a pleasure reading about their journeys and how their travels influenced their writing.

The rest of the month I will feature articles by former and current expats and authors Beth Green, Annika Milisc-Stanley and Pamela Allegretto here on my blog.

Today I want to share my own story about how I came to write a travelogue. I hope you enjoy learning more about why I decided to take a break from fiction and publish excerpts from the travel journals I kept while traveling through Nepal and Thailand.

 

Staying ‘In The Moment’: One Author’s Adventure in Travel Writing

By Jennifer S. Alderson

My travels around this crazy planet have directly inspired the settings, plot twists and several of the characters in my Adventures of Zelda Richardson series. While writing these novels, my journals, emails to friends, and postcards sent home served as memory aids when describing the landscape and people I’d met on the road.

Enjoying a boat ride around Ao Thalin, Krabi Provence, Thailand.

Before making the plunge into fiction, I did try to use these same journals and emails as the basis for a full-blow travel memoir, yet failed miserably. My attempts to write about the events I had experienced after the fact in non-fiction story form, lost all of their spontaneity and (in my mind) their appeal. So I concentrated on writing fiction and regulated my travel journals to sources of background information about the settings of my travel thrillers and mysteries.

My soon-to-be-released travelogue, Notes of a Naive Traveler: Nepal and Thailand, only exists because I recycle. After cleaning out an overflowing closet, I stumbled upon a box full of old printouts, copies of the emails I’d sent to friends and family while in Nepal and Thailand. Most of the pages were crisscrossed with circles and notes I’d made while writing the first draft of Down and Out in Kathmandu.

On every corner and dusty square in the Thamel district of Kathmandu, Nepal you will find snake charmers.

These printouts were reference material I no longer needed. Because they’d only been printed on one side, I threw the lot onto our family ‘scrap paper pile’ which we use to make grocery shopping lists, or draw and paint on. While folding paper airplanes with my five-year-old son, my husband began reading the back sides of the pages, my old emails. When I got home that night, he asked why I had never published them. Just as many friends and family members have asked me over the years.

After much waffling, I re-read all of the emails and realized I could publish most them; only a few paragraphs were too personal. But the emails alone were about ten pages long; not much of a book!

Trekking with my volunteer group in Tharatum, Nepal.

So I went back through my journals and realized there was a lot of material I hadn’t used in Down and Out in Kathmandu that could be interesting to others who wanted to travel to Nepal and Thailand or volunteer abroad.  I threw together the first ten pages and sent it off to trusted beta readers. To my surprise, they were all quite positive and strongly recommended I finish it.

So I spent most of last winter piecing together excerpts from my journal and emails, then editing the mishmash of styles into one cohesive manuscript. By using direct, unaltered excerpts, I finally managed to keep the text ‘in the moment’, something I was unable to achieve the first-time around.

Tiger Caves Monastery, Krabi Provence, Thailand.

Honestly, I am incredibly nervous about having these excerpts from my personal journal out there. I admire travel writers who are able to unabashedly describe their stupid decisions, strange actions, and sometimes horrid behavior that the stress of long-term travel can bring out in a rational person.

Yet, I am also heartened by early readers’ (and even reviewer’s) positive remarks and interest in my journey. I hope those who read it are able to put themselves in my former self’s shoes and enjoy their time as a volunteer, as well as their trip around Nepal and Thailand.

May it inspire you to buy a backpack and see more of the world!

 

Notes of a Naive Traveler: Nepal and Thailand

“The ride back to Kathmandu was comfortable and relaxing. There were more overturned trucks (the gas-powered ones seem to tip the most, I’m surprised there weren’t more explosions), goats being herded across the highway by ancient women, children playing games in traffic, private cars and buses alike pulling over in the most inconvenient places for a picnic or public bath, and best of all the suicidal overtaking maneuvers (or what we would call ‘passing’) by our bus and others while going downhill at incredible speeds or around hairpin turns uphill with absolutely no power left to actually get around the other vehicle.”

Trek with me through the bamboo forests and terraced mountaintops of Eastern Nepal, take a wild river rafting ride in class IV waters, go on an elephant ride and encounter charging rhinoceros on jungle walks in Chitwan National Park, sea kayak the surreal waters of Krabi and snorkel in the Gulf of Thailand. Join me on some of the scariest bus rides you could imagine, explore beautiful and intriguing temples, experience religious rituals unknown to most Westerners, and visit mind-blowing places not mentioned in your typical travel guides.

This travelogue also provides insight into the experience of volunteering at a Nepali school and living with a traditional family during a long-term homestay, where religion and ritual still rule daily life.

A touch of self-discovery is inherent to this kind of journey, one spurred on by a young woman’s attempt to figure out what she wants to do with her life.

Notes of a Naive Traveler is a must-read for those interested in learning more about – or wishing to travel to – Nepal and Thailand. I hope it inspires you to see these amazing countries for yourself.

Front cover artwork: ‘Folly in Divinity’, acrylic on canvas by Don Farrell

Release date: May 13, 2017

Pre-order Notes of a Naive Traveler: Nepal and Thailand now on iBooksKoboAmazon, Barnes & Noble NOOK and Smashwords.

 

About the Author

Author photo by Fototeam.nl

Jennifer S. Alderson (1972) worked as a journalist and website developer in Seattle, Washington before trading her financial security for a backpack. After traveling extensively around Asia and Central America, she moved to Darwin, Australia, before finally settling in the Netherlands. Home is now Amsterdam, where she lives with her Dutch husband and young son.

Jennifer’s travels and experiences color and inform her internationally-oriented fiction.

Her first novel, Down and Out in Kathmandu: adventures in backpacking, is a travel fiction adventure through Nepal and Thailand.

The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery, her second book, is a suspenseful ‘whodunit?’ which transports readers to wartime and present day Amsterdam.

Both are part of an on-going stand-alone series following the adventures of traveler and culture lover, Zelda Richardson. The third installment, another art-related travel thriller (working title: The Anthropologist) will be released in the Fall of 2017.

To read more interviews and feature articles, please click here.

 

Enjoy reading this post? Check back here Friday to read expat and TCK (Third Culture Kid) Beth Green’s contribution to my month long celebration of Fiction and Memoirs written by Expats and Travelers.

While you are here, check out Melissa BurovacJille Dobbe and Anne Hamilton’s fascinating contributions as well.

A Blonde Bengali Wife and Me by Anne Hamilton

A Blonde Bengali Wife and Me by Anne Hamilton

I came across Anne Hamilton’s memoir A Blonde Bengali Wife a few months ago via an amazing Facebook group, Women Writers, Women’s Books. At the time, I was editing together Notes of a Naive Traveler: Nepal and Thailand and recall being quite pleased to find another travel memoir writer in the group!

Reading her posts and the description of her novel, I was immediately struck by the similarities to the start of our first trips abroad, and in awe of her decision to found a charity based in Bangladesh.

Though I haven’t yet had the pleasure, I hope to read A Blonde Bengali Wife soon. Did you know all of the proceeds benefit her charity, Bhola’s Children?

 

A Blonde Bengali Wife and Me

By Anne Hamilton

 

I fell in love on the sixteenth of February 2002. It was unexpected, a strangeness growing familiar, breeding contentment, and settling with a knowing certainty like a warm blanket around my shoulders. Quietly simmering over days and weeks, it probably began in a makeshift kitchen in Rajoir, developed on a bus in Jessore, reached the point of acknowledgement in front of the television in Dhaka, and was cemented in Chittagong. The honeymoon led me through Cox’s Bazaar and finally into the Sunderbans. 

(A Blonde Bengali Wife: Prologue)

Cox’s Bazaar, all photos provided by the author.

Arriving back in Bangladesh is like going home. I’m a forty-something, independent woman, now with my own child but when I go to visit my own parents, there’s a part of me eternally fourteen. After a while the excitement fizzles into mild irritation. The familiarity allows comments about choice of activity, clothes, food and sleep patterns – they always know best – and I remember that this holiday is actually quite hard work. For everyone. Yet it doesn’t matter. There’s an underlying bond of belonging that ensures the smiles outweigh the frowns.

That’s me and Bangladesh, and it’s the reason why the country is so special to me. I love it dearly. It fascinates me, drives me to distraction, still unnerves me a little bit – and I don’t doubt the feeling is mutual!

‘Who is Bengali wife?’ Mr Hoque appears at the merest sniff of food, rubs his hands, eyes alert. Bely, claiming responsibility for my transformation, gestures at my outfit and the hot food. Mr Hoque roars with laughter. ‘A blonde Bengali wife. Very good. Very funny. I must taste her first meal.’  (Ch17)

The People’s Republic of Bangladesh isn’t India. Situated in the Bay of Bengal, it was, until the War of Liberation in 1971, East Pakistan. It doesn’t have the spectacular palaces and monuments or the tourist trail of India, or the international profile of Pakistan.  What it does have is its people. I have never received a warmer welcome anywhere. I’ll always appreciate that, and I’ve mused on it again, in the wake of the international refugee crisis.

In Dhaka, Hasina and Mr Hoque (yes, he’s told me to call him Nozmul endless times, but he’s Mr Hoque, he always will be!) took me in without question, treated me like another daughter, and it was Hasina who made me the ‘blonde Bengali wife’.

In Khalia, the three brothers, Bachchu, Mannu and Munnu – I still only know them by their nicknames – tirelessly offer me shelter, food and companionship; Munnu accompanied me across half the country. It was they who offered the accolade, ‘Annie, you are just the same as a Bangladesh girl, but more pale.’

In Bhola, the community of Bhola’s Children is part of me. I’m a Trustee of this charity, which would not exist but for the writing of A Blonde Bengali Wife, and the insight and commitment of my then literary agent, Dinah Wiener. On our last-but-one visit, my little boy, who has – inexplicably – always wanted six big brothers, sighed with 4 year old satisfaction and said he’d found them. ‘Can we bring Bhola home for a visit?’ he asked, and then after a thought, ‘but not the girls, they’re too kissy.’

‘Ah ha! Dissention in the ranks! As I thought. Infiltrators,’ Mrs Begum accuses. ‘First you girls present yourselves as brides, albeit of the most feeble demeanour, and then you pretend to be ones of us. Where are you hiding them? Where are you hiding the marauding arsenic germs, you hussies?’ (Ch8)

I’ve never laughed as much as I do in Bangladesh. Some of it’s verging on the hysteria – the day I change buses four times because: a wheel falls off the first, the road runs out in front of the second and we need a ferry to cross a stretch of water fifty feet to reach the third bus, which doesn’t move because the driver can’t get the goats off the roof. The fourth bus is fine except there aren’t any seats – I don’t mean there isn’t any space to sit down, I mean there are no seats. Just springs sticking up where the seats used to be.

There is so much genuine humour too, and if much of it is based on my bumbling inability to survive unaided in this confusing country, that’s fine by me. I’m giving something back… even if it is entertainment by default. When I read A Blonde Bengali Wife now, I still laugh out loud. Is it shameless admitting that?  I’m not laughing because I’m a great, humorous author, but because I was there, it really happened, and I’m reliving it.

In seconds the table is covered by great glass dishes of desserts: a sticky vermicelli pudding, wet and dry halva, coconut rice balls, and two large bottles of RC cola. We all cram into the small dining room which doubles as a bedroom, and shovel, slurp and munch such that any passing alien would assume we have ten minutes to consume enough to see us through hibernation. (Ch25)

I fail dismally in the eating stakes in Bangladesh. I love food, I love cooking, I love sweets; my original diary on which A Blonde Bengali Wife is based, reads a bit like a Famous Five story. When we’re not out adventuring, we’re eating. Or doing both at the same time. I can’t keep up.

In the poorest rural villages, people have little to offer visitors, yet Bangladeshi hospitality is innate. When your guest doesn’t drink well-water because it will (no being fussy here, it will) make her sick, you borrow a dusty bottle of warm Coke from the market and you crack an egg or kill the chicken. I’m not a vegetarian but at home I choose not to eat much meat – in Bangladesh, now, I eat what I’m given (drawing the line at fish larvae, and cockerel crowns). Except if I don’t finish what’s on my plate, I obviously don’t like it so I’m brought something else. If I do finish, I automatically get another serving… And rice?  I come home dreaming of being trapped in a rice mountain.

It is only fitting that I give Munnu the last words.

He thinks carefully: ‘Say: I said goodbye, I got in the airplane, and went home. The End,’ he advises.

And this is what I do. (Ch30)

That end was just the beginning. I’ve been to Bangladesh about a dozen times now, and last year saw me and my little boy on our third visit together. When I first wrote A Blonde Bengali Wife, I never knew it would have such far-reaching effects. It has changed my life. It made me realise I could write a whole book. It gave me firm connections with a country the polar opposite to the one in which I happen to have been born. It helped me see that people are the same everywhere. That Bhola’s Children is supported by the book is the ultimate link. I’m on a journey into writing and a journey into Bangladesh and I plan that both will continue for a very long time.

 

About the Author

Anne Hamilton wrote A Blonde Bengali Wife after she fell in love with Bangladesh on her first (of many) visits there. The travelogue inspired the charity, Bhola’s Children, and continues to support it.

Before she became a full time writer, editor and tutor, Anne’s career was in social work and community health – which led to many of her earlier international travels. Anne can never quite decide if she comes from the East of England or the West of Ireland, so she compromises by living in Scotland, with her small son; they still travel when they can.

Connect with Anne on Facebook, Twitter or via her website WriteRight Editing Services.

 

A Blonde Bengali Wife

They all said that Bangladesh would be an experience…

For Anne Hamilton, a three-month winter programme of travel and “cultural exchange” in a country where the English language, fair hair, and a rice allergy are all extremely rare was always going to be interesting, challenging, and frustrating. What they didn’t tell Anne was that it would also be sunny, funny, and the start of a love affair with this unexplored area of Southeast Asia.

A Blonde Bengali Wife shows the lives beyond the poverty, monsoons, and diarrhoea of Bangladesh and charts a vibrant and fascinating place where one minute Anne is levelling a school playing field “fit for the national cricket team,” and then cobbling together a sparkly outfit for a formal wedding the next. Along with Anne are the essential ingredients for survival: a travel-savvy Australian sidekick, a heaven-sent adopted family, and a short, dark, and handsome boy-next-door.

During her adventures zipping among the dusty clamour of the capital Dhaka, the longest sea beach in the world at Cox’s Bazaar, the verdant Sylhet tea gardens, and the voluntary health projects of distant villages, Anne amasses a lot of friends, stories…and even a husband.

A Blonde Bengali Wife is the “unexpected travelogue” that reads like a comedy of manners to tell the other side of the story of Bangladesh.

All money earned from A Blonde Bengali Wife goes direct to the charity, Bhola’s Children, of which the author and her literary agent are active participants. A Blonde Bengali Wife isn’t about Bhola but it is a tribute to Anne’s journeys into Bangladesh and all the friends she has made.

Buy A Blonde Bengali Wife now on Amazon. All proceeds go to Bhola’s Children Special School.

 

Enjoy reading this post? Check back here next Monday to read my contribution to this month long celebration of Fiction and Memoirs written by Expats and Travelers, ‘Staying ‘In The Moment’: One Author’s Adventure in Travel Writing’.

While you are here, check out Melissa Burovac and Jille Dobbe’s fascinating contributions as well.

 

Write What You Know by Jill Dobbe

Write What You Know by Jill Dobbe

Jill Dobbe’s extensive experience as an international educator enriches her fascinating travel memoir, Kids, Camels & Cairo, a book I highly recommend to those considering taking the plunge and working overseas. It is quite an insightful read, as is this article ‘Write What You Know’.

 

Write What You Know

By Jill Dobbe

 

Hemingway said it and I write by it.

It’s the advice I remember receiving, and the reason I became a published author in my fifties. Upon returning to the U.S. after living and working as an international educator in India, where our circumstances were more topsy-turvy than ever, my husband proposed the idea of writing a book. “You should,” he remarked offhandedly. “You know a lot about working abroad in international schools and we have survived many crazy adventures for you to write about.”  He planted the seed that day and I have been writing memoirs and travel articles, ever since.

I am passionate about travel and education and found a way to combine the two into a lifestyle that suited me. I also learned that I have a passion for writing and as an international educator for twenty years now living in my seventh country, Honduras, I continue to have material inside me just waiting to be typed up. During our first 10 years when our two children were only babies, I kept journals so that someday they would know what our lives abroad had been like. Much later, I unearthed those journals and turned them into my first memoir. I relived our many journeys again as I read through my diaries typing them up into story form.

I’ve learned a great deal about writing, editing, and publishing since I wrote my first memoir. Even though I published traditionally, I was still completely naïve about the entire process. I knew about editing, but marketing was a whole new ballgame for me. Since that first so around, I also learned the importance of using beta readers for writing advice and other perspectives. It also goes without saying that good, strong editors are imperative. There are different types of editors who look at manuscripts differently. Sub-editors make articles accurate and readable, line-editors focus on the craft, and copy editors proofread for correct formatting of the text. Who knew there were so many types of editors? They all serve an important purpose however, and should be utilized before any author publishes.

My second book was published independently and I enjoyed the freedom of having my own timeline, while putting everything together myself-from the writing, to the cover design, to formatting the text, and choosing the font. I also felt I had a better grasp on the royalties I earned, and didn’t have to wait months to find out if I sold any books.

My memoirs are legacies I hope to leave my children one day. They are also informative travelogues that give educators wishing to go overseas, highlights of the lifestyle. Readers who like to travel can also learn about interesting and unusual places and sites around the world. My writings give a different perspective from that of a tourist, as living within the culture and experiencing life through the eyes of the locals is far different from visiting a place for a day or a week.

Writing personal memoirs can sometimes be difficult. It takes tenacity, honesty, and courage.  When I wrote about my years as an elementary principal in a Muslim school in Cairo, and the many negative issues I encountered with Islamic students, teachers, and parents, my husband was afraid I was going to be placed on an ISIS hit list. No one’s life is perfect, and memoir writers must include the good, the bad, and the ugly in order to be truly authentic. It takes a great amount of detail when describing the places, feelings, emotions, and events in someone’s life in order to make readers empathize with the author. In the narratives of my travels, I write honestly and openly about the different scary, ridiculous, dangerous, and crazy adventures I found myself in. I also chose those experiences that I thought readers would enjoy the most, be able to relate to, and learn something from.

For aspiring memoir writers, my advice is to get your story down on paper and keep writing. Enjoy the process and experience of writing your manuscript and don’t worry about who will read it, buy it, or publish it; you will find an audience. As you write keep in mind the following:

  1. Be truthful and genuine, even if it hurts.
  2. Include intriguing descriptions of your settings, with wobbly legs I crab-walked over the sharp rocks and squatted on sacred Mt. Sinai.
  3. Use vivid details and your senses when describing important scenes, the smell of sewage in the village invaded my nostrils and made me want to puke.
  4. Connect your feelings, thoughts, and emotions to the major events in your life, observing how animals were mistreated in Cairo will forever sadden me and tarnish my feelings toward Cairo.
  5. Include tension, plot, and character development; just like any novel, memoirs need these features in order to engage readers and keep them turning the pages until the very end.

“I decided that I would write one story about each thing that I knew about.”

~Ernest Hemingway

 

About the Author

Jill is an international educator and published author who writes about her experiences living and working in schools and countries around the world. She presently lives in her seventh country, Honduras, with her husband, Dan, and her Yorkie-Poo, Mickey. While working as an elementary principal, Jill also writes, reads, takes photos of the beautiful people and countries of Latin America, and muddles her way through the Spanish language. Jill loves her life as an international educator, and most days, feels like she is living her dream.

HERE WE ARE & THERE WE GO (2012) is Jill’s memoir/travelogue written about her family’s first ten years overseas and the humorous, crazy, and sometimes scary adventures they found themselves in.

KIDS, CAMELS & CAIRO (2016) is a book about Jill’s two years living and working in a Muslim school in Cairo, Egypt, where she lived and worked alongside Egyptians who taught her about their Islamic faith and reminded her when she was making another cultural faux pas.

She currently lives in her seventh country, Honduras. Learn more about Jill and her books on Facebook and Amazon.

 

Kids Camels and Cairo

A lighthearted read about my personal experiences as an educator abroad.

Traveling across the globe to work in an international school in Cairo, Egypt, was not exactly the glamorous lifestyle I thought it would be. I cherished my travels to the Red Sea, delighted in visiting the Pyramids, and appreciated the natural wonders of the Nile River. However, I also spent days without electricity or internet, was leered at by rude Egyptian men, breathed in Cairo’s cancerous black smog, and coaxed school work from rich, apathetic students.

Why the heck did I do it? So I could experience the unexpected, explore the extraordinary, and bask in the thrill of adventure!

Whether you’re an educator, a traveler, or just a curious reader, you will be astounded at this honest and riveting account of learning to live in an Islamic society, while confronting the frustrating challenges of being an educator in a Muslim school.

 

 

Enjoy this post? Check back Friday to read another travel-related article, this time by Anne Hamilton, author and founder of the Bhola’s Children Charity in Bangladesh.

While you are here, read the first post in this series, Melissa Burovac’s excellent article ‘How Traveling Abroad Turned Me into a Writer’.

 

How Traveling Abroad Turned Me into a Writer by Melissa Burovac

How Traveling Abroad Turned Me into a Writer by Melissa Burovac

I have the strong feeling Melissa Burovac and I could spend many enjoyable hours swapping travel stories. After reading her excellent memoir, Wandering, I was struck by the similarities between our experiences on the road, as well as how we – as women traveling solo – reacted to the people and places we visited.

One of the things I love about Wandering is how Melissa was able to stay ‘in the moment’. After reading her article, ‘How Traveling Abroad Turned Me into a Writer’, I now understand how she did it!

 

How Traveling Abroad Turned Me into a Writer

By Melissa Burovac

My first experience of living in another country was a somewhat spontaneous RTW (Round the World) trip, beginning with a one-way ticket to Mexico and a pocket full of margarita money from selling my truck. I had long been wanting to travel, but gifted at birth with an awful sense of direction and a giant helping of anxiety, I never imagined I could make it work. My soon-to-be best friend moved to Kauai, where I live, and brought with her tales of exotic countries and fascinating people, and a house full of beautiful artifacts purchased around the world from her years of travel. She persuaded me to face my terror and take the leap — life is short, she told me, get out there and see how much more there is. With her help, I found a place to live at a school in Mexico, a very safe first step until I could get used to being abroad and so far outside my shoe-box-sized comfort zone.

 

Around this time blogs began to gain massive popularity with ease of use for regular folks, and I thought a simple blog with pictures and short descriptions of my travels would not only serve as an electronic memory book, but would assure my mother that I was safe and did not die in drug cartel crossfire — which was the assumption of most people when I told them I was moving to Mexico.

My travels began with high hopes and expectations; I had instant friends at the school where I lived and this allowed me to explore without too much trouble. I detailed my adventures each evening on my blog, usually at a café or bar while sampling the locally made alcoholic beverages. Life carried on this way for a few months, and it was pretty darn pleasant.

Over time I became worn out being in other countries by myself and talking to other people I’d only see for a day or two; the newness and excitement of each place was not enough to mask my growing anxiety of being lost and alone. I tired of introducing myself over and over again to dozens of people every day — I am normally an introvert and a bit shy — and speaking to so many strangers just so I had someone to talk to was starting to take a toll on my mental energy. Don’t misunderstand, though; I love people, but the need to talk to friends who already knew me was growing, and my desire to make small talk was exhausted.

Instead of cutting my experience abroad short, I spent more time writing in near solitude. Everywhere I went I searched out an uncrowded, quiet spot where I could safely use my computer, and it gave me an excuse to observe and listen to people while not inviting conversation. I felt a part of the culture and scene while not directly being involved; my social anxiety eased and I learned a new way to exist while my mind was screaming to go back home.

Eventually, though, I did go home, and was unprepared for the feedback from my blog. My mom was happy I kept in constant contact through writing; my friends were delighted by the places I visited and the adventures I had; women expressed amazement at doing the entire year abroad solo and eagerly read how it was accomplished — many had never imagined braving the unknown without a man as a travel companion. Most of the time I spent writing was time spent drinking as well, and apparently I’m funny when I’m drunk — adding a bit of comedy to travel tales doesn’t hurt. The comment I heard most often was “You should write a book.” The material was already written, all I had to do was clean up the grammar and random intoxicated rants, and stitch the individual posts into one coherent story. I didn’t know if I could do this, never having written much of anything previously, but getting a job after a year of travel depressed me and I began to dream of a career as an author and traveling more, but in shorter bursts.

 

The project was not easy; I spent months working 80-hour weeks to create my first book. I worked 40 hours as a bookkeeper to provide myself food and shelter, and spent an additional 40 hours writing, usually sitting on the tailgate of my pickup truck while parked at the beach. I wrote on a $200 laptop with sticky keys, once writing several chapters without the letter ‘m’ until I figured out a small pebble had lodged itself in the keyboard.

My first travel book, Wandering, was published in June, 2014 after what seemed like an excruciatingly painful mental effort. Even though it did not become an instant best seller, or even provide me with enough income to quit my day job, I am proud of the book and what I learned by writing it. I developed a new kind of discipline — skipping social events with friends, or even watching TV, so I could make time to write. I developed a real love of writing and have since published another novel, Sylvie Writes a Romance, and several short stories and articles on a variety of topics. As a result of blogging, I also began a personal journal to help myself when life gets more complicated than normal.

My first adventure abroad created my habit of writing, and it has changed my life for the better. I hope I continue to create new work, and am able to use what I’ve learned about all aspects of writing, editing, and marketing to help other authors fulfill their dreams of publishing.

You can visit my blog at Wander With Melissa and Facebook page, or check out my books on Amazon. Thank you for reading.

 

About the Author

Melissa is a writer and photographer on Kauai, Hawaii. An avid outdoorswoman, Burovac enjoys outrigger paddling—both one-man and six-man—SUP, running, surfing, sailing, and scuba diving, as well as yoga.

She is always up for adventure and loves doing things that scare her a little. She is the author of Wandering (2014) and Sylvie Writes a Romance, “a feel-good romantic comedy with a resilient heroine” according to Kirkus Indie Review.

 

Wandering

Traveling solo as a woman certainly has its ups and downs, but Melissa Burovac will be the first to tell you to embrace the adventure as you encounter it.

Facing her fortieth birthday as a single woman in a job she was tired of, Burovac decided to “do something.” Always keen for adventure, she chose to buy a one-way ticket to Mexico-and quit her job, sell her beloved Jeep, and store all her belongings.

Though she’d gone on trips abroad before, Burovac didn’t feel like she’d ever earned the title of “traveler.” But that was about to change.

“Wandering” relates the adventures, and misadventures (she encounters so many major weather events that her friends start predicting where the next disaster will strike based on her next destination), of her nine months traveling through Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Cuba, Australia, Cambodia, and Thailand. Her stories will crack you up-and they will inspire you. As someone with no sense of direction, no ability to plan, and plenty of social anxiety, her experiences prove that anyone who wants to travel “can”!

 

 

Enjoy this post? Check back Monday to read another travel-related article, this time by international educator and long-time expat Jille Dobbe.

 

MTW: Review of Fast Track to Glory and TalkingLocationWith Tomasz Chrusciel

MTW: Review of Fast Track to Glory and TalkingLocationWith Tomasz Chrusciel

I choose to review this book for Mystery Thriller Week because I love travel fiction, art mysteries and thrillers. This is quite possibly the perfect combination of all three! Read my review of this brilliant novel and an article by the author, Tomasz Chrusciel, about the use of setting in fiction.

 

Fast Track to Glory by Tomasz Chrusciel

Fast Track to Glory by Tomasz Chrusciel is an exceptional around the world quest for knowledge. Technically, this brilliant novel is a thriller, though not quite like any other I’ve read.

The story begins in Germany, before taking the reader on a whirlwind tour of Italy, Austria and India. Nina Monte, an Italian professor teaching at the History of Religions and the Ancient Worlds department in Padua, believes she’s been asked by the Italian Ministry of Culture to verify the authenticity of a relic recovered from a fifteenth-century shipwreck in Lake Garda. She’s consulted on antiquities cases before and has no reason to be suspicious of the request. She arrives at the Heidelburg Castle in Germany to examine this mysterious object, only to discover it has not yet been excavated from the maritime shipwreck. She’s sent to Italy to meet up with a member of the team responsible for recovering the artefact. When her contact person tries to kidnap then kill her, she realizes she’s been lured into a trap. But why?

The readers – alongside Nina – have to figure out why someone is prepared to murder and steal in order to obtain this relic, as well as discover the truth behind its alleged hidden powers. I’m going to have to stop describing the specific details of the story now for fear of spoiling any of the many plots twists in this book, which are what make it such an excellent and captivating read.

In the beginning of the novel, the villain seems to want the relic in order to achieve a higher spiritual power. During train, plane and automobile rides, the two main characters – Nina and Allessandro, a young hotelier from Malcesine and Nina’s unintentional partner on this journey – often discuss the implications of deciphering this relic’s supposed powers, within the context of spirituality, philosophy and religion.

I’m not a ‘new age’ type and the first few chapters, in which characters discuss the various interpretations of the relics true powers, had me concerned that this was going to get too spiritual for my tastes. I’m glad to say the author doesn’t overdo it. Rather, he uses the relic as a way of sharing various points of view and leaves it up to the reader to decide what to think, instead of shoving his perspective down your throat. Funny enough, the most popular highlighted passage in this book, according to my Kindle copy, is: “Every person wants to live in peace and abundance. What is different is the meaning of those things to each of us.”

Besides, the villain’s real reason for starting this quest is so smart and surprising down-to-earth, when it was finally revealed, I gained even more respect for the author.

Tomasz Chrusciel is a quite adept at misleading the reader. From the first page onwards, nothing is as it seems. In some books, this constant misdirection can be irritating. Yet in Fast Track to Glory, this technique works well, adding tension to the story and helping to keep the reader continually engaged with the plotline.

In contrast to most art history conspiracy novels, there are no long codes to decipher, a complex puzzle to solve or a lost language to learn; it’s more of a race to obtain the relic and then decipher it. Both the good and bad guys know who can read it; they just have to find that person.

It’s also unlike most thrillers and art conspiracy novels I’ve read, in that the spiritual quest and physical journey are almost more important to the story than the race to decode the artefact.

And what a quest it is. The author’s descriptions of architecture, people, manner of dress, landscapes, and even train stations, transport the reader to a series of beautiful and interesting locations. Once you get through with this book, you’ll be longing to pack your bags and visit the destinations the author so loving describes.

The many cities the characters visit are described in much more detail than your typical thriller or action-oriented novel, without slowing down the story or turning into a travelogue. These are tight and well-written, using all five senses to make each place come to life. You get the strong sense the author has spent time in all of the places he describes; his eye for detail is incredible.

Now onto our around the world journey. The story starts out at Heidelberg Castle before moving to Milan, Italy. There he paints a clear picture of the main square and the Duomo di Milano (the cathedral in Milan) in particular; the white and pink marble exterior, snap-happy tourists, religious iconography and stained glass windows.

Next stop is the gorgeous Northern Italian town of Malcesine on Lake Garda. In addition to describing the lovely villages that dot the wide lake, the author also provides an interesting account of a character’s dives among ship wrecks.

Then we are off to Innsbruck, Austria via train, where the white peaks of the Alps dominate the skyline. Old Town and its gothic and baroque facades, Court Church, the tombs of Emperor Maximilian I, cuckoo clocks, homemade liquors, and even the smells of the strudels are recounted.

Last stop, India, where the characters are immediately thrown into the hustle and bustle of Jaipur. The suburban metropolis is awash with overfull buses, slow-going lorries, tuk-tuks, bicycles, motorists, mobile snack bars, scooters, and pedestrians, all fighting for space on the narrow roadways the main characters travel on to reach their destination, the location of the person who can decipher the object.

As I already mentioned, the author uses the context of a religious relic to take the reader on a search for enlightenment, and the story aptly ends in Varanasi, India on the Ganges River during a festival of light. You can feel the water lapping at your feet, hear thousands of chanting worshippers and smell the burning incense mixed with body odor wafting through the air.

This is my favorite kind of novel, one that takes me on a mental journey and travel adventure simultaneously. It’s also a real page turner, for as much to see how the story develops as the desire to know where the author will take us next.

This smart, well-written and highly enjoyable story will entertain lovers of thrillers, art conspiracy novels, and travel fiction alike. I highly recommend it.

5 out of 5 stars

 

Over to Tomasz for TripFiction’s #TalkingLocationWith.… feature

How wonderful the world in which we live is, and the best part about it is travelling. When I’m away, I’m always on the lookout for fascinating historical settings and events that can later be weaved into a new thrilling story. This was exactly what happened in Malcesine, Italy, when I was visiting the local castle. An exhibition about the history of Lake Garda and the region around it showed the backbreaking venture of transporting one-hundred-ton galleys over the Alps and then the battle on the lake in 1439. This is how my latest novel, “Fast Track to Glory”, was born.

I must admit, since that journey, Lake Garda has been one of my favourite places in Europe, perhaps even in the entire world. Especially Monte Baldo, a two-thousand-metre-high mountain overlooking the lake. It has a magnificent view of the mighty Alps. Being there was for me a peaceful and spiritual experience. Later, I just had to set one of the scenes in the book there. Without question, there could be no better place for a tranquil, concluding scene.

There’s no doubt that a captivating setting in novels is a crucial factor to the success of a story, regardless of whether it’s travel fiction, romance or horror. For me, the easiest way to create the world I put my characters into are exactly my own travels – it’s so natural to write about familiar places, and it makes my work more enjoyable. When I write, it’s like being in those beautiful towns or mountains again, and also looking at them through someone else’s eyes. Sometimes it’s challenging to put aside my own experience when, for example, although I loved a city or a temple, my protagonist didn’t seem to notice all those amazing details I admired. Or the other way around; on very few occasions when I’m not particularly amazed by the place I visit, one of my characters would still love it.

The more people in a book differ from each other, the more their stories benefit. They create a kaleidoscope of entirely different points of view, like pictures of the same square taken from various angles.

I will always find it truly fascinating to move around the world in search of new story ideas. I believe there’s an infinite number of them waiting to be explored, especially for authors in the historical thriller genre.

A skillful writer can use setting to convey every possible feeling and to put readers in every possible frame of mind. It’s like music in a movie. It sets the mood instantly, and you know where you are. When reading about a gloomy, windy night and a house in a gruesome forest, you will cuddle up with your pillow and check if all the doors and windows are locked. When reading about a glorious sunrise, about someone being born amidst the cacophony of birds tweeting, you know it’s the beginning of an incredible adventure, and you will pour yourself a glass of wine, let your body relax, and forget about the whole world around you.

A reader who sees magnificent buildings through the pages of a novel, who smells exquisite dishes in a restaurant, or whose stomach grumbles when reading about phenomenal street food; who hears clatters in a street market or the sound of a raindrop falling on a car window; and who feels the heat in their gut because a great secret has just been revealed, that reader is a genuinely happy reader. Then the writer knows that the setting in their book does exactly what it should do – it pulls everyone into the world of fiction and makes it real.

Thank you so much to Tomasz for sharing his thoughts on travel and writing….

You can follow Tomasz on TwitterFacebook and connect via his website. Buy his book here.

 

This review and Talking Location article was first featured on TripFiction’s blog.

If you love to travel by book, you need to check out their fabulous selection of titles, categorized by country. Connect with the TripFiction Team via Twitter (@tripfiction), Facebook (TripFiction), Instagram (TripFiction) and Pinterest (TripFiction) and now YouTube.

 

MTW: Sailing the Atlantic for Research by Marie Silk

MTW: Sailing the Atlantic for Research by Marie Silk

Today I’m honored to have MysteryThrillerWeek author Marie Silk as a guest on my blog.

I’m an advocate of conducting extensive historical research before writing about events of the past and I know Marie Silk is, too! To write the fourth book in her Davenport House series, Heiress Interrupted, she sailed across the Atlantic Ocean in the name of research.

Many chapters of Heiress Interrupted take place aboard the RMS Lusitania during its last voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. Marie shares with us many fascinating details about this tragic journey and those on board, as well as how she managed to capture ‘the wonder, excitement, motion sickness, terror, and profound bonds of friendship that could have happened aboard the RMS Lusitania in the year 1915.’

 

Sailing the Atlantic for Research

By Marie Silk

I am grateful to author Jennifer S. Alderson for this chance to share a little about the inspiration behind the fourth book in my historical fiction series.

RMS Lusitania coming into port, possibly in New York, 1907.

Many chapters of Heiress Interrupted take place aboard the RMS Lusitania on its last fateful voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. The Lusitania left the pier in New York on May 1, 1915 bound for Liverpool, England. Many “important” people at the time were warned about sailing on the ship, for it was destined to have a part in The Great War being waged in Europe. The tragic loss of 1,195 lives was the result of sailing despite the many warning signs.

In the second book of my series, a wealthy socialite named Nellie Whitmore seeks a traveling companion for this very voyage. Even though the second and third books move past this particular event, Heiress Interrupted finally tells Nellie’s side of the story aboard the ship!

I recently embarked on a Norwegian cruise that sailed from the United States to Europe. My husband and I had been on cruises before, but this was the first one that would cross the Atlantic. I wrote the first segment of Heiress Interrupted while on this voyage, but superstition prevented me from writing the portion about the actual sinking of the Lusitania! I planned to wait until we were safely home :).

Warning from German Embassy.

I was fortunate enough to meet a passenger who had immigrated to the United States aboard a ship in the 1950’s. I wanted to hear everything about his experience crossing the ocean so many years ago, especially about what it was like in third class. He told me that they were not allowed to interact with the first class passengers or wander into the first class sections. He also said that he shared a room with his family of twelve. I enjoyed hearing about the experience and thought about how I could later adapt the feelings shared to the story I was writing.

I studied the layout of the Lusitania so that descriptions within the ship would be historically accurate in my book. I originally intended to paint a dismal picture of the third class accommodations, but further research revealed that the Lusitania was regarded as one of the best ships for third class passengers. This meant that one of the subplots I was going to use about the “deplorable conditions in third class” would not work. A story idea can change very quickly for the historical fiction author who wishes to keep things as accurate as possible, and this is one example of modifying the story in my imagination to be compatible with real history. I carefully consider details even down to the placement of the fireplace and elevators in the ship in order to keep the story real.

I watched several documentaries about the sinking of the Lusitania and read as many survivor stories as I could find. It was important to me to capture the feelings that real people aboard the ship experienced during the sailing and sinking.

Here I was embarking on a transatlantic voyage 100 years later. I imagined that the excitement I felt while entering the ship and seeing the beautiful interior was similar to how the Lusitania passengers felt when they first stepped on board. I thought about how I felt during the emergency drill and how scary it would be to actually abandon ship in the icy Atlantic waters. I thought about how much can happen in a short span of time on a cruise, how many people we meet, how many friends we quickly make because we are literally all in the same boat.

Some days, our ship rocked so badly that the captain had to assure us that it was “normal” for the North Atlantic. A few times from the dining room, we could see the crests of the swells through the window which seemed alarmingly high, and we watched our ship rise and crash down with them. I wondered if it was really as normal as the captain said! I went through nearly a full box of Dramamine. I thought about how much more challenging it must have been to sail 100 years ago. The fourteen day voyage was one of the most incredible experiences of my life that I will never forget.

As a historical fiction author, I hope that I did justice in capturing the wonder, excitement, motion sickness, terror, and profound bonds of friendship that could have happened aboard the RMS Lusitania in the year 1915.

Thank you for reading about my adventure.

 

Did you enjoy reading about her research trip? Now is your chance to read her series at a discounted price! Today only, several books in the Davenport Series, including Heiress Interrupted, will be on sale, discounted from 2.99 to 99 cents on Amazon.com and 99p on Amazon UK.

 

Davenport House 4: Heiress Interrupted

More to the story is revealed in this fourth book to Davenport House.

Nellie Whitmore is accustomed to life as a carefree heiress, but her claim to the family fortune is at risk because of a new heir. Nellie is sent to Britain to be married before word spreads of her changing circumstances.

What begins as a luxurious voyage becomes a fight for survival when the ship is caught in the midst of the War, forever changing the people who live to tell about it.

Friendship is kept afloat by telegrams between London and Davenport House. Mary Davenport announces exciting news, and the servants prepare for more changes downstairs. Ethan is anxious to move to Philadelphia, but becomes overworked while the estate is in search of a new groundskeeper.

Relationships become strained when the unthinkable shakes the foundation of the house, and the ladies are left to evaluate the risks of keeping secrets.

 

As of January 21, 2017, Heiress Interrupted is a Best Seller on Amazon! Congratulations, Marie Silk!

About the Author

Marie Silk enjoys writing stories and plays in many genres. She lives with her family in the United States and travels to new countries each year.

She loves to visit castles, ruins, and other historical sites as often as possible. Marie is a collector of LEGO and random cool things.

Her favorite books to read are supernatural, history, and psychology. She is the author of the Davenport House family saga.

 

Do you love to read mysteries and thrillers set in bygone eras? Davenport House 4: Heiress Interrupted is one of 20+ novels in MysteryThrillerWeek’s Historical Mysteries and Thrillers Theme. Click here to see the entire list of exiting MTW titles.

Don’t forget to check back here on January 30th for the fourth theme post about Amateur Sleuth Mysteries and Thrillers by MTW authors.

 

MTW: Looting of Saddam Hussein’s palaces in Iraq by Paul Russell Parker III

MTW: Looting of Saddam Hussein’s palaces in Iraq by Paul Russell Parker III

I’m thrilled to share an article by Paul Russell Parker III, MysteryThrillerWeek author of All In: The Globe Trot Shuffle, about his tour of duty in Iraq and the devastating looting he witnessed of museums, government buildings and Saddam Hussein’s palaces.

As Paul writes, ‘One of the greatest losses a society can face is the loss of it’s past… Ancient ruins belong to all of humanity, and are visual testimony to the world that we come from somewhere and are continuing that long and storied journey.’

Looting of Saddam Hussein’s palaces in Iraq

By Paul Russell Parker III

Iraq is a beautiful and memorizing place.  It is rich in culture and history.  It’s Mesopotamia, the birth place of civilization. So, it’s heart wrenching to see all the conflict that’s been happening there since man decided to stop gathering and started to till the land.  The city-state kingdoms that have called the fertile crescent area of Iraq home; since time immemorable, have been conquered over and over.  One of the greatest tragedies inflicted on civilization was the sacking of Baghdad by the Mongols.  The rivers coursing through Baghdad ran black with ink from all the books thrown into it. The treasure that was the House of Wisdom in Baghdad was lost to us, and countless important works disappeared forever.

One of the greatest losses a society can face is the loss of it’s past. Its relics and artifacts tell the story of a people long gone.  Ancient ruins belong to all of humanity, and are visual testimony to the world that we come from somewhere and are continuing that long and storied journey.

I have witnessed the tragic beauty of Iraq in person.  A place so historic is also a place of untold suffering.  The people are under siege and their history is being wiped off the map.  World history is at risk.  I’ve stood on the banks of an oasis on Al Asad Air Base in Anbar Province.  A stone marker in English and Arabic commemorated the spot called Abraham’s Well.  It was there, Abraham from the bible stopped to refresh himself on his travel to Canaan.  That was in early 2008 while I was a civilian working on a contract for the Department of Defense.  With the current state of affairs happening now and the attack on ancient monuments, I wonder if that stone marker still stands.  Will anyone know that Abraham ever stopped there?

I was in Iraq even earlier than 2008.  The first time I stepped foot in the country was on March 21, 2003.  I was a Lance Corporal in the United States Marine Corps, part of the 1st Marine Division. I was unprepared for what happened next.  We, the 1st Marine Division Forward, fought our way up to Baghdad, but didn’t stop there.  We made it all the way up to Tikrit, which was Saddam’s hometown.  Along the way, we fought the enemy, but also had to deal with the humanity aspect of modern combat.  Basic services stopped, and the local populace was suffering.  We had to alleviate the suffering while trying to topple the regime.

Once we got to Baghdad, we ran into a problem we weren’t trained for.  Looting was occurring on a massive scale.  People carried, dragged, or carted away anything that they could get their hands on.  Stores, houses, government buildings, banks, and all manner of buildings were being emptied.  What were we to do?  Old women were carrying items from government warehouses, items that were withheld from them by the regime.  Were we to confiscate anything?  When we asked our superiors, we were told that the people were just getting their sh*t back that the government stole from them in the first place.  So, we stood to the side while on patrols and watched.

We were told that museums were being looted and it was a punch in the gut for us.  We didn’t know that caretakers were hiding items at that time.  All I could think of was the items that were going to be lost to the public forever.  Assyrian, Chaldean, Babylonian…  What evidence of our past was being erased?

Looting took another twist.  When my unit reformed into a new unit called Task Force Tripoli, we fought our way north to Tikrit and we were in for a surprise.  We took over Saddam’s new palace complex in his home town.  Palaces, mansions, and villas were filled with extravagant works of art.  Many of the places were looted by the local populace or emptied by the fleeing regime family members before we got there.  The art and decorations that were left astounded us.  To see so much opulence in that palace complex in a country where so many people are oppressed bothered us.  Saddam stole the countries past, and tried to make it his own.  The evidence was everywhere.  One of the grandest murals I’ve ever seen was a scene depicting Nebuchadnezzar and his forces transitioning to Saddam and his forces.  Hammurabi, he was not.

With so much personal time and experience in Iraq, I decided to incorporate what I’ve seen into my books.  My characters in All In:  The Globe Trot Shuffle, experience my trials and my tribulations as US Marines during the 2003 Invasion of Iraq.  They witness the looting of Baghdad that I saw firsthand while partaking in their own kind of trophy hunting for military gear on military bases that I did. They experience the same anger at viewing the extravagant palace complex in Tikrit. Everything that I went through, my characters went through. From driving around highways in Kuwait with fully loaded weapons in 2003, to being contractors on military forward operating bases in 2008. My protagonist sees the same city lights from the rooftops of combat outposts that I saw when I worked there as a contractor.  They interact with hotel workers in Kuwait like I did. By utilizing my experiences, readers will enjoy the most realistic depiction of our military in Iraq that they ever will read in a fiction.

All In: The Globe Trot Shuffle

All In: The Globe Trot Shuffle, takes place all over the world. It’s set in several countries, and even on the high seas. The first half of the story takes place all over Iraq, from Diwaniyah to Tikrit.

You see the characters in the military or as civilian contractor’s years later. They’re on FOB’s or sleeping in holes. Then it moves to Kuwait. You get to see a border crossing station, and a swanky 5-star hotel. The characters then move onto a container ship that’s traveling from Kuwait to South America. You get to see how life on a ship transiting pirate infested waters around the Horn of Africa, is.

The characters make landfall in Guyana, and explore hotels and bars. From the port in South America, they travel the Caribbean on a private yacht to Roseau and Portsmouth, Dominica.

The story is about four US Marines who make an amazing discovery in a mansion during the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. This discovery will force them to cross a line that there’s no turning back from. The line between good guys and bad guys are now blurred.

The group soon finds that making their dreams come true isn’t as easy as flying home and making a deposit. They need to safeguard their discovery during a shooting war, and keep it hidden from locals as well as their fellow Marines. They decide to stash it for the lack of a better idea.

Years later, the group of Marines are now civilians working in Iraq on a contract to the military. They must find their way past Iraqi Police checkpoints as well as insurgents to secure their discovery. After that, they must get home to make good on it. The only way to do that while carrying something highly illegal is to travel as low key as possible. They embark on a dangerous journey with Bedouins, on a shipping container ship, and on private boats to see their plan to the very end.

About the Author

Paul Russell Parker III is married, and is a father. He was born in southern California, and now lives on the North Carolina Crystal Coast. He enjoys spending time outdoors with his family, especially during the summer when they can go to the beaches of the Southern Outer Banks. He is a Veteran of the United States Marine Corps, and Operation Iraqi Freedom 1.

After the military, he earned his Associate’s degree from Coastal Carolina Community College, and his Bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Since then he’s traveled all over the world, and has had a wide variety of jobs. Including working as a commercial and military satellite technician on defense industry contracts to the Department of Defense in Qatar, Oman, and Iraq. To learn more about Paul and his books, visit his website.

 

Do you love to read art-related mysteries and thrillers? All In: The Globe Trot Shuffle is one of 20+ novels in MysteryThrillerWeek’s Art-Related Mysteries and Thrillers Theme. Click here to see more of these exiting MTW titles.

Don’t forget to check back here on January 19th for the third MysteryThrillerWeek Theme post, this time about Historical Mysteries and Thrillers by MTW authors.

 

MTW: Setting as a Viewfinder for African Thrillers by Sarah Key

MTW: Setting as a Viewfinder for African Thrillers by Sarah Key

Welcome to the second of two guest posts about South Africa as setting for a novel, by MysteryThrillerWeek authors Sarah Key and Zaheera Walker.

Today Sarah Key provides us with an electrifying glimpse into this fascinating land, a continent that, in her words is ‘both breathtakingly beautiful and profoundly disturbing’.

Setting as a Viewfinder for African Thrillers

By Sarah Key

Southern Africa is an intriguing place. The iconic bushveld is home to species such as zebra, giraffe and elephant and the silhouettes of these animals can be seen breaking the skyline above the treetops below a seemingly never-ending expanse of sky. At dusk and dawn bird calls herald pastel hues before fiery oranges and reds add another dimension to the magical picture. This is the wilderness, one that attracts visitors from all corners of the world.

The setting of a story does much to pique a reader’s interest and add a mixture of curiosity and wanderlust. Settings create moods for a writer, provide the physical environment for action and influence characters’ choices and experiences. They are the canvas upon which the tale is painted. Amazing Africa is a continent that is both breathtakingly beautiful and profoundly disturbing, so, as a South African writer, I have the advantage of drawing upon extraordinary locales in which to set my psychological thrillers.

A smattering of dramatic natural beauty on offer within this geographical photo-frame include Cape Town’s Table Mountain and its rugged coastlines, Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls and fertile farmlands, and Zambia’s floodplains and national parks.

It is the gritty past and the evolution of the cities and towns in the southern-most part of the continent, however, that provide complex and fascinating socio-cultural aspects to draw from.  The unique history of the southern African countries shaped their development.  Skillfully using tension and discordance that arise from the particular historical footprint of a place can heighten dramatic action and add enthralling depth.

The scars of the legacy of Apartheid – a system of racial segregation enforced in South Africa through legislation from 1948-1994 – remain clearly visible as blights on urban regions. Townships, demarcated for Black people, are still shameful dirty, dusty shanty towns with poor sanitation, no electricity and insufficient water supplies.

The city centre and surrounds of Johannesburg – the biggest city in South Africa and its economic heartbeat – resemble urban slums. Hillbrow, a once trendy and Bohemian flatland, is a dangerous and filthy No-Go Zone in which drugs and sex are pedaled. Tourists are warned to avoid the area.

Land reclamation in Zimbabwe was intended to alter the ethnic balance of land ownership and targeted white Zimbabweans of European descent. Many productive sugarcane, coffee, cotton and tobacco fields now lie barren and neglected as farmers were driven from their beloved land, often killed, by so-called ‘war-veterans’ ridding the country of  colonial oppressors.

South Africa is often described as ‘the Rainbow Nation’ when varied ethnic groups were encouraged to unite once a democratic system came into existence in 1994. As a former academic, I taught at a university for a decade and travelled the country working in the devastating arena of HIV and AIDS training. On my journeys I gathered narratives on a range of sensitive issues such as male circumcision and sexual abuse.

In my novels, I provide insights into a range of social issues across cultures in the rich context of African life. A partly ethnographic approach aims to break down taboos and get readers to think about matters by wrapping them in the guise of fiction. I hope that, by considering events through the specific perspectives of characters, readers will become more inclusive and tolerant of traditional cultures and ethnic practices different from their own.

Brief Overview of My Books

My debut novel, Tangled Weeds, is set between Zimbabwe, the fertile farmlands of the then Northern Province of South African known for its cultivation of fruit such as mangoes and litchis, and Hillbrow, an urban slum.

My second book, The Dandelion Clock, the first in a trilogy, uses Cape Town as the set for the production. From dodgy docks, to pristine beaches, to the rugged footpaths of Table Mountain with its tablecloth of clouds and a strong South Easter blowing, this city delivers mood, magic and madness. On the charred slopes of Devil’s Peak on Spring Equinox, the final act plays out.

The Butterfly Wind is a mover. From Cape Town to Harare, Zimbabwe to Lusaka, the capital city of Zambia, adventures abound. Ride the rapids of the Zambezi River, hear the roar of the Victoria Falls and bungie jump with Derrick off the railway bridge into the majestic Batoka Gorge.  Feel Joanie’s anxiety when she returns to Chistlehurst Manor outside Lusaka and the house, like an indefatigable archivist, digs out and presents disturbing memories from its annals.

In my novels, I attempt to present Southern Africa with its blends of old and new, mystical and modern, city and country. I work hard to write in a gripping graphic fashion so that readers feel they are breathing in the dust of the country and experiencing the scorching heat of the African sun. To me there is no better setting than this extraordinary, brutal, unique land.

About the Author

Once an English teacher, Sarah Key moved into Adult Education. She travelled South Africa leading a programme aimed at reducing the ravages of HIV and AIDS. Sarah has always been fascinated by the aberrant human mind. She reads thrillers and watches crime channel television in between writing. She is married and has two young daughters.

 

Do you love to read books that transport you to other cities and countries? Sarah Key is one of 20+ authors with novels in MysteryThrillerWeek’s Mystery and Thriller Passport Theme. Click here to learn about more of MTW’s international mysteries and thrillers.

Don’t forget to check back here on January 12th for the second theme post about Art-Related Mysteries and Thrillers by MTW authors.

 

MTW: Durban, South Africa as setting for DEADLINE by Zaheera Walker

MTW: Durban, South Africa as setting for DEADLINE by Zaheera Walker

Welcome to the first of two guest posts about South Africa as setting for a novel, by MysteryThrillerWeek authors Zaheera Walker and Sarah Key.

I know South Africa is high up on my ‘bucket list’. Today Zaheera Walker gives us a special glimpse into this fascinating land. And contrary to popular belief, lions and cheetahs do not roam freely on the streets!

Durban, South Africa as setting for DEADLINE

By Zaheera Walker

Deadline Zaheera WalkerDEADLINE is a romantic suspense novel for adults. It is set in Phoenix, Durban and surrounding areas in the province of KwaZulu Natal.

The main character FERIYAL ADAM is a young woman who is a determined journalist. This 20-something woman is too much yet never enough. She breaks the rules and goes after a serial killer. Nothing holds her back until she walks into his trap. A deadly one at that.

When I sat down to pen my debut novel I knew the story had to start at home. Those who were going to pick up my book were not going to be mere readers, they were going to be absorbed into the story and become part of the thrill.

You see Durban has a rich tapestry – from the arts to the artists everything here is the perfect picture. There is the comfort of beaches, mountains and rolling greens; the people here are just something else. Only in Durban you are a stranger today and family tomorrow.

The North Coast of KwaZulu Natal is a mix of pristine beaches and five-star holiday accommodation.

From the language to the modes of transport and from the dress codes to the lifestyle, Durban is different yet it is the same.

Did you know this beautiful city is the holiday mecca for tourists? Thousands flock here because of the golden beaches, battlegrounds – remember Shaka Zulu? – he ran the lengths and breadth of Durban during his days – and the blue skies.

Phoenix is a small town north of Durban. This is a developing area that is showing promise in terms of investment opportunities. Did you know that the SatyaGraha (nonviolent resistance) founder Mahatma Gandhi lived there during his formative years in South Africa?

Municipal flats in Phoenix. Photos courtesy of WordPress.

Phoenix started off as a low income area built for Indians. Sugar cane fields are plentiful here even though they are now being cleared away to build homes.  That made the ideal dumping ground for the serial killer! The residents are a mix of professionals, lay people, housewives and the unemployed. Some notorious gangsters (mobsters) came from Phoenix. There are also the happy families and then there are single parent households.

Allow me to reassure you that we do not have wild animals on the streets. I have heard stories from some who believe lions and cheetahs roam freely on the streets. I would just like to point out that this is NOT the case. We do have the Big 5 (cheetah, lion, elephant, rhinoceros and buffalo) but these animals are kept in a zoo or a park specific for them. There is a police station in Phoenix but serious crimes like the serial killing are referred to a higher authority based in Durban.

Further north one will find towns such as Tongaat, Umhlanga and Ballito situated close to the beach. Some of these areas are developed, others are developing and there is the rare case when some buildings are abandoned.

The entrance to the Durban Magistrates Court on Somtseu Road.

The Durban Magistrates Court is on Somtseu Road. This is where the serial killer in the story appeared for his bail application. The protagonist worked at a daily newspaper situated in Greyville and court reporting was her favoured beat.

Do you know the annual July Handicap, a prestigious horse event is held at the Greyville race course?

Everything I needed to map out the story was right on my doorstep – a killer with a motive, a journalist, police, a derelict building, a newsroom and a courthouse. I also believe the setting in a story should be more than just the names of places. For me it had to include what people cooked in their homes, how the majority travelled and soapies they watched.

The Haunted House, a derelict building on Casuarina Beach, Tongaat.

Many people in Phoenix cannot afford private medical care and rely on state hospitals. Through the scenes I aim to give you a glimpse into what goes on at Addington Hospital in Durban – from admission to treatment and care the readers get a feel of reality for some people.

When the protagonist’s mother succumbs to cancer and there is no money for the funeral, the community in Phoenix rally around to give the deceased a proper burial. That is how close knit the community is and how they will always stand together to help one another. The various modes of transport available in these places are the omnibus, cars, minibuses and trains. Sorry we do not have the horse and cart..lol!

Map of Phoenix. Photos courtesy of Tabloid Media.

About the Author

Zaheera Walker was born in Durban, South Africa. She holds a Journalism Diploma and a Communication Science Degree. She started her career at a mainstream daily paper and gained experience on various beats. Today she works in Corporate Communications and lives in Johannesburg. Visit her website to find out more about Zaheera and her writing projects.

DEADLINE by Zaheera Walker

DEADLINE is set in Durban, South Africa. It tells the story of Feriyal Adam, an emerging journalist who has her sights set on the coveted prize, but… the universe has other plans for her – she loses her job, her mother succumbs to cancer and life has no meaning until the desirable Shane Black resurfaces.

Feriyal takes on a dangerous assignment to prove her mettle. Determined, stubborn and foolhardy, she breaks rules to get what she wants until the moment when she stares death in the face. Held against her will by a notorious serial killer, she realises she might be living on borrowed time. He has lured women to their deaths and chances are he is set on doing it again….

MysteryThrillerWeek

Do you love to read books that transport you to other cities and countries? DEADLINE is one of 40+ novels in MysteryThrillerWeek’s Mystery and Thriller Passport Theme. Click here to learn about more of MTW’s international mysteries and thrillers.

Don’t forget to check back here on January 9th for the second guest post about South Africa, an electrifying article by Sarah Key: ‘Setting as Viewfinder for African Thrillers’.