ALFIE GOES TO THAILAND: An Interview with Writer James King

My guest today is English writer and expat, James King, who lived for many years in South Africa then emigrated to Thailand in 2011. His writing runs the gamut from nonfiction to poetry and more recently, novels. I “met” James online as a fellow blogger on jamoroki.com and Displaced Nation. He is also a  photographer and thus the source for the beautiful landscape photos accompanying this post.

You grew up in England and now live in Thailand. Tell us a bit about that.
I’m a West Country lad, born and bred in Bristol where I grew up in the suburbs and later moved to the surrounding countryside, then ended up back in the City, until I emigrated in 1995 to South Africa.

What life is like for an ex-pat in Thailand?
You notice the difference immediately, because the Asian culture requires Westerners to re-evaluate their views and leave the West behind. If you don’t, you’ll have a hard time. I have to admit it wasn’t easy, and it took me nearly five years to acclimatize to the Thai ways, and accept I couldn’t and shouldn’t even try to change the things that irked me. Once I did I was OK, although I still have my moments.

Your new trilogy series is described as a “drama and psychological romance with damaged characters in a tropical sauna.”  (I love that.) Tell us about “ Alfie Goes to Thailand.”

due for release Oct-Nov 2019

In the first novel, Post-It Notes, Alfie pieces his life together after an acrimonious divorce. He finds a place where no-one knows him, and works out why he is so depressed, after being set free by his third wife.  Alfie’s adventures hot up, as a conniving Mother and her wicked daughters, plot his downfall. The dangers are exacerbated by crooked builders, and rogue property traders, exposing him to a hair-raising ride through Thailand.

What was your inspiration for these stories?                                                       When I published my Thailand Diaries in 2011, I did it as an experiment, knowing nothing about self-publishing at the time. The books were raw, and so was I from a bad experience, and I left a lot of sensitive stuff out. As a result, they ended up as a sort of rambling, tongue-in-cheek travel guide that Lonely Planet wouldn’t have given the time of day to. I knew all along that I would have to do something. Either re-write them, ditch them or, I wasn’t sure what. Then one day, in a dream or drunken stupor, it dawned on me. If I took the best material from the diaries and the material in my dump file, that was too sensitive to include, I had all I needed for three psychological, dramatic ,romantic novels, full of seriously damaged characters, and extraordinary happenings. So, I had the story, I had the characters and I had the inspiration. But could I do it justice and sell it. Time will tell.                                                                                                  Your reply only piques our curiosity about “ the sensitive stuff.” Maybe we can glean some of this from your writing! (BTW I enjoyed the Dairies!)

What books, writers and other artists have influenced you?                 Music, film, art and literature, have had a great influence on my life. Who could fail to be moved by Shakespeare, Dickens, Hesse, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, among others. They have all had a profound effect on me one way or another.

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Workers in a rice field photo by J King

Describe your writing environment

Most of the time I sit at a glass-topped teak desk peering at an ultra-wide 34 inch monitor, in our open-plan modern Thai bungalow. I built the home in 2016 in the rice fields of the Chiang Mai valley in North Thailand. We have no fences, walls or gates, and are surrounded by rice, fruit and vegetable farms, mountains, forest and jungle. It’s the biggest garden I have ever known, tended by hundreds of farmers and mother nature, and it’s all free. It’s either inspiring or distracting depending on my mood.

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New rice field at sunset by J King

When and how did you discover your passion for fiction writing?        That’s kind of loaded question because until I publish my two series, this year and next, I won’t be sure if becoming a fiction writer was a good decision or not. I wanted to write for years before I started. It’s been a gradual and transitional process, starting way back with poetry. Then, when I first went to Thailand, I diarized my trips. After that I started blogging, which was when it started in earnest. To be honest it was a bit of a mish-mash for some time. Blog posts about anything that interested me, more poems, short stories, a photo-interview series for The Displaced Nation and South Africa Diaries, a series of articles for Expat Focus, and finally novels. I got there in the end and I’m sure the unstructured process has added benefit with each step.    

 

Tell us about your main character. Which is your favorite secondary character and why?

Alfie Mynn, the main character, cuts a sad figure as he wades through the trilogy. He is a moderately successful businessman from Cape Town, but an enigma when it comes to women. He is a genuine person who continually builds obstacles in his own path and then expends enormous energy overcoming them. It’s as though he can’t live without having problems to solve. And because he can’t resist a challenge he has plenty of them.                                     My favourite secondary character is the mother of Alfie’s partner, Nin. Known as Mother throughout the story, she is a matriarch who rules her family with an iron fist, no love and no normal motherly traits.

 

Please share a few favorite lines or a paragraph:  Taken from the first novel – POST-IT NOTES.

“I found myself in a dismal place, a rough dirty market area, farther from nature than I had ever been, and I was lost. There wasn’t a paint shortage in Thailand, but where I was, it looked like nothing had been painted in a hundred years. Paint was big business, but there was very little left on the buildings I was looking at. So, where was I? There didn’t seem to be many tables with more than three legs in the food place I just passed. The few bricks and the hole in the wall which made up for the missing legs was ingenious. So well disguised nobody who was eating noticed or, if they did, they didn’t care. Why should they? Even if the surroundings were squalid, the food filled them up, and it only cost a few baht.

I picked my way between the dilapidated tables and pots of boiling food, that smelled like pork but could well have been a cocker spaniel. I must have looked out of place. Rats, as big as cats, and probably scared of farangs like me, scurried into any hole they could find… There were few windows, and the ones that still had glass in hadn’t been cleaned in a few lifetimes. So, there was either a business opportunity gone missing, unless people had concluded there was no market for window-cleaners. Copying the Thai smile, using some inventive sign language, and a ten-baht coin, I got general directions back to Silom Road, from a ragged old man who was sitting, hunched up, on a plastic crate. I think it was the coin that swung it. I’d just seen the dystopian side of Bangkok, another side of life, and a side I was pleased I didn’t live on.”

 

Let’s talk a bit about the Writing Process. When you first begin writing a new book, is your main focus on the characters or the plot?                    I’d say they go hand in glove. But in the main it’s what happens to the characters who already exist in my imagination or are drawn from life but aren’t developed as the story unfolds. Sometimes I have a story idea and then have to find the characters. Sometimes it’s the other way round.

What would you call your genre – why did you choose it?                           I didn’t set out to write in a specific genre, and never expected to write in the romance genre. But I was surprised to find I was writing a story about the overpowering need for most people to partner with another human being. Even the vilest horror stories usually contain an element of romance or love. And I can’t leave romance out of the Alfie goes to Thailand genre. It has elements of mystery, suspense, drama, psychological romance, and humour. I can’t pigeon-hole it, so I’ll get Amazon to put in as many categories as I can.

I agree.  I think most appealing books have a least a hint of romance. Do you write a book sequentially, from beginning to end? Or do you sometimes write scenes out of order?

So far I have done the latter. I’d prefer not to, but I’ve found when I’m in the middle of writing a novel all sorts of things come to me. I have to get them on paper or PC as quick as possible, then I’m often dragged out of the sequence for days.

I’ve found that too. Tell us about your process for naming your characters. How much importance do you put on names?                                    So far it has been rather disjointed and random, not scientific at all. I go a lot on gut feeling and have found that I often change a name many times till it feels right. So the answer to the last part is that names are very important.

Do you edit as your write? Or do you write an entire rough draft before doing any edits?

They say, even though it may be rubbish you should get it all out before doing any editing. They may be right, and I have tried, but I just can’t do it. Every chapter I write has to feel right in essence before I move on, even though I will rewrite chunks of it later.

The Only Witness cover -JPGTo get a taste of his writing, James is offering a FREE short story – THE ONLY WITNESS – which introduces the main character, style and humour of the trilogy.  I reviewed it, but I like what this reviewer had to say: ” the true mystery isn’t the crime committed, but the difficulty the protagonist has in grasping how the Thai people respond to the crime. A wonderful portrayal of one culture struggling to understand the other and a great read!”    I read and enjoyed it in an evening…. let us know what you think!

James is happy to respond to questions here about this post or his books. You can also connect with him here:  Website: https://www.jameskingbooks.com/about; Twitter: https://twitter.com/JimKing28265666;      Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/jamoroki/;   Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/jimking9406417/

Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo

Breakfast with Buddha

Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This charming book is funny and wise. The main character gets roped into taking his sister’s guru on a road trip. Otto is skeptical and annoyed, but by the end of the journey he and the guru have become friends and he’s even tried meditating. I rarely give out 5 stars and this book isn’t “hi-brow literature,” but I must say it is delightful entertainment – and well-written. I want to read the next in the series.

View all my reviews (click “Favorites” in the left column to see my top rated books).

My Year in Books 2018 (Part II)

Last week I reviewed four entertaining novels: The Hummingbird’s Daughter, Secrets of a Charmed Life, Honolulu and A Dog’s Purpose. Below I include some more worthy books with brief descriptions.

I’m not a big reader of nonfiction and have been disappointed in some of those with high reviews (but that’s just me). One worth mentioning however is Thailand in Perspective by James King. King is an entertaining writer who lives in Thailand and has written a trilogy of these books including: 15 weeks (Vol. 1 – free on Kindle) and Driving Thailand (Vol.2). I’ve never been there, but his writing makes me want to go. Even if you are not planning a visit this is good travel-armchair reading.

Other Novels I enjoyed last year are:

Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks –a compelling story about a missionary’s daughter and a Native American student at Harvard – one constrained by his skin the other by her sex. Moving and at times triumphant; set in mid 1600’s.

 

 

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

A charming and wise little fable. A shepherd boy travels through Spain and northern Africa in search of treasure and finds simple truths.

 

Winter Garden by Kristen Hannah – written in present tense, about a dysfunctional family, and in past tense is the haunting saga of WWII Leningrad. Two sisters come to understand their dynamics in a satisfying conclusion.

 

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The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman – Enjoy the plot and the writing, full of symbolism – look for the flowers, birds and all the “opposites.” The story, set in St. Thomas, is about artist Pissarro’s extraordinary family life.

 

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A Gentleman in Moscow – To be honest I had trouble getting through this highly acclaimed book. Amor Towles’ fans will be appalled I know, but here’s why: it is long with no page-turning plot. That said, Towles is a literary writer and I appreciated the fine writing about post-revolutionary Russia.

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Company of Liars by Karen Maitland. Unusual story about strangers who band together, to escape the Black Plague wreaking havoc in a bleak, muddy landscape. The pilgrims have been compared to the Canterbury Tales, also set in the14thcentury, each has a secret. Slow but worthwhile with a surprise ending.

 

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett is also good. A novel about two families and how each member’s life is changed by an affair between two of the parents. Bel Canto is still my favorite Patchett book.51Ix-oAS0zL._SX319_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

 

 

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A Piece of the World
by Christina Baker Kline, based on the real story of Christina Olson and Andrew Wyeth . I think those interested in art will like it. Orphan Train is my favorite book by her, but many would disagree with me.

Have you read any of these books?  Do you have others to recommend?

My Year in Books for 2018

I selected a number of books I read in the last year to review for this blog. They tend to lean toward historical novels with a sprinkling of multicultural ones. I am neither as prolific a reader as so many others, nor a literary critic, but as an author I am occasionally asked to review manuscripts. I can recommend these books as entertaining reads.

 

At the top of my assemblage are Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner, and The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea

But before I say more, first a proviso: most of them are not recently published so if you are looking for new books I’m afraid by the time they make it to the top of my reading list they are no longer new!  Still a good book lasts forever.

The Hummingbird’s Daughter is an extraordinary tale, full of magical realism, based on historical facts and folklore. Teresita, the 16-year-old, illegitimate but cherished daughter of a wealthy rancher becomes regarded as a healer and saint.  Urrea breathes life into his three main characters: Teresita, Tomas and Huila… and secondary fictional characters like loyal Segundo seem genuinely real too. The stage is 19th-century Mexico as civil war is fermenting in Mexico. The time and setting swept me away, along with – in spite of – the social struggles of the indigenous people. I enjoyed reading the cultural elements, the food and even all the swear words “chingado, bruto, cabron, pendejo,” that I rarely heard in my youth growing up in Latin America. Some reviewers have not liked the sprinkling of Spanish, but it does not distract from the story; rather it enriches it, especially if you know even a few words. If not, don’t feel you’ve lost the meaning. On the publisher’s page is the standard disclaimer: “the characters and events in this book are fictional” but the author’s note in the back states “Teresa Urrea was a real person,” and a relative in author’s family.

Secrets of a Charmed Life I’ve read SO many WWII stories lately that it took me awhile to pick this one up, but I did because it is by master storyteller Susan Meissner who wrote the Fall of Marigolds. Could she create another tour de force? –Yes and here it is. I found it hard to put the book down. It starts out full of hope and even joy, then fate leads us to heartache, but finally redemption. Here’s an excerpted bit of prose I found enthralling yet chilling, on the day the Blitz began (pg.147):                     “while London was going about its Saturday afternoon…hundreds of Luftwaffe pilots were climbing into their cockpits….the RAF pilots had never seen so many aircraft in the air at the same time… like a sheet of black across the sky…a (radar) WAAF couldn’t believe what she was seeing, “What is that?” … pointing to the monstrous cloud across the screen…Then the Dover radar picked up the giant shadow….oh, the chatter as they took to their radios to warn their brothers at arms that an armada from hell was streaking across the Channel toward them.”                                                            This is a story of ordinary people whose lives are forever damaged and the grief and guilt a teenager had to bear due to a moment of incaution.

Competing for top billing is Honolulu by Alan Brennert, and – a totally different genre – A Dog’s Purpose, by W. Bruce Cameron.

512pSDFUcoL._AC_US327_QL65_I met Alan Brennert at a book-reading at Orinda Books and have been a fan ever since. He weaves a heartwarming story in Honolulu about a young Korean girl who wants more in life than her confining birthright. Jin/Gem decides to become a “picture bride” and travels to Hawaii to discover her new husband is not quite how he presented himself and his life is certainly not what she imagined. Her existence is in the pineapple plantations and in canneries, where she toils – and triumphs – to better herself. As time goes on the Korean picture brides come together, help each other and finally climb out of poverty and lead comfortable and happy lives. Much research went into this accurate portrayal of Oahu. As a frequent visitor and a lover of Hawaii I really enjoyed this story as much as his Molokai.  Anyone who likes a good yarn will appreciate this novel.

517GxBFnZqL._AC_US327_QL65_A Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron. This wise and magical book is about one endearing dog’s quest for his purpose through several reincarnated lives. A delightful dog story, but also at a deeper level it asks the age-old question, “why are we here?”  Bailey is astounded to find himself reborn as a boisterous puppy into the loving home of 8 yr. old Ethan.  This dog is a being so caring, affectionate and “highly evolved” he deserves sainthood, yet Bailey seems like a very real character. Does he exist somewhere?  He will make you laugh and cry and affirms that love never dies.  (Alas at least one of his lives is quite sad, but Cameron adapted a version for young readers which I bought for my granddaughter.)

Have you read any of these books?  Do you have others to recommend?

I’ll add a few other books I enjoyed this year in my next post. Meanwhile HAPPY NEW YEAR and keep reading!

 

The Best Novels I Read in 2015 (Part II)

Last week I described a number of books I really enjoyed in 2015, but saving the best for last, my top three novels are: A Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner, Thieving Forest by Martha Conway and The Physician by Noah Gordon. All three are meticulously researched with period details and have  wonderful characters.

THe physicianI love the opening line of The Physician: “But it came to seem that Kilmarnock had always been his life, and that what had happened before was a tale he had heard told around the fire when the wind blew cold.” This fascinating novel is set in Saxon England and 11th-century Persia. Bob Cole is orphaned in London and apprenticed to a barber-surgeon. As he grows to manhood he learns of a legendary Persian University of medicine. The adventure includes not only a dangerous journey, but a risky impersonation as he wins the Shah’s favor, falls in love and becomes a well-regarded physician. The research covers medieval medicine, Britain and Persia, and the Christian, Jewish and Muslim religions of the time. Compelling, entertaining and informative, I highly recommend it. This book has been around for a long time, but I always say stories never grow old.

 

51WDAYsMQ7L._SX305_BO1,204,203,200_A Fall of Marigolds: Ah, a book to curl up with by the fire on a winter evening – a story about love and loss, secrets and the aftermath of a disaster. It is well crafted even if a couple of scenes felt a bit contrived. The lyrical writing meshes a contemporary story (of 9/11) with a tale about a nurse on Ellis Island in 1911 – all bound together by a beautiful scarf (you’ll see).  An easy read that imparts some background on New York City and Ellis Island. I gave it five stars – based on the pleasure this book gave me

 

 

thievingFinally Thieving Forest is a page-turning novel set in the 1800’s, by a new writer.  Four sisters are kidnapped by “friendly” Indians, for mysterious reasons, and a fifth sister takes off in the Ohio wilderness to find them.  Susanna is only seventeen years old and the hardships she endures on her harrowing, authentic journey are vivid.  As writer myself, I again admire the amount of research that went into this richly detailed book. One thing people may find jarring are the occasional shifts in point of view from the main protagonist  (personally I don’t mind breaking this rule.) One of the best books I read this year.

 

Have you read any of these books? My full reviews for these and other books are on Amazon.com.  A list of my all time favorite books can be found at cindamackinnon.wordpress/books-i-have-known-and-loved/.   What are yours?

The Best Books I Read Last Year

In the last year I read number of books I recommend. I‘ve become a little stingy with the number of stars I give a review – am I becoming jaded by the plethora of good books? Or maybe I should just give up the star system; sometimes it is like comparing apples and oranges.  All of the following are well written, but their place in my heart (rating) is based on just that. (No two people read the same book.) Fiction dominates my short list of nine, and of these, all but one are historical novels – I guess that is my favorite genre.

quiet-bookIn nonfiction my favorite book by far was Quiet by Susan Cain. The full title tells you a lot: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. Carl Jung gave us the terms “introvert” for personality types drawn to the inner world of thought and feelings and “extrovert” for those drawn to the external life of people and activities. Gregarious extroverts are the life of the party because their brains are good at handling competing attention, whereas an introvert may feel overwhelmed by the noise and multitasking of the group setting and prefer one-on-one or a quiet evening at home. Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert who loves or works with one, this book is enlightening. Extroverted personalities are appealing yet let’s not forget great introverts such as: Frederic Chopin, Albert Einstein, William Butler Yeats, George Orwell, Steven Spielberg, Bill Gates, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, Mahatma Gandhi and JK Rowlings.

 41bdVJOBoxL._AC_SX60_CR,0,0,60,60_ One highly acclaimed book I gave only four stars was The Luminaries. Here’s why:  it is no easy read and yet it is worth the effort – and that’s the gist of it.  It was more of a mental challenge than pleasure to spend time with and it is LONG.   The truth is if I had never heard of it and had not known it won a Booker Prize I probably would have put it down after 50 pages.  (I felt the same way about The Goldfinch last year – sorry fans, but where was her editor?)  It’s a commitment to get through some 850 pages of changing points of view within chapters, time jumps (wait a minute that guy was dead 100 pages ago), “telling vs. showing” and dozens of characters, each with seemingly tangential stories that the reader has to keep straight. The setting, the West Coast gold rush of New Zealand, is marvelous however. In sum, Eleanor Catton breaks all the rules -and gets away with.

Others I recommend  are The Infatuations by Javier 41A22DyqYgL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Marias and Euphoria by Lily King.  (These authors are both five star writers but I base my honest opinion on how much I personally enjoyed the story.)  The Infatuations is set in Spain, and deals with death, desire, and the effects of chance and timing on outcomes. More than one infatuation is going on in this suspenseful, often dark story.  It is an intellectual novel, interesting and different, but at times pedantic with lengthy digressions.                        I love 51s2YlJboaL._AC_SX60_CR,0,0,60,60_historical fiction and have an interest in anthropology so Euphoria fit that criteria. King depicts Margaret Meade and her two lovers in the river villages of New Guinea in the 1930s and transports you in time and place; I should give it 4 1/2 stars.

wingsThe Invention of Wings, came very close to the 5 star mark. I was hesitant to read another book on the horrors and degradation of slavery, but this is a powerful novel – and based on real-life remarkable women of the time.

searchAccabadora by Michela Murgia is a little gem of a book, well-known in Italy, which won a number of European prizes. The novel takes the reader into village life in Sardinia in the 1950s.  The remarkable Bonaria is the “Accabadora” who eases the suffering of the dying, and sometimes ends it.   When her adopted child discovers this, she feels betrayed and rejects her.  A beautiful slice of life– set in a culture and place not many of us have experienced.

I’ll save my top three novels for next time – tune-in next week.

Have you read any of the above? If so do you agree/disagree?   Please share with us which books you enjoyed by commenting below.

 

Poetry, prose and everything between

Hilary C. Green surprised and honored me with a review of A Place in the World, along with several other books, on her blog, Green Writing Room.  Hilary has a few books under her belt, including Unseen Unsung , which is on my to-read list; it is about an opera singer who meets a girl in a catastrophe and searches for her afterwards . Her book Border Line was recently reviewed on Rosie Amber’s book site and she is currently working on nonfiction about the POWs in WWII who labored on the infamous Thailand-Burma Railroad. (My own father was shot down in this area and managed to walk out and escape capture by the Japanese.)  Check out these sites – you’ll be glad you did!

Poetry, prose and everything between.

My 100th post: A Thank You to Readers and Reviewers!

I want to take a moment to thank everyone who has reviewed A Place In the World.  Two special bloggers recently took the time to review and post on their blogs, Amazon AND Goodreads.  Rosie Amber of the UK generously connects readers and writers, and Jessie, who is part of Rosie’ s Book Review team. Both women are avid readers and book reviewers. Rosie posted her review yesterday and her author interview of me today http://wp.me/p2Eu3u-63l

Jessie has her own lovely blog, Behind The Willows, about life, motherhood and of course books. I urge you to check out both websites as places to go for book recommendations.     http://behindthewillows.com/

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Here is a snippet of Jessie’s review:

… this is a lovely little book, set in Colombia, amongst the beauty of rain forests on a coffee farm, where a woman leads her life the best she can…an American who has lived for many years in Colombia, she handles things with an amazing blend of the two cultures.  Stepping back and forth between them so well  that the big drama fades into the background,  leaving the focus of the book right where it should be, on the young woman in search of her place in the world.

It just so happens that her world is run by men, contains active volcanoes, guerrillas, , coffee crops and an occasional iguana in the water tank – making it infinitely more interesting to read about than our own.

Would I recommend it? I would. Drama aside, the information on the culture, rain forests and coffee growing would have been enough to keep me interested.

This is an excerpt from Rosie’s review:  rosie-gardening-02-smaller

I’m happy to give this 5 stars…The moment I read the description of the finca in a cloud forest I began falling in love with… the flora and fauna… so well written that you could almost hear the birds calling and feel the moisture on the leaves.

(at) the finca, Las Nubes, there is no mains electric, no piped water, no telephone, and the road ways are often just tracks…They live a simple life…There are hardships too, a road accident, bandits and a volcano which erupts covering the ground in ash and burning the coffee plants with acid rain. But through all this the author fills you with the Colombian people, their way of life … the coffee trade at the mercy of politics, the weather and the market…

This book took me to a new world, that I’d never given much thought to and I really enjoyed it.

I’m so pleased with both of these reviews and their insights. It’s wonderful to hear that a reader likes what you’ve written – and even better when someone takes the time to post a review. Many thanks to both Rosie and Jessie and another recent reviewer, author Rita Gardner https://cindamackinnon.wordpress.com/?s=coconut  (Only space prevents me from acknowledging all the others, but please know that each review is greatly appreciated and helps readers decide whether they want to read the book.)

 

AWARDS :front-cover-place-in-world2014-ContestSEMIFINALIST

A Place in the World won three modest awards this year:

the Kindle Best Book Award 2014 (Semifinalist in Literary Fiction); Runner up (2nd place) at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference     in the indie category and last month Honorable Mention in the Mainstream/Literary Fiction category for Writer’s Digest’s Self-Published Book Awards.

The following is the comment by a judge for Writer’s Digest’s Book Awards:

A Place in the World is a rather quiet book tackling powerful issues. Alicia who has been a child of the world, marries a Colombian and heads back to one of her favorite places. Although she is there under some misleading information, she settles in on the family finca and learns all about growing coffee in isolation on the edge of the cloud forest.  Background issues include guerillas, active volcanoes, wild life, shy natives and family indifference.

Following an automobile accident, Alicia’s husband deserts her and … Alicia makes her way alone on the coffee plantation. Alone, she is able to pursue her studies in biology with her illustrated journals becoming a centerpiece for the narrative. A fellow American who visits the finca infrequently becomes more than friend to her.

Alicia’s passion for her place, the people there, her son, her studies and for her lover holds the reader throughout the book.  The author paints pictures with her words just as Alicia illustrates her journals with her findings. The reader is drawn into the story and the place on every page. MacKinnon has enlightened us about the biodiversity of the cloud forest, growing beans, and about the frailties and strengths of relationships.

The conclusion presented in the voice of Alicia’s son serves to tie all the bits and pieces together in a most satisfactory way. Everyone in the story has found her or his place in the world. A Place in the World should attract a wide audience.

Thank you “anonymous judge 59!”

So to celebrate, my 100th post is written in appreciation of all of my readers, supporters, editor and reviewers. It’s been a wonderful year. (For more reviews see http://amzn.to/19wSFfX  )

Please note if you would like to write an honest review of my book, I will send you a (free) ebook file or PDF. Just let me know how to contact you, below (or privately on the Author/Contact page of this website).

The Coconut Latitudes –Expat File #13

Rita Gardner and I met online – we saw each other’s interviews on two of my favorite blogs (Jamoroki and The Displaced Nation ) and found that we had some things in common: we both grew up as expats in Latin America and we are both writers who dabble in photography. Ironically, the man who “introduced” us, James King, lives in Thailand and it turned out that Rita and I live about 30 minutes from each other – so we made a date for lunch and found that we are kindred spirits.

C & Rita ps e_3285a

Book exchange! Cinda, left with Rita’s book; Rita on right with mine.

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Rita grew up on her family’s coconut farm in the Dominican Republic. Her spell-binding memoir The Coconut Latitudes is about childhood in paradise, a journey into unexpected misery, and a twisted path to redemption and truth. Here is an excerpt to whet your appetite:

Introduction

Before I am born, my father, for reasons shrouded in mystery, abruptly leaves a successful engineering career in the United States. He buys two hundred and fifty acres of remote beachfront land on Samana Bay in the Dominican Republic. This small, Spanish-speaking nation occupies two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola and is ruled by the dictator Rafael Trujillo. Trade winds blow year-round all the way from the deserts in Africa, combing through palm groves and shaping the trunks into inverted commas. The island is also in the main path of hurricanes that storm through the Atlantic and Caribbean from June through November. In 1946, when I am six weeks old and my sister Berta is four, my father moves us into this instability. Our family lands—with a pile of suitcases, a box of books, and bright Fiesta dinnerware—years before there will be electric power or actual roads to Miches, the closest village. My father hires a crew to plant ten thousand coconut seedlings and names the property Cocoloco Plantation. My father frequently says we are a damn happy family; we’ve arrived in paradise, and are the luckiest people in the world.

Miches

Chapter 1: Miches

It’s a sticky summer day when we first bounce over the mountain in a ratty jeep driven by an old man with brown leather skin. The windshield is cracked and dust covers everything. Our suitcases are piled on top, strapped down by frayed ropes. We’re not tied down by anything at all. We heave left and right as the jeep straddles the track that’s barely a road. I’m used to these raggedy roads in the Dominican Republic. In the smelly backseat, Mama wedges in between my sister Berta and me, trying to hold on to us as we lurch up yet another switchback. Berta turns white, leans out the window, and throws up. The vehicle stops and I get sick too. Daddy tries to distract us by showing us a waterfall off in the distance… We pile in again and rumble onward. When we crest the mountain, we stop where the air is cool. There’s nothing left in our stomachs. Daddy climbs a rocky ledge. He waves his arms, motioning us to join him.

The hillsides spill all the way down to the bluest water I’ve ever seen, a bay of shimmering light so bright it makes me blink. Daddy smiles. “See—there’s Miches town.” He gestures toward the inner curve of the bay to a scattering of small buildings crouched along a rocky shoreline with a few streets … I squint at a long snaky river at the edge of town and then, to the right of it, a long sweep of sandy beach that stretches out like a sliver of new moon. The shore is lined with green fringe, and a smaller patch of a light color stands out like a ragged square of carpet. Daddy waves his arm toward the pale green at the far end of the bay.

“There,” he says as tears roll down his face. “That’s Cocoloco Plantation.”

~~~~~~~~~~

Cinda: It occurs to me that Cocoloco would have served as an apt title as well. Although I love The Coconut Latitudes – it made me want to read more.

Rita:  Funny you would mention that – for the longest time (years, in fact), I had chosen “Cocoloco” as a title. My only concern is that is a name of a tropical drink, and I didn’t want that context. One day I just thought of “The Coconut Latitudes.”

“While our tropical surroundings were indeed idyllic, we were in the constant path of hurricanes, under the grip of a brutal dictator, and beset by alcoholism and family tragedy.”

 

 

Cinda: Your memoir details a reality far from the envisioned Eden, the terrible cost of keeping secrets, and the transformative power of love and truth.   What advice would you give someone about writing a memoir –especially a painful one?

Rita: Don’t think about or worry about others. Pretend no one else exists. Just write for you. Say anything, say it all. Later, you can come back to it objectively; see the plot, the narrative arc and structure. But for the first draft, just sit yourself down, see what comes out, and keep going until you’re out of words. You’ll be surprised at the twists and turns your writing will take. It sometimes directs itself.

Samana Beach near Miches

~~~

Rita M. Gardner was home-schooled as a child, she began writing, reading and painting at an early age. She has published essays, articles, poems, and photographs have appeared in literary journals, travel magazines and newspapers.  The Coconut Latitudes was just published this fall and is already being well received. I wrote a review for Goodreads and Amazon because I am so impressed with her writing skills and the honesty in this book. Here is my excerpted review:

A haunting memoir I wanted to read because it is about a girl who had grown up in Latin America like myself. But this is more than an interesting story about an expat; it chronicles a difficult upbringing (a la Mosquito Coast or Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight.)….The young Gardner daughters are isolated not only from the parent’s culture and extended family, but forced to keep secrets from their Dominican friends when one family member disappears. There is no one they can turn to when their alcoholic father keeps them up late at night with angry rantings and irrational demands. Even their mother is unable to protect them or nurture them. This heartbreaking memoir may shock you at times, but the writing is straight-forward and compelling. You will root for her survival and be staggered at what a young girl manages to do.

 One of my favorite authors, Julia Alvarez, (who wrote In the Time of Butterfiles) says this about “The Coconut Latitudes”: Another fine writer who moves beyond borders into the wide open spaces of the heart.” And calls Rita an honorary Dominicana.

From Publisher’s Weekly’s select review: “Gardner has written a rich, haunting book that vividly captures her childhood and makes everyday turmoil vital through precise and honest prose.”

Rita will be happy to respond to any questions or comments you leave below. Check out her website at www.ritamgardner.com;  see more reviews and buy the book here: Amazon– the coconut-latitudes.

 

 

The League of Vile but Witty Literary Reviewers

This is so well put and hits so close to home that I stole it from JT Twissel, writer, artist and self-described “wine cork bath mat maker.” (Meet her here.)

Saying Nothing in Particular

ddduke.128.625110 Duke

I’ve a friend named Duke (click here to meet him).  Oft times I open emails from this gent at one o’clock in the afternoon and my first thought is “damn, it’s too early for a drink!”  Mostly because he’s rifting on a subject I’d rather discuss sitting on a beach, frosty margarita in hand, watching the sun set over a calm green ocean.

But he lives in Mexico and I live thousands of miles to the north. So we have to toast each other with virtual margaritas.

th Buy my book!! Write a review!

Most of the time we bitch about the realities of publishing in a world which conspires to turn socially awkward writers into bug-eyed circus barkers desperate to validate the time they’ve wasted writing and then alienating family and friends by pleading for those absolutely vital reviews.

I’ve given up on that last bit. Your friends might like you but not share your taste in…

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