Just like an actor firmly believes that he will be discovered in a Starbucks line-up and a teenager is positive that she will be the next supermodel if only Elite takes a peak at her Facebook, almost everybody who doodles with a pen knows in their heart of hearts that they can write a book. It is just a matter of time.
All my life people have told me that I should write. I thought so too, but years went by and no book emerged. Of course it didn’t. Books do not appear by osmosis and I was too busy working, being a mom, designing film sets, organizing fundraisers and simply living. Not that I wasn’t writing all along. I was a lifestyle journalist in Paris, a movie reporter in Montreal, a scriptwriter in LA, and a content writer for NGOs in Vancouver. Yet, as far as my ‘brilliant’ book ideas went, these were only being written in my head…
Contemplating writing a book is a far cry from having it in the hands of your reading public. In between lies the writing, editing, publishing, printing, registering, distributing, reviewing and purchasing of said book. Getting the story out to the masses seems to be the greatest stumbling block for all us scribes alike. I for my part have many strikes against me. First of all, I am not famous. Not even infamous. The media doesn’t swarm around me and nobody inquires as to what I am writing. Furthermore, I live a small town located way off the freeway system where hardly anyone speaks English. Yet in the end, it was this very place that inspired me to finally start writing the book that for so long had inhabited my mind.
Years as a cosmopolitan nomad taught me that our surroundings are a major contributor to our creativity, which for me meant my writing or lack thereof. When I lived in Paris, my antique Remington typewriter was slammed around the clock. Quebec city had a similar productive effect on me, whereas living in Los Angeles and Vancouver seemed to dampen my creative urges and dull my pencil to a grinding halt. Then, as we decided to throw our caution to the wind and move to rural Spain, this all changed. Like our journey to the unknown, my writing took on a life of its own.
Coming to Ronda felt as if I had got my trusted old Remington back (though it was left with a Parisian mathematician I gave singing lessons to, when I returned to Norway for what I thought was the last days of humankind after the Chernobyl accident). Not only Ronda – all of Andalucía was full of stories, stories that I wrote between us looking for a home, buying a car, getting familiar with the lay of the land and me learning a new language. Andalucía’s multifaceted history, its rich and diverse culture and the people themselves fascinated me. These colourful personalities would populate my blogs, which in time began to get followers from within and outside of Spain. I wasn’t writing high literature, but readers would contact me from Nova Scotia to New Delhi and from Reykjavik to Cape Town, all encouraging me to keep writing.
About a year to the day of us moving to Spain, I requested a meeting with the politicians at the town hall to propose a local environmental movement. In spite of my still much flawed Spanish, they agreed. When we organized Ronda’s first recycled art competition, a NY artists called Ruby Silvious was amongst those replying to my Call for Participants. When I later read that the first book of her recycled teabag art was being published in 2016, I congratulated her on this monumental accomplishment. As a frivolous aside, I mentioned that I too hoped to make a book one day. Why don’t I speak to my publisher, said Ruby ever so generously.
Naren Aryal, Ruby’s American publisher and pater familia of Mascot Books read some of my writing and promptly suggested that we have a conference call. I was admittedly very nervous. What if he asked me about my other books? I would be forced to say that there were plenty of them, though unfortunately all were stored in the deep folds of my brain. I knew how hard-ass these US publisher types could be (We’ve all seen them in the movies…) and Mr. Aryal was a Washington corporate lawyer before going into book publishing. It didn’t bode well.
Connecting on Skype, I saw a far too young and friendly face appear on my screen. Naren asked me if that was a Buddha behind me. Yes, I mumbled, blurting out a long inconsequential explanation to the effect of that the statue was sitting on my husband’s altar and that the room happened to also be my writer’s dungeon, in addition to my yoga sanctuary. (Why didn’t I just say Yes and leave it at that?) To my surprise, Naren didn’t cut our conversation short. Instead, he told me that he was also a Buddhist, born in Nepal. The ice was broken and we talked on, almost as though we were old pals. Was I delusional? Was this a coincidence, or perhaps we had known each other in another lifetime?
Friendly chatter aside, my real concern was whether I had it in me to produce an entire manuscript. I had written travel tales to fill volumes, but blogs do not a book make. After our collaboration was established, the real work began. First, they asked me to send them my book layout (What layout???). I hastily put together a sort of conceptual skeleton, which was subsequently pulled apart, buried and exhumed many times prior to being accepted. Finally we had a layout that all agreed upon, onto which I was to pin my body of work – an 18-chapter story of a present-day move from a cosmopolitan North American city of millions to a small town off the grid in rural inland Andalucía. A daunting task indeed. Writing is essentially a solitary profession, but now I had someone I could voice my doubts to and bounce ideas off. The Mascot team came with the right suggestions and encouragements to move me forward, or backwards when needed.
I delivered my first very rough draft with great trepidation, knowing that it would take a master of word-smithing to make sense of the work of an author whose native tongue was Norwegian but who had spent most of her life in Canada, and who spoke half a dozen languages, all very rusty, and who wrote in her own peculiar style of English, telling a story from Southern Spain. Once again, luck or providence was on my side and I was provided with exactly the help I needed. Anne Dellinger, a wonderful Brooklyn-based editor usually engaged by the Oxford University Press was set to the task. She was beyond patient with my misspellings, made up words, over-eager punctuation and smattering of Spanglish glossaries. Every time she sent back a clean copy (marked up with 87945 corrections, give or take), I would immediately ruin all her efforts by changing the story and adding many more typos in the process. When it came to structural changes I often dug my heels in, refusing to follow her wise suggestions. The poor woman had the challenge of dealing with a Norwegian Taurus to boot…
The words now more or less under control or out of my hands, my focus shifted to the visual aspect of the book-to-be. Spain is a spectacle for the eyes that is sometimes difficult to do justice with plain words. The publisher suggested including a selection of my photographs. I had some great pictures, not because I am an exceptional photographer, but because one cannot avoid taking semi-decent pictures in such a photogenic place. Yet, I wanted the readers to conjure up the personalities and visualize the setting in their own minds. I suggested that we add some hand-drawn sketches instead. My only problem was that while I knew exactly how these should look, I sadly cannot draw.
Again, somehow the right angel appeared at the right moment. Though I could offer neither fame nor fortune, just my eternal thanks, Virgínia Jiménez Perez, a Ronda artist agreed to make our illustrations. It was only supposed to be a handful sketches, but I kept asking her for more, promising that this would be the last one, though it never was. In the end, she drew multiple versions of 34 charming illustrations that perfectly captured the essence of life in rural Andalucía. For this, I was and am eternally grateful. Her becoming part of the book also made it more authentically Andalu’ – a collaboration with a real rondeña, not just a wannabe one, like myself…
As things magically and often without my doing, came into place, I recalled the frequently quoted and misquoted words of Goethe:
What you can do, or dream you can, begin it;
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.
I had dreamt and I had finally begun, and many times during the process forces beyond me seemed to propel the project forward.
In just a few days, on the 5th of February, Casita 26 – Searching for a Slice of Andalucian Paradise is being released in the USA. Who knows what will happen after, though with my book already housed in the impressive sounding American Library of Congress and available on Amazon, I feel that Casita 26 and I are on a roll. I can only hope that Goethe’s words run true to the end and that my story of making life changes will be read by many, some of whom might be inspired to take that leap that they have wanted to do for ages, but to which the time has never felt right.
In the meantime, Andalucía keeps bringing me her stories. Perhaps more books will come. As they say in Spanish, Hay más tiempo que vida. Time will always outlive us, but while we are here, we can always try to find our own slice of earthly paradise.
More information about Casita 26
Order Casita 26 on Amazon