When the reader knows better than the author

Sometimes the book you write comes from down deep inside you and it’s a liberation because you can explore the thing that’s driving you without doing something permanent—like run off to join the circus or get plastic surgery. Sometimes the book is “fixing” a thing that’s wrong in your own life—even if, of course, it doesn’t really fix it. But the fictional world you create can be manipulated by you, the author, to right the wrongs that can’t be righted in reality.

Of course every book isn’t like this. Sometimes a story is just a story and, for me, as long as I’m totally immersed in it, that’s all I need. And that’s true whether I’m reading it or writing it.

This series I just finished writing, The Irish End Game, was triggered by a singular frustration on my part when I saw the world rushing by so fast that I felt the likelihood of appreciating the smaller things in life was becoming less and less possible for me and my family. (Stopping to smell the roses or even glance in the direction of the roses was something I struggle to do even before I discovered Netflix and on-demand videos.)

So I wrote a book about a woman who went on vacation with her family and was literally forced to stop and smell the roses when a bomb went off and stranded them in a foreign country. I put them well away from any support system, any familiarity, any infrastructure and please God any technology. I loved writing this story because it was all about survival and having to do things none of us ever think about on a daily basis in our happy, comfortable pre-apocalyptic daily rounds.

And when I ended the book and had the family return to their home in the states, sadder but wiser with any future overuse of their techno-toys, I got emails and reviews from readers, literally from around the world, that said, in effect: “No effing way are you letting them go home as if nothing happened and don’t tell me they “learned so much during their trial in Ireland.”

So when I looked at the first book in the series, Free Falling, which is permanently free by the way wherever ebooks are sold: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Sony, Diesel, Kobo, but also available in print, I decided to do the one thing that a traditional author would never be able to do in a million years.

I rewrote the ending.

That’s right. I decided my readers were right and I turned that military transport plane around and had my hapless American family stay right where they were, complete with no cars, no electricity, no communications and no safety net. And then I let the bad guys come out of the woodwork and from behind the bushes in the peaceful Irish countryside.

It turned out my readers knew more than I did about where this story was going…where it needed to go next.

Book 2 in the series, Going Gone, ratchets up the tension and the violence (it is post-apocalyptic after all) by putting the American heroine, Sarah, on a long and desperate journey across some of the most treacherous terrain in the world in the Welsh National Forest in order to find her way back to her family. In this book, I’m able to fully explore what a normal soccer Mom might be capable of–when push comes to bloody shove.

The 3rd book in the series, Heading Home, was released last week. The entire Irish End Game series is on sale right now as a complete volume for 6.99, or separately for 3.99 a piece. I sincerely hope you enjoy this dip into what-if? And that, at the end of it, you find yourself appreciating all our freedoms (and technologies!) all the more for it.

While I ended the series in such a way that, if I get no more emails, I’m pretty comfortable leaving it as it is, if prompted, I can write another book in the series. And maybe another after that.

Hey. I’m game if you are.

What are YOU watching these days?

What does it say about us as a people that most of us can name ten brands of perfume or handbags or yogurt, but can’t name ten US presidents?

19066849 When I was younger and living overseas, I would frequently get good-naturedly ragged (I assume it was good-natured) about the average American’s reputation for being uninterested in anything that happens outside of America.  Living in a foreign country, I was amazed at how interested everyone in my host country was in foreign news. New Zealanders will pour over news from South Africa or Japan with nearly the same interest as their own island. I knew what they said about my country was true—most people I knew “back home” didn’t know or care to know about things happening outside the country.

I have a not-so-funny anecdote about my best friend in the States who, when I said I was moving from New Zealand to the UK, asked me if that was closer to Atlanta. (She has a graduate degree and is an accomplished clinician. She just never bothered to look at a map beyond the borders of the U S of A.)

You know what I think? If anything, we’ve gotten worse.

Why is it that the xenophobic Americans have gotten even more stand-offish?  I don’t think it has anything to do with fear of terrorists or a baseline distrust of other countries. If anything,  you’d think a heightened concern for our safety  abroad would prompt an obsession in the average American regarding the motives and goings-on in other countries.

No, I think it’s more insidious than that.  I think it’s us.

I think the cable and ready-availability of nearly 24-7 celebrity news and lowest common denominator action films has helped us lose our ability to focus on things that really matter in lieu of who got married to whom or who is having whose baby out of wedlock.

And don't even get me started on the weight problem we have in this country!

And don’t even get me started on the weight problem we have in this country!

I grant you it’s easier to listen to silly gossip or watch semi-famous people dodge photographers than it is to sit through a Ken Burns documentary or listen to a pundit explain our sorry political situation at the moment, but apathy does not explain this phenomenon—not at all. You have to ask yourself: why are we more willing to watch something that has  nothing to do with us instead of something that fundamentally impacts the way we live?

What does that say about who we are?

Now just get rid of all the boring "text," and you'll have tomorrow's best seller!

Now just get rid of all the boring “text,” and you’ll have tomorrow’s best seller!

At the very least, I’d say we are a nation of drastically shortened attention spans. If you look at the popular movies and books of today and slap them up against what was “in” just twenty years ago, you’ll see more exposition and description in novels back in the eighties; more leisurely approaches in movie settings and characterizations. Today, we’re so impatient to ingest the story, our books read like scripts—mostly white space and dialogue because everyone knows readers won’t trudge through  descriptions to set the scene.

By catering to the fast and easy, the get-on-and-get-off mentality of the typical American consumer (and if you’re selling to them, baby, you’re catering to them), we have permanently altered the pace and methodology of how we deliver information, entertainment and even education.

I found this amazing quote that supports my theory from a popular politician who made a stunning prediction that, I think, brings us to the cusp of where we stand today. He said:

 “At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant to step in and crush us…? Never. All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa…could not by force take a drink from the Ohio (River) or make a track on the Blue Ridge…in a thousand years. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”

That comment by Abe Lincoln is more relevant today than it was when he delivered it in 1838. The way we live today—dedicated to a culture of gossip and consumerism and fast, painlessly delivered data (and that mostly nonsense)—is a personification of us as a country, a noose coiled around our collective necks, kicking the stool we’re standing on.

And the hell of it?  We can’t avoid where we’re going because—even though we’re determined to wear blindfolds for the trip—we are still the ones in the driver’s seat.

Belonging Starts by Leaving Home

I have lived at 35 different addresses in my life. 13 of those addresses were before I turned 18. The 22 apartments and houses since then are the legacy of an ex-military dependent who spent the bulk of her childhood moving, saying goodbye, saying hello. My husband, who spent his entire childhood and adolescence in one neighborhood and in one house, is resigned to my relentless restlessness (eight of the 35 moves were with him.)

It’s my belief that the feeling of belonging and travel are not mutually exclusive. I think, to a certain degree, we travel in order to feel like we belong. Not only does travel give you a glimpse of the rest of the world, and therefore a snapshot of your place in it, it also helps you to see that we are all a part of one large human family.

In fact, the expatriate experience—one that you’d typically think of as apart or separate from the collective group—is really a definitive exercise in belonging. Nowhere is the feeling of belonging more strongly felt than when you live abroad and happen upon a fellow American. This could be someone you might not bother to cross the street for back home, yet in this context—say one where they are the only American besides yourself in a room of foreign nationals—they are met with real pleasure and enthusiasm.

Think of all the expatriate clubs and organizations in Paris, for example. First, there are an astounding 165,000 Americans living in France today (50,000 in Paris, alone) so they have no problem getting a taco party together to watch American gridiron or feeling like “they belong.”

Then, of course, there’s the technological revolution and how it’s affected the expatriate. When my husband and I lived overseas—he in the late seventies and me in the mid-eighties—contact with family and friends was expensive and slow. A letter to New Zealand from the States could easily take two weeks to get to me. The phone calls—expensive and infrequent—had serious quality issues, (like a humpback was squatting on the cable that threaded along the ocean floor from Jacksonville, Florida to Auckland, New Zealand.) My husband and I often remark how much easier it would be to live in a foreign country today, with skyping, and the instant gratification of cell phone contact. During the decades that he and I lived overseas, we felt truly and completely separated from our support group of friends and family back home.

The plus side, of course, was that it added to the immersion effect, for us, a large part of the reason we were overseas in the first place. He was living in Germany at the time and the lack of home contact probably aided in his mastering the language that much faster.

Like all travel, living abroad tends to give you perspective. It gives you a different point of view either of how you live back in the States—or how you want to live. Have you ever come back from a trip overseas and then made a drastic change in your life? I would love to hear how a trip or travel in general has changed you.