A long journey from Virginia to Chile

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The Avocado Republic of Chile, because it’s Too Cold to Grow Bananas by Walker Rowe*

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At 3 AM on a Tuesday in 2006, an assistant winemaker from VIA wines in Talca, Chile picked me up at the airport in Santiago.  It’s such a long flight from the USA, 13 hours, that coming and going one gets used to stirring about at such an ungodly hour.

I had come all the way from Virginia to work at the winery and write a book about my experience working the harvest.  This was to be my third book on wine, and my last, as I have nothing more to say on the subject, having moved onto other material.

As I embarked, a Napa Valley fermentation scientist who helped me line up this unpaid position arranged with the vineyard that I bring 100 kilos of yeast in my luggage.  It filled my two suitcases completely and left scant room for clothes.

To give you an example of just how much yeast that is, in Virginia, where I was a partner in a winery and where I planted two vineyards, we bought yeast in 500 gram packages.  At my house, when I wanted to make 5 liters of wine I would put in 5 grams of yeast.

So here I was with enough yeast to make 100,000 5-liter carboys of wine in my luggage, a lifetime supply for any of the boutique wineries of virginia.  But at Via Wines, where they make 5 million cases of wine per year, that would last for, well, that would last for, I have no idea.

Anyway, it was all for naught as when I arrived at the winery and opened my suitcase, out flowed the smell of fresh bread. The packages had burst in the luggage hold.  Several thousand dollars of yeast had been exposed to air.  So it was all spoiled.

Such was my first foray into Chile, the country I have adopted as my home now. Having seen it first in 2006 and having grown attached while frequently going back and forth, I moved here full time in 2010.

Chile is that narrow country at the bottom of the word that no American and few Europeans can locate on a map.  If they know it at all, they know it as home to towering snow-capped mountains, volcanoes, and constant earthquakes.  Or they might know it from the film “The 33” about the 33 miners who spent months trapped underground in a copper mining here as the world watched on.  Antonio Banderas and Juliette Binoche starred in that film.  When he came to Chile, all the women swooned.   When Juliette Binoche came, I fell in love all over again.

You might wonder why an American like me would give up the USA and move to Chile?  Well, for someone my age, 54, who is somewhere between retirement and the need to work, whose kids are off at college, and who was living alone in a farm in the woods with 30 sheep, 2 dogs, and a cat, I felt the need to go live with a woman.  So I gave up that lonely existence where, here, I live all alone on a farm in Chile with 1 dog, a cat, and a horse, sans woman.
casa-curacavi-chile-540x405

I would say that what drew me here more than anything was the weather. It’s like California, but without all the people.  But what a mistake that was. I had been sold a false bill of goods.

cactus

Having lived all my live on the rainy and frozen east coast of the USA and having planted all kinds of crops and gardens, I was thrilled here that in the frost-free, dry weather of Chile I could plant bougainvillea, lemons, oranges, lavender, and roses and wine grapes without having to spray them each week to ward off mildew or worry about sub-freezing weather.  All of this is true:  the rain free weather here makes Chile an agricultural paradise.  That is because rain as it splatters spreads spores and thus disease, which is why California is where farmers grow most of America’s fruit and vegetables.

But what I did not know at the time was Chile in winter is freezing cold and, well, chilly, like the name says.  It’s cloudy today as I write this. We have had record amounts of rain this year at the end of the Southern Hemisphere’s winter, in September.  And because of the El Niño warming of the ocean this year, those rains have stretched into October, something I have never seen before. It’s supposed to be sunny and warm now.  Tomorrow it will.

Bundled up in my warm house in Virginia the cold would have been no problem.  But as I explain in my new book on Chile, The Avocado Republic Chile, in Chile, the problem is in winter it’s colder inside than outside, because there is no heat.

No one has central heat here.  Electricity and natural gas are too expensive. Chile could buy lots of that from its neighbors Bolivia, Peru, or Argentina, but they do not get along with any of them, still seething over 100-year old tensions and war.  Chile has no diplomatic relations with Bolivia.  Chilean investors spent billions to build a pipeline from Argentina, but the Argentine government abruptly cut off the gas in 2006 because of the corruption and chaos in that country that makes even the simplest of endeavors all but impossible.

Such is life here in South America. It’s one long telenovela (soap opera).  All of what happens here provides much material for the writer who, in my case, focuses on the irony of that.  It makes for funny reading too.  I’d like to think I write like George Orwell, i.e., his non-fiction, whose stock-in trade was to travel to India, Spain, France, and coal-covered Northern England and flush out through satire what makes those situations absurd.

So, this is what I tried to do with my book, write sort of a memoir and travelogue. But I’m not travelling anymore, as I am here to say.  Please take a look at my book, if travel writing and foreign cultures is what you fancy, and let me know what you think.  

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*Walker Rowe is an American expat writer living in Curacaví, Chile. He publishes Southern Pacific Review

** All images courtesy of Walker Rowe

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A complete delight: “Inside the Crocodile – The Papua New Guinea Journals”

By Nora Vasconcelos

Crocodile.FrontCover.sml

Much more than just a memoir or a travel journal, Inside the Crocodile is a wonderful read. From the very first page, Trish Nicholson catches the readers’ attention, taking them into a delightful journey.

The pages pass fast as curiosity increases. And this is because the author has shared her experiences while living and working in Papua New Guinea – which celerates its 40th Independence Anniversary this September 16th- with genuine openness, talking the same about the good and the bad or difficult days, in this country that became her home for five years, while implementing a development project with World Bank funding.

Trish Nicholson

The differences between her homeland, Scotland, and her new place, an island in the Pacific Ocean, were very big, but Trish arrived there with an open mind and the wish “to understand other ways of life.”

Dressed up in bilas for the Prime Minister’s visit.
Dressed up in bilas for the Prime Minister’s visit.

She was aware that she should have to accept “discomfort and uncertainty,” and she sure did it. As her time in the island passed by, she endured several episodes of sickness and incertitude. But she faced all those challenges with strong determination and the conviction that when the rest of the people believe that “yes usually meant probably not”, for her, it only meant that she just had to find another way.

Vaccinations at a health post
Vaccinations at a health post

Inspirational at all time, the book is also full of humorous anecdotes that occured to her either while trying to make her new office and house work with the things she had at hand or that some colleagues lend her, or while travelling around the country.

The rhythm of the story goes easy, creating vivid images of a country that has more than 800 hundred indigenous languages; a population composed by more than 7 million people, and which has managed to keep its own culture and traditions despite modernity, bureaucracy troubles, foreign influences, and globalization.

Approaching a landing strip at Tefalmin.
Approaching a landing strip at Tefalmin.

For most travellers, this island remains a mystery, or it’s seen as an exotic destination. And this is one of the wonders of The Papua New Guinea Journals, because it describes the country from the eyes of a visitor who took the time to get to know the people who live there, their problems, worries, traditions, hopes and dreams. And it’s also this truly humane side of the story told by Trish, that makes this book a remarkable moving story and that is able to open the readers’ eyes, minds and hearts, so that they can see the island and its inhabitants as a country worth knowing, and not just as another place to visit, or a short stop on their way to their next destination on a tour.

Trish completed more than 600 pages with her experiences while living in the island. From those memories, preserved in paper, she wrote her travelogue in a very dynamic way. Lively exclusive photos, that only can be seen in her book, give the readers a unique opportunity of seing with their eyes what they’ve already pictured in their heads, while reading Inside the Crocodile.

Travellers, antropologists, sociologist, aid and development workers, and of course book lovers will find in this book a refreashing and very pleasant source of inspiration.

* All photos courtesy of Trish Nicholson

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Breathing new life into old characters: a safe bet or a big risk?

By Nora Vasconcelos

512px-Francisco_de_Goya_y_Lucientes_-_Gaspar_Melchor_de_Jovellanos
For 55 years, To Kill a Mockingbird, was considered not only a classic of modern American Literature, but also an inspiration for lawyers and readers who found in Atticus Finch, a role model and an inspiration to act with integrity no matter how hard and challenging the circumstances were.

Today, as the world is reading the “long lost” second part of this novel written by Harper Lee, they’re set to discover different faces of the personality of Atticus Finch, some of them which have already uncovered by the media, during the previous days.

Some readers have shared on social media their surprise on the new turn the beloved character takes in these book, Go set a Watchman, and some others have even asked if it was really necessary for the author to have written a sequel.

It’s said that, when the manuscript was discovered, it had been written even before To Kill a Mockingbird. One more mystery that remains about Lee’s works, as well as the recent news that say that it might be a third book written by the same author.

Either way, the appearance of this new novel has been the cause of many many book chats all around the world, and that has kept me thinking about the big chances that authors and publishers take when they create a new piece of fiction based on a well-known, and often beloved, character.

Not so long ago, the Algerian writer, Kamel Daoud, published his first novel, The Meursault Investigation, in which he shares the point of view of the brother of the “Stranger” who was killed by Meursault, in the famous novel by Albert Camus, The Stranger (also called The Outsider).

The story written by Danoud, is placed in today’s Algeria, and shows it through the eyes of his main character, who was seven years old when the original crime happened.

The novel was awarded the first prize by the French Académie Goncourt, last May, and it has received positive comments by the critics and the readers. In this case, things have gone all well for the author.

A complete different situation is the one that faces Pablo Katchadjian, an Argentine author who is currently dealing with a lawsuit, due to the work he has done with “The Aleph”, a fictional piece written by the also Argentine writer, Jorge Luis Borges.

Katchadjian remixed Borges’ stories, adding his personal writing, to compose what he called “The Fattened Aleph“, which has resulted now in formal charges of intellectual property fraud. According to Katchadjian, it’s work is only a “legitime experiment”.

In some other cases, developing new stories based on famous novels has been more and act of love for the characters and a deep curiosity of the readers, that takes them to complete unfinished stories, such as The Mystery of Edwing Drood, the last manuscript, left incomplete by Charles Dickens; or the many authors who have developed new mysteries, only for the pleasure for them to be solved by the famous Sherlock Holmes.

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The unexpected adventure of traveling through time

By Nora Vasconcelos

timetravel by NVS
From The Time Machine, first published by H.G Wells in 1895, to The End of Eternity, by Isaac Asimov (1955), Time Traveling has been a subject that has fascinated writers for years and years.

In some cases, the main character has some sort of control regarding the places he or she wants to visit, in some others, it’s totally at random.

In The Accidental Time Machine, by Joe Haldeman, as the title says, the adventures of Matt Fuller started after an experiment he was doing at a lab in Boston began to act funny.

One night, while taking a devise home, he discovers that it has “moved” a short distance from the original place he had left it, after he has manipulated this particular box. Working some equations, he thinks that what he has in his hands is some sort of time machine, so he decides to see how it works.

As it’s a small device, he places a small turtle, with all its habitat (food and water), onto the box, and with the help of a camera, he records what is the first time travel for such a little pet.

As time passes by, Matt realizes that the machine travels are exponential, so with some practice and a lot of equations, he’s able to determine up to what moment in time the machine will travel, however, up to this point, it remains unknown for him where the box goes.

As his experiments continue, and his life turns completely around them, Matt discovers that if he joins the machine with a car, using a wire, he’s able to travel through time as well.

This is when the real adventure starts for him. As he’s able to know for how long he’ll be away, he can prepare some supplies, however, he’s never certain where he will end up, so he has to prepare a bit of everything, “just in case”.

Accidents happen every time he uses the machine, and more people are affected, in positive or negative ways, when he arrives to different eras and places. But somehow, he manages to return to his hometown in Boston, many many years later from the time he started traveling.

Then he has to learn all about this new life, in which he ignores many customs and appears as an expert in some other fields. Currencies are different, although people always speaks his language, with some variations, and clothes vary a lot.

With every adventure, he has to learn how to trust people, and how to let them go as well, but problems always remain in the past, as any time things go sour, he just clicks a little button and there he goes, traveling through time again.

At the end, what might have seemed an ideal situation, turns into something unexpected, what allows Matt, finally, to find some stability and happiness, with a life that little resembles that one that he left behind that uneventful night when accidentally he discovered his time machine.

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Writing a historic western with broad appeal

By Nora Vasconcelos

Headshot_Charli_MillsCharli Mills loves riding horses the same as she loves writing stories. As she describes herself, she is “a born buckaroo, wrangling words”, and currently she is building a literary community at Carrot Ranch with weekly Flash Fiction Challenges open to all writers.

“Like most passionate writers, I’ve been writing since I was young. My 7th-grade teacher assigned writing stories (using the week’s spelling words) and I was hooked. It wasn’t until I was almost 30 before I went to college and earned a BA in literary writing.”, Charli remembers.

“Back in the 1990s, if you seriously wanted to write fiction you either had to be connected, brilliant or pursuing an MFA. With three children to raise, I turned to a career in marketing communications which allowed me to develop my freelance writing. Yet, I yearned for fiction. I’m a storyteller at heart. I dabbled with writers groups and contests and started numerous novels that fizzled before completion. When life took an unexpected hard turn, I decided it was time to finish at least one novel.” (Her first novel, “Miracle of Ducks” is currently seeking representation)

Over two decades, Charli’s worked in freelancing, publications, sales, marketing, editing and speaking. Her work has been published in magazines, anthologies, books and online. In 2012 she moved back west to follow stories and sunsets, working on her writing. As part of her motivation to finish her manuscripts, Charli decided to be part of the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

“In 2012 I used NaNoWriMo to complete all the gaps I had in my book in progress. After numerous revisions and professional edits, my 2012 manuscript is ready to seek a publishing home. In 2013 I wondered if I could write a first draft in 30 days from start to finish. I did. That manuscript needs more work, research and revision but it is material I wouldn’t have without NaNoWriMo. This year, I developed an idea from writing flash. I researched all summer and wrote weekly flash fiction to blend the history with my characters and ideas. In October I made my first-ever research trip! NaNoWriMo 2014 was a chance to pull it all together.

Rock Creek Mock-Up

– Once you committed yourself to this challenge, how difficult was it for you to keep going with it?
I’m the sort of person who perseveres. Even when I’m feeling low or lost, I keep pecking at the keys until I find my way. This book industry can be discouraging to emerging authors. That’s another reason why I appreciate NaNoWriMo; it is a challenge that helps me focus on my commitment and not the distractors. Every year, I improve. Every year, I meet other writers that have something to share with me. It keeps me going the rest of the year when I have to work on revision.

– Which was the toughest part of achieving your goal and how did you managed to cope with the difficult times?
This year was particularly difficult because I’ve focused more on fiction than freelancing which is a financial balance that can easily become a struggle. When my husband lost his job, I had a choice: continue, or stop and pick up some clients. I continued on while also putting out feelers for possible gigs. Mentally this was taxing for me and I felt near hopeless at the beginning of the month. I had also committed to encouraging others during this process, and I kept to it even when it was tough. The reward was the encouragement other writers gave in return.

– What is your manuscript about?
Rock Creek” is the story of one of the west’s most disputed historic gunfights. In July of 1861 James Butler Hickok (not yet known as “Wild Bill”) gunned down the notorious McCanles Gang at a Pony Express relay station in Rock Creek, Nebraska Territory. There was no gang, but historians continue to argue why the shooting of three men took place.

My book explores and fictionalizes the women of Rock Creek in order to understand what happened that day. It looks at a surface event through the deeper gaze of these women that history has overlooked. I hope it surprises historians and offers fresh insight. “Rock Creek” is an historic western with broad appeal.

– Your book involves some traveling experiences, can you give me more details about them?
Rock Creek Station is now an historic state park. The fact that Wild Bill Hickok lived there and shot three men has spared the station from demise. Following an historic photograph from 1860 and an archaeological dig in the 1980s, the park has rebuilt both the west and east stations.

I really wanted to see the physical recreation and understand the positions each of my characters had taken in real life. I wanted to see the place as they saw it and absorb the feeling of the story by standing in the existing wagon ruts. I found a rental suite in Fairbury, which is the nearest town since I was taking family along with me on this journey.

My daughter and I both flew into Kansas City. She is a radio journalist and brought along her recording equipment to tell the story of discovery. We talked with locals, visited the library and found David McCanles’s grave. I cried when I discovered his wife was buried next to him. She is one of my characters and I feel her pain. Not only did she lose her husband and raise their five children as a widow on the frontier, but she lost her connections to family back home in North Carolina because of the Civil War. It’s a deeper story when you listen to the women.

The trip allowed me to experience the lonely expanse of the prairie first-hand, and enjoy a bottle of Nebraska wine!

– Now that the NaNoWriMo challenge has ended for this year, what’s next for you and for your manuscript?

I’m finishing up the first draft that will be 75,000 words or more. Then I’ll re-plot the scenes to make sure I have a solid three-act structure. Next I’ll list new research questions for historians, museum experts and a select few beta-readers who will help refine the historical accuracy. That will result in a better-informed revision.

After that, I’ll pass it off to my editor for an initial assessment. Next I’ll revise for readability and then I’ll send it off to my editor for copy-edits. I have a few specific publishers to explore. Because I’ve learned so much about this event, place, people and time, I’m also planning to promote the book by writing freelance articles for special interest magazines. However, I would love to travel one more time! My story begins in North Carolina and I’d love to complete the research there in person.

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French food, language, and culture… all in one book.

By Nora Vasconcelos

book cover

Traveling around France is usually a dream full of images of lively cities, bakeries getting warm bread out of the oven, a café located in the heart of Paris, and a table served with assorted cheeses and a glass of wine.

But frequently, it’s also a dream of comunicating in French with all people and being able to order in that language all those delicious dishes at a restaurant, as well as being able to go to the supermarket to buy all the necessary products required to prepare a typical meal.

Thanks to The Farm to Table French Phrasebook, by Victoria Mas, this dream can come true for anyone who wants to know better the French cuisine, its country and its culture.

“I wanted to write a book in which readers could not only learn about french cuisine, but apprehend it from a cultural context. Understanding what the french eat is inseparable from how they eat. Learning about food habits is one of the best ways to learn about the food itself. Moreover, I thought it was necessary for readers to be able to master useful phrases and words in french so that they don’t feel lost when traveling abroad or decide to try a french cooking book.”, says Victoria.

Victoria Mas

– How did you decide which French expressions, foods and drinks would be included in this book?

I researched what were the most significant dishes and drinks in France in order to give a broad overview of french cuisine. However, I didn’t want to simply name a general list of food- I wanted readers to really approach the subject from a french point of view, and discover which food are typical on a day-to-day basis. I therefore talk extensively about bread, cheese and wine for instance, because indeed the french consume them almost everyday.

Regarding expressions, I looked for the most helpful phrases one might need either to express themselves or understand what is being said – whether it is at a restaurant, a bakery or the farmer’s market.

– Given that the Holiday season is around the corner, which would you say are the most popular French expressions, dishes and traditions around Christmas time and New Year’s?

Readers will find a whole section in the book dedicated to holidays, notably Christmas and New Year’s Eve. For Christmas Eve, the French enjoy a traditional turkey, along with a unique frozen dessert named la bûche (yule log).

As for New Year’s Eve, oysters by the dozens with a glass of champagne are typically consumed.

And here we can see some of the most common expressions of the holiday season:

French ExpressionsOK

It’s worth mantioning that France has more than 300 types of cheese, and produces some 6,024 million of bottles of wine a year.

French Wine Regions
French Wine Regions

The Farm to Table French Phrasebook, recently published by Ulysses Press, also contains a guide to the French Kitchen and several recipes of some of the most popular dishes originated in France.

So that, when this journey on paper ends, the readers will have enjoyed a culinary insight into “what, how and why the French eat”, and perhaps, as Veronica says in her book, they may have become “a little bit French” themselves.”

Bon appétit!

*Images courtesy of Ulysses Press

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Enjoying the process of writing

By Nora Vasconcelos

Ian

“I think Artificial needed the time it has taken me to write it, to understand where the characters were going, and what journey the book would take me on.”

One of the most amazing things about internet is the way it connects us to the rest of the world, giving us the chance, not only to learn most of what happens everywhere immediately, but also, to achieve goals that for some time they might have seem difficult to reach.

That is the case of the international online challenge that every November thousands of writers around the world take. Thanks to the initiative National Novel Writing Month, better known as NaNoWriMo, many manuscripts are completed in one month, from which, published and unpublished books give a sense of completion and success to those who dedicate their days and nights in order for them to make their dreams come true.

Last November, I met Ian Robinson, a writer from Hertfordshire, England, who lives with his wife and family, as well as with a multitude of pets. At that time he had just started with the NaNoWriMo challenge and I found very interesting how this project became the incentive he needed to complete an old manuscript.

Ian spent most of his early years living abroad, and worked in the public sector for 27 years until retiring this year, then he launched his own business, Bladeshunner Ltd.

A little more than one month has passed since the beginning of our conversations about his writing aims, and now, that he’s achieve his goal, he’s been very nice and has shared with me some of his experiences while working on his manuscript:

How was it that you decided to be part of the NaNoWriMo challenge?

I used it as an opportunity to complete my first novel rather than starting a new one. My novel, Artificial, had been with me for over thirteen years and I was half way through, so I decided it was time to finish what I had set out to complete. I had also had the privilege of meeting other writers and authors who have provided advice and encouragement.

Once you committed yourself to this challenge, how difficult was it to go on with it?

I think writing is as tough as we wish to make it. Personally, I try and enjoy the process, and if that means a book takes years to complete, then so be it.

I don’t believe in forcing myself to write a certain number of words each day. The discipline of writing each day I found to be the most beneficial thing. It makes you routined and gifts you the space to do what you enjoy. I reached the 50,000 word limit simply because I wrote more on some days than others.

I think Artificial needed the time it has taken me to write it, to understand where the characters were going, and what journey the book would take me on. After all, there are plenty of things in life we have to do that we would rather not, so why make writing one of them!

Which was the toughest part of achieving your goal, and how did you manage to cope with the difficult times?

The toughest part was giving myself the time to write, giving myself permission to write, that was the biggest challenge. My writing times were when the kids were all in bed, then I wrote. Having my family’s support during the process was a major help.

What is your manuscript about?
Artificial is about following one man through a year of his life. The main character is a man called Arthur Wint, an unassuming type of guy who is in his late thirties, living at home with his mother.

The book is set in the mid-eighties, just before the Miners strike in the UK, and is set within the county of Nottingham. Arthur is a gardener by trade and he works for an eccentric retired Psychiatrist. From his interactions with her and others, we see how his life evolves. The book is a mixture of humour, life, music and crime!

What was your inspiration for this novel?

In the beginning it was to present my wife with a book I had written, as she collects first editions, particularly the first thousand Penguin books. This still is my purpose, but in addition I also wanted to write a book that a reader would find entertaining and thought provoking. I intend when published to donate 10% of year-end sales to the Muscular Dystrophy Charity.

In my spare time, when not with the family, I enjoy music, play drums, I’m an ambassador for the Muscular Dystrophy campaign, and play wheelchair basketball with The London Titans.

Now that you’ve completed your manuscript, what’s next?

I have three other novels I outlined when I first started Artificial. I kept the notes and will look at one of these to resurrect it and continue with it whilst editing this one, and looking for a publisher. But as in life, where next?.. is always an open and unknown area.

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