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One year of Stronger than Death: Love and Service During a Deadly and Contagious Pandemic

Covid has made me think about tuberculosis many times (I also wrote about the way it connected with my cancer treatment here). Contagious, deadly, different people’s bodies have different responses, the feeling of being made a pariah or a leper, fear, societal changes, new vocabulary, life-long repercussions even when cured, global, no great treatment (yet), no vaccine (yet), racial dynamics, economics…

The overlaps could go on and on. And there are also the medical workers saving lives, risking their own lives, choosing to care for the vulnerable, and doing this in the middle of, in some places, broader violence and danger.

Like Annalena Tonelli did with tuberculosis in the Horn of Africa.

If you want to read about how a woman and a community faced their own “pandemic”, read this book. Read about how she consistently chose love and service over fear and rejection. Read about how she kept on choosing joy and life, even during war and terrible loss.

One reader asked if I hold Annalena as an idol. I don’t think I go to that extreme but I do admire, respect, and feel challenged by her. I know her weaknesses and the ways she frustrated some of the people around her. I know she wasn’t perfect and I don’t even come close to emulating her my own life. But I do find an example in her, an inspiration, ideas for how to live a little bit better, how to love a little bit more.

Every day this week, the 1-year birthday for Stronger than Death and the 17-year anniversary of Annalena’s murder, I will share experiences that I’ve had over the past year in talking about the book.

I’ll tell you about some mistakes and Lord knows I hate mistakes. About the value of reviews and how that little yellow “this book has issues” button that used to be on the Amazon page made me so mad. I’ll tell you about some of my favorite experiences while on book tour, share some reviews, share some reader concerns/issues, and give an update of the impact of the book. Be sure to check back in each day this week for these little tidbits.

And if you haven’t read the book yet, check it out! Also leave a review! Look at how excited I am, I’m using exclamation points!

*affiliate links

Announcing The Expat Cookbook!

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(Anyone who pre-orders the Kindle book and sends me a copy of your receipt will receive a free e-copy of Djiboutilicious. If you order the paperback and send your receipt, I will send you a free e-copy of your choice: either Djiboutilicious or The Expat Cookbook.)

Right now feels like a really weird time to talk about launching a cookbook that is geared toward those of us with international lifestyles. Who is traveling? Well, me, for one. We got home to Djibouti last week (after a 30-hour flight wearing masks and plastic face shields curtesy of Qatar Airlines and a 3-hour wait at the Djibouti airport for spit tests – negative).

The Expat Cookbook could come off as tone deaf. I understand that. I made it a long time ago, before Covid changed our lives. I could have sent it out into the world back in April but the world had broken and I just couldn’t do it. So I shelved it.

I decided to release it in October because maybe you know someone who will travel abroad or move abroad in the new year. Maybe you will be heading back to your host country and want some fresh ideas. Maybe you, like me, just have a lot of hope. I’m releasing this book in hope.

Hope that the planet finds healing. Hope that these recipes are delicious. Hope that this book will help you feel good about what you feed your family. Hope that what is in here will take a little pressure off decision-making and all the work of expat living. Those are small hopes compared to the first one. But we must keep going, making things, living our lives.

Recipes include things like overnight oats like 15 ways and about a million, okay more like a dozen, ways to spruce up pancakes or waffles. So many smoothies. So many ways to make popcorn more interesting. So many ideas for what you can bring on an airplane and how to pack it. Ideas for what to bring camping or hiking, what to eat at the office if you don’t have a fridge, what kind of food can you put in a box and mail to someone you love on the other side of the planet because we all know that food=love.

Anyone who pre-orders the Kindle book and sends me a copy of your receipt will receive a free e-copy of Djiboutilicious. If you order the paperback and send your receipt, I will send you a free e-copy of your choice: either Djiboutilicious or The Expat Cookbook.

Also, I’ve put the book on Payhip as well, this is a digital version only. The difference between Payhip and Amazon ordering is that I receive a much larger percentage of the price (rather than so much of it going to Amazon). If you order from Payhip, the same deal applies as above. Just let me know and I’ll send you Djiboutilicious.

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Making Art or Documenting Facts?

This topic has always felt interesting to me, especially when comparing movies and TV shows to books. There seems to be a much higher standard or sticking to facts with books. A movie or even a show like The Tiger King can say, “based on actual events” and then veer wildly off course. But a book? Not so much.


William Zinsser says, in Writing About Your Life, “To write a memoir you must manufacture a text. You must construct a narrative so readers will want to keep reading. You must, in short, practice a craft. You can never forget the story-teller’s ancient rules of maintaining tension and momentum…give yourself a plot.”

Lee Gutkind, editor of Creative Nonfiction, in You Can’t Make This Stuff Up, is adamant that writers of nonfiction cannot make things up. He  questions time compression and composite characters. He says, “Making stuff up, no matter how minor or unimportant, or not being diligent in certifying the accuracy of the available information, endangers the bond between writer and reader.”

Ann Patchett says that Lucy Grealy said, in Truth and Beauty, “’I didn’t remember it,’ Lucy said pointedly. ‘I wrote it. I’m a writer.’ This shocked her audience more than her dismissal of illness, but she made her point: she was making art, not documenting an event.”

Philip Lopate says, in To Show and To Tell, “In giving it shape, a NF writer may be obliged to leave out some facts, combine incidents or even rearrange chronologies. Fine. I do not think we need aply the strictest journalistic standards of factual accuracty to all literary NF.”

Joan Didion says, in On Keeping a Notebook, “I always had trouble distinguishing between what happened and what merely might have happened, but I remain unconvinced that the distinction, for my purposes, matters.”

fact or fiction, blurring

Roy Peter Clark in The Line Between Fact and Fiction in Creation Nonfiction says, “The nonfiction writer is communicating with the reader about real people in real places. So if those people talk, you say what those people said. You don’t say what the writer decides they said. You don’t make up dialogue. You don’t make a composite character.” And he finishes the piece with this: “So don’t add and don’t deceive. If you try something unconventional, let the public in on it. Gain on the truth. Be creative. Do your duty. Have some fun. Be humble. Spend your life thinking and talking about how to do all these well.” (italics mine because, well, amen to that about pretty much everything I do)

And then there is the ever-controversial John D’Agata who says changing a fact is justifiable if you do it in the name of art, Lifespan of a Fact. If three trees sounds better than eight trees, write three. Even if there were eight.

When it comes to writing nonfiction, should writers be held to the same factual standards as news reporters? Is it ever okay to compress time? To create composite characters? To change names and details? How much does art come into play when writing nonfiction?

If that is too many questions to answer, how about just one: Can a nonfiction writer change anything when writing an essay? and if even that is too much to think about, go read the books here. They are all excellent.

Djibouti Jones in 2019

2019 was an awesome year and a hard year. I published my first traditionally published book! I got to go an incredible book tour! I signed a second book contract!

I also had cancer treatment and the cancer still came back. Are there upside down exclamation marks? I’d use one there. Here’s my cancer manifesto, which also, amazingly got published as a bookmark by my awesome sister who is a doctor.

Here is the book, the essays, and the podcast interviews I got to work on this year.


The Book

Stronger than Death: How Annalena Tonelli Defied Terror and Tuberculosis in the Horn of Africa.

Find it at Barnes and Noble, IndieBound, and Amazon

More info from Plough Publishing

From Booklist: “Why would anyone leave everything they ever knew behind to travel to a remote Muslim village in northern Kenya, to live among desert nomads dying of tuberculosis? Annalena Tonelli, a self-described ‘nobody,’ was a humanitarian from Italy, and a revolutionary in her own humble way.”

“A searing account of a person, place, deadly disease, unspeakable violence, and, ultimately, faith, love, and sacrifice.”

 

Articles

Making Order Out of Chaos, for the New York Times

Running While Foreign and Female, Christian Science Monitor

Split Me Open, to be included in The Other Journal’s print version

A Muslim, a Christian, and a Baby Named God, chosen for inclusion in the Norton Reader Anthology (I’m listed in the authors right next to Thomas Jefferson, so that’s cool)

Are Missionary Kids Missionaries?, Christianity Today Special Edition

Learning to Love Modern Day Lepers, Christianity Today

What Happened When I Lost My Literary Agent. Twice. Jane Friedman

How (and why) to Tell the Stories of “Quiet” Influencers, Ethical Storytelling

The Most Unlikely Marathoners in the World (Somaliland Marathon), Deadspin

Witnesses of the Kingdom, Plough

A Love Stronger than Fear, Plough

The Wells of Wajir, for EthnoTraveler

12 essays for A Life Overseas

 

Podcasts

 

Another Mother Runner: Running in Djibouti

Between the Desert and the Sea, at Books and Travel with Joanna Penn

Fierce and Lovely, with Beth Bruno

On Outsiders and Idols, at Mom Struggling Well

Taking Route, on living longterm abroad

Taking the Middle Seat

Giving Up Normal, with Jen Howat: Living at the Crossroads of Faith and Culture

Part 1

Part 2

Forties Stories with Christy Maguire: Getting Kids to College and a Diagnosis

The Family Culture Project, about keeping in touch long distance

Expat Focus, about raising Third Culture Kids and creating an intentional family culture

 

Here’s to a healthy and productive 2020.

By |December 16th, 2019|Categories: Writing|0 Comments

Books Are Not Babies and Will You Have a Party for Me?

I cringe at the comparison of books to babies.

I am not pushing a book out. No one is cutting a book out. Ebook, paperback, hardcover, donn’t matter. Not coming out my body.

I do not expect my books to call me even after they have existed for 18 years or more.

If I put a book on the roof of the car and forget it there and drive away, I won’t really care.

I don’t need to buy my books a passport or hold their hair back while they barf when they have the flu.

Unless I get a world record size paper cut, I do not expect my books to leave scars on my skin.

Still.

Let me tell ya something.

When I realized I would not be anywhere near my book on the day it officially publishes, I had a one second flash, one second, of the moments after I gave birth to twins. I had the not-awesome experience of birthing one child vaginally (with no pain medication) and one child via c-section (with all the pain medication) because of an emergency.

I glanced at the first baby as I was getting a spinal tap and then she was gone. I glanced at the second baby while I was getting sewn up and then he was gone. And then my husband was gone. I had just pushed out a baby and the docs chopped out a baby, doubling the size of my family in the span of 42 minutes and I was all by myself. I didn’t even know where they were. (Later I found out, one was in the NICU with my husband and one was in a crib in the nursery).

So, as annoying and utterly insufficient as the books to babies comparison is, I confess I thought of it as my book’s publication date looms.

There are loads of copies of the book out in the world. People are reading it. People will be reading it as of October 1.

And I HAVE NOT EVEN SEEN IT.

I haven’t touched it.

I haven’t cracked that lovely hardcover spine.

I haven’t held it up and danced around the room.

I haven’t taken any photographs with it.

I haven’t cut into a box of books and laugh-cried while my family rolled their eyes.

And yet you, if you’ve ordered it, will have it in your hands! I’m so jealous.

You know how people say publishing a book doesn’t change your life? Well for me, it literally will not change my life. I will go for a run, go into the office at school, hang out with my husband, miss my kids, and wonder what you’re thinking as you crack open that spine and start to read.

I have a favor to ask.

I will have a launch party (and it will be super fun and in Minnesota and please come if you live nearby, I’ll send all the details later and I’ll have another in Djibouti and if you live nearby please come) and I will get my hands on a book. Eventually. But not yet.

 

Will you launch for me?

Will you party for me?

Will you take a photo with the book for me? And post it in all the places so we can celebrate together?

Will you put a review up on Amazon or Goodreads for me?

I need you guys to celebrate pub day for me.

That would be super duper amazing.

If you’re the hashtagging type, use #strongerthandeath

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