Today I bring you an interview with Ann von Lossberg, author of a travel memoir, 1089 Nights: An Odyssey Through The Middle East, Africa and Asia. This is the second in a series of interviews that will cross genres, and include fiction, poetry, nonfiction, journalism and web-based writers. Some will be published writers, unpublished writers, self-published writers, e-book writers, editors, publishers, writing teachers, which is to say anyone who might have something interesting to share about the writing world.
|Ann von Lossberg|
Background Notes: –>
Ann von Lossberg, author of 1089 Nights: An Odyssey Through The Middle East, Africa, and Asia, studied Writing in university and took Writing Seminars at Hopkins at night. She says, “I’ve worked in the nonprofit sector all my life; I wrote funding proposals and published in various professional periodicals. But I love creative writing most and didn’t seem to find my voice for years. I’ve traveled extensively since my thirties and always kept journals I planned to use in some way. The stories of those travels began to evolve in a writing class in the late 90s. I was surprised at how much people embraced them and realized it was time to act. I love the short story form and am presently working on one I want to publish.” Contact information: email: firstname.lastname@example.org website: www.1089nights.com
Jan: The stories you speak of resulted in a book about your travels in the Middle East, Africa and Asia that you self-published through i-Universe in 2008. Can you tell us a little about the process and your decision to self-publish? What convinced you that this was the way to go with this book?
Ann: People said – to find an agent, pitch your book at a Writer’s Digest conference; I thought right, what are the chances! Incredibly, I did find my NY agent there, who was very passionate about my book. It’s important to find people who share your vision and feel strongly about what you’re doing. He forewarned me that the travel genre is a hard sell. For a year, he marketed my book with larger publishing houses; I spent another year on smaller ones. Publishers consistently sent positive personal notes, not boilerplate replies, which my agent said wasn’t usual. This buoyed me, to think that people in the industry liked my book. BUT, they said, 1089 Nights was “too small for their offerings”-“-not commercial enough.” This was also when the industry was changing quickly. I was ready to self publish. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have committed two full years to the process before self-publishing.
Jan: It’s an attractive book. Tell us about the cover design and the interesting pictures you’ve included in it. How much input did you have in the final product? Were you pleased with the results? What worked? What didn’t work as well as you had hoped?
Ann: iUniverse does good cover work. I knew I wanted a picture I’d taken in Morocco of myself riding a camel, a shadow cast across the Sahara, very Dali-esque. No problem, they used my photo and suggested different fonts for the title. They produced some great options. The interior photos were ones I’d accumulated over the years; they weren’t that expensive to include in the book. The only regret with the cover was the colors came out more intensely than the mockup sent to me. If I’d had more time (which I did not), I’d ask to have a cover mockup sent before I committed to it. Throughout the process, iUniverse gives you the impression that you can’t negotiate various things as you go, but you can.
Jan: You organized your materials around clusters of travel experiences over a number of years. Section One describes your travels in The Middle East, when you explored Turkey, Syria, and Jordan in a 1980 trip you made. In light of the world’s political changes over the last 30 years, and the current political climate, what differences do you think you would see if you made that same trip today? Do you think you could make a trip like this today?
Ann: Definitely. My book is very much about trying to show people, especially Americans, that the world is a wondrous welcoming place. I think we’ve become very frightened people in this country. Our personal experience of a place is altogether different than the (often negative) information we get in the media every day. I have no doubt that you could go to the Middle East today and have the kind of heartening experiences I’ve had for years. I went to Morocco alone a few years ago. Friends were aghast, but I had a wonderful time. Just as when I was younger, people welcomed me in their homes, fed me, kept me for the night and begged me to stay longer.
Jan: Have you been in touch with any of the people that you met in your travels since you’ve returned to the USA? And if yes, what has that contact meant to you, as you look back on the past versus the present?
Ann: I’ve lost touch with most people; I’m still in touch with about six which means a lot to me. I have various friends in Cambodia. I hold a great deal of affection for the scores of passing relationships I enjoyed these many years. I knew it was futile to expect to maintain the very transitory ones. My Turkey story (Desert Fever) says it best. “We ask him to write his address. I realize Jim and I will never see him again. This measure of time, a truck ride that bumped along a road for two days… some good meals and a close call are what bound us. Now that they are finished, nothing else will quite work. I resist that truth but it is nonetheless immutable.”
Jan: You’ve traveled to more than sixty-five countries since 1976 when you began your love affair with travel and exploring developing countries. What caused you to want to explore the world and write about it?
Ann: I wrote about this in the prologue. I wondered if perhaps some of us have an itchy feet gene. I had a very ordinary middle class upbringing and honestly can’t point to anyone in my family or experience who sparked this love of travel in me. It’s a complete mystery. I’m just grateful I have it; it’s so important to travel. Nothing on earth floats my boat like new places. Even still. I am eternally grateful to Jim, my fellow traveler, who definitely got it all started for me. Our backstory and how it all came about is in the prologue.
Jan: You created a nonprofit foundation, The Cambodian Children’s Education Foundation, that combined your travel experiences with your desire to help children in Cambodia and you donate half of the proceeds from your book to support the education of young people in Kompong Som, Cambodia. Tell us about this passion of yours.
Ann: The story of the first child I put in school is in the book. His name was Ra; he was 13 then. I was once the director of a family foundation in Baltimore and my dream was always to form a foundation too. I knew from working in the field that the vast majority of foundations are actually small. After I put Ra in school, I decided to start a foundation to support kids in Cambodia. In the developing world, education is a privilege, not a right; the kids are so appreciative of help. We provide Khmer and English tuition for 42 students, built a computer lab and moved the school to a new school building. I hope to return to Cambodia the end of this year to teach English to the kids we support.
Jan: You often found yourself the lone woman traveler among men and you provide readers with a unique perspective of what that was like. Tell us a bit about that.
Ann: In the 80’s, there were very few woman travelers; there were also few Americans, especially in Africa. (When I say travelers I mean the budget travelers traversing the earth for many months at a clip; our first trip was two and a half years). I recall only a handful of woman travelers through all our travels. The me vs. the guys perspective is best covered in the story from Kenya, when I was one woman among six men on a (budget) safari. And then the safari guide was very macho. I loved telling this story, which is very humorous to me today, although it certainly wasn’t then.
Jan: The book is sixteen stories spread out over twenty-five years. What does the mature and sympathetic Ann see in looking back, that the young and idealistic Ann did not see in the early travels?
Ann: For years, I regretted not writing this book sooner. But I now realize that my maturity of years lent to the stories. For example, in the Turkey story, I put a sympathetic view on what was happening to me and other Western women visitors. Knowledge of certain facts came with time and it took years for my perspective to season. This seasoning comes through in various stories. I couldn’t have given them the same spin if I’d written them when I was younger.
Jan: What wisdom would you share with anyone traveling off the beaten path? What should they consider? What emergencies and hardships should they anticipate?
Ann: Always wander off the beaten path. Never turn down an invitation from a local; even if they’re selling something, the exchange may be worth it. This is from the book’s prologue. “We trusted that a ride or food or help would come when we needed them, that we’d somehow always manage. And we did; we always did. Africa taught us to leap and the net always appeared.” My travels span over thirty years now and it’s always been like this. Things always work out. People say oh you were lucky. No, it’s not about luck; it’s about attitude and the incredible kindness of strangers everywhere.
Jan: How do you think the self-publishing process has changed since you published your book and what do you know now about self-publishing that you would tell others about the process?
Ann: The old model was cumbersome and expensive, not to mention wasteful. More than 78% of all books were self-published in 2009; surely that figure is higher today. Self-published books have glutted the market and aren’t necessarily of the highest quality. In response, some book reviewers won’t consider reviewing self-published books. And booksellers like Barnes & Noble won’t allow self-published book on their shelves. Of course, this isn’t fair. E-books are very hot now, easier still to produce, and many people are doing well in this arena. The size of the audience turns the math on its head. Imagine selling your book for $1- or $2 but, the fact is, you can conceivably make much more money selling thousands of e-books at this price than selling a printed book for $15.95. But I must say, I hope publishers and booksellers can hang in through the storm. For me, nothing can replace the weight and feel of the printed page.
Jan: What advice do you have for writers? What would you like to share with others who want to write?
Ann: There can be no doubt that my book venture has been one of the most satisfying things I’ve done. Bundling up all those thoughts and rewrites and edits with your name on it, that is a wonderful endeavor.
But most importantly I would say, “Write for the love of it, or for what you want to say; it’s not for the money. If you strike gold, that’s excellent. Good work. And although few books actually strike gold, the process can be golden if you enjoy meeting new people and sharing your story with them.” Ann von Lossberg – March 2012
Note to Readers: If you know someone I should interview (online/via email), please have them contact me. email: email@example.com website: www.janbowmanwriter.com
Jan Bowman’s work has appeared in Roanoke Review, Big Muddy, Broadkill Review, Trajectory, Third Wednesday, Minimus, Buffalo Spree (97), Folio, The Potomac Review, Musings, Potato Eyes, and others. She won the 2012 Roanoke Review Prize for Fiction. Her stories have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Best American Short Stories and a story was a finalist in the “So To Speak” Fiction Contest. She is working on two collections of short stories and currently shopping for a publisher for a completed story collection. She has nonfiction work pending publication in Spring 2013 Issues of Trajectory and Pen-in-Hand. She writes a weekly blog of “Reflections” on the writing life and posts regular interviews with writers and publishers. Learn more at:
Website – www.janbowmanwriter.com
Blogsite – http://janbowmanwriter.blogspot.com
The valuable work with children in Cambodia is wonderful. This is a very informative and interesting piece. I’m glad I read it!
I’m glad you did too. Now pass it on to anyone else who might want to explore what travel memoirs can do to help us all think about the world and what is needed. Bravo! Thank you for your thoughts.
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