Posts Tagged ‘Contributing/Guest Blogs’

Karen McCann on Armchair Adventures: Guest Post

April 24th, 2015 • by Karen A. Chase • No Comments

Today on Compositions, we hear from Karen McCann, an American expat living in Seville and exploring Europe. Following a 6000-mile, 13-country train journey, she has just published Adventures of a Railway Nomad: How Our Journeys Guide Us Home. But as she reminds us, sometimes the best travel experiences involve a good armchair and a great read.

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The Civilized Joys of Armchair Adventures

A great travel memoir gives us the exhilarating pleasure of exploring far-flung places in the company of a congenial and insightful companion — without having to put up with long plane rides, inclement weather, lost luggage, and worrisome food. Having visited places where it’s advisable to shake out your shoes to dislodge scorpions and stay on perpetual lookout for leopards and electric eels, I deeply appreciate the civilized thrills of armchair adventures.

Books involve us in journeys we would never undertake ourselves. In Free Country we join George Mahood as he sets off on a 1000-mile journey penniless, without luggage, and nearly naked. He proves — via many uproarious detours — that you really can rely on the kindness of strangers.

As a young girl educated by a French order of nuns, I dreamed of living in Paris someday. Two delightful memoirs — Karen A. Chase’s Bonjour 40 and Sarah Turnbull’s Almost French — provide realistic yet enticing views of today’s City of Lights.

Perhaps the best kind of travel memoir is one that enables us to see familiar surroundings with fresh eyes. Alain de Botton, who claims he actually enjoys airports, spent seven days at Heathrow writing about his impressions on a screen visible to passersby. A Week at the Airport is so fresh and insightful that I’ve actually had to rethink my aversion to air terminals.

“The real voyage of discovery,” wrote Marcel Proust, “consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” And that’s something every good travel memoir offers us.

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You can follow Karen McCann on her blog or on the Enjoy Living Abroad Facebook page, too. Her book, Adventures of a Railway Nomad: How Our Journeys Guide Us Home is out now.



Guest Blog: Susan Winkler

March 6th, 2015 • by Karen A. Chase • No Comments

Today on Compositions, I welcome author and Paris-lover, Susan Winkler. Her new book, Portrait of a Woman in White, is set in WWII Paris. She joins us today to chat about how her love of Paris began with the movie Gigi.

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I fell in love with Paris when I was very young and saw the movie Gigi, at an outdoor drive-in with my parents and grandparents, in my hometown of Portland, Oregon. Portland, with our 3 black and white TV channels was all I knew, so Gigi’s Paris and the belle époque offered another window onto life that yearned to explore.

I was 18 when I first traveled to Paris, to spend a summer, and stayed for the next year and beyond studying literature, art, linguistics, and of course, life. Outside my small academic program, many of my friends were journalists and filmmakers who flocked to Paris from around the world. I wrote for an American newsletter and had a press pass to the Venice and Cannes film festivals. When I came back and began grad school in French literature at Stanford, I missed Paris terribly.

There is something about the abroad experience when you are young, and not traveling with mom and dad, that can feed the imagination forever. I was predisposed to love the city, it’s attention to visual detail, and its incomparable beauty. Plus, I love speaking the language and becoming someone else when I am there.

I was very fortunate, over 20 years ago, to be asked by a publisher to write a guidebook to Paris (The Paris Shopping Companion), allowing me to endlessly explore my favorite city. But no matter how many trips I make, I never get to the bottom of my must-do list. So much to see, eat, do!

In my new novel, PORTRAIT OF A WOMAN IN WHITE, I explore WWII France, lovers, and a Matisse painting looted by Nazis.


Guest Post: Susann Cokal

September 12th, 2014 • by Karen A. Chase • No Comments

Another author joins me today as part of a week-long shout-out about the James River Writers Conference this coming October 17-19th in Richmond. Susann Cokal is also a member of our JRW organization. Her newest book, The Kingdom of Little Wounds, is set in the Scandinavian Renaissance. She’ll be a speaker at our conference and happily answered a couple questions about her writing process.

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Do stories find you, or do you go in search of them?
I’m always in search of a story—or at least I let the gods of story know that I’m open. I think ideas find me because they know I’ll give them a loving home. Sometimes an agonized one, of course; writing is a series of ups and downs as I often doubt I’ll be able to match the ideal that first glimmered in my mind.

The idea for my latest novel, The Kingdom of Little Wounds, came to me about eighteen years ago. A sentence sprang up: “The children in the royal nursery were sick.” That was the tip of a big concept—the kingdom might easily dissolve into chaos if the king dies with no healthy heir. I’d already read for pleasure about Renaissance kings and queens and commoners; of course, I needed to do more specific research in order to write about Renaissance courts, seamstresses, slavery, food, fashion, astronomy, medicine, and so on.

I try to have a nice chat with each of my favorite ideas every day. I wrote two other novels before beginning The Kingdom. I didn’t know the third novel would take as many years as my first, but there’s no predicting the course of art. Especially when a lot of writing energy has to go to my job; I teach at VCU, so I’m commenting on fiction-in-progress every day. Time and confidence, the confidence that I can bring a project to the end—those precious entities come in spurts.

What has attending the JRW conference done for you?
At the JRW conference, the air crackles with energy. The conversations and panels breed a lot of ideas and hope. This year, like every year, I look forward to sharing encouragement and enthusiasm.

You can read a review of Susann’s book from the New York Times Book Review. Or visit her website for all things bookish.