Author Access: Karen McCann Talks About Crossing the Cultural Divide and the Joys of Living Abroad in “Dancing in the Fountain”
A native Californian and award-winning author, editor and journalist, Karen McCann has traveled to over thirty countries. When she and her husband Rich moved from Cleveland, Ohio to Seville, Spain to sample life on a different track it was supposed to be for only one year. The cultural romance and lifestyle of the city, however, worked its magic and Seville has been their home since 2004. Dancing in the Fountain is McCann’s very entertaining, whimsical and heartfelt look at the expat life living abroad.
KJ: What would you like readers to learn from Dancing in the Fountain?
Karen McCann: That it’s OK to follow your dreams, try new things and have adventures. I have friends who have retired to gated communities in Florida and like to brag about having lives of untrammeled leisure; some call it having “six Saturdays and a Sunday every week.” Frankly, I’d rather spend my golden years staked out over an anthill. Others are hunkering down in place, preparing to soldier on a few more years then just sit around waiting to crumble. What fun is that? I’m hoping my book will inspire readers to consider wider possibilities.
That doesn’t mean people have to move to another country. It’s not about where you live but how you live. It’s about eating when you’re hungry, taking a siesta when you’re tired, and enjoying your wine without guilt or the nagging worry that Merlot really is totally uncool. It’s about building a life that’s authentically your own, at any age, in any country.
KJ: What were some of the challenges and rewards of writing the book?
KM: For years, ideas had been rattling around in my brain for a book based on my experiences moving from the American Midwest to Seville, Spain. But with so many expat memoirs loose in the world, including some very good ones, I couldn’t envision a way to make my book truly original. Then one day I had one of those moments of blinding clarity in which I saw exactly how to organize the material and write this book in a fresh, funny and personal way.
After that first, thrilling, headlong rush, I spent a year doing rewrites. I got a lot of good advice from early readers and editors, and had to accept some hard truths. One was about the necessity of pruning favorite anecdotes that diverted the reader’s attention too far from the main themes and narrative of the book. Some of my most sparkling stories wound up on the cutting room floor. I have promised them a book of their own someday.
KJ: Tell me what it means to “mentally unpack your bags.”
KM: It’s about looking forward instead of backward. At first, arriving in a new place, we’re all inclined to make constant comparisons to the way things are done back home. “Why would I sleep in the middle of the day?” newbies often say. “It’s the best time to get stuff done!” Not when all the shops and businesses are closed for siesta, of course, but they soon discover that for themselves. Then they learn the value of an afternoon nap in a culture where everyone dines at nine or ten and stays up late into the night. That’s what mentally unpacking your bags is all about: settling in to your new home, letting go of old customs and accepting strange ways as the new normal.
KJ: Any advice for aspiring writers?
KM: Get actively involved in social media at least six months before your book comes out. Whether you’re planning on self-publishing or going the traditional route – and I’ve done both – you’ll find it pays to spread the word online, and that takes time and a personal touch. Yes, I mean dusting off that half-forgotten Facebook page, starting a Twitter account, creating a website and developing a blog. Writers are uniquely suited to social media. We’re used to long hours at the keyboard engaging in verbal gymnastics. For most of us, a few modestly priced online tutorials are enough to provide the technical know-how to launch a social media campaign.
Here’s the most valuable tip I learned: Facebook (and all social media) is meant to be fun – for you as well as for your readers. If it isn’t fun, you’re not doing it right. People go on Facebook to be entertained and, to a lesser extent, informed. Much like writing a book, managing a social media site is all about creating engaging content and forming relationships with people you’ve never met. I now have a host of online friends who make me laugh, cheer me on, offer feedback, invite me to write guest blogs, buy my books and write reviews on Amazon.
For more information visit www.enjoylivingabroad.com Dancing in the Fountain: How to Enjoy Living Abroad.