Today I am privileged to host a Q&A with Lisa McKay, author, blogger, and a mother living overseas in Laos. I recently read, loved, and reviewed Lisa McKay's new book Love at the Speed of Email. It was especially as someone with a cross-cultural childhood, and since I know many of my readers either grew up overseas or work overseas now, I know you will relate. This is from the book cover:
Lisa looks as if she has it made. She has turned her nomadic childhood and forensic psychology training into a successful career as a stress management trainer for humanitarian aid workers. She lives in Los Angeles, travels the world, and her first novel has just been published to some acclaim. But as she turns 31, Lisa realizes that she is still single, constantly on airplanes, and increasingly wondering where home is and what it really means to commit to a person, place, or career. When an intriguing stranger living on the other side of the world emails her out of the blue, she must decide whether she will risk trying to answer those questions. Her decision will change her life.
Kacie: You have mentioned the uncomfortable position of writing about faith but not fitting into the standard Christian publisher mold. How do you write honestly about faith in such a super-sensitive culture?
Lisa: This is such a tough question for writers because how you write about faith can make or break whether you get offered a publishing contract. You can have written an amazing book but have said things aren’t as orthodox as some Christian publishing houses prefer, and they will (understandably) decide that your book won’t suit their primary audience. The reverse is also true, secular publishing companies may reject your book largely because you talk too much (or at all) of God.
The way I deal with this issue at this point is to primarily write for myself – to write the story I want to/need to write, and tell myself that even if it never gets published then that will be OK.
For writers interested in more on this topic you can read one of my guest-posts on Novel Rocket called, Writing In Between: Too much of God or not enough?
Your first book was a novel, why did you choose to write a memoir this time around?
I didn’t intend for this second book to be a memoir. In fact, I was working on a novel on human trafficking when my husband, Mike, and I became engaged. But as we began to plan our wedding I found it increasingly difficult to flip in and out of such vastly different worlds – the happiness of the one I was living in and the harshness of the one I was trying to write about.
After months of trying to force myself to persevere with the novel, one day I stopped long enough to ask myself what I really wanted to be writing about. The answer to that question wasn’t trafficking. It was exploring the idea of home.
I’d spent my childhood living in countries as diverse as Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. I carried Australian and Canadian passports. I was living in Los Angeles working for a non-profit organization that provided psychological support to humanitarian workers worldwide. I was hopelessly confused as to where home was. Perhaps, I thought, I could write my way towards clarity. That’s when I started working on the memoir.
You spent three months writing letters to your husband before you ever talked or met. How do you think that influenced the way that your relationship developed?
Writing all those letters to each other – a whole books worth – gave us time and space to ask and answer questions. We wrote about anything and everything. About childhood and work and what we’re passionate about and the little details of how our days had been and what we were reading …
This helped pace us – it allowed us to get to know one another in a measured, thoughtful, way before anything else entered the picture. It meant that when we did meet in Australia for the first time we had a really solid foundation of respect and liking to build upon. I think it’s possible that months of writing letters enabled us to learn more about each other than we would have learned if we’d been dating more traditionally and living in the same city.
In this book you write about “the internal and unwinnable war between the longing for Adventure and Home.” How are adventure and home playing out in your life currently?
I told Mike about this question and he joked that he wants Adventure and I want Home. He’s not far wrong, actually. After years of living abroad and traveling the world for work there’s a big part of me now that has started to yearn for a stable community, a white picket fence and an idle passport.
It’s not the season for that quite yet. We’re currently living in Northern Laos. Mike works for a humanitarian organization here, helping oversee programs related to child and maternal health, food security, education and water and sanitation. I do some work as a consultant psychologist around issues related to stress, trauma and resilience. I do a lot more work as a mother, however. We had our first child a year ago and, phew, mothering is a bit relentless, isn’t it?
So I’d say Adventure is still edging out Home, but we are managing to create a Home together in some important ways here in Laos.
You grew up between cultures overseas, which is probably a big reason I relate to so much of your writing. Now that you have a son and are overseas with him, how different is the perspective of a mother than that of being a child overseas?
This is something we’ve been thinking a lot about since Dominic was born a year ago. Gosh, I’m so torn on this one. On the one hand I know I wouldn’t trade my unconventional childhood skipping between Australia, America, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. On the other hand, I also know what the price tags are that came attached to that fascinating global transience.
I don’t want Dominic to miss out on the benefits of living overseas, but I also don’t want him to pay the costs. It’s a Catch 22.
Where we are living now that tension is particularly acute. We know we’ll be leaving Laos in the short to medium term. We don’t speak the language well. We love and appreciate many things about Laos, but you couldn’t say that we’re deeply integrated into Lao culture. We fear that if we were to stay here without working harder to integrate into the local culture and cultivate local friendships then we’d be subjecting Dominic to the worst of both worlds – the displacement of growing up outside his parent’s home culture without the benefits of grafting deeply into another culture.
How our choices will impact Dominic is a huge variable in our current discussions about what comes next.
I laughed so hard I cried when reading your engagement story. What's it like to write such comedic moments? Do you laugh as you write them, or are you working intently to word things for perfect comedic timing?
They are such fun scenes to write. I rarely laugh out loud while writing them, but I do catch myself grinning broadly and typing furiously as I get the first draft down. The comedic scenes are easier and quicker to write than the more serious, dense passages – there’s a fun lightness to the memories and (I hope) that translates into the writing.
The attention to comedic timing comes later, when I’m revising the 2nd, 3rd, etc drafts. I read the scene out loud and use that to help me figure out what to cut – with the funny scenes it’s usually a question of what to cut out to make the scene flow tightly, rather than what to add.
Message from Lisa:
Thanks for hosting me on my virtual book tour (isn’t the internet amazing?? I remain astounded that I can launch a book from Laos).