Today I’m participating in a blog hop passed on by Ellen Barone, through Justine Ickes, through many others, about the writing life. I was invited by Justine and invited three talented writers to participate next week. I’m excited to introduce Djibouti Jones readers to these amazing women, in case you are looking for new people to follow, new books to read, be sure to check out their bios and work.

Each writer is to address four questions. Here you go, a glimpse into my writing life.

What am I working on?

I always have multiple projects running at once and I’m not sure that is a good thing. There is the regular freelance work for SheLoves, A Life Overseas, Brain Child, and Babble, and an occasional article elsewhere, like one coming up in June in Literary Mama and one in May at Velvet Ashes.

And, there is the book. Since the Finding Strong film premiered in New York last October and I met my agent in Brooklyn, I have been working on a book about the Girls Run 2 team. The bulk of this year has been spent at practices, doctor visits, competitions, on buses, in homes. Recording interviews, making notes, observing, asking questions, taking photographs, learning history. All of it to answer the question: How does running transform a life? And specifically: How does running transform the lives of female athletes in a developing world Muslim country?

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

I don’t look for the most dramatic story to tell but for the deepest cultural understanding of everyday people. The news can provide plenty of drama about the Horn of Africa region, and bestselling books like A House in the Sky and movies like Captain Phillips contribute as well. But my Somali neighbors and friends are pretty regular people and as I seek to understand the culture, and my place in it, those are the stories that capture me. My work differs from travel writing in that I’m not traveling through, I am rooted and it differs from sports writing in that I include a lot of culture, not just times and races. It differs from a lot of writing about women in the Muslim world in that I’m not writing about women getting out, but about women succeeding inside their own culture, even as they transform it (and transform me).

Why do I write what I do?

I write what I want to read. I’ve always wanted to read a memoir about a non-Muslim expatriate living in a Muslim country. I’ve always wanted to read a book about women doing unconventional things but not defiantly or crudely, respectfully and courageously. I’ve always wanted to read books that delve deep into a culture while capturing a story those outside the culture can relate to – like girls participating in sports but inside a place that will be new to many readers.

And, I’m tired of the only story from this region being one of violence. There is hope here, there is a tiny country named Djibouti that is peaceful and progressing. There are Muslim women who are free and happy and a community around them encouraging them to grow. That doesn’t mean everything is easy and good – there is poverty and abuse and cruelty. Just like there is everywhere. In other words, I feel compelled to show the rich, fullness of people here and bridge a divide.

I believe in honesty and openness and authenticity and so I use real names and write about my own weaknesses. I don’t know what I’m doing half the time, more than half the time, and so I write that, too.

How does my writing process work?

I wish I knew. Does it work? I think it works for blog posts and essays. But does it work for books? That remains to be seen.

But what do I do to try and make it work? I sit my butt in the chair, usually with something sweet nearby to grab when things get emotional. I can’t do music, at least not while writing anything substantial. I also can’t do interruptions though working at home makes an uninterrupted hour almost unheard of, even if I lock the door or hide in the bathroom with my laptop. I don’t have daily word goals but I do have project deadlines.

For motivation, over my desk I have a photo of one of the girls on the running team, the page from Runner’s World magazine advertising the film, two photos of myself with some of the team, a drawing from Lucy, three quotes (Cheryl Strayed, Rumi, and the Bible), a postcard from Marilyn Gardner and a card from Susan Read.

I keep my research materials close by – for now that means a stack of books about Djibouti and the Horn of Africa and running, my camera, my voice recorder, and the ever-growing stack of notebooks I’ve been using.

I outline and draft and print and use post-it notes and colored highlighters and do lots of editing and revising. And then I decide it all stinks and start over. I keep multiple files for research, ideas, drafts, works ready to submit somewhere, feedback, relevant quotes, notes on other books.

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Will all of this lead anywhere? Who knows.

For now, I’ll keep blogging and keep writing for the websites I love and will keep interviewing the running team, keep hanging around them, keep in touch with my agent, and keep drafting their stories trying to do these brave, wild, messed-up, and healed girls justice.

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Here’s you get to hear from next week on their own blogs.

suzanne kamataOriginally from Michigan, Suzanne Kamata has spent more than half of her life in Japan, where she now lives with her Japanese husband and their twin teens. She is the author of three novels, including Screaming Divas (Merit Press, 2014), Gadget Girl: The Art of Being Invisible (GemmaMedia, 2013), andLosing Kei (Leapfrog Press, 2008); The Beautiful One Has Come, a short story collection about expats in various countries; and editor of three anthologies including Call Me Okaasan: Adventures in Multicultural Mothering. Blog: Suzanne Kamata

lauren apfelLauren Apfel is originally from New York, but now lives in Glasgow, Scotland thanks to the Brit she married. A published classicist turned stay-at-home mom of four (including twins), she writes regularly at omnimom.netShe is the debate editor and a contributing blogger at Brain, Child Magazine. You can follow her on Facebook and on Twitter.

 

jody fernando1Jody Fernando (@jodylouise) does a lot of living between worlds.  A midwestern girl from the cornfields, she is married to a man from the Indian Ocean.  Together, they raise their bicultural and biracial children, and have family on four continents.  She explores the ins and outs of intercultural living on her blogBetween Worlds, helps amazingly resilient immigrants learn to speak English, teaches a few university courses, and makes a mean curry.