Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The New Beirut

Tina and Nancy in New Mexico 1974

Voluntary Nomads excerpt "The New Beirut" comes from Chapter 1 of Part One: New Mexico Genesis:

The call came in November 1974, six months after Fred submitted his application, even though it seemed like at least a year had gone by. Fred mouthed the words "State Department" and held the phone up so I could hear too. 

"Congratulations, your application for the position of Communications and Records Officer has been approved and you are assigned to Tehran, Iran." 

Fred's polite response didn't register with me. The expression on his face asked, "What did she say?" 

The woman's voice chirped with good cheer. "Tehran is a marvelous first assignment. You might not know that Beirut used to be considered the Paris of the Middle East, but since the threat of civil war escalated in Lebanon, everyone has been calling Tehran the new Beirut. I've heard that caviar is so plentiful, you'll be spreading it on bread like peanut butter." 

Tehran-Beirut-Paris-Lebanese civil war-Iranian caviar. It was too much to absorb all at once. Fred grabbed my hands and whirled me around the living room in a crazy victory dance. We flopped down on the sway-backed sofa and Fred picked up our tattered National Geographic World Atlas from the coffee table. He opened it to the map of Iran and poked the circled star symbol indicating the capital, Tehran. 

"There it is. That's where we're going -- where we'll be for the next two years." 

Of course our trip didn't follow a straight line. No, our journey from Los Lunas, New Mexico to Tehran, Iran included some hurdles, a couple of detours and several stops along the way. 

A few days after the phone call announcing Fred's assignment we received a hefty packet in the mail giving us guidance on the mechanics of becoming a Foreign Service family. Once we sorted out our belongings into sea freight, airfreight, and storage categories, we had to decide how to get to Washington, DC for Fred's eight-week orientation and training course. We could fly or we could drive. Both choices had advantages and disadvantages, but we chose to drive, in order to have our own car in Washington rather than a rental. With the help of our parents we financed a shiny black 1967 Volkswagen beetle. We loved our new car. It was an incredible improvement over the rattle-trap Plymouth. 

On departure day, Fred folded down the back seat of the VW and I spread out two well-worn flannel-lined sleeping bags. First in, our son Dakota, aged 20 months, followed by our daughter Tina, not quite one year old. They babbled, cooed, gnawed on their teething toys, and took frequent naps. The highway hum and car motion lulled them into a relaxed state that allowed Fred and me to have wonderful long conversations. When Tina wanted to nurse, I swung her into the front seat with me. Dakota snacked on unfiltered apple juice and graham crackers in the backseat play-lounge. Even though a road trip with two toddlers might not be everybody's ideal, it worked for us, and the ease of our maiden voyage foretold the spirit of twenty-odd years of travel to come. 

Somewhere in East Texas, early in the morning of the third travel day, with the rising sun bright in our eyes, I leaned back to see if the glare bothered the babies. They were fine, but I noticed a small empty space on the sleeping bag. For the past hour I'd had that nagging feeling that I'd forgotten something, and now I knew what it was. 

"Oh, dammit, Fred, you have to pull over." 

"What's wrong?" 

"I don't see Baby-Kinsey. You know how Dakota is about his Baby-Kinsey." 

Fred stopped the car on the shoulder and we searched for Dakota's lovey, a baby pillow covered in the soft birds-eye diaper material that he always rubbed across his lips when he was sleepy. I went through everything in the back seat while Fred looked in the suitcases. 

"We must have left her in the motel room," I said. "We have to go back." 

"Are you sure? We'll have to backtrack eighty miles or more." 

Fred closed his eyes for a second, then looked at Dakota and smiled. I nodded. We piled back in the car and Fred made a U-turn for the rescue of Baby Kinsey.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Where Credit Is Due

News Flash: Voluntary Nomads went to the printer on Friday!

Before I go any further with excerpts or serialization (I haven't decided which it will be), I want to give credit where credit is due:

I always thought of myself as a woman of few words and, with this memoir in mind, I wondered if it would be possible for me to write a book's worth of words on one subject. I joined National Novel Writing Month to find out. NaNoWriMo challenges writers to produce 50,000 words in one month, and I succeeded! With that strong beginning, I had no trouble continuing for several thousand more. Then I sent all thirty-three chapters to my marvelous friend and editor, Ruth Friesen, who scrutinized every sentence with her discriminating eye for both grammar and content. After making the changes that Ruth suggested, I rounded up a posse of readers. My husband Fred and daughter Tina helped jog my memory of key events. Dave Malitz offered valuable advice on several elements and also found a few pesky typos. Ellen LaPenna provided her expert editorial guidance, and Beth Malitz wowed me by reading the whole book in one day. Throughout the whole process I felt empowered by the support of writing coach and mentor Mark David Gerson who exemplifies what it means to live and write one's own truth. My heartfelt thanks go to all of you.

My next post here will be either an excerpt or Chapter One -- what would you rather see?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Inside the Cover

When you get a new book and open it, do you look at the front matter or go directly to Chapter One? I hate to miss anything, so I read it all -- dedication, acknowledgements, author's note, preface, prologue, epigraph, what-have-you. Those parts seem like appetizers for the meal to come and they give me hints of the author's flavor, whether witty, serious, humorous, scholarly....

The epigraph I chose for Voluntary Nomads comes from one of my favorite writers:

"Memory is a complicated thing, a relative to truth, but not its twin."
~ Barbara Kingsolver ~

You expect a memoir to be truthful, of course. But if you've ever compared childhood memories with those of your siblings, you know that our individual memories revise the record of facts and events in some pretty interesting ways. I like what John Daniels, author of the memoir Looking After, said: "Memory, in short, is not a record of the past but an evolving myth of understanding the psyche spins from its engagement with the world."

Because memory is such a complicated thing, I included a disclaimer to accompany the Barbara Kingsolver epigraph at the beginning of Voluntary Nomads:

Author's Note

This book describes events and people in my life as I remember them. Descriptions of places, events, and people are as accurate as my memory. When I wanted to protect the privacy of certain individuals, I changed their names and made note of that in the narrative; the rest is my truth.

Tune in next week for a taste of "The New Beirut," an excerpt from Part One: New Mexico Genesis.

Monday, September 19, 2011

What Happens Next?

My eyeballs ache. If I had a cucumber, I would apply soothing slices while I recuperate after finishing my marathon galley review. Now I wait to find out what happens next.

While I'm waiting, I'll show you what the wholesalers will be told about Voluntary Nomads:

"Nancy LaTurner's engaging memoir begins in 1974 as her young family struggles without a livelihood in rural New Mexico. When a welcome stroke of luck lands her husband Fred a job with the State Department, Nancy eagerly packs their few belongings and bundles up their 20-month-old son and 12-month-old daughter for the journey from Los Lunas, New Mexico to Washington, DC and onward to any of 200 U.S. Embassies around the world.

"Empowered by Nancy's enthusiasm and Fred's optimism, the naïve little family embraces their first assignment in Tehran during the final days of the Shah's regime. Dropped straight into a different culture and language in a country suffering the turmoil of revolutionary unrest, the LaTurners learn how important adaptability is to their new way of life.

"Throughout Voluntary Nomads, Nancy's recollection of raising two children in extraordinary conditions demonstrates that the triumphs and heartaches of family life go on, no matter how exotic the locations or unique the experiences. Nancy's stories of Foreign Service family adventures in Iran, Cameroon, New Zealand, Somalia, Dominican Republic, Austria, and Bolivia, told with warmth, insight, and candor, celebrate the resilience and resourcefulness of a spirited American family."

Later this week, I'll give you another peek inside the book....

Friday, September 16, 2011

What's in a Name?

I returned home from a ten-day happy birthday camping trip and found digital author galleys waiting for my review. Today's big decision: how to spell the last name I've been using for the past forty-four years. The first version of the cover had it wrong. NANCY POGUE LATURNER. A savvy friend pointed that out right away (Thanks, Andrew!) and I asked the publisher for a small cap "A." That's when they gave me this lowercase "a" version instead. It looks strange, doesn't it?

Hopelessly addicted to nit-picking, I have repeated my request for a small cap "A," and now I get to chew my fingernails until they reply. As I chomp on down toward my elbows, I ask, "What's in a name?"

Monday, September 5, 2011

A Peek Inside

This photo of our family is such a favorite, I almost used it on the cover of Voluntary Nomads. But the color snapshot in the dunes worked better with the title, so this one became the headliner for Part Five: Somalia Safaris.

Voluntary Nomads has eight sections:

Part One: New Mexico Genesis
Part Two: Iran Odysseys
Part Three: Cameroon Tales
Part Four: New Zealand Yarns
Part Five: Somalia Safaris
Part Six: Dominican Republic Dramas
Part Seven: Austria Adventures
Part Eight: Bolivia Cliffhangers

with a total of forty photographs.

Can't wait to see the real thing!