After nine years of writing, editing, and rewriting, Gerry Abbey has finally brought his story to the shelves. His recently published book, Cheers, Beers, and Eastern Promise, outlines the lessons learned and stories gathered over his yearlong experience in rural Taiwan.
Excited and unsettled after returning to Fairfield University from studying abroad, a young Abbey sought to continue his travels and pursue new experiences. He looked to the Department of State-sponsored Fulbright Scholarship for this opportunity and by mid-2004 he was headed to teach English as a foreign language in a coastal town, almost three hours from Taipei.
“Before that, I didn’t have any idea about Asia,” Abbey said. “I had never thought about Asian studies and honestly, I had only had Chinese food maybe twice in my life before I got on the plane. Seeing signs I couldn’t read and hearing people I couldn’t understand-everything was new, different, and extremely difficult, but I looked forward to the learning opportunity.”
While attempting to break through the language barrier a little each day, in his first few months abroad Abbey was frequently left alone with his journal. To offset the obstacles of communication he found amongst the other teachers in the village, Abbey wrote, recounting his experience and arranging his thoughts, “I was just a 23-year-old trying to sort out the world as a young professional, who was trying to translate a different culture.”
In October 2004, however, he began to realize that hundreds of hand-written pages could be more than just a journal. “I was beginning to see stories that were valuable for me, that put into words the lessons I was learning,” he said, and the nine-year process began.
The now published Cheers, Beers, and Eastern Promisetells the story of Abbey’s year in Taiwan and how it shaped his life, highlighting circumstances that range from confusion in the village, struggles with language, a motorcycle crash, and “way too much karaoke,” he says. “It is what I took away from the interactions, experiences, and adventures I had.”
Transferring his 600 journal pages into a copy-edited manuscript was a lengthy process. Upon returning from Taiwan, Abbey spent three years transcribing his content into the first stages of his memoir, taking notes on the stories that would provide the most significant and cohesive retelling of the most important year of his life. “I was taking the stories and not rewriting them but reinventing them,” he said. “For this to work they needed to appeal to a broad audience.”
After moving to three different states in three years, Abbey settled in Boston and took a job as a cost-of-living surveyor that allowed him both flexible hours for writing as well as continued global travel opportunities. With 435 single-spaced, Microsoft Word pages of content, which would transfer into about 1,200 standard style novel pages, Abbey sought the help of a structural editor to cut down his seemingly endless manuscript. “To see those extra pieces come away and have a fine tuned story come together, to just be able to read it from beginning to end, I used to think years ago that I would be really attached to what I wrote but that process was beautiful,” Abbey said.
After cutting more than three -fourths of his content, Abbey worked with local, Cambridge-based copy-editing companies before self-publishing his book through Amazon’s publishing platform CreateSpace. “Being that this story is so personal and important, I didn’t want to haggle with publishers or agents,” Abbey said. “I wanted it to be my way. That decision was made outright, at the very beginning. There were a lot of people who went into making this a real marketable, published work but it is my story, my life, and the most experience-filled and impactful part ofit.”
After publishing in late 2013, Abbey and Cheers, Beers, and Eastern Promisehaveseen early success. Much of his post-published time now consists of promoting his work and reaching out to the Boston-area community. “I truly believe in this story,” he said. “It is definitely a mixed response, but we always have something to look forward to every other week and Boston is a great outlet, what with all of the universities that surround it each with such great minds.”
Not only is Cheers, Beers, and Eastern Promisenow available locally at the Harvard Bookstore, Porter Square Books, and Trident Booksellers & Cafe, but it is also available on Amazon and Kindle, the latter of which will be discounted for a Spring Break special.
“Now that I am done it is incredible to be able to look at my book, tangibly and published, and know that it is what I wanted to have done,” said Abbey, who plans to continue writing in the future. “If you like books, you are going to enjoy this story. If you like travel, teaching, learning, and the human experience, you are going to love this story.”
Article originally appeared in BC Heights