Rich in cultural detail, this sensitive coming-of-age story of a 12-year-old Indonesian girl encapsulates many of life's universal truths about relationships and community. Young Subaeda explores these truths against a backdrop of traditional village life, fearsome jungle spirits, and beloved centuries-old funerary rites. (Imagine Grandfather's bespectacled, preserved corpse sharing the sleeping room where Subaeda can talk to him and be comforted by his presence these past three years!)
While water buffalo yet pull ploughs, and cooking over a wood fire is common, change arrives with nearby mining operations, automobiles, and mobile phones. An excellent story of its own right, this Tale of Tolerance and Friendship inspired us to search the internet to learn more about the customs of a living culture so different than those of the Western World.
Let's talk about the work you do.
I travel, I write, I cultivate friendships all around the globe, and I am deeply committed to my family. Endeavoring to excel in the craft of writing, I read culturally diverse books and take courses in writing. When I travel to a country, I research the local culture and look for a guide who is willing to teach me the local ways.
In my first book, I have dramatized the life story of one such guide, and he and his wife have become great friends of mine in the process. Through the sale of my first book in Vanuatu, we were able to finance two 1000 liter fresh-water tanks for local schools. This fills me with immense gratitude.
I had not thought about working with someone, but I am sure a very fruitful collaboration would be possible with a likeminded writer or photographer. These stories must be told; the cultural bridges such books may build are a precious investment into the future of young people.
I can see a series that spans the world. It would open dialogue, foster empathy between differently-minded people, awaken interest in other cultures, ignite a love for travel (and travel responsibly), and make this world a better place, one book at a time.
I'm sure your success has not come easily. What challenges have you had to overcome along the way? *
I left my country of birth right after university to marry and live in Bogota, Colombia. Our family then moved to Japan, Great Britain and Switzerland. Once my husband retired, we took to the traveling life in earnest. Speaking six languages has helped me settle into diverse communities easily.
The teacher in me saw a need for books about other cultures, but it took me ten years to learn to write a compelling story. I’m quite studious and curious, so I knew the craft of writing could be learned.
And now, with the publishing world in such upheaval and a million books getting to the market in the USA every year, it has become a bit harder to be heard, to stand out. This, and a perceived lack of time have been my only challenges, really.
Fortunately, the story of Vanuatu found great success, which buoyed me on to continue in my endeavor. I am happy to be able to follow my passion and share my cultural experiences with young readers.
Let's talk about the work you do. What do you specialize in and why should someone work with you over the competition? *
Speaking of success, what does the word mean to you?
Success may be defined as meeting certain expectations, an aim, or a purpose. This is a very narrow definition, as success depends on cultural context, a certain belief system. I want to show young people that success comprises many other aspects in life.
Yet, there are some prerequisites like grit, resilience, tenacity, and/or a certain belief in one’s abilities, that need to be instilled before success can happen. This seems to be universally true.
I want to show through my stories that being part of a functioning family, contributing positively to a community, enjoying a deep personal relationship, etc., are all great accomplishments that often go unnoticed. They need effort, and the will to do one’s best.
I think gratitude is also a prerequisite of success, in that it helps us to appreciate the abundance we have been given, may that be health, a good mind, friendships, family, or all of the above. A spirit of abundance helps us to be givers in this world of takers and feel successful and joyous in the success of others around us.
I believe many young people need guidance in setting realistic goals, especially in this time of social media pressure to achieve either fame or fortune. On the broadest level, I think success is the ability to say, “I am happy here and now,” and my characters achieve this stage after they overcome a great obstacle.
What's your best piece of advice for readers who desire to find success in their life? *
I firmly believe we all yearn fo success, to be seen as a valuable member of society. We in the west tend to define success very narrowly as the ability to earn lots of money, or to achieve at least some minutes of fame.
Since I write for pre-teens, I want to tell them this:
Some kids have lots of obstacles thrown into their paths, be that abandonment, lack of funds, abuse or physical handicaps. Others may suffer from the fact that they look or behave differently than those around them and may feel left out.
I hope you take inspiration from other, differently-able people and the value of their contributions. Look at Stephen Hawking, Helen Keller, Frieda Kahlo, and so many others! Read and always keep learning!
Do not let yourself be defined by what you can’t do, but rather by the contribution you are able to make to society, your community, your family, and the kindness you extend to a friend or even a stranger. That’s a much more stable and reliable marker of success than money or momentary fame can ever be.
What's next for you? *
If my circumstances stay favorable, I will continue to travel, see the world, make friends around the globe, and write, write, write. I am learning Russian right now in preparation for a train trip across Siberia next year. Did you know Siberia covers three quarters of all Russian territory, and almost ten percent of the earth’s land surface? And what do you know about this vast land where winter temperatures can reach -90° F and milk gets delivered in neat, white, frozen blocks? Siberia is home to the deepest lake on earth, Lake Baykal, which freezes over in winter with ice as thick as 6.5 feet. Siberian cultural identity is closely connected with the mythology and ancient religion of shamanism, whose rituals, images, symbols, and motifs are often manifested in the clients' dreams. I am sure a good story will crystallize out of this voyage.