The Next Big Things in Books

I’ve been tagged! Jennifer Margulis, author of the forthcoming book The Business of Baby, invited me to participate in a blog meme highlighting authors and their new and forthcoming work. I don’t do a lot of memes—but I’m delighted to take part in this one. I have to break the rules a bit, though. (More on that in a minute.)

Here’s how it works: I answer 10 questions about my book, This Way More Better, then I tag five other authors whose work I admire.

Here goes:


1. What is the title of your book?

This Way More Better: Stories and Photos from Asia’s Back Roads

2. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A journalist travels off the beaten path: 11 countries and a dozen years of narrative storytelling about the peoples and places of Asia.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

It crosses into a few categories: travel literature, Asia, narrative nonfiction, narrative journalism. And, for food lovers following this blog… there are a fair number of food stories, too!

4. Where did the idea come from for the book?

Jerry (whose photos appear in the book) and I had been living and working in Asia for several years, and I’d accumulated boxes of journal notes stemming from weeks and months of travels all over the map. Much of that writing hadn’t made it into print. This was creative nonfiction—the juicy bits that often don’t fit into journalistic reports. I needed a home for all that material; all those stories-behind-the-stories. While some of the book’s chapters have been published previously in magazines, most have not.

5. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

That’s a tough one to answer because I’ve really been working on it since I first lived in Cambodia in 1998—although I certainly didn’t know it at the time. I wrote this book in fits and starts amid other assignments, fellowships and teaching jobs.

6. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

The many, many people Jerry and I met in our travels, particularly those in rural locations far from the hubbub of mainstream life. The more time we spent delving into villagers’ lives, and the more we learned from our experiences with them, the more I knew I had to write this book.

7. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

The book will be published by ThingsAsian Press, which is also publishing our next book on June 13 (yep, it’s a busy year!): Eternal Harvest: The Legacy of American Bombs in Laos. Jerry and I have equal part in that book, a journalistic and photographic investigation of unexploded ordnance remaining in Laos since the U.S. bombings 40 years ago.

8. What other works would you compare this book to within your genre?

I don’t really like questions such as this because I hope to have my own style for telling unique stories. BUT I certainly aspire to write as engagingly as other travel-writing greats, such as Paul Theroux.

9. What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

I couldn’t imagine actors playing the parts of the people I write about—they are characters themselves! And that’s something I would love to see: all of these wonderful personalities playing themselves.

10. What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

The depth and breadth of stories in this book can help put current events into context. We trek through Burma’s Shan State and talk to dissidents long before the country began to open up. We tour Sri Lanka amid a ceasefire, right before the 2004 tsunamis, which I write about in the aftermath. The book begins with the story of a 10-year-old Hmong girl in northern Vietnam. More than a decade later, we reunite—and we meet a young woman quickly becoming a leader in her culture and community. What has and hasn’t changed in her life says a lot about the social and economic changes sweeping through Vietnam.


OK, now I get to tag other authors. And this is when I start bending rules. When I was tagged for this post, I had several authors in mind. But it turns out not all of them fit the mold of this meme. I know authors who have taken a hiatus from public work and life—to reconnect with their own world. I know others who are not yet allowed to promote their own books, according to their publishing contracts. And then I know authors whose work has already been published—but I want you to know about it anyway.

So here’s what I’m doing. I’m listing several authors I admire—way more than five. Some of these people have been huge supporters in my writing life—and beyond their own work, it’s important to know what good human beings these writers are. All of these folks have books currently out or on the way. They may or may not follow through with this meme. But who cares? They’re doing great things, and the world should know! This, by no means, is a comprehensive list. Just a few people whose work you might like to see. I give you the links, and I leave it to you to discover who they are.

Janet Brown, author of the forthcoming Almost Home.

Dan Fagin, author of the forthcoming Toms River.

Kim Fay, author of The Map of Lost Memories.

Leah McGrath Goodman, author of The Asylum.

Sasha Martin, author of the forthcoming The Spiced Life.

Mike Ormsby, author of Spinner the Winner. (This one’s for your kids.)

Jonny Waldman, author of a forthcoming book about Rust.

Tara Austen Weaver, author of a forthcoming book about her garden—and what a powerful metaphor that place can be.

Florence Williams, author of Breasts.

And beyond all these, I invite you to check out my fellow fellows at the Schuster Institute, which offers up a whole platter of great books and important reporting.


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