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Traveling Authors: The Diplomat & The Hollywood Journalist

Kim Norman here. I'm a huge fan of NPR's This American Life, so naturally I immediately developed an e-crush on This American Life and All Things Considered commentator Jake Halpern when he contacted me about including his link on this site. (Yes, I know he looks young enough to be my son. That's why I'm drawing the line at a non-stalking e-crush.) Turns out Jake is an amazing multi-tasker. He teaches at Yale and now has two books in print: Braving Home and a newly-released young adult fantasy, Dormia, (Houghton Mifflin.) Jake has graciously agreed to lend his journalistic talents to Author Visits by State, as a guest blogger. Here's Jake:

What happens when a U.S. diplomat from Paris and a Hollywood reporter -- who is living on the Navajo reservation -- team up to write a book? Crazy things…


Everyone said I was crazy to co-author a book. The set-up was outlandish. I was a journalist who reported on American pop culture and Hollywood for NPR’s All Things Considered and the New Yorker. Then one day, my wife (Kasia) tells me she had landed a job as a doctor with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Not long after this, I found myself living on the Navajo Reservation in northwestern New Mexico, which remains one of the most remote and sparsely settled regions in the continental United States. From my desk, in our tiny ranch house, I watched prairie dogs frolic and tumbleweed blow across the street. On most days, there wasn’t much to report.

Okay, so that's me. Now meet my co-author.

Meanwhile, halfway around the world, my longtime buddy Peter Kujawinski was serving as an American diplomat in Paris. His environs could not have been more radically different. Kujawinski, known simply as “Kujo” by friends and family alike, inhabited a sprawling three bedroom penthouse which had stunning views of the Eiffel Tower. On the weekends, he and his wife Nancy – a popular local musician – hit the bars, cabarets, and bistros of the Left Bank. All that being said, by almost any measure, it was not an ideal time to be an American diplomat in France. America was knee-deep in a war that was as popular in France as Spam or Kraft Singles American Cheese Slices. As he lunched with diplomats from other countries, many of whom treated him with no small degree of contempt, Kujo often imagined that he was in another country all together – that country being the kingdom of Dormia.

Okay so what's Dormia.

Dormia is a place that both Kujo and I had discussed on numerous occasions. We actually first dreamed up the book while visiting the Sinai Peninsula – a rugged, beautiful, but deserted stretch of Egypt that stretches out into the luminescent waters of the Red Sea. We slept on a sand dune, beneath the stars, like the Bedouin. One night we got caught in a sand storm known as a khamseen. Luckily, the storm wasn't too severe. We were never in danger, but sleeping proved impossible, and as we huddled and chatted through the night, speaking about the magic of travel, wandering in the desert, and sleeping. This is truly where the idea for Dormia was born.

Okay, so at this point, you're probably wondering: How did these two guys actually write the book? Good question. The quick answer: E-mail. We overburdened our e-mail accounts by sending the 500-page manuscript as an attachment to each other at least once, sometimes twice or even three times a day. We just passed the thing back and forth like a cyber football. Peter would go out for drinks at a local bistro in Paris, come home late, burn the midnight oil in Paris, hammer out a new chapter, and then fire the thing across the globe to me

Sometimes, of course, we did talk by phone. I did much of my writing from a remote cottage in southwest Colorado. I would hike from the cottage to a massive rock on top of a desert butte in order to get cell phone reception. The rock offered panoramic views of Mesa Verde National Park. Here it was possible to gaze out for fifty miles without seeing any signs of civilization. I called this perch "Telephone Rock." So I'd hike up to Telephone Rock to call Peter and when I'd finally reach him at the United Nations in New York, he'd say: 'Sorry man, I can't talk during lunch today – we’re having an emergency session of the Security Council.' So we kind of gave up on the phone, at least during the week. We did e-mail, and it worked out for the best, because we just focused on the nuts and bolts of writing the book.

For us, the book became a way to deepen our friendship. Over the years that it took to write this book, we rendezvoused in a number of odd places including a café in Paris, a remote canyon in New Mexico, and a tree house in the Berkshires. The result was a much prolonged boyhood and, of course, our book.

Kim again: Visit Jake's website HERE. Besides his home state of Connecticut, he's also available for author visits in MA., VT., NY., PA., DC., DE., VA., and NJ.

8 comments:

impossiblewriter said...

Wow, that's a pretty awesome setting for a book! Congrats!

God bless,
Taylor J. Beisler
www.taylorbeisler.com
http://www.eloquentbooks.com/ArintSaratir-WarriorsLight.html

TerryJ2 said...

Great story! A story within a story. Congratulations!
Terry

maria said...

It would be great to visit there. And your blog is having 2 great stories...hahah
Great..Maria
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Tina said...

So..Stories are not a issue to worry about.. Matter is the matter of story..

Thanks
Tina Sprachkurs Hawaii

lisa said...

WOW! What a great story. I am waiting for your other interesting posts.

Congratulations

Lisa from english courses

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