Peace Corps Writers - 1/2005 front page

On-line Writing Workshop set for March
The third Peace Corps Writers 10-lesson workshop for RPCV writers is scheduled to run from Tuesday, March 15 to Tuesday, May 17. Five RPCVs have already been accepted. The minimum enrollement is 6 and the maximum is 8.
     This class is only being offered for RPCVs who are serious about writing a book (fiction or non-fiction) on their experience. If you are interested in participating, read the Workshop 3 Announcement and the Q & A, and if you would like to apply, I must receive the requested materials by February 25.

Peace Corps Writers awards
It is time again to pick the best books written by writers from the Peace Corps community. Books published in 2004 by a PCV, RPCV, or Peace Corps staff member are eligible. Please recommend your candidates for the following categories (you may nominate your own book):

  • Paul Cowan Non-Fiction Award
  • Maria Thomas Fiction Award
  • The Moritz Thomsen Peace Corps Experience Award (for best short description of the Peace Corps experience)
  • Award for Best Poetry Book
  • Award for Best Travel Writing
  • Award for Best Children’s Writing

The awards will be announced in the July 2005 issue of the Peace Corps Writers. Each winning author receives a framed certificate and $200.
Send in your nominations for the best books published in 2004 to: jpcoyne@peacecorpswriters.org.

Peace Corps Writers imprint
Peace Corps Writers has been approached by several P.O.D. (print-on-demand) companies to create a special line of “Peace Corps Books,” both fiction and non-fiction. These books would be selected, edited, and designed by Peace Corps Writers and be promoted through the usual P.O.D. network, as well as via our website, book fairs, and NPCA conferences. I am debating whether I want to venture into the book publishing business, but having seen many P.O.D. books done by RPCVs, we would want any books we produced to be better edited and better designed. If Peace Corps Writers decides to create an Imprint it would cost the author approximately $1000 for the editing and design and printing. This is much more than the usually fee of just printing the book that is now done by P.O.D. companies. I am not sure if there is within the community of Peace Corps writers enough interest for such a special line of book, but if you think it is a good idea, please let me know. If there is enough interest, we will seriously consider creating a line of Peace Corps Writers books. Email me what you think: jpcoyne@peacecorpswriters.org

Conrad writes about reverse culture shock
Last month my son, a junior at the University of Pennsylvania, emailed me this:

Daddo, just finished Heart of Darkness. Near the end, there’s a quote, which I think applies to your description of returning PCVs’ discomfort. The passage implies a heightened level of seemingly haunting, disarming awareness, along with a mix of condescension, awe, and despair.

I found myself back in the sepulchral city resenting the sight of people hurrying through the streets to filch a little money from each other, to devour their infamous cookery, to gulp their unwholesome beer, to dream their insignificant and silly dreams. They trespassed upon my thoughts. They were intruders whose knowledge of life was to me an irritating pretense, because I felt so sure they could not possibly know the things I knew. Their bearing, which was simply the bearing of commonplace individuals going about their business in the assurance of perfect safety, was offensive to me like the outrageous flaunting of folly in the face of a danger it is unable to comprehend. I had no particular desire to enlighten them, but I had some difficulty in restraining myself from laughing in their faces, so full of stupid importance. I dare say I was not very well at that time. I tottered about the streets — there were various affairs to settle — grinning bitterly at perfectly respectable persons. I admit my behavior was inexcusable, but then my temperature was seldom normal in these days. My dear aunt’s endeavors to “nurse up my strength” seemed altogether beside the mark. It was my strength that wanted nursing, it was my imagination that wanted soothing.

The writers world
A word about literary agents
The Wall Street Journal offers a piece on this theme: “literary agents also assume roles of editor and marketer.” The thesis: “Literary agents once functioned primarily as salespeople. Today, they’re taking on the additional roles of editor and marketer. The shift reflects the consolidation of the once-clubby publishing world into an industry dominated by global media companies. With fewer editors forced to handle more books, agents must do more to promote aspiring authors.” And you thought it was tough getting an agent before . . .

And editors
In their December 20th issue The New York Observer had a piece on how publishing companies are “outsourcing” the job of editing manuscripts they have accepted. The days when Schribner’s editor “Maxwell Perkins turned F. Scott Fitzgerald’s sheaf of scribbles into This Side of Paradise appear to be well and truly over,” writes Sheelah Kolhatkar. Writers, for their part, are hiring their own editors. And the going rate? It ranges from $10,000 to $20,000, although it can spike upward of $40,000 for a free lance editor to line-edit down to the last comma a full length book.

And publishers
The POD firm PublishAmerica is under the gun from the Maryland Attorney General, the FTC, and news organizations like the Washington Post, as well as some of their clients, who are complaining, via the Internet that the company fooled them into thinking that being paid an “advance” of one dollar so that the author and their friends can be solicited into buying high-priced finished copies actually makes true the company’s claim that they function as a “traditional” publisher. PublishAmerica estimates its annual sales at $4 million to $6 million, and last year it issued 4,800 titles. Who has time to read that many books?

In this issue —
When Joseph Blatchford was appointed director of the Peace Corps in May of 1969 he brought with him a set of “New Directions” to improve the agency. He wanted skilled Volunteers in the agency, i.e. “blue-collar workers, experienced teachers, businessman and farmers” and came up with the idea of recruiting married couples with children. One of the couple would be a Volunteer and the other — usually the wife — would be, in Peace Corps jargon, the “non-matrixed spouse.”
     A few of these non-matrixed spouses came home to tell wonderful tales based on their “Peace Corps experience.” Perhaps the most famous writer from this ill-conceived experiment was Maria Thomas (Ethiopia 1971–73). She never wrote about being a non-matrixed spouse, thought she did write a wonderful story about being married overseas, entitled “Come To Africa and Save Your Marriage.”
     Another gifted writer, Susan O’Neill (Venezuela 1973-74), has recalled her days as a non-matrixed spouse for us.

What Else?
This issue has 6 book reviews, 17 recently published books, 23 “Literary Type” tidbits, and 2 wonderful and very different essays from RPCVs writers. Joshua Abrams (Kazakhstan 1996–98) tells us about harvesting onions in the freezing cold while Jason Boog (Guatemala 2000–02) remembers a rainy season in his village where he read Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, learned to dance to the mariachi beat, and thought of a woman he loved.
     We continue our Vietnam stories by Volunteers who were in both “corps,” with Tony Zurlo’s (Nigeria 1964–66) account of becoming a man in the Sixties. There is also a new book in our booklocker of forgotten Peace Corps books that need to be read. It is the last book published by Maria Thomas.

There is a lot to read.

— John Coyne
Editor