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Monday, August 6, 2012

Welcome to my blog Chris. I and my readers are intrigued to learn about your book Tears for the Mountain and your mission to Haiti.  Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions and share your experiences.

Beautiful Haiti Sunset

Q.  Chris, is ‘Tears for the Mountain’ your first book?
A.  Yes, Tears for the Mountain is my first book.

Q. Please tell us about your booktitle, genre, etc. and why you wrote it?
A.  Tears for the Mountain is a non-fiction book about a medical mission trip to Haiti in 2010 after the deadly earthquake there.  It is the story of a team I worked with whose job was to deliver 20,000 pounds of medical supplies to hospitals affected by the quake.  Along the way we dealt with gangs of roving bandits, heard heartbreaking stories of survival, and worked with a notorious Haitian warlord. 

I wrote the book because I wanted to raise money for the orphanage in Port-au-Prince where we worked.  A portion of the proceeds goes to New Life Children’s Home, which has been taking in children from the streets since the 80’s.  I also wanted people to get a feeling for what relief work is really like.  It’s not a book that says “look at all the wonderful things I’ve done, I’m a great person.”  It just covers what something like this feels like, including the bad, the ugly, and the
Haiti after Earthquake 2010
Q.   What draws you to your genre(s)? Why is this type of story compelling to you?
A.   When I started thinking about writing the book I researched what else had been written about Haiti, and I was disappointed to find that there were either fictional stories that included the earthquake or books written by high-level people.  No one had put together a piece on what it was like working on the ground.  It is one thing to read the UN envoy’s thoughts on the disaster, but it’s another to read what it was like to be working in the post-disaster environment.

The story is compelling to me for two reasons: first is that is raises money for orphans.  To me, that really is the most important part of the book.  The second thing is that the book just gives an honest look at what relief work is like, and I try to place the reader in my shoes during the journey.  Part of my writing style is to describe the settings in as much detail as possible, and I’ve received a lot of feedback from readers that said they felt as though they were there with us.

Q.  What is your writing process like? Do you map the whole thing out or do you just let it unfold?
A.  The writing process for this book is a lot different from a novel.  Since its non-fiction, you don’t have the option of adding pieces that didn’t happen; you are bound by fact.  Because of that, I was able to base the book around notes I took when I was in-country.  I usually keep a log or journal when I travel, and it’s been helpful for me when I’m trying to remember the name of the town I went mountain climbing in Mongolia or the restaurant in Nice I went to for my honeymoon.  So it made sense to me to keep a journal when I was in Haiti, and I based a lot of my information on those notes.

I was also fortunate that Dr. Stephen Schroering, the orthopedic surgeon in the book, was able to go over the manuscript prior to publication.  It really helped to tell a story that more than one person lived through.

Q.   What kind of research was involved in writing your book?
A.   Going to Haiti during a disaster. 

One interesting thing about the book was reconciling what we heard/saw on the ground with what the ‘official’ reports were like after.  For example, there was a big scandal that an aid agency had been smuggling children from Haiti to the Dominican Republic.  The UN found out about it and came down hard on the aid agencies.  The news was broken by a major news outlet – CNN or someone else big.  But when we were on the ground, I heard leaders of other aid agencies saying that these guys had been doing this for years, that the UN knew about it, and that it was only a big deal because someone was putting it in the news.  That made for interesting research a year later when I started writing because I had a degree of doubt as to what was accurate and what was the official story that the major agencies were telling. 

Q.   How much of YOU makes it into your characters?
A.   A great deal.  I normally try to keep myself out of books, but in this case it was impossible.  This experience did make me enjoy writing about settings I have been to before, which is something I have used in my other books.  This book is very different, however, and it is all about one world event seen through my eyes.

Q.   How do you balance the need to have time to write with the needs of family, society, etc.?
A.  You know, if you love writing, you’ll make time for it. You have to enjoy the creative process more than watching ‘Project Runway’ or else you’ll decide to spend your time watching TV instead of writing.  It’s all about priorities, and you have to decide what is most important to you.  I use all my spare time to write – when I’m in the shower, I’m thinking about the next scene I need to put down.  When I drive, I’m thinking about the holes in the plot of the book I’m outlining.  And whenever I have 10 minutes free, I’m on my laptop putting down words.  You just have to be disciplined about it.

Q.   Have there been any authors in particular, that inspired your writing?
A.   I probably re-read “Catch-22” by Joseph Heller every year.  I also have great admiration for Herman Woulk’s work, which still is gripping and captivating half a century later.  Any book that grips me and makes me want to read more than eat or sleep interests me.

Q.   Is there a story you want to tell behind or about your work(s)?
A.   Dr. Schroering and I had lunch a few months back and he was telling me about another trip he took to Haiti this year.  He had been trying to meet up with a priest who is also a physician in Haiti, and on this trip they had the chance to connect.  When Dr. Schroering arrived, the priest was in the middle of mass, and there were 4 bodies laid out in the middle of the church.  He realized it was a funeral mass, so he waited quietly until everything was done and the service was over.  When he met the priest he said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know you had a funeral today.”  The priest replied, “This is Haiti.  Every day I have a funeral.” 

I think everyone forgets what the situation is like on the ground there, and I am hopeful that this book is a reminder that people still need your help.

Q.  Have you been back to Haiti since your mission of mercy in 2010?
A.  I haven’t been back to Haiti since, but I have done a great deal of work with some of the children that we met on that trip.  Dr. Schroering and I worked to bring back a young boy whose legs were infected by wounds caused by sickle cell anemia.  The hospital where we worked had one of the best wound care centers in the nation, and we were able to get him treatments to heal his legs.  If he had not had access to the hyperbaric oxygen treatments there, both of his legs would have been amputated.

Q.  Do you have continued contact with New Life Children’s Home in Haiti?

A.  I do.  Miriam is hard to get a hold of because she is always on the go, but fortunately I am able to speak with her and Dr. Schroering.  Social Media also makes it really easy to keep track of them because you can go on Miriam’s Facebook page and see where she is.  It makes me giggle when I think that most people use FB to show what movies they’re going to or what night clubs, and here’s Miriam showing what part of the mountains of Haiti she’s in, and she’s posting pictures of her and children being rescued.

Q.  Has any particular child or children, of all who you met at the orphanage, had an impact of your life?
A.  This might sound like a cop-out, but they all have an impact on you.  I mean, when you see a 9-year old who has just had his leg amputated and is learning to walk on crutches, you can’t avoid feeling something.  Every child who told me about their parents dying, babies who were scarred for life from the earthquake…they’re images that you can’t forget, and they’re people you can’t stop wanting to help.

Q.  Please tell us how your experience has changed you?
A.  There are a lot of things that changed.  First is that I can never look at another story about relief work the same way again.  It’s not glamorous; there aren’t these wonderful experiences that play out like a Hollywood movie.  It’s hard work, you are dirty and tired, and it’s an emotional rollercoaster.  I’m not sure why we always try and make stories out to be more than they are, but for some reason, we try to make relief work seem perfect, and it’s not.  There are a lot of mistakes that NGOs and governments make, and we should be willing to acknowledge them and try to fix them. 
I also learned that there are some pretty wonderful people in the world, and some pretty awful people in the world.  The media members that I met who were there to get a story and not to help really made me sick.  When I think about them, I actually still get physically angry.  There is a fundamental human emotion to help those you see who are in trouble, and the members of the media who were there just didn’t display that. They showed a complete lack of compassion or caring for their fellow human beings, and frankly, I will always be disgusted by that.  On the flipside, seeing people who dedicate their lives to helping strangers is a religious experience.  When I say that Miriam Frederick is the Mother Theresa of Haiti, it’s not just a tag line.  I really mean that she is someone who is a wonderful example of what each of us should strive to be every day.
The last thing that I think changed within me was my view on American society.  Before I went to Haiti, it dominated the news, and it was all anyone was talking about.  When I returned, it was as though someone had changed the channel and we were talking about other things, but for me, I couldn’t get over what I saw there.  I was really sad that we, as a people, have moved to this culture where we move from topic to topic quickly instead of seeing things through.  I fully understand that most people couldn’t find Haiti on a map or tell you more than 3 facts about the country, but it just bothers me that millions of people donated money, pretended to care about what was happening, and then forgot the next day.  We need to have better character than that and see things through to completion.

Q.  You say you have ‘taken a break to write fiction’; do you plan on another similar mission and subsequent book?
A.  Did Dr. Schroering pay you to ask that?  Every time I have lunch with him, he asks me the same thing!  When I think about writing non-fiction, I want to write stories that have a purpose, that I can connect with, and that develop naturally.  The idea of going to Haiti to write a second book seems a little…forced to me.  I’m sure it would be a good book and it would sell and have lots of good information in it, but there’s just some part of me that feels it would be wrong to do that way.  I guess what I’m trying to say is that I think non-fiction has to develop organically, and if it turns out that I went to Haiti with Dr. Schroering again and felt compelled to write a book, I would.  But I can’t plan on it happening.  You can’t plan your life-changing events.

Q.  What other projects are you currently working on or about to start?
A.  I have taken a break from non-fiction and am writing a 4 book fictional series.  The thing I like most about fiction is that you can just make it up!  If someone says, “Hey…that can’t really happen like that,” you can tell them it’s just fiction.  It’s a liberty I did not have with Tears for the Mountain.

Q.  Which is more satisfying, writing non-fiction or fiction?
A.  That’s like asking whether homemade apple pie or homemade ice cream is better!  They’re both fantastic, and I find writing both of them satisfying, but in different ways.  Fiction is satisfying because it is creative.  Fiction is the depths of imagination.  Fiction is trying to weave a story where there was nothing before, forging your own path on a blank page.  The only guide when you write fiction is the picture in your mind, and the limits are just what you can dream.  Non-fiction is beautiful because it is a reflection of life.  It is real.  There are no exaggerations, no Hollywood gimmicks to make you feel something artificial.  Non-fiction happened.  It is much harder to write, and every sentence is a struggle because you have to ask yourself, “Is this 100% true?  Can someone misinterpret what I’m saying here?”  With fiction, none of that matters because you’re making it all up!  If you write a novel and someone says, “Hey…that can’t happen!” you just tell them, “Dude…its fiction.” 
Writing each has its own pleasure and pain, but if I had to choose one, it would be non-fiction, with a slice of apple pie on the side.
Q.  Could you share some of your marketing strategies?  Which ones are the most effective in your opinion?
A.  This book has been successful mostly by word-of-mouth.  I was lucky enough to get CBS to do a story on the book, and I think we have a nice promotional video that shows what Haiti really looks like – not just the devastation, but also how beautiful it is.  But really, having people go out and tell their friends and family about the book is the best thing.

Q.  What would be the top five, (or 3 or 1 or however many) things you would tell aspiring authors?
A.  I would first tell people to ask why they want to be an author and what they think they’re going to get from it.  I have had a few people tell me that they want to quit their jobs and write, and I hate to burst their bubbles and tell them that there are few full-time writers who make good money.  For most writers, it’s a one or two-project thing that will not fully support them.  So if it’s an escape from your current situation, it’s a long shot.

The second thing I would tell aspiring authors is that they need to write.  Don’t get stuck in over-editing work.  Don’t get me wrong – it needs to be edited and look professional, but for me, writing new material is the most important thing.  This business is all about having new books/articles/stories being published, and you can’t do that if you spend 7 years on the same book. 

The last thing I would mention is that you need to just keep going.   It’s not uncommon to get hundreds of rejection letters before you have one person even acknowledge your existence.  Just push through it and keep querying. 

Again, thanks Chris for taking the time to share your book, thoughts, and experiences with us. We appreciate you and your work.  I understand that you have a new book ready for release ‘The 8th Doll’.  Congratulations and good luck with your current and future publications.

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  1. What an amazing story and it is so easy to forget the enormous suffering that Befell Haiti only two years ago.
    Wonderful interview and much success with such a worthwhilt cause.
    M.C.V. Egan

  2. Thank you for your comment Catalina. I too wish Chris & Dr. Schroering all the best with continued efforts in helping those you suffered the Haiti earthquake.


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