Grüezi, people. My name is Chantal and I am a confused international person. After eight plus years in Switzerland, I am currently on a two year leave of absence and am back in the US taking care of some family issues and answering the question: Can you go home again, and if so, how awkward is it?
1. Why did you move abroad?
My husband had a work opportunity, so we took it, not wanting to think “what if?” for the rest of our lives. We expected the assignment to last three years, but we stayed for over eight years as we both learned to love the Swiss lifestyle. At first, as I discuss in my book, I was not only a foreigner to the Swiss, I was a foreigner to myself.
Overnight I went from career woman to trailing spouse. Needless to say, I had an identity crisis. But as soon as I accepted that I would need to redefine myself, things improved. I got a job (surprisingly, as an English copywriter in a Swiss German advertising world—although the experience involved multilingual direct mail and meetings at strip clubs).
During this time, I also began writing essays and taking writing courses, and in 2010 I stopped complaining about having no English-language writing support in Zurich and co-founded the Zurich Writers Workshop. Sometimes if you find something is missing, you have to create it yourself.
2. How do you make a living? Are you a fulltime writer?
I am a fulltime writer. A copywriter by trade, I’ve created ad campaigns on two continents but have also done work as a journalist, travel writer, and blogger. I’ve written for CNN Travel, The Christian Science Monitor, Fodor’s, and Brain, Child, among others.
3. How did you start the process of writing a book and get it published? Did you go to a publisher? Self-publish?
I’ve always wanted to write a book. Unfortunately, I also typically write about subjects that don’t have huge markets. A book about Switzerland is one of those. A personal essay collections is also one of those. Put them together and what do you get? A lot of rejection.
So…after much rejection, no matter how “good” the rejection was, I decided to self-publish my collection of essays. Many of the individual pieces in my book had been published by magazines and newspapers both in the US and Switzerland so I knew the individual pieces had a market, so why not the collection? It was just a niche market, which is actually the perfect market to have as a self-publisher because you can really target your efforts. Soon after the book was published, one of the traditional publishers that originally rejected it offered to distribute it. So I have the best of both worlds now.
4. What was the hardest part of taking your writing to a book format? Did you blog before writing your book?
Book publishing is a business. I had to learn how to separate publishing from writing. They are two completely different things. I usually focus on writing, but I had to learn that a book is a product people buy. Sometimes writers forget that.
I had two blogs before I published a book. One had been going for over seven years and the other for five. I had 20,000 plus page views a month, so I knew I had venues to promote my book. Many of the original publishers of the essays that appeared in my book were also very helpful in promotional aspects.
5. What is your perception of the expat book market? Or is there a niche you consider your book to be part of?
It’s small but growing. And it’s great for self-publishers, especially if you write about a country traditional publishers don’t care about or think is too small (like Switzerland).
6. What is your favorite part of the book?
My favorite piece is called “See that blurry, prone-to-freeze image? That’s your new granddaughter.” The essay is about how Skype changes (for better and worse) our relationships with family members back home.
7. What was the most difficult part to write?
The piece about learning to love motherhood. It was hard to admit I don’t love being a mom. You’re not supposed to say that. But I think living abroad contributes to this since becoming a mother abroad made me feel very far away from family and quite isolated. In any case, this essay, which was originally published in Brain, Child, has received more responses than any piece I had ever written. Another lesson that writing hard things usually means writing things that touch others.
8. Besides your book, what book should everyone read?
For writers, I recommend Quiet by Susan Cain, since most of us are introverts. All through my childhood, my teachers told my parents that I was too quiet, as if being quiet were a bad thing. But this book combines a lot of research and personal experiences to demonstrate that even in an extroverted world, introverts are very valuable to society and should be celebrated rather than expected to act like people they are not.
9. What advice would you give to other expats that want to write a book?
Spend at least ten years learning the writing craft and plan ahead as you learn. Strategize years away from your book release by publishing shorter pieces, setting up blogs, making contacts at publications, and doing other platform-building activities. Then when you and your writing are ready, you’ll have an audience that’s ready too.
10. What are you working on now? Do you have plans to publish another book?
I have three book projects going now. One is the sequel to this book, which is, American Life: 30 Things I Wish I’d Known. The second is a travel book about Switzerland. And the third is a novel set in Chicago.
Find out more about Chantal on her blog about Swiss life at onebigyodel.com. Buy her book, Swiss Life: 30 Things I Wish I’d Known, on Amazon or other retailers.