The Rules For Writing A Peace Corps Book

There are no rules. And that is what is so great about writing a book.

A friend, a successful writer/editor/creative writing professor and RPCV, has been reading my blogs on “Peace Corps books” and she sent me these wise words on how Peace Corps writers should go about the task of writing a book. Her list:

  • Hopeful Peace Corps writers should take writing courses from reputable instructors to learn the basics and to have the opportunity to workshop their writing among peers.
  • They should also read lots of good How-To books on the craft. There are a gazzillion of them out there.
  • They should avoid at all costs: exclamation points, stereotyping, cliches, and all other proofs of lazy writing.
  • They should plan on revising each chapter or piece at least ten times. Quality writing is all about revision.
  • They should NOT confuse explicit, titillating, borderline-pornographic sex scenes with “intimacy” with the reader.  A writer of worthwhile prose must work harder and dig deeper to achieve emotional intimacy with his/her reader.

I would add that a good Peace Corps book is a journey. It has a beginning, middle and end, and the reader is on the same journey as the narrator. If the reader doesn’t care about the narrator, he or she will stop reading.

How do you get a reader to be interested in your journey?

You do it with language. Here is what I mean. This is the opening paragraph of a novella The Jiru Road written by an RPCV.

“I had been earmarked as scholar bait and spinster material as far back as the second grade. It was not only a matter of the brains I had but of the looks I didn’t have. During those early years of bedtime stories, I remember my mother featured the one about the ugly duckling that grew up to be a beautiful swan. I grew, oh my yes, I grew and didn’t stop until I was six-foot-two. But none of it, as far as I could tell, was beautiful.

“I reckon I joined the Peace Corps because I was trying to avoid conscription. Not into the army, like my draft dodging male counterparts, and not into marriage, like my reluctant female counterparts. It was conscription into American life. I was just a kid trying to sneak out of the twentieth century….”

african-visasThis opening to The Jiru Road that appeared in the collection African Visas was written by Maria Thomas [Roberta Worrick (Ethiopia 1971–73] who first went to Ethiopia with her husband and four-year-old son. They were Peace Corps Volunteers in the short experiment the Peace Corps tried of sending families overseas. After some seventeen years of working in Africa, Maria and her husband returned to Ethiopia. He was working then for AID. There, in the summer of 1989, they accompanied a U.S. Congress mission headed by Congressman Mickey Leland to refugee camps on the Sudanese border. Roberta had gone with the Congressman and her husband as an observer. Her Amharic was so fluent the Congressman wanted her to tell  him if he was being told the truth by his handlers. On the way to the Sudanese border their plane crashed in the western mountains of Ethiopia; there were no survivors.

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