Interview with Expat author - Norman Schriever
My name is Norman Schriever, but my friends call me Norm. You can call me Mr. Schriever. Or “dude!”
I’m from New Haven, Connecticut originally, and spent a decade in California. I’ve lived in Costa Rica and Nicaragua the last couple of years, and headed to Asia next.
1. Why did you move abroad?
Should I be honest and say it was because I couldn’t hold down a job or get a date in the States? Nah, I’ll lie and say that I love traveling, exploring other cultures, and it’s always been my dream to be a writer, documenting real peoples’ stories from lost corners of the world.
2. How do you make a living? Are you a fulltime writer?
I am a full time writer. A few years ago I lived in California and worked in real estate and law and was doing very well for myself. I had the big house, nice luxury cars, five TV’s (including one in the bathroom – what a jackass I was) and all of the material trappings that society tells us “you’ve made it.” But I was completely unfulfilled, and knew chasing money and being comfortable wasn’t the legacy I wanted to leave the world, so I sold or donated all of my possessions and moved to Costa Rica, with nothing but a surfboard and a laptop, to chase that lifelong dream.
So, to answer the question, I’m broke. But I’m working on it.
3. How did you start the process of writing a book and get it published? Did you go to a publisher? Self-publish?
I started by researching the traditional publishing process – kissing everyone’s ass from an agent on up and praying that they weren’t too busy with quality projects like Snookie’s biography. I didn’t like that my destiny wasn’t in my own hands with that model, so I started looking into indie publishing (Indie sounds SO much better than Self, don’t you agree?) and followed a handful of publishers to track their professionalism, demeanor, and service to clients. I found a great one, and took the leap of faith to trust her completely. Stephanie Chandler at Authority Publishing has been amazing – far beyond my expectations.
4. What was the hardest part of taking your writing to a book format? Did you blog before writing your book?
Great question. I never intended to write a book. I backpacked around the world from 99-2000 and had about 7 notebooks filled up with scribblings about those journeys. I tried to write up three chapters and send them to agents when I got back, but I wasn’t very good, and nothing came of it. So it went on the shelf and life went on. But then, 10 years later, I started scanning the photos and putting them on Facebook. I would write the name of a place, and then one or two sentences about the photo, and pretty soon whole short stories. Someone said “you should write a book,” probably just to shut me up, and it evolved from there. But when I started writing my first book, “Pushups in the Prayer Room,” I didn’t know my ass from my elbow about writing a book! It’s hard to mess up the story of a year backpacking around the world, so it came out entertaining enough for people to overlook the shortcomings.
My second book, South of Normal, was much more structured and thought out, but still with enough passion and molten desperation to set the pages on fire.
5. What is your perception of the expat book market? Has it changed throughout the process?
Don’t be mad at me, but I don’t read a lot of expat books. ‘In Search of Captain Zero’ was a great story, even though homeboy was showing off his vocabulary throughout the first half. Is Hemingway in the expat niche? I don’t know.
6. What is your favorite part of the book?
Most people say they are ecstatic about the last page because it means they don’t have to read anymore, but, honestly, I love a lot of different parts. There are a LOT of struggles in there – a ton of honesty, pitfalls, and misadventures, but eventually I stick with them and grow to love my surroundings in Costa Rica, and fall in love with life again. I think that is a journey a lot of expats go through. But there are also numerous little funny situations and conversations that are so wild and ridiculous no one would believe they are true – those are the things I think all of us expats see on a daily basis, and will laugh out loud at!
But gun to my head (where did you get that gun, by the way?) I would pick a chapter called “Blue, Green, Breathe.” It’s about my daily swims way out deep into the ocean every day. It was like being baptized, and so beautiful that many times I contemplated swimming out into the sunset and never coming back, but in the end I found exactly what I was looking for my whole life there in the ocean.
7. What was the most difficult part to write?
None of it was difficult to write. It poured out of me. I lived in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, when writing South of Normal, the only gringo in a little local barrio. I rescued a puppy named Panda who slept at my feet as I wrote, and every morning I poured coffee with Baileys and opened up the windows to let the breeze and chatter from town in and cranked up the reggae music and my fingers couldn’t keep up with the outpouring of messages from the universe. It was perfect. I was like a soldier penning letters to his family the night before storming the beach.
But the EDITING and REWRITING process was excruciating. If I had any hair left, I would have been ripping it out. I must have written 1,000 pages to start but whittled it down to 340 pages, and a lot of good things got cut along the way in order to stay true to the core story. But I’m very pleased with it, not because it’s “good” or displays any talent, but because it’s true, and way too honest, and therefore very human.
8. Besides your book, what book should everyone read?
I am a huge Charles Bukowski fan, so I’d recommend that people read about the dismal exploits of his autobiographical character, Henry Chinaski. Not everyone will get it, but he’s got a great command of the language, and there is a lot of beauty in there. I also loved ‘Life of Pi,’ ‘Unbroken,’ and ‘City of Thieves’ lately.
9. What advice would you give to other expats that want to write a book?
Do you want to write or do you want to be a writer? Big difference. If you want to write, then write, every damn day without fail. Read good writers and study your craft and practice like a madman. If you want to just live the life of a writer, I can’t help you, because most of the image of that persona is bullshit.
By the way, I started out wanting to be a writer, but along the way I fell in love with writing, and that is all I care about these days. The world could go to hell around me, and I’ll be tapping away at my computer like that piano player as the Titanic was going down.
10. What are you working on now? Do you have plans to publish another book?
Since I just finished up South of Normal, I am doing a lot of marketing and promotion for the book, but always taking notes and shifting my consciousness to the next thing(s). I’m headed to south east Asia later this summer (anyone in Cambodia or Vietnam and want to give me advice?) and I’m working on a smaller eBooks. One will be about the plight of children in the Third World, one advice for first time writers who are just starting out, and then I will keep documenting humorous memoirs. I also ghost write blogs, articles, and books for people who want to get their stories out, and businesses who want content marketing.
Have you ever sat at work and thought about leaving the rat race behind? Do you
secretly question if it all makes sense, fantasizing about moving to a
white sand beach in the tropics to live the easy breezy life in
paradise? Check out South of Normal, a gonzo blast of laughter and adventure about a year living in the tropical paradise of Tamarindo, Costa Rica.