Gutsy author Sonia Marsh has an incredible story. It’s the story of a mom (and a dad) who fled the rat race and saved their family by moving to Belize for a year.
At the time we met about four years ago, Sonia was working on a book manuscript and had already made a lot of progress; since then, she’s been building a large and growing community online. Last week she launched her book and has already done signings in two locations. Now she’s on a blog tour. We get to be one of her first stops.
I asked Sonia a series of questions below. I know you will find her story interesting, so feel free to eavesdrop on our conversation.
Q: Briefly describe the story you tell in your memoir.
In 2004, my husband, Duke, and I were so fed up with life at home that we decided to chuck it all and move to Belize hoping to reconnect our family. We uprooted our three sons — ages sixteen, thirteen and ten — and moved from a materialistic life in Orange County, California, to a hut on stilts in Belize, Central America. Our life had been out of balance. Duke worked long hours, then spent additional hours commuting back and forth to Los Angeles each day. I was upset by the entitlement attitude of teens and pre-teens in our neighborhood and wanted my kids to experience life in a less affluent part of the world, just as I had as a child in Nigeria. We decided to sell the house, our cars and everything else we owned to start a new, simple life in a third-world country without TV, gadgets or teenage girlfriends.
Most of us dream about getting away from our hectic life and finding “paradise,” but something stops us. We find excuses not to act: “This is not a good time,” we tell ourselves. We’ve got kids in school, bills to pay, a job, a house, and so on. So we continue getting more stressed at work, more exhausted and frustrated with life. We put everything on hold until retirement, as if something magical happens on retirement day that frees us from our burdens. Except that it doesn’t, because life continues to throw obstacles in our way at every stage. Even in retirement, we’ll face emergencies, more bills — and fear. So we stay put, because it’s much easier to continue our daily routine than to explore the unknown.
For several years everyone kept telling me to start my story in Belize, and I insisted upon following a chronological order. I was so focused on my memoir being about my oldest son and the problems I had as a mother dealing with a defiant teenager. Agents, workshop leaders and editors said, “What makes your story unique is that you moved your family to Belize, not that your son was a difficult teenager, so start with the action in Belize.”
I reached a point where I no longer knew whether the story was about me, my son, my family or my relationship with my husband. After disclosing my insecurity to an editor, I realized I needed help with the structure, and hired a story structure editor. She made me realize that certain pivotal moments and scenes are crucial, and several were missing in my memoir.
When a small press turned me down, a light bulb turned on. Upset that this editor no longer wanted to publish my memoir I got angry with myself and said, “I’ll show them I can write a great story.” I rearranged the first four chapters starting with a dramatic scene in Belize where I posed a critical question: “Why the hell did we leave Orange County, California, and move to this godforsaken island where our lives were now at risk? Did I really think this was going to save my family?” I knew this was the right place to start, but had been saving it for later in the book. Sometimes we make the mistake of saving the best for later, when we really need to give it to our readers right away.
Q: What was easy and what was hard about writing this book?
Writing the journal was the easy part, but transforming it into a memoir with a structure was the difficult part. I had never written a book, and it took several years to mold my journal into a memoir.
During the initial phases, my critique buddies kept telling me, “Sonia, make it more visual. You have too much telling and not enough showing. Also, we don’t need the backstory in the first few chapters.” I understand how difficult it is to write a book that others want to read. There is so much more goes into writing than I ever imagined when I first started my journal.
About self-publishing and marketing:
Q: You chose to start a publishing company, Gutsy Publications, linked to your website and to make your book the first of what could become many others. How did you come to this decision and what are your goals?
Like most writers, I was hoping to sign a contract with a traditional publisher. After being rejected by the small press that pursued me for years, I now realize this was the best thing that happened to me as I love marketing and promotion. Starting my own publishing company, Gutsy Publications, has forced me to learn about the Indie publishing business, another topic I can speak about.
I now plan on publishing the “My Gutsy Story” anthology. I’ve been fortunate to have authors submit their own “My Gutsy Story” since October, 2011. These stories fit my blog theme: “Gutsy Living: Life is too short to play it safe.”
Q: Your launch date was August 30th. What have you learned about launching a book?
- Make your launch a fun event and call it a launch “party.”
- Form a relationship with an Indie book store manager about a year before your launch. Go to their events and introduce yourself and ask them if you can do your launch at their store.
- Ask local businesses to sponsor your launch. It gets expensive to offer food and drinks to a large crowd, so ask a restaurant if they would like to sponsor your book launch and offer them a copy of your book, and publicity in return. A restaurant donated appetizers and a Caribbean restaurant offered rum punch to go with my tropical theme.
- Make flyers with the logos of all your sponsors; drop them off wherever you go and mention them to the local press.
- Have a raffle offering prizes from local businesses. A local Brighton store I love, offered a free necklace and bracelet, and a local theater donated tickets for a play.
About you. Bring us up-to-date on your family.
My three sons are now 24, 22 and 18, and are doing well. I am grateful to Belize for the changes in all of us. My oldest graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering and is now working in CA. My middle is going to medical school, and my youngest is in the National Guard.
Q:. How do your sons and husband feel about being main characters in your book?
My sons do not wish to get any publicity, so I don’t ask them to participate. I respect their wishes, despite being asked by the media, if they can interview my sons. My husband is helping me and participates in interviews.
Q: Do you have plans for another book of your own?
I would love to do some Peace Corps work in Africa, or travel around third world countries volunteering and writing about a “Gutsy life after your kids leave the nest.” I hope to do this within the next two to three years.
Brief Bio: Sonia has lived in many countries – Denmark, Nigeria, France, England, the U.S. and Belize. She considers herself a citizen of the world. She holds a degree in environmental science from the University of East Anglia, U.K., and now lives in Southern California with her husband, Duke. Sonia welcomes new friends, bloggers, writers and readers at Soniamarsh.com (http:// soniamarsh.com) Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/GutsyLiving, or Twitter.com @GutsyLiving.