Guest Blogger and Book Giveaway: Sybil Baker, Author of The Life Plan

WOW! Women on WritingFresh off Freelance Writing Week, we’re going to keep the writing theme going just one more day with a guest post from Sybil Baker, author of The Life Plan.

Sybil is the first author to appear here through blog tours with WOW: Women On Writing, and hopefully there will be many more to come.

This book tour caught my eye in particular as Sybil is an ex-expatriate who spent 12 years teaching in South Korea; she says her experiences as an expat greatly shape her writing, and I was looking forward to seeing that come through in her book.

And indeed it does.

The Life Plan by Sybil BakerHer novel, The Life Plan, is about Kat Miller’s carefully planned life falling apart and her efforts to salvage it, which include going to Thailand with Dan, her unemployed husband of five years. Dan has recently been spending a little too much time at yoga class with a beautiful classmate, so when he suddenly signs up for a massage course in Asia, Kat just had to gowith him. With scenes in Washington D.C., Bangkok, and Chiang Mai, the book traces Kat’s search to have it all, whatever that ultimately means.

When I joined the blog tour, Sybil kindly sent me the electronic version of her book to have a look-see, and I may or may not be guilty of minimizing “work” computer windows to catch a peek at what Kat and Dan are up to throughout my workday. I was hooked from page one, and I think this is why e-books are dangerous for me. It’s *way* too easy to click over to the book while I’m supposed to be working!

Sybil has also kindly offered a signed print copy of The Life Plan to one lucky Bleeding Espresso reader; to be eligible for the book drawing:

Leave a comment on this post at or before 11:59 p.m. (Italy time) on Sunday, April 5.

Now here’s Sybil:

The Expatriate Writer in the Post Millennium

Sybil BakerWhen I moved to South Korea in 1995, the internet was just getting started, email was a few years a way, and beepers—not cell phones—were the “must have” item by my students. Once a month I would write a long letter on notebook paper and then photocopy it before mailing the copies to family and friends. My family called once after we arrived, but when my father got the phone bill, he decided he could live with letters.

Those first few years in South Korea, my life was not much different from expatriate writers twenty years ago. I was cut off from my own country, immersed in a very different culture, and forced to communicate using a language I barely knew. I didn’t have a computer, and instead wrote in my notebook. I didn’t know any other aspiring writers, which was a nice change from the States, where it seemed at least two other people at every party I went to wanted to be a writer. I could work on my writing in a strange quiet, within the demands of living in a different country but also without the “noise” of distractions in the States.

Another expatriate writer, Robert Eversz, who lived in Prague during that time said the same thing when I interviewed for an essay on American expatriate literature for The Writers’ Chronicle. His Nina Zero novels take place in LA, which he visited once or twice a year. But Eversz told me that if he lived in LA he wouldn’t be able to write about it because he’d had sensory and information overload. For those first seven years in Korea I wrote about the States—the South that I had left and the characters that lived in that world.

Then in about 2002, I finally wanted to write about Korea and the other countries I visited. By then I had a computer and my notebook was more for planning than anything else. I was living in Seoul, which was becoming more international by the day and less isolating. I could watch Sex and the City, Friends and other popular American TV shows, and the internet connected me to music, movies, and the news that I’d been away from. Suddenly, the advantages of being an expatriate writer were becoming liabilities. I had no one around to read my work and give me feedback. Even with the internet, it was hard to keep up with new work and writers in the States, to figure out where to send my work out. And sending work out from Korea was complicated, time-consuming, and expensive. My self-imposed exile as a writer was no longer freeing but isolating. To resolve this problem, in 2003 I enrolled in Vermont College’s low residency MFA program. I was able to enjoy living abroad but also become connected with writers in the States, to have my work looked at seriously, to catch up on the books I missed.

When I graduated with my MFA in 2005, Seoul was one of the most wired countries in the world, Koreans watched TV shows on their cell phones, and I could chat with my family for free and see them on video using Skype or MSN messenger. Literary journals were starting to appear online, and I’d met a few other writers in Seoul. I now live in the States again, but life for expatriate writers is much different. Blogs allow writers to keep up with the publishing industry, to read about new work and trends. Many journals now take electronic submissions. Online journals are increasing in number and quantity. Online writing communities are sprouting up everywhere.

It’s much easier for an expatriate writer to feel connected to other writers in the States and around the world. In many ways that’s a good thing, although if you fantasize about living as an American expatriate removed from the United States writing scene, you should probably unplug your computer, turn off your cell phone, and take out pen and paper because otherwise, almost wherever you live, you won’t be able to duplicate the expat writer’s life of Hemingway or James Baldwin or Paul Bowles. These days, even my writer friend living in Kabul has internet.

Thanks so much Sybil!

Now I ask all of you: Do/did you have a “life plan”?

Remember to leave a comment to be eligible to win a copy of The Life Plan!

31 Beans of Wisdom to “Guest Blogger and Book Giveaway: Sybil Baker, Author of The Life Plan”
  1. Gil

    Never thought that South Korea would have been that far behind in the area of electronics. Interesting post.

    Thank you!

    I guess we were all pretty e-illiterate at a certain point 😉

  2. joanne at frutto della passione

    I can relate to what she says about being an expat in the ’90s. Keeping in touch meant hand written letters (which I kind of miss to be honest) and being months behind on family news. Phone calls were a rare luxury reserved for special ocassions or really special news (good or bad). There are just so many more resources available for expats today than there were 10 years ago. I wonder how she finds being back.

    joanne at frutto della passione’s last blog post..Ultimate Blog Party 2009

    Excellent question Joanne…reverse culture shock? Hmm….

  3. Richard


    Besides wondering if she ever had goat in S Korea I guess I would comment that my family and I during my 25 years in the US Navy spent almost 1/3 of that time overseas.
    This was in the 60′ and 70’s. Most SE Asian and S European countries were almost underdeveloped and as such tough to live in and tougher yet to raise young/teen children.
    When we landed in the US the very first comment I made was; “well there goes the family unit for sure”, you see they had turned on a TV which they had not seen in English for nearly 5 years.
    I was right. The cohesive family unity fractionated and well; you’ll have to read my book to know; “The Rest of the Story”……psssst come here Pasqualini….Love and Light, richard

    Pasqualina is busy out to pasture, but thank you for your observations on the differences in family life; molto interesting 🙂

  4. Kerri

    I’m an expat in S. Italy and I am just starting to get into expat writing. Can’t wait to check this out! 🙂

    Thanks for coming by Kerri 🙂

  5. Beth

    Life Plan? What’s that? 😉 Congrats on the blog tour to both of you!

    Hah, I hear you, Beth! And thanks 🙂

  6. 03.30.2009

    Looks like a good book. Now that I’ve actually been to those places in Asia it makes it all the more interesting!

    charlie’s last blog post..

    Ooh I love when I can follow along with places I’ve been too 🙂

  7. What a great guest post. Yes it is a lot easier to be an expat now. My parents had to write letters to their families/friends and phone calls to and from the States were rare. At least they were only a three hour plane ride from “home”.

    Yes I did have a life plan and it did not include living in Italy. Paris, Martha’s Vineyard, NYC yes, Rome, Italy? No.

    Funny how life works.

    nyc/caribbean ragazza’s last blog post..Rome’s Auditorium Parco Della Musica a must for lovers of music and/or architecture.

    Funny indeed! I was never even remotely interested in Europe until I decided to move here….

  8. awedree

    My whole life I’ve tried to so hard to plan my life, big things all the way down to the nitty-gritty. It gives me a sense of security. However, after 30 years, my experiences have taught me that some times life just can’t be planned (MOST of the time actually!), and that to enjoy it to its fullest it’s best to just go with the flow and take it as it comes. These stories teach us the importance of flexibility in life and of not holding on too, too tight to our pretty little plans. Thanks Michelle 🙂

    Wise girl 😉

  9. mindy

    sounds fascinating thanks for the giveaway

    Best of luck Mindy!

  10. 03.30.2009

    Thanks everyone for your comments already–will respond to them in the next few hours!

    Sybil’s last blog post..Blog Tour: Monday March 30

  11. Silvia

    Sybil it’s good to see you here! Michelle, thanks for your lovely blog ^^
    I am not a writer but I was an expat for the first time in Japan in 1989, and it was even worse than Korea in 1995 for Sybil… in fact, I lost a boyfriend on a long-distance relationship also because of difficulties in communication… sometimes letters are not enough, and phone calls were way too expensive to be made as often as one wished…
    but I agree with what has been said above, if you want to feel “abroad” and “alone with yourself” you definitely need to unplug your elecronic facilities and face yourself, on a different time basis, on a different space and location… and enjoy (or just take it all..) your new country ^^
    Good luck to all expat writers! and cheers, everybody!

    Thanks so much for coming over and sharing your experiences, Silvia! Great advice 🙂

  12. 03.30.2009

    Gil–South Korea wasn’t that far behind in electronics–remember in 1995, no one was really using email. Actually South Korea has been way ahead of the States in regards to internet, cell phone and all that stuff. I think we all forget how quickly all of that has changed.

    Kerri–Thanks! My favorite character in my novel, Lucy, is an Italian expat living in Asia.

    Joanne, as for being back in the States–I miss the internet cafes in Korea and other countries, and the cheap cable TV and cell phone bills. S. Korea is much more connected in that sense than the States.

    Thanks Cheri, send me an email if you read the book and enjoy it!

    Richard–I did have goat in Korea–once on a tiny island called Ullungdo and then I had goat soup (supposed to help “women” power) in Daegu. Delicious!

    Sybil’s last blog post..Blog Tour: Monday March 30

  13. 03.30.2009

    nyc/ragazza–I totally agree. If someone had told me I’d live for 12 years in South Korea I’d never have believed it. And I’m so glad I did!

    Beth–I agree! For me, the best Life Plan is to be prepared, and then go with the flow when life is nothing like you thought it would be.

    Awedree–I totally agree. I feel best when I plan some things–savings, general life direction, goals, etc.–but I agree it’s best to be open to all those things you never even considered, and be ready to act on them if you need to. And sometimes bad things we can’t plan for–cancer, illness, deaths of loved ones, divorce happen even when they shouldn’t.

    Thanks Silvia for your comments–wise as always! xoxoxoxo

    Sybil’s last blog post..Blog Tour: Monday March 30

  14. 03.30.2009

    Interesting post. I used to have a life plan. Now at 52, I am flying by the seat of my pants…as it were.

    Thotlady’s last blog post..

    Hee hee…isn’t flying *fun*? 😉

  15. Christina Brunetti

    I would really love to read this.

    thanks so much!

    Best of luck, Christina!

  16. 03.31.2009

    I’m loving the writing tips, guests, and links! The book sounds like a great read – thanks for hosting a giveaway. FUN : )

    Glad you’re enjoying, Rochael!

  17. 03.31.2009

    Funny how no matter where you live, if it is not your country of birth it takes some getting use to. Even Canada to the US was a challenge. Her story sounds great.

    Esme’s last blog post..Soup for Spring

    So true, Esme. There are just some things you grow up “used to” that you don’t even realize until they aren’t around anymore and/or completely different 😉

  18. It is easier to be an expat now. My heart jumped a beat when she said one long letter home a month. I am homesick for how she must have felt.

    Sounds like a fun book. And yes, ebooks=danger! 🙂

    I can’t even imagine how much more isolating it was, although I have to say that when I first moved here, I didn’t have the Internet for a couple years either…the first few months were *really* quiet!

  19. Aimee Eck

    Wow very interesting indeed… =)

    Best of luck Aimee!

  20. beth shepherd

    Thank you for the chance to win!
    THank you!

    Best of luck, Beth! Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  21. 04.01.2009

    Thanks everyone for your comments. If you read the book, send me an email–I’d love to hear from you. Great to meet so many of you living in different countries and sharing your experiences.

    Sybil’s last blog post..Five Steps to organizing your writing time

  22. Toni

    This looks like a great read! Thanks for the Giveaway.

    Best of luck, Toni!

  23. chris swan

    WOW sounds like a great book. Thanks for the chance.

    Best of luck Chris!

  24. Kim V

    Thanks for the giveaway!

    Best of luck Kim!

  25. 04.05.2009

    What an interesting read! Thanks for the chance to win too. 🙂

    Aimee’s last blog post..The Lotus Flower

    Best of luck, Aimee!

  26. 04.05.2009

    Very nice promote GREEN!
    Grazie Grazie!! 🙂

    Thanks Chuck!

  27. 04.05.2009

    Michelle, I’ve enjoyed your freelance writing week!

    Deb’s last blog post..Italian Groundhog Day

    Great! Thanks for letting me know Deb 🙂

  28. 04.05.2009

    Although I never moved out of the US, when I first moved to Hawaii in 1983, it was much more difficult to communicate. Things changed over the years, especially after the internet became popular. When I first moved here, phone calls were expensive, shows were 2 weeks delayed, and writing letters was my main way of communicating to most of my friends and family (with phone calls now and then). I guess my life plan was to live in Hawaii. I still have not completed my plan though. Too much more to do. Your book sounds very interesting.

    girasoli’s last blog post..“stripes”~ PhotoHunt

    Best of luck with that plan…I wonder if Italy is involved 😉

  29. 04.09.2009

    Sounds Like A great read

    Miranda Allen’s last blog post..Winner Take All Giveaway: $833 Value

    I sure enjoyed!

  30. Another big difference I noticed over the 15 years of living off and on abroad is technology’s impact on love affairs. When I first fell in love with an Italian in Italy and had to go back to USA, I would yearn for letters and drawings that would arrive by post. They came almost every day, like my writing was to him, but his letters were out of sync. I would have to remember back 3 letters while reading what I received. Yet the tactile quality was so wonderful and direct. You could even smell the person sometimes.

    Then the correspondence changed with a new boyfriend and a few years later meant we used email. Sometimes they had delays or did not get delivered properly. I had to wait for beeps and phone connections instead of searching for colorful stamps.

    Now it is as fast as chatting, texting and skyping with video connections but some of the romantic qualities have certainly died with the new methods.

    Irene of An American in Padua’s last blog post..

    Definitely pros and cons…but how lucky for you to experience love throughout the ages 😉

  1. [...] Michelle Fabio’s Bleeding Espresso blog, Sybil discusses her thoughts on being an expatriate. The ...
Michelle FabioMichelle Fabio is an American attorney-turned-freelance writer living in her family's ancestral village in Calabria, Italy and savoring simplicity one sip at a time. 

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