Cedar Street Times 4-1-2016
by Patricia Hamilton and Joyce Krieg
Nancy Swing turned her experiences living among the ex-pat community in Laos into a work of mystery fiction.
Many lives, many stories, many ways of telling our stories. Certainly the most common method is to write a fact-based progression of the events in our lives, from birth to our present circumstances. Others prefer to focus on one special experience, as Cheryl Strayed did with her best-selling memoir, Wild.
Then there are those who chose to turn their life stories into fiction—and that’s exactly what Nancy Swing of Pacific Grove has done with her novel, Malice on the Mekong, just released by Park Place Publications.
Nancy spent most of her adulthood living and working abroad, some thirty countries in all, sometimes with her husband, Russell Sunshine, an international development consultant, and other times on her own, employed on short-term projects in many different countries. After spending so much time in the ex-pat community—especially with the sub-species officially called “dependant spouses,” a term many find pejorative and demeaning—Nancy began to see patterns. So in the time-honored tradition of “write what you know,” she embarked on penning a literary novel based on her experiences and observations.
“She’s Awful—Why Don’t You Kill Her Off?”
Then while serving on the adjunct faculty at the American University School of International Service in Washington, D.C., Nancy showed her novel to a colleague. He commented about one particular character: “She’s awful—why don’t you kill her off? Make it an ambiguous death and have Anjali solve it.”
And thus was born a classic cozy mystery featuring Anjali Rao, a “chocoholic Hindu grandmother” and wife of a United Nations diplomat stationed in Laos.
As luck would have it, mystery is a genre with which Nancy had more than a passing familiarity. She points out that when living an international life, often the only available English-language reading materials are “airport books”—paperback mysteries, thrillers and romances. Still, Malice on the Mekong was “twenty years in the making.” On the journey to publication, Nancy honed her craft, taking workshops at UCLA, University of Iowa and Winchester University in the U.K.
Discovering “A Much Better Way to Go”
But why fiction? Nancy has lived a fascinating life, a rich mine of nuggets just begging to be put into a memoir. But Nancy says, “Taking the experiences of life and bringing them together to create and enrich a story was a much better way to go for me.” She adds that fiction gives the author the ideal vehicle for writing about difficult people and situations, while still maintaining everyone’s privacy, a method that can be enormously cathartic. Nancy admits that her main character, Anjali Rao, is “a lot like me,” even though the nationality is different. “I know this woman … we’re an international sisterhood.”
And how did this globe-trotting couple land in Pacific Grove three years ago? As Nancy tells the story, she and Russell were living in Italy and assumed they’d spend the rest of their lives in that sunny country, when Nancy developed a severe sensitivity to sunlight. Realizing that they’d have to relocate somewhere cooler and cloudier, they began looking in the Pacific Northwest and worked their way down the coast. “Pacific Grove just felt right,” she says.
Patricia Hamilton and Joyce Krieg will be offering a free introductory class in Guided Autobiography on Saturday, April 16, from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. in the “Little House” in Jewell Park next to the Pacific Grove Public Library, which is co-sponsoring the event. No pre-registration is required and all materials will be provided. To find out more about the writing, editing, book design, publication, and marketing services offered by Park Place Publications, and for a free consultation, contact Patricia at 831/649-6640, firstname.lastname@example.org.