Russell Sunshine’s earliest childhood memories are of his parents sitting in front of the fireplace sharing stories from their experiences on the road. His father moved to Southern California from St. Louis during the Depression, and his mother was born in Alberta, Canada, as her father was helping build the Canadian Pacific Railway. “For our family, telling travel tales was a tribal ritual.” This story first appeared June 17, 2016 in the “Keepers of Our Culture” column in Pacific Grove’s Cedar Street Times.
His own first major adventure occurred at the tender age of five, when he sailed on a Norwegian freighter from Long Beach through the Panama Canal to England. “Travel was in my blood, by inheritance and by example,” he says.
Now Russell has turned these twin passions—traveling and story-telling—into Far & Away: True Tales from an International Life, just released by Park Place Publications. His memoir tracks a lifetime spent mostly abroad. Russell clusters his tales around the main destinations where he traveled, worked and lived: India, East Africa, China, Laos, Central Asia, Sri Lanka and Italy.
Discovering ‘This Is Me!’
Russell served as an independent policy advisor to foreign governments and international organizations in Africa, Asia and Europe. Heavily influenced by the idealism of the 1960s, he began his career asking, “How can privileged Americans help developing countries help themselves?” A post-graduate fellowship through the UC Berkeley Professional Schools Program got him started in India where he realized, “This is me! This is what I want to do with my life.”
When it came time to commit 40-plus years of experiences to paper, Russell had to overcome a common challenge: unlearning years of training as a competent legal, business and technical writer and relearning how to tell a story. He wanted to entertain as well as inform. Childhood memories of his parents’ fireside circles provided a key. “I realized I could tell my stories out loud and then carry that liveliness onto the page.”
‘When I Get Back to Bangkok I’ll Order Your Book’
Though Russell’s book has been available only a few weeks, he is already discovering the power of writing stories and putting them out there in the world. He’s heard from many of his “global buddies,” including one who told him, “I’m in the jungles of northern Laos, but when I get back to Bangkok I’ll order your book from Amazon.” Another acquaintance told him, “I always wondered what the hell you were doing for all those years!” The other day, he had coffee on Lighthouse Avenue with a colleague he hadn’t seen since 1973, when both worked in Tanzania. He’d heard about Russell through the local World Affairs Council, and told himself, “There can’t be two Russell Sunshines.”
Which begs the question—is his name really Russell Sunshine? Russell explains that his paternal surname was originally the German ‘Sonnenschein.’ When his grandparents passed through Ellis Island in the 1890s, a helpful immigration officer encouraged them to adopt the English-language equivalent. “It’s been ‘Sunshine’ ever since,” he says.
Russell and his wife Nancy Swing—author of the mystery novel Malice on the Mekong—are now retired and as Russell puts it, “rediscovering North America.”
Russell Sunshine’s path from writing to publication, and the reaction from friends and colleagues, illustrates the power of telling our stories and sharing them with the world. Russell’s book, Far & Away: True Tales from an International Life, is available on Amazon and at Bookworks, 667 Lighthouse Ave., Pacific Grove.
For a free consultation about writing or publishing your own stories, contact Patricia Hamilton at 831/649-6640, firstname.lastname@example.org.