Writing in a Foreign Country

melissa~ By Melina Kantor

There was a time, not so long ago, when November meant I had three major events to look forward to.

There was the balloon inflation the night before Thanksgiving, when everyone in my neighborhood would congregate by the Museum of Natural History to watch the preparation for the Thanksgiving Day Parade. I lived a few blocks away, so I used to invite friends over for dessert afterwards. I’d have giant pots of fancy hot chocolate and apple cider on the stove. The night was often more magical than the parade itself.

The next morning, I’d wake up, put the dog on the leash, and walk to my corner, which was the “back stage” for the parade. We’d walk past the marching bands, elves and floats and find a good spot to watch the parade. In my neighborhood, where the parade started, there was a small town feel.

All of this parade hoopla was one of the highlights of my year.

In fact, there’s an entire parade scene in my first book.

Of course, all of this happened during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), which, as some of you may know, is the other highlight of my year. I was lucky to live in New York, where there was a strong community of Wrimos who met for regular write-ins. I had a tradition of bundling up in my NaNo hoodie, listening to the soundtrack for my novel on the subway, and then sipping hot apple cider and chai lattes while doing word sprints with a cafe full of other writers.

But, in July of 2012, I moved to Jerusalem. Yes, the one in Israel. When people asked if I’d be homesick, my answer was usually, “Well, I probably will be in November.”

Go ahead. Laugh. But before I moved, I checked to make sure that NaNoWriMo exists in Israel too. It does.

Last November, because I’d been in Israel less than five months, I decided to take a non-traditional approach to NaNo and work on an old manuscript. There’d be daily writing, but no word counting. With all I had going on, 50,000 words was too much to ask. I hadn’t written a single word since I’d moved.

My first Israeli write-in (which was mostly made up of Americans), was surprisingly great. I was writing every day, without pressure. It was nice to just go with the flow and get back into the habit of writing. I met some nice people.

Then, well, some pretty scary events started taking place in the south. I hesitate to bring this up, because mostly, life in Israel is pretty routine and living here doesn’t feel like living in a war zone. But with missiles flying only a few hours away, last November didn’t feel routine.

Things got scarier when the missiles reached Tel Aviv. I’d write with the radio going so I could keep up with the news. Every few minutes, a song or news report would be interrupted to report air raid sirens going off in cities throughout the country. It wasn’t long before the sirens went off in Jerusalem. It was only twice, and I can’t tell you how thankful I am that nobody in Jerusalem was hurt. But needless to say, it was a terrifying time.

There was no laughter or music in the streets. It was eerily quiet, except for the military planes and helicopters.

People didn’t want to be far from home. Life must go on though, so I tried to continue to go to write-ins. Sometimes, it was just three of us, and the atmosphere in the unusually empty cafes was somber and quiet, but at least we were meeting occasionally.

When the second air raid siren sounded in Jerusalem, I was home alone, writing. The dog and I took shelter, and then I went into the hallway to talk to the neighbors. “What do we do now?” I asked. They shrugged.

One neighbor said she was going to work. Another said she was going to have a cigarette. At that moment, I thought it was a shame that I’d never smoked and didn’t even know how.

All I could do was go back inside. With the news streaming from my phone, I went back to my desk and continued to write. My characters were on a beach in Crete. I got to pretend I was there too. The writing gave me something to focus on. The funny thing was though was that I could actually picture myself there as I’ve been so many times. I’ve never even considered it before but I will probably hire a car the next time I go so I don’t have to rely on any other means of transport. My friends told me about a hire company called Rental Center Crete so I might decide to use them the next time I go for any writing inspiration, or for simply just a relaxing break.

Since then, I’ve done a surprising amount of writing. I eventually found some writing classes in English. I haven’t found fellow romance writers, but I’ve had some invaluable critiques from writers of historical fiction, memoir, speculative fiction, and religious texts.

Of course, I’ve got the Internet too, which means I’m still connected to RWA members and my writing friends.

So far, this NaNoWriMo has been fun, and, thank goodness, peaceful. It’s been nice to meet new people but even nicer to see familiar faces from last year. Although I’m slightly behind, I have every intention of making it to 50K this year.

I may be far away from home, but writing has helped me stay connected with my past life and people I care about. It’s also helped me build my new life. I’m looking forward to seeing where it leads me.

Melina write contemporary romance with a pinch of oregano and a dash of chutzpah. She loves to travel, especially to her family’s village in Crete, and turn her adventures into research for her novels. In July of 2012, she moved to Jerusalem with her adorable but sneaky cocker spaniel. You can visit her at http://melinakantor.com

5 thoughts on “Writing in a Foreign Country”

  1. Heather, I lived in Israel for a year in college, when Internet was still dial up and not so common. It was a great year, but I wouldn’t have lasted more than a year. It’s so much easier now!

    Jim, thanks for the good wishes!

    By the way, I can be very lazy about writing. If not for NaNoWriMo and the feeling of being part of a community of writers, I probably wouldn’t have had the motivation to write a single word last November. I’m just glad I had something concrete to do.

  2. Glad to see you can write through anything and anywhere! Having lived all over the world (before email and internet) I know it can have its challenges, but also its benefits. And now, with technology, it’s like you can practically be in the same room with someone, when they’re a half a world away. I live in Florida and my Critique Partner is in Australia! Thanks for the terrific post. Write On!

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