August 11th, 2009

books

One-Shot World Tour: Southeast Asia: Interview: Autumn Cornwell

The One-Shot World Tour (OSWT) was created by Colleen of Chasing Ray as a way for bloggers to come together occasionally and review books with similar themes and settings, or to simply recommend something outstanding which others may have overlooked.

For today's (technically, tomorrow's - I'm a day early, as the OSWT is officially scheduled for Wednesday, October 12th) tour, we're highlighting books and authors from Southeast Asia. I interviewed Autumn Cornwell, author of Carpe Diem, a YA novel in which a 16-year-old overachiever takes an unexpected trip backpacking through Southeast Asia with her eccentric grandmother. Autumn herself just returned from a trip and spoke with me at length about her travels, her writing, and her upbringing.

You have traveled all over the world. What lands did you find the most captivating? What peoples or cultures most intrigue you?

Hands down - Southeast Asia! I never tire of visiting that area of the world. Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam . . . Burma.

However, what's interesting, is how after my husband J.C. and I made a number of visits for business and pleasure to Southeast Asia, we suddenly found that our trips had turned into "outreach trips." We were leading teams from our church to Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Burma to bring medicine, supplies, clothing, and money to help persecuted ethnic and religious minorities. We were sponsoring dental and medical teams to help destitute villagers in Laos - which, for those who've read Carpe Diem and met Stick Girl, you'll understand where my passion for these people stems from. We were bringing supplies - as well as crafts and toys -- for the orphans and refugee children in IDP villages in Burma. And playing games with them in the jungles, while the gunfire of the Karen and Burmese soldiers exploded a mere five miles away.

The whole tragic story of the genocide of the ethnic Karen minorities by the Burmese Military Dictatorship in Burma is one that's been on my heart for years. (And is the partial subject of my next novel.)

Basically, not to sound cheesy, our vacations turned into vacations with a purpose. And travel hasn't been the same since. And neither has my writing.

What are your favorite parts - be they specific countries or simply elements, lifestyle or environmental - of Southeast Asia?

The whole culture of Southeast Asia appeals to me aesthetically. It can be hard to put into words without resorting to generalities or clichés, but in the more rural areas, I love the lush, tropical greenery; the rustic villages; the food! (oh, for some larb and sticky rice right now!); the graceful manners; the family focus of life; the endless rice paddies; the Technicolor sunsets; the artistic ruins; the fruit (mangosteens, guavas, rambutans); the sounds of cicadas and geckos; the fan ruffling the mosquito netting; and, most of all, the friends over there who are like family to me.

You sound so happy when you speak of your travels! Did you surprise yourself at any point, confronting any assumptions you weren't aware you had?

Oh, I think in life, you're constantly subconsciously making snap judgments and then later, many times, having to retract or revise them. No matter how much you travel, there's always something to learn. I'm more aware of my past assumptions when I'm traveling with people who're visiting SEA for the first time. I see their minds working the way mine did way back when.

One thing that always takes awhile to acclimate to on each trip, is the contrast between what the experts call "the hot and cold climate cultures." How the West (generally) places priority on efficiency and the East (generally) places priority on relationship. (Keeping in mind we're talking about the rural areas of SEA.) And all the sorts of misunderstandings and hurt feelings that can arise if you're not aware of how the other culture works. Collapse )

One-Shot World Tour (OSWT) Southeast Asia Participants and Posts
Chasing Ray: When the War Was Over by Elizabeth Becker
Chasing Ray: OSWT SE Asia Round-up
Seven Impossible Things: Jan Reynolds Interview
Bildungsroman: Autumn Cornwell Interview
The YA YA YAs: A Filipino Miscellany for One Shot: Southeast Asia
Biblio File: Southeast Asia
Things Mean a Lot: Trese and Filipino Myths
School Librarian in Action: Writer Doctor Wins (Another) Award
A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy: PaperTigers Interview
MotherReader: When Heaven Fell by Carolyn Marsden
Tanita S. Davis: The Library Tour
Brown Paper: The Book of Salt by Monique Truong
Finding Wonderland: One Shot World Tour: Southeast Asia
Semicolon: Reading through Asia: Vietnam
Semicolon: Reading through Asia: Cambodia
Great Kid Books: Reading Around the World: Stories about Surviving the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia
PaperTigers: Southeast Asia-Related Treats
Teens Read and Write: Three Great Books about Southeast Asia
Rasco from RIF: Cover Story: Four Cinderella Covers
Rasco from RIF: Wednesday Window: A Southeast Asian One-Shot
Into the Wardrobe: Playing It Safe by G.T. Los Baños
The Happy Nappy Bookseller: Bitter Sweets by Roopa Farooki