Peace Corps Writers
Talking with Joshua Berman & Randy Wood (page 2)
 Talking with
Joshua Berman and Randy Wood
page 1
page 2
page 3


For me, probably because I thought the engineering track wasn’t going to get me overseas. I like languages, unlike most engineers (I speak fluent Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Indonesian, decent Thai and Italian), and most engineering firms I worked for had no interest in what languages I spoke. I looked into a lot of organizations but none could really match the experience the Peace Corps promised. So for me, the Peace Corps was a way to break out of the engineering rut and have some adventures overseas. It worked out too — I stayed in Nicaragua for just about 5 years, that’s an additional 3 years post-Peace Corps.

When did you two decide to write your book? Josh?

Well, as co-editors of Peace Corps Nicaragua’s quarterly magazine, ¡Va Pue!, Randy and I discovered that we worked very well together, especially on our co-written editors’ notes, which we would bat back and forth between our different styles and approaches until we knew we’d arrived. We experimented with a few travel pieces as well and always half-joked about writing the perfect guidebook to Nicaragua that did not exist, the book we wished we’d had when we first arrived in Managua (in 1998).
It wasn’t until 7 months or so after COS-ing however, that we resurrected the idea, something which we each did independently of each other on the same day! In fact, our emails, in which I was reporting preliminary research on possible publishers and Randy had roughed out an outline, actually crossed in cyberspace. We hadn’t spoken about the project for months, yet we’d simultaneously begun working together without knowing it — a good sign. We pitched Avalon a month later and soon after that I was on a plane to Managua with a signed contract and a deadline.

What do you recall, Randy, about getting together?

The first thing I did when I learned I’d be going to Nicaragua was look for a good travel guide, and I realized there was none. After two years of living down there it occurred to me I could probably write one. Josh and I spoke briefly about it once before we left the Peace Corps and then dropped the subject. About six months later while I was helping manage a two million dollar project for the US Army Corps of Engineers I started to develop an outline of what a book would look like and sent it to Josh. He filled in some of the outline, I began fleshing out another section, and before we knew it we had started writing a book. That’s when we started shopping around for someone to publish it.

Did you sell the book idea to Moon Handbooks before you wrote it, Randy?

We got it sufficiently advanced to have something to shop around, and then started identifying companies that might be interested in the book. I was familiar with — and impressed with — Moon Handbooks, because I’d relied extensively on the Moon Handbooks to Indonesia (by Bill Dalton) when I was living there from ’93 to ’94.
What set the Dalton handbook apart from the Lonely Planet equivalent was the depth of insight into culture and history, something which the Moon Handbook (and the travelers who used it) seemed to care a great deal about. So I suggested we start with Moon and then proceed to other book companies. Turns out, Moon was in the process of evaluating someone else’s proposal for Nicaragua, but when they saw our proposal they put the other guy on hold and paid attention to us. We spent about a month putting together the proposal — sample chapters, outlines, bios for both authors, and an analysis of the competition that made perfectly clear how ready the market was for a book on Nicaragua. So Moon accepted our offer and gave us a tough deadline — full manuscript to be due 4 months later! Everyone talks about the pain of shopping around your manuscript and getting rejection letters, but we were accepted by the first company we spoke to. Serendipitous, perhaps, or maybe the time was just right for our book.
Meeting the deadline required a day and night effort writing, researching, and coordinating. Towards the end we were working 16 hour days in a dumpy apartment in central Managua (you can check out our calendar for a sense of our timeline, and photos of our crazy living situation.

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