Peace Corps Writers
Talking with Jason Boog (page 3)
Talking with
Jason Boog
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Are blogs where we will fine the great writing of the future? Will anyone ever again read a book?

I don’t think blogs will ever replace books. Blogs just make it easier for writers to connect with their readers. A Peace Corps memoirist, for instance, can build a website that includes photos from their service, web videos of their host country, and hyperlinks that can connect readers to other sources of information about the county.
     Someday, I hope digital books will be able to incorporate this kind of functionality into the actual text. If and when I publish my novel, I will create some short web videos that let readers explore settings from my book — a trip to my Peace Corps site in Guatemala, a visit to my hometown in Michigan, and a tour of my favorite pub in New York City. I don’t think people will stop reading books — I think they will eventually expect more playful ways to interact with a novel.

Let’s go back to Peace Corps writers for a moment. What books and Peace Corps writers have impressed you?

Of all the Peace Corps writers, I’ve been influenced by Tony D’Souza’s playful, literary style. I read a couple books by Paul Theroux during my time in Peace Corps, he set the bar pretty high for all of us. Tom Bissell has been another big influence, I read his travel pieces immediately after I left Peace Corps — his journalism gave me hope for the kind of stories I wanted to write.

Do you think that there is something we might call a genre of writing that we might call “Peace Corps Literature”?

I wouldn’t call it a genre, the writing is too varied and diverse to classify that way. I would call it a community. I showed up in New York City without knowing a single writer out here. Through the networking and support of the Peace Corps community, I was able to survive the early lean years in this city. In particular, I really benefited from the support of RPCV writers like Nita Noveno and yourself. Both of you helped me find other writers in the city and helped me publish my work as well. Without the returned Peace Corps bond established at Peace Corps Writers and Nita’s Sunday Salon, I think most literary Volunteers would feel a little stranded in New York.

What advice would you give someone who wants to write about their Peace Corps experience? Give us 5 points to think about or consider.

  1. Mine your journals. I refer to my six Peace Corps notebooks at least once a month — my writing was messy, unfettered, and more creative than most journal entries I’ve kept in the United States.
  2. Think about your experience in terms of physical events. Describe how a chicken bus ride felt; write how silly you looked shoving your way through a crowded market. This way you will be writing physical specifics, rather than fluffy, nebulous feelings. Readers respond to vivid, physical prose.
  3. Shuffle through your pictures and spend a couple days writing descriptions of the people and places in your pictures. It will help you remember crucial details, vocabulary, and feelings. Stumbling across the right picture can spawn a whole page of text.
  4. Go back to your site. I returned to Miramundo, Guatemala after five years, and it was one of the most emotional experiences of my life. I was amazed how many details and feelings came crashing back to the surface the minute I touched down in my dusty village. I’ve been thinking and writing about that experience for an entire year.
  5. Read, read, read! Find every single Peace Corps memoir and travel book you can get your grubby hands on and read them! These books will help you find new writing tricks for your own story, inspire you to write your own story, and most importantly, they will help you understand what kinds of books have already been written. Read, read, read; that way you can write something new.
Finally, what do you do for a living. I presume that the blog does not support you at the moment, right?
You presume correctly. However, I am lucky enough to write for a living. I am a staff writer at Judicial Reports, doing investigative reporting about the New York judiciary.
     Thanks for the chance to write, John. I have really valued your support over the years, and thank you and Marian Beil for this website for Peace Corps writers.
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