JASON BOOG (Guatemala 200002) joined the Peace Corps after graduating from college. Following his tour, he went to graduate school and lives now in New York City where he has contributed book reviews and essays to our site. In 2006 he won the Peace Corps Writers Moritz Thomsen Peace Corps Experience Award for his essay, “The Rainy Season in Guatemala.” Besides writing for us, and working full time, he has a wonderful blog for writers that we wanted you to know about, so we interviewed Jason recently about his writing and his unique and valuable blog.
Jason, some background. Where are you from in the States?
I'm from Ionia, Michigan, a little town 30-miles outside of Lansing. I graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in literature.
What got you into the Peace Corps?
Well, I joined Peace Corps as a poor college graduate. I knew plenty of things about literary theory and great writers, but I didn’t really know anything about how the real world worked. I wanted to help people, learn Spanish, and travel, but I had no idea what I was getting into. I joined up, and those two years broke me out of my comfortable, limited bubble. I went in dreaming about being a literature professor, I came out wanting to be a traveling journalist.
What did you do as a Volunteer?
I worked in a pilot program (sadly now suspended) called Rural Youth at Risk. I lived in the dusty eastern side of Guatemala, working in a mountain village called Miramundo to build economic opportunities for teenagers. We created a small bakery and flower nursery business, hosted community talent shows, and worked to bring a high school to the village. Until very recently, school ended at sixth grade for most of my kids.
And then you came back to do graduate work?
Right. I studied magazine writing at New York University’s graduate journalism school.
Have you published much?
So far not much. I’ve been published in magazines and newspapers. I have a few favorite places where I’ve published before: I wrote about Latino immigrants for Newsday, analyzed radio dramas for website The Believer in a piece called “Skinning the Americans” and wrote about my Peace Corps experience for Abroad View Magazine. And, of course, I have published on your site, Peace Corps Writers
Oh, also I just finished my first novel, a faux-memoir about a journalist named “Jason Boog” who uncovers a vast conspiracy behind the toy soldier industry a strange adventure story that ends in Guatemala. I’m just beginning the tricky search for agents and publishers now.
What about your blog? Tell us about that.
It is called The Publishing Spot. I help fledgling writers find the resources they need to work in a writing world being turned upside-down by the shift from paper to web publications. I conduct practical interviews with professional authors about how they use the Internet to build community, find readers, and survive in this tough new economy for writers.
There are a tremendous number of blogs on the Internet. Is anyone reading them?
The beauty of blogs is that they are specialized, almost surgical about finding the right audience. I love reading the comics pages in the newspaper and reading about Peace Corps news, so I discovered wonderful blogs like Comics Curmudgeon and Peace Corps Writers where I can find other people who like similar things.
My friend Steve, on the other hand, finds both of these topics a little tiresome, so he spends his time reading blogs about web video reelpopblog.com. While no blog will ever rival the audience share of a big network television show, there are a tremendous number of blogs that have dedicated niche audiences to sustain them.
What other blogs do you read?
I dabble in a few different fields when I read. For journalism news, I read Journerdism.com. For literary edification I visit Edward Champion at EdRants.com. For writing advice, I visit LitPark. For my artistic side, I read 52 Projects. For international journalism, I like to visit my friend Adam’s site AdamBellick.com
I keep track of all these blogs using Google Reader. It’s a program that collects all your favorite blogs on a single page so you don’t have to visit all your favorite blogs every day. It helps!
What are some good blogs for Peace Corps writers?
For writing resources and advice, I have a few favorites: the Creative Writing MFA Blog explores the best (and worst) programs around the country.
Practicing Writers has an excellent newsletter about writing markets Practicing-Writing.blogspot.com
Finally, I like reading the different posts at Metaxucafe a site that collects the best literary blog posts every day.
If you want even more resources, visit my writing website, The Publishing Spot. In the lower right-hand corner I keep a collection of my top ten writing sites. They are all very useful. Every time I find a blog that I enjoy, I check the list of links of websites that the writer enjoys. I usually find more reading material that way. Once again, I recommend Google Reader to keep track of the blogs.
You have a blog . . . how would someone go about creating one?
The most important thing is finding something to write about. Everybody scoffs at blogs because they think they are the diaries of people in pajamas. Not true! The best blogs are written by writers who are enthusiastic about something your Peace Corps site, pulp fiction novels, knitting, or scuba diving.
As long as you are enthusiastic about your topic, you can find readers. Do a Google Blog Search about your topic, see what other bloggers are writing about your topic. Read these blogs carefully.
Then go to a free blog site like Blogger. Sign up for a free account and design your blog. They allow you to completely customize every aspect of your blog, from web-page colors to headline fonts. The site contains plenty of tutorials on their Help page that will guide the most inexperienced blogger through the process.
Then, start writing about your topic. I recommend reading Copyblogger or Problogger . Both of those websites will teach you how to write gripping, exciting blog posts.
Finally, go visit the blogs that write about your topic. Leave thoughtful comments in the comments section, and engage people in debates about your topic. Before long, people will be checking out your blog to see what you are writing. As long as you stay enthusiastic about your topic, you should keep writing.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.