By Jennifer Rogers Spinola
I know many readers assume that since we international writers live abroad, we probably can’t wait to fill up our novels with details about sugar-white Brazilian beaches, ice-cold coconut water, and hot, salty, sand-like farofa manioc flour, right?
Nope. Not for me, anyway.
People often ask me—an American who’s been living in Brazil more than seven years now and two years in Japan before that—how Brazil figures into my writing, and especially my debut novel series. Well, simply from the title, “Southern Fried Sushi,” you can tell my mind is somewhere else.
Because many times, in the grunt and strain and sweat of pushing a heavy baby stroller on broken sidewalks in the tropical heat, or cheeks reddening as I make one more mistake in Portuguese and everybody in the grocery store or overcrowded bus turns to gawk at me, the misplaced American, I wish I WAS somewhere else. Somewhere familiar. Somewhere I’m not introduced as an American (and subsequently judged, according to the hearer’s opinion). Somewhere I can buy peanut butter and grits and not have to explain ANY of it. Somewhere where I could regress back into my un-teacher-like Southern drawl, or look around the table and see everyone holding and cutting with a knife and fork like I do, and don’t have to answer the hundredth (antagonistic) question about Bush or American international policies—while two listeners whisper and giggle together about my accent.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Brazil. I’ve loved Brazil since my first trip here as a journalist in 2000, holding dust-streaked children in rural slums near the Pantanal. It was my dream to come back. My husband and son are both Brazilian, digging into black beans and rice, pouring on the farofa, and shouting “GOLLLLLL!” at every soccer match. And I jump in with the best of them.
But—under my tropical-sun-tanned skin and deceptively Brazilian long haircut and Havaiana flip-flops—I am simply. Not. Brazilian.
I am American. A South Carolina-born Virginia native. A lover of the Rocky Mountains and ice-cold streams and mist-covered pines. A NASCAR-watching, corn-shucking, bluegrass-loving Southerner who’s somehow detoured in countries far from her own. And that’s okay. That’s my life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
So what does this have to do with fiction writing? For me, everything.
Instead of writing about the environment I find myself in, I often find myself turning to writing—a blank page or a white Word document—to unburden my emotions. The places I miss. The memories I hold dear. The Fourth of July fireworks I don’t see, and snowfalls I long so deeply to feel against my face, just for a moment. A breath of crisp fall that I have nearly lost in years among sunshine and palms.
And so I write.
From this my first published novels were born. I thought, again, one January morning, of the places I missed. The smell of black powder and fall woodsmoke and delicate spring hyacinths. The slope of dusty purple Blue Ridge Mountains. Even the tang of soy sauce and clatter of the Japanese subway system that I’d come to love, and—like everything else—left behind in a blur of visas and passport stamps.
If you’re longing for familiar places, or even longing for some inspiration, consider your past. It may be that, like me, your old loves, and even old hates-turned-loves, will reward you with passion, details, and emotions that you never thought possible.
Jennifer Rogers Spinola lives in Brasilia, Brazil with her Brazilian husband, Athos, and two-year-old son, Ethan. She teaches ESL private classes and is the author of Barbour Books' "Southern Fried Sushi" series (first book releasing in October and now available for pre-order here!) and an upcoming romance novella collection based on Yellowstone National Park (also with Barbour Books). Jenny is an advocate for adoption and loves the outdoors, photography, writing, and camping. She has previously served as a missionary to Japan, a middle- and high-school teacher, and National Park Service volunteer. Jenny has a B.A. in English/journalism from Gardner-Webb University in North Carolina.
Valerie Comer's life on a small farm in western Canada provides the seed for stories of contemporary inspirational romance. Like many of her characters, Valerie and her family grow much of their own food and are active in the local foods movement as well as their church. She only hopes her creations enjoy their happily ever afters as much as she does hers, shared with her husband, adult kids, and adorable granddaughter.
She is represented by Joyce Hart of Hartline Literary Agency and has recently sold her first work, a novella, to Barbour Books. Visit her website and blog to glimpse inside her world.