Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Interview with Carol Alethia, Author of Plant Teacher

Caroline Alethia is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in newspapers, magazines, on radio and in web outlets. Her words have reached audiences on six continents. She lived in Bolivia and was a witness to many of the events described in PlantTeacher. You can visit her website at www.plantteacherthebook.net.

What is your fondest childhood memory?

My father worked for an international organization, and so I spent five years of my childhood overseas. I was in Europe for three years and in the Middle East for two years. My parents were also very enthusiastic travelers, and by the time I was in high school I had visited 47 states and approximately 40 countries.

In the United States, home was in the country, in the South, and I was raised on Girls Scouts and 4-H, hiking and camping, and tending to large gardens and many small farm animals.

I have many childhood memories, but one of the most wonderful is of searching for sea turtle hatchlings. My grandparents lived on the beach in Florida, and one night we combed the beach looking for hatchlings that had become stuck in their nests. We dug one nest free and watched the baby turtles paddle across the sand to the waiting waters of the Atlantic.

When did you begin writing?

I remember I wrote and illustrated a short story in grammar school. In high school, I became interested in poetry and scribbled many pieces that were deeply adolescent. I continued to write poetry as an adult, but the pieces were intended for myself and friends, not for the general public. In my twenties, I also became interested in writing short stories.

What is this book about?

Plant Teacher explores the lives of American expatriates in Bolivia during the time when president Evo Morales was consolidating his power with a very heavy hand. The expatriates do the things that expatriates do: they travel, they write, they debate, and they experiment. One character, Martin Banzer, experiments with indigenous South American hallucinogenic drugs, also known as “plant teachers,” and the results are stunningly disturbing for him. Strangely, Martin and his North American friends try to reap all of the enjoyment they can out of their Bolivian experience during a time when the country is crippled with protests and hunger strikes and riots.

What inspired you to write it?   

I have spent 13 years of my life as an expatriate, living in seven different countries, and I know the mentality well. Expatriates are experimental, they are curious, they are creative. Living in a different country has the same sort of life-changing effects as going away to college; you are free to try to be someone new.

At the same time, I personally lived in Bolivia when President Evo Morales illegally amended the Constitution within an armed encampment in order to extend his term limit. There were widespread protests throughout the country, and this unrest barely made it into the North American media. Morales is portrayed as a populist here—which he is, to some extent, but he is also authoritarian.

I wanted to tell a story of people at a place in their lives when they want to explore and have fun, but who are confronted with this constant omnipresent threat of revolution and violence. I wanted to see how these characters would negotiate these two worlds

Are you a member of a critique group? If no, who provides feedback on your work?

I belonged to a critique group during my time in Europe. At that time, I was working at an international agency as a writer. Our group was filled with journalists, PR people, and creative writers. Every few months I would bring in a short story for critiquing. It was a hard audience to please, but it definitely honed my creative writing skills.

I would add that the short stories, like my poems, were all pieces too personal for me to want to share publicly. When I wrote Plant Teacher, I was careful not to make it autobiographical in any way. None of the characters are surrogates for me. None of the characters represent friends or family members or other people in my life.

Where can readers purchase a copy of your book?

Plant Teacher is available on Amazon both in paperback and in a Kindle edition.

Do you have a website and/or blog where readers can find out more?

People can read my blog entries, enjoy excerpts of the book, watch a promotional trailer set to a poem from the book, and listen to a podcast of me reading Plant Teacher’s first chapter on the book website. That site is www.PlantTeacherTheBook.net.

What is up next for you?

I paved the way in Plant Teacher to write about Austrian psychiatrist Alfred Adler, one of Freud’s greatest rivals and one of the three founders of modern depth psychiatry. In Plant Teacher, the character, Cheryl, analyzes Martin’s earliest memories using the Adlerian method. Few people know this method, and I would like to publish a self-help book explaining how it works.

Is there anything you would like to add?

Thank you so much for this opportunity. I hope your readers enjoy Plant Teacher!

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