It’s not often that I read a book in three days. But that’s what happened with First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria. It was THAT good!
The author of this hilarious travel memoir slash love story, Eve Brown-Waite, is with us today to talk about the process of writing and publishing her book. At the end, she’ll take your questions, too.
First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria: How a Peace Corps Poster Boy Won My Heart and a Third World Adventure Changed My Life appealed to me because it’s a memoir about a woman in Africa — Sound familiar? But Eve’s voice and personality are so different than mine. I’m the kind of traveler who’s forever trying to prove my dedication by roughing it, whereas Eve just does not think she can go to Africa without a cappuccino maker. She’s so honest about her experiences, first in Ecuador with the Peace Corps, then in Uganda with the do-gooder husband she manages to reel in, that she had me cackling on my couch, page after page.
Welcome, Eve! How'd you come up with such a great title? (This comes from a writer who’s struggling to invent her own.)
By force, really. I’d had a working title for years (and years and years … did I tell you it took nearly 15 years from inception until I gave birth to this baby?). It was “Take Me Home” and it sold under that title and no one ever said, “Boo” about it and I assumed it would stick.
And then one day, after the entire manuscript was in my editor’s hands, she mentioned – like it was no big deal – oh, we need a new title. It was a huge bombshell, ’cause I LOVED my title (even had a soundtrack made involving certain songs with that title … yes, my book has a soundtrack … doesn’t everyone’s?). So then I spent a few grueling days kicking around titles with my editor, agent, my editor’s assistant and basically anyone else who had an idea. On one of those days I threw out First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria – which I actually liked (but not as much as “Take Me Home”) and that’s the one that eventually stuck. And now I LOVE it – even more than “Take Me Home”!
Are you this funny in person? Is your writing voice always humorous?
Yes, I really am this funny! But my writing is not ALWAYS funny. Sometimes seriousness is called for. But I like being funny and it seems to be my natural voice. You can check out my Web site and read some of my old Eve’s Droppings columns and also a hilarious performance piece I wrote about my (new and improved!) breasts. I do some serious writing too. The website has a couple of serious short stories and some political commentaries I’ve done for public radio.
Some of the events in First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria took place more than 20 years ago. What techniques did you use to mine those memories? How'd you decide what to include or leave out?
I was actually writing bits and pieces of First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria as it was happening – in the form of short stories and vignette pieces and lots and lots and lots of letters (and I guess they were pretty entertaining because people saved them). I also have a really good memory for details, speech and events. I’m getting to that age, however, when I can’t remember people’s names if I run into them out of context, but I’ll remember things like what we were eating and where we were sitting and what the weather was like when I met them. I have a real fear of running into my husband in the food co-op one day and I’ll be like, “Damn, I can’t remember your name, but I know I’ve seen you naked!”
As for what I included and what got left out in the book, in a funny way, the horse sort of led the way home. What I mean by that is, the more I got into telling the story, the clearer it became what the story was and what was important to tell. Somehow, it all just came together.
It's obvious from your acknowledgements page that you loved your agent, Laney Katz Becker. How'd you connect with her?
Laney and I found each other like a lot of agent/author pairs, I guess – blind dating! I queried, they ignored, or I queried and got to first base, then I got rejected …. repeat ad nauseum. But I learned a bit from every rejection and kept at it. I also used one of those enormous agent listing directory books to try to narrow down and only query agents that seemed like they’d be good matches. When I read about Laney I had an incredibly strong feeling that she was THE ONE. (Not unlike the feeling I had when I met my husband … and we all know how that turned out.) And she was.
For those of us who have read the book: How was Uzbekistan? Are you working on a sequel?
Uzbekistan was like downtown Brooklyn on a really bad day when even the water in your toilet bowl is steaming (if you’re lucky enough to have water in your toilet bowl) and everyone is cranky ’cause they’re wearing bad shoes and their livers are ruined by too much vodka and really cheap champagne and the horse meat ain’t what it used to be, in fact nothing is quite what it used to be since the communists left and the whole place went to pot. Y’know … usual third world fun!
Yes, I’m working on a sequel called “The Lights Are Listening: As A “Spy” in the Former Soviet Union.” (Working title: subject to change!)
Eve has offered to answer your questions in the comments. Go at it!