Thursday, November 12, 2009

Author Carolyn Theriault

I’m pleased to have Carolyn Thériault as my guest on today’s blog. Carolyn holds degrees in Classics and Egyptology, and has tossed aside an unfulfilling job to travel around the Mediterranean rim and work when absolutely necessary. She has been published in various literary, travel, and culinary books and journals. She is also co-founder of Urban Caravan Photography. Stealing Fatima’s Hand, to be published by Vox Humana Books, is her first book. She resides with her husband, Chris, in Turkey, where she is at work on her second book.

Carolyn, you say you’ve been amazed to be a published author. When were you first published, and how did that come about?

Carolyn: Hi Katie – firstly, thanks for both your interest in Stealing Fatima’s Hand and for contacting me. My first publication was in The Summerset Review – a (then) online literary journal – back in the autumn of 2004. I knew nothing about the publishing industry and was utterly ignorant about the number of small but excellent independent literary reviews “out there”. I had assumed that it would be difficult for emerging writers to break into a print medium on the first go, so I just decided to try an online journal. It was an auspicious start: Confessions of a Waterpipe Smoker was my first essay and first submission - and it was accepted. I’d soon learn that I wouldn’t always be so fortunate.

Katie: Were your first publications photographs, or writing?

Carolyn: My first publications were writing; namely travel memoirs/essays. Eventually some printed magazines accepted both. Most of my photographs have been sold privately.

Katie: Tell us a little bit about Stealing Fatima’s Hand.

Carolyn: Stealing Fatima's Hand is an (hopefully!) unforgettable collection of interconnected essays which presents an alternative view of Morocco, a country not of labyrinthine alleys, kasbahs, and smoky tea rooms but the Morocco after the coach tours leave. Unconventional and candid, it will become the black sheep of the literary travel family; it undoes for Morocco everything that Peter Mayle did for Provence. It spans the two years that I lived and worked in Rabat (Morocco’s capital city) with humour and honesty. During that time, I struggled with its bureaucracy, sexual harassment, the threat of terrorism, devious students, randy co-teachers, and the temptation of having French pastries washed down with gin & tonics for every meal - all in a country where, apart from my husband and me, the only vegetarians are the sheep and the goats.

Katie: How did you conceive of the idea for this book, and how long did it take you to write it?

Carolyn: That’s both an easy and complicated question – or perhaps just the answer is complicated. When I first moved to Morocco, I started blogging to keep my friends and family up to speed on what was happening; however, the blog metamorphosed into more of The Emperor’s New Clothes Visits Morocco than a “On Friday I went to the medina and bought these amazing babouches …”. I confess that I’m a bit of a square peg and a tad snarky. My admittedly often cynical observations hit a chord with ex-pats both inside Morocco and out. Meanwhile, several of my colleagues urged me to “do something” with my posts. I think they saw my experiences as a “cautionary tale” of sorts for those still hoping to discover Paul Bowles’ Tangier or the Beatniks’ Morocco. Using the posts as a foundation, I reworked and rewrote what I felt were my seminal pieces – and the ones which drew the strongest responses from my readers. I initially tried to make it a novel but it was then suggested to me by an agent whom I had contacted that it would work better as non-fiction, as a memoir. I took her advice, stopped midstream, and began again. All told, once I started writing, it probably took me a year to complete.

Katie: You state that this is a traditionally published book. Did you query an agent, or were you able to contact a publisher directly?

Carolyn: Like most new writers, I spent a lot of time on the web researching the publishing industry and it soon became apparent that I wouldn’t get anywhere without an agent. I wrote what, in my opinion, was a dizzyingly brilliant query letter, spent eons searching for agents who handle my genre of writing, and sending out e-mails. I now have an e-mail folder that is embarrassingly filled to capacity with rejection letters from agents. Late last spring, literally on the cusp of assigning my book to the Recycle Bin, I saw a call for submissions by an independent publishing house, Vox Humana Books on Places for Writers ( Never one to let an opportunity pass her by, I sent my query off to its publisher, Philip Hyams, and le viola!

Katie: Share with us three highlights of your journey to publication.

Carolyn: If I can work backwards … the first would be learning that Vox Humana Books would be publishing my book. Words can’t express the joy and profound relief Philip’s e-mail brought me. I’m not sure if the rest are highlights so much as things that kept me going when I was ready to give up. My husband and several of my friends acted as sounding boards, and offered me great advice and encouragement that I invariably took. Thirdly, while I was working on Stealing Fatima’s Hand, I kept writing and sending out short stories, and they kept popping up in various journals and books. The people at the Travelers’ Tales and Gastronomica (the Journal of Food & Culture) were exceptionally supportive and even republished my work. Seeing your name in print when you’re reading to throw in the towel is a great restorative.

Katie: Tell us something about you that we don’t know!

Carolyn: Hmmmm … these questions never come off as very flattering, do they? First, I’m incredibly shy. Most people have trouble believing this. I can’t imagine why. Second, I hate having my photo taken. When I travel, I take a grey flannel bear named Grey Bear with me so he might act as a surrogate in photographs. He is accommodating, decidedly unweird & very photogenic. Third, I liked the movie Ishtar.

Katie: What plans do you have for future books?

Carolyn: I’m torn between a second volume of travel tales and something completely different. Unlike the first book which was set in Morocco, I’ve been on the move ever since: Spain, Slovakia, Italy and now Turkey. On the other hand, I’ve been toying with a fictional story set during Spain’s Civil War. I just can’t decide. I seem to work better when someone tells me what to do and then I’ll just do the opposite.

Katie: Thanks for being the guest on my blog today. Check out Carolyn’s sites at, her publisher and her photography site at


B. Freret said...

Excellent! Thank you for this, I cannot wait to get my hands on this book!

Darcía Helle said...

Great interview, Katie!
Carolyn, you've led quite the fascinating life. Your book sounds intriguing and has just moved on to my wish list. I wish you much success in your writing career!

Barbara Ehrentreu said...

Great interview, Katie!

Carolyn I had to laugh when I saw you liked "Ishtar". But you have been in some of the most beautiful places in the world. I also enjoyed thinking about how you managed as the only vegetarians in Morocco.:)

This Cat's Abroad said...

Thanks to all of you for not dismissing me completely for liking Ishtar. And of course for your interest in the book. We're hoping for a pre-Xmas release date. Watch Amazon et al .... as for being a vegetarian in Morocco: I ate French pastries every day.

Philip Hyams said...

Dear Friends,

I am Carolyn's publisher (Philip) and want to thank you all for your kind remarks. Stealing Fatima's Hand will be available by Xmas (and Channukah!. What a wonderful work. (Sorry for the plug! :>)

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Carolyn's story is fascinating, Katie. Thank you for sharing.

Philip Hyams said...

Dear Friends,

I am Carolyn's publisher (Philip) and want to thank you all for your kind remarks. Stealing Fatima's Hand is now available from Google Books and our web-site at: