|View from the Marsh's house in Belize|
Q: Sonia, what motivated you & your husband to pack up the family and head for Belize?
We felt that living in Orange County, California, clearly compromised the future of our three sons, with its culture of sexually active, pill-popping, value-lacking teens who are not taught the consequences of their actions. At thirteen, our oldest son entered the dark tunnel of suicidal girlfriends, teenage sex and satanic tattoos. This threw our love-filled home into turmoil and forcing his younger brothers to receive nothing but leftover attention.
My husband and I were desperate enough to take an unconventional approach: we sold our lakefront California house—and everything else we owned—and moved our family to Belize. We wanted to instill a new set of values upon our children.
But, Bob, it wasn’t just for our kids. My husband, Duke, and I wanted some adventure in our life before we retired. Duke couldn’t wait to swap LA’s gridlocked freeways for flip-flops, and I longed for my own slice of Caribbean paradise.
Q: Why did you pick Belize?
“Had it not been for a leaking toilet, we may never have healed our family,” reads the first sentence in my book, Freeways to Flip-Flops: Our Year of Living Like the Swiss Family Robinson. Our plumber, who fixed our toilet told me about Belize, a country that sounded like a place we could afford. English is the official language and you could buy ocean front property for as little as $15,000, I Googled Belize and he was right. Although $15,000 might not offer the ideal plot of land to build your dream house, it was possible to find cheap water front properties in many parts of Belize.
Q: What were the biggest adjustments you and your family had to make?
One thing we learned very quickly in Belize was: “If they don’t have what you want, want what they have.” If the store didn’t carry what you wanted, just accept it and go with the flow. This was an excellent lesson for my kids, especially coming from the U.S., where we have so many choices. This taught us to always question, “Is this a want or a need?” before buying something. We have brought that attitude back with us.
We had to adjust to the lack of water and food, and the abundance of bugs, especially after a rainstorm. We relied on rain water to wash. I never realized to what extent I valued water until we were in a drought. It taught my family how much we had taken for granted.
Finding food was a major problem. Stores would rarely carry what you needed, like fresh milk or cheese or brown bread, on a regular basis. Feeding two teenagers and a growing ten-year-old became a full-time job, especially when you learn we had to shop by boat. There were no cars up north on the island of Ambergris Caye where we lived.
Q: What do you wish you could have brought back to Southern California with you?
I would love to have the beautiful, warm Caribbean turquoise water in front of my house again. Apart from that, I wish we had the slower pace of life that locals enjoy in Belize. I learned one thing about people who live in poorer parts of the world that I wish we could incorporate into our life. As long as you have enough money in your pocket to pay for your food for today, you’re happy. Local Belizeans don’t seem to worry about tomorrow the way we do.
Q: Tell me a bit about the book you have written about this experience.
|The Marsh family|
Q: What has been the biggest surprise in writing your first book?
For me, an unexperienced author, it was the length of time it takes to write a book. I'll never forget the first class I took called, “How to write a book proposal.” The teacher, who later became a close friend, started the class by saying, “It can take six years to write your first book from start to finish.” I laughed and made a silly comment which I now regret. “How can it take six years to write a book, only a stupid writer would take that long?”
Now I realize how ignorant my comment sounded. At the time I thought it would be so easy to turn my 600 page journal into a book, I didn't realize how much I had to learn about the craft, the fact that great memoirs have to use the same concepts as great fiction, that my story needed to follow a specific structure, and that I had to have a message to leave with my readers.
Q: When do you hope to have Freeways to Flip-Flops published?
As soon as possible. The big New York publishers are unwilling to take a risk with an unknown author unless that person has a huge on line following. By huge, I mean around 100,000 to 200,000 subscribers and thousands of hits/day on your blog. But, I'm making progress.
I started blogging three years ago, network like crazy, both on line and in person, volunteer at writers associations, and use all forms of social media. I’ve hired a professional to develop my new author website and blog, soniamarsh.com. I also speak about blogging and now want to expand my presentations to topics related to Gutsy Living. Three months before my book comes out I plan on hiring a publicist whom I’ve already spoken to and like.
One thing I recommend to all aspiring writers is to learn how to market your book. Unfortunately we now live in a world where author promotion is just as important, if not more, than simply writing a great story.
Thanks for the interview, Bob. There are many advantages to retiring in Belize. If anyone has specific questions regarding the expat life in Belize, or writing, or blogging, I’d be happy to help. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you, Sonia. I'll be anxiously awaiting the publication of your book. You have done something that many of us dream of but just aren't gutsy enough to try.