15 Kilos

So, I’m no longer in the guesthouse in Kadugli. I was extracted, the UN wasn’t officially calling it an evacuation. The fighting started at 5:15 p.m. on June 7 and quit around 9:50 p.m. most likely because the power went out around 7:00 p.m. and it was pitch black so they couldn’t see what to shoot at. It was heavy small arms fire. There were two burst of fighting in the night one at 2:30 a.m. and one at 4:30 a.m. and then it started up again at about 6:00 a.m. heavy small arms fire, much closer than the night before and mortars. At 8:57 a.m. I received a text from the security focal point for the International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGOs) that negotiations were being made for the removal of international personnel, but that it would not happen until after 12:00 p.m. Please have your quick run bag ready to go. (This is really just an excuse for why I didn’t keep my promise about writing twice a week, I really was planning to and I even had a post on query letters, but in the excitement of limping out of Kadugli I failed to post it.)

What is a quick run bag? It is a bag that can weight no more than 15 kgs about 32 pounds which contains at least one change clothes, some food, some water and whatever you don’t want to leave behind within the 15kg limit. Mine had clothes, my medication, some toiletries, some jewelry and a bunch of speeches I was planning on working on when I was done with the latest edits on my memoir.

So what does 15 kgs have to do with writing? Detail is important in writing, but you have to be careful that it doesn’t weigh your writing down. I find this particularly difficult when I’m trying to write about my life, memoir. It’s my life, isn’t every detail important? Yes, to me, but not to a reader. Sometimes I get bogged down in the detail, detail that doesn’t move the story along. So you need to think about the essentials, if you could only have 15 kgs (that’s figuratively, if you wrote a book and it weighed 15 kgs there most likely wouldn’t be a chance that you had left anything out), what are the essentials to your story. For example in my quick run bag I brought a lot of underwear, I left all the old ratty ones behind, but one of my roommates at the UN compound, there were five of us, brought an iron. Prior to having to pack a quick run bag there was a lot of joking between myself and my colleagues about what to bring, they were teasing me about the sacred frog pillow, I regret to inform you, it did not make it out. Why? Because I knew there would be pillows in Khartoum. I did bring a lot of tampons, a commodity you can’t find in Khartoum.

So in the first draft of my memoir in the part of Bosnia I included a brief romance with this guy Jeff, who dumped me for a big-boobed Bosnian girl. One agent pointed out to me that it didn’t add anything to the story, and she was right, it was more revenge writing, so I dumped Jeff.

As you go through the writing process and hopefully have people reading your drafts, they will most likely have a better feel for extraneous detail or even chapters. Now it’s difficult to leave some things out. For example when I was packing my quick run bag I thought it was too heavy so I took out a pair of ratty old jeans, my favorite holey jeans that had been patched to death and my Keen sandals. Now that I’m in Khartoum and the guesthouse has looted and there is no possibility for recovery I wish I would have packed them, but soon enough I won’t even remember I had them.
When people/readers suggest you leave things out you most likely will feel a bit looted also, but it’s important to be able to take constructive criticism well after all they are only trying to help you. For me if I get something I’ve written back without any edits or suggestions it makes me nervous—like the person didn’t even read it.

Remember 15 kgs is all you get, so choose wisely. When I initially thought I was flying out on Tuesday, that was before the fighting started, I had booked extra kilos on the flight. I was still leaving a lot of stuff behind, but I packed an entire duffle bag of stuff I that I wanted to take. Unfortunately someone else has benefitted from my packing, it was all ready to be walked off with by the looters. Boy are they going to be surprised at the 200 tampons they find. It also had in it Jeff Herman’s Guide to Publisher’s Agents . . . so I’m hoping I get picked up by an agent soon as I won’t be able to get a new copy of that book for awhile.

In addition to being extracted from Kadugli and losing probably $1,000 worth of “stuff” and the sacred frog pillow I was rejected by two more agents this week for a total of 38 rejections. Oh well, hopefully next week will be better.

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2 Responses to 15 Kilos

  1. Christine Appleberry says:

    Dear Tiana, a good page-turner is one in which at the end of each chapter, our heroine is left hanging in a precarious situation. So. Well done. Where are you now? And you usually come back to Portland in September; are you on your way! Holding my breath, Christine

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