Non Fiction / Memoir
Date Published: December 18, 2013
Everybody needs to run away from home at least once. Susan Corbett told people she was out to save the world, but really she was running — running from her home as much as to anywhere. Like many women, she was searching for meaning to her life or for a good man to share it with. In Africa, she hoped to find both.
Compelling and compassionate, In the Belly of the Elephant is Susan's transformative story of what happens when you decide to try to achieve world peace while searching for a good man. More than a fish-out-of-water story, it's a surprising and heart-rending account of her time in Africa trying to change the world as she battles heat, sandstorms, drought, riots, intestinal bugs, burnout, love affairs and more than one meeting with death. Against a backdrop of vivid beauty and culture, in a narrative interwoven with a rich tapestry of African myths and fables, Susan learns the true simplicity of life, and discovers people full of kindness, wisdom and resilience, and shares with us lessons we, too, can learn from her experiences.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Probably the main message of In the Belly of the Elephant is that we have to leave home to truly understand it, and in the end, to truly appreciate it. I really want my readers to grasp the incredible beauty, wisdom, and resilience of the African people I met while living there. I also hope to inspire readers to go out and discover the world!
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
The biggest challenge for me is to actually sit down and WRITE! Writing is a creative process, but first and foremost, it is a discipline. The discipline of writing 3-4 hours every day can be hard to do (especially if you have a day job,) but is essential if you're ever going to finish the book. And, I have found, the more I write, the more my creative juices get flowing. Regarding my memoir, In the Belly of the Elephant was hard to write at times because I felt I was exposing my soul to the world. Not always an easy thing to do.
How many books have you written and which is your favorite?
Well, my first book was a fantasy story that took place in the 12th century in Africa. It's still sitting on a shelf. It's often said that your first book should be written then tucked deeply away.
My second book was a fictionalized version of my memoir. A potential agent told me if I ever wrote the true story, she would be interested. So, I wrote the true story and my third book is my memoir, In the Belly of the Elephant which is of course, my favorite.
If you had the chance to cast your main character from Hollywood today, who would you pick and why?
Oh boy, what a fun question! Well, first off, they're all too pretty, but OK. She would have to be around 25 years old and willing to spend a lot of time in the heat and dirt of Africa. I guess I'd say, Shailene Woodely. I really liked her in The Descendants and she shows her toughness in the Divergent Series.
When did you begin writing?
I've been writing in journals since I was 10 years old. I kept detailed journals the five years I lived and worked in Africa, not thinking I would write a book, just needing to write down my feelings and what I was experiencing. When I came home from Africa in 1982, people would ask me, "How was it?" How do you explain five years of an experience that changed your life in one brief conversation? In 1991, after I had married and had my 2 boys, I quit working full time to be with my small children. I started reading my journals again and realized I wanted to share my story with the world. So, at the ripe old age of 40, I took every local writing class I could find, joined a critique group, and started going to writing conferences. It took me ten years to write In the Belly of the Elephant.
How long did it take to complete your first book?
The first book that is still under my bed took about two years to write. But, In the Belly of the Elephant took ten years. I wrote Belly while raising my two young children and working on lots of non-profit boards and committees on women's health, homelessness, and immigrant issues.
Did you have an author who inspired you to become a writer?
I have read and loved almost everything Barbara Kingsolver has ever written. Also, Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces sparked my desire to write a good story.
What is your favorite part of the writing process?
I really enjoy structuring a story, figuring out the story arc and plotting it all out. I have flip charts all over my house outlining chapters, events, and characters. Then, once I get myself in front of the computer, I love the actual act of writing, just spilling my heart and creative soul into the words.
Describe your latest book in 4 words.
Mexico Skeletons Friendship Forgiveness
Can you share a little bit about your current work or what is in the future for your writing?
My latest book, The Ghosts of Santa Maria Del Mar is the first in what I hope to be a mystery series. During the feast of the Virgin of Guadeloupe, young girls begin to mysteriously go missing, and someone is leaving long dead skeletons all over town while a mismatched crew of five American women (Melissa, Liza, Josie, Tina, and Sam) are on vacation in Mexico. Unresolved guilt from a thirty year old murder of a high school friend sets the group on a series of misadventures. They grapple with the town's handsome police captain, a troubled street youth, the Catholic priest, the town's pot dealer, a seance medium, a rich landowner, and the local ghost to unravel a mystery that goes farther back in time and place than December, 2015 and the small town of Santa Maria Del Mar.
These books will be full of my life experiences, my perspective, my love of place and travel, and the lessons I want to share with the world. They have strong characters and sense of place with a historical unsolved mystery woven throughout. I have chosen the fiction/mystery path because it is easier on the body and soul to write than memoir and more fun.
A writer, community organizer, and consultant in program management, micro-enterprise development, family planning, and HIV/AIDS education, Susan Corbett began her community development career in 1976 as a Peace Corps Volunteer, working in a health clinic in Liberia, West Africa. In 1979, she joined Save the Children Federation as a program coordinator for cooperative and small business projects in Burkina Faso. In 1982, Susan returned to the States where she has worked with local non-profits in drug and alcohol prevention for runaway youth, family planning, homelessness prevention, and immigrant issues.
Susan has traveled to over 40 countries in Europe, Africa, Asia, the Pacific and Caribbean, and Central and North America and has lived and worked in ten African countries over the past thirty years (Uganda, Tanzania, Mali, The Gambia, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Mauritius, Tunisia, Nigeria, and Liberia). She lives in Colorado with her husband, Steve, her sons, Mitch & Sam, and her dog, Molly.