In one paragraph, tell us about your new memoir, Maracaibo Oil Brat.
When Susan McClurg’s parents accept a job transfer in 1957, Susan is plucked out of her familiar and routine existence in Orange, Texas and plunked down in always-hot, oil-rich Maracaibo, Venezuela. Too tall, preteen Susan struggles with making all new friends while she tries to learn Spanish. (She secretly believes that everyone should just speak English.) And Susan lives in a country peppered with revolutions, strikes, food shortages, and mandatory curfews. All she wants to do is move back to Orange.
What have been the reactions of the people from your childhood who lived in Venezuela or Orange, Texas that are included in the book?
Several have read the first chapter on Amazon and the feedback has been good. I do talk about my peers in both in Orange and Maracaibo. Since the book was just released on October 27, 2013, it is difficult to determine what reactions will be.
What have been the biggest challenges in getting the book published? Was it perhaps a Dragon that doesn’t understand Spanish?
My biggest problem has been trying to find an agent. My book does not have broad appeal except for Army brats, kids whose parents were either nomads or missionaries, or families always doing the Midnight Flit to keep ahead of creditors.
Actually, I used my Dragon very little for this book as I wrote most of it over a period of several years, perhaps before Dragon had been invented. For the few times I used Dragon for this book, it understood me better if I said Spanish words with a North American accent. (Upon setup, Dragon asks if the user has an accent. I chose Southern as Texan was not listed, let alone an East Texas choice.)
If you could go back in time, would you have chosen to remain in Texas?
If I were eleven again, I most assuredly would have chosen to stay in Orange. I would have had a life of colorful, flowing formal dresses with Rainbow Girls (part of the Masons), gorgeous costumes for the ballet and toe dancing recitals (and a solo performance or two, for sure), high heels, football games, and both junior and senior proms with stunning, elegant gowns.
How did your experience living in Venezuela change you as a person? In what ways do you think it made you different from people who grew up without an experience?
I came to see life in a more global manner. I saw what real poverty was – people living in shacks made of cardboard and whatever they found on the street. There were so many abysmally poor people with a small number of filthy rich. The McClurgs, who qualified as middle class in the States, were seen as “rich” by the masses. How could there be any poor, uneducated, sick people living in a nation filled with oil, not to mention gold, diamonds, pearls, copper, and semi-precious gemstones? Daddy always said everyone in Maracaibo should own their own home and be driving a Cadillac. Why weren’t they, I wondered.
What were you feeling at the time of the government revolt when troops and tanks roamed the streets? Were you frightened?
Frightened? Heck, yeah! In Orange, I had never seen uniformed servicemen in the streets unless they participated in a parade. The only police officer I saw was the crossing guard in front of Anderson Elementary. Caracas experienced tanks and gunfire. There were soldiers in jeeps that roamed the Maracaibo streets maintaining a strict curfew, machine guns at the ready. The overthrow of any government was beyond anything I could have imagined. All the more reason for me to return to Texas where it was safe.
Describe your journey to publication.
Painful. I submitted to fourteen agents and have fourteen rejection letters to prove it. I am too old to tolerate any more rejection, which pushed me to self publish.
Tell us about your techniques to get rid of that voice that tells you your writing is no good.
I have a toy pistol in my penholder on my desk. When “Bad Betty” shows up on my shoulder, I take the pistol and shoot her. I also scare away the “meanie nay-sayers” by listening either to classical music (so I won’t sing along) or the music from “Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire.” Failing that, I go outdoors and play with my roses and give up writing for the day.
What is your favorite clothing to wear while writing?
My twenty-five-year-old red bathrobe. I cannot get rid of it. The poor robe is embellished with an unexplained bleach stain and ventilated with a hole or two. To wash it, I must take it to the laundromat because its wet weight makes my home washer dance and thump. The comfort and coziness of my robe puts me into a cozy, creative mood.
Can you give us a sneak preview of Book Two when you were in your tween years?
Susan’s life is enhanced by the installation of a home phone, an introduction to the Teen Club, and a long awaited family membership to the Creole Club, a place for swimming, movies and socialization. She learns that not all boys are cootie-infested morons.
I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Susan McClurg Berman. You can find her book at www.maracaibooilbrat.com or on Amazon.com.