AUTHOR: Lance Johnson
BOOK TITLE: What Foreigners Need To Know About America From A ToZ: How to understand crazy American culture, people, government, business, language and more.
PUBLISHER: A to Z Publishing
BUY LINK: amazon.com (Kindle, too) and distributors Ingram, NACSCORP, and Baker & Taylor.
Tell me a little about your book and give a short synopsis.
This one-of-a-kind book paints a revealing picture of America and its people for those foreigners who will benefit from a better understanding of America. It also informs Americans who want to learn more about the U.S. and how it compares to other countries around the world on a multitude of topics. Foreigners might come to the U.S. to work for American employers, to open branch offices or factories for their homeland employers, to start their own businesses, or go to school. Others might work for American organizations in their homelands or have American teachers and associates there. An understanding of American culture and language will contribute to their success. (More info at www.AmericaAtoZ.com.)
What gave you the idea for this particular book?
Having taught overseas and traveled in 81 countries, I was always amazed at the nonstop questions people had about all things America. Crazy America, as some called it. Our language, government, people, literature, films, food, dress. Our behavior. Even our negative image on the world stage. And at home, I watched my foreign heritage friends struggle to start a new life—get jobs, open businesses, enter schools, make friends.
After years of these exchanges I searched for a book I could recommend to them that condensed and simplified what America is all about. Aside from a multitude of stuffy textbooks it would take to cover this cosmic sized subject, there wasn’t one. So I began thinking about writing one, not sure I wanted to be slayed by this Herculean monster. I let him stew on my backburner for several years.
Then, on a flight to Beijing in 2001, I sat next to an American executive in charge of overseas operations for a major U.S. corporation. He lamented the struggle he had teaching American business concepts to his foreign managers. I mentioned my abeyant book idea. His face lit up. He said such a book would make a valuable training aid for his foreign managers and executives. “Good hard facts,” he said, “culture, the big picture, the details. Because of cultural differences they just don’t get it and tend to revert back to local customs. In this competitive world we can’t afford to backslide.”
That was the final jostle I needed. I returned home and the next day began to write What Asians Need To Know About America From A to Z. It would take two years to complete. Halfway through the research and writing process, I signed a contract with a major Chinese publisher for the rights in China thanks to the efforts of an agent there, the only one who had the same vision I had. I finally had the confirmation I wanted: What I was doing was indeed important. Then in 2009 I started upgrading the book for all foreigners, not just Asians. It was released in 2012.
Are you a full-time writer or part-time, and how do you organize your writing time?
I vacillate between full time and part time interwoven with world travel and playwriting. However, writing A to Z was a full time job with breaks of several weeks to several months. Now, I write when I am in the mood. I find it best not to force myself, but instead to work on a stage play when I am in the mood to write dialogue, then something else like research or writing an article when that need cloaks me.
When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
Not until I retired and began to write the A to Z book. But I must admit, I had doubts until a publisher acquired the rights to the book a year into the two-year writing of it.
What do you hope readers will take from your writing?
I witnessed firsthand the difficulty my foreign heritage friends had adjusting to life in the US, even after 20 years living here. I hope readers learn from the book and, in turn, succeed in their efforts dealing with Americans, both here and in their native countries.
What types of writing do you prefer, and why?
I like non-fiction, such as my A to Z book, because of the intellectual challenge of presenting it so readers will absorb it in a logical fashion. But I also love writing stage plays, as opposed to writing fiction, with straight forward dialogue with no embellishments that are required with fiction. Maybe that is another reason I like non-fiction: no embellishments, just the facts ‘mam.
What is the toughest part about being a writer and how do you get past it?
I suppose getting started. I find that just starting to write is the best medicine for this. I have a slogan: right or wrong, push it along. In other words, even if you have doubts, just write and ideas will pop up and you can always change, delete, or enhance them, and one thing will lead to another.
What draws you to non-fiction writing?
I enjoy the research aspect because it is a learning process and expands my world. Then, the challenge is to write the book in a logical fashion that facilitates understanding the results of that research. However, it is most important not to copy and paste your findings because you have to use your consistent voice throughout the book. I hate it when I read something that has multiple voices, knowing it was a paste job.
What kind of research did you do for this type of book?
This covers the waterfront because of the vast subject: describing America to foreigners. In my travels about the US and in 81 countries, I always ask “foreigners” what they don’t understand about America and our culture. The book is replete with my findings. To have the book make sense to the reader, an important objective I had before beginning the book was to make comparisons with other countries on various topics in order to make it more interesting, as opposed to just telling them about America. The Internet was a big help in learning more about a country and its culture so I could make comparisons with America.
What about your book makes it special?
It is a one-of-a-kind book. Before I began it, I searched for one I could recommend but couldn’t find one. Some had portions of my book, but mine brought it all together for the reader in one book.
What is your marketing plan?
I plan to do seminars on the subjects in the book, contact US corporations and government agencies that have foreign workers, and also schools that have international studies and students.
Where can people learn more about you and your work?
What are your views on self-publishing versus traditional publishing?
I hope the negative stigma of self-publishing is finally tossed in the trashcan in the same fashion a writer angrily pulls a sheet from the typewriter and deep-sixes it. A book is a book, regardless of how it is published. Besides, traditional publishers have had their noses in the air for too long, and now their domain is quickly changing. Hopefully, commercial buyers of books will come back to earth, too. My book has been rejected from some bookstores because it is self-published…just a rule they have, they tell me. If they were smart business people, they would judge a book by its cover, er, by its contents, not how it is published.
Do you have an agent and do you feel an agent is necessary for non-fiction?
Yes I do, however, she has not yet connected on an international basis with publishers. An agent can be helpful, as I found out with my first book for Asians, who landed a contract with China’s largest publisher. However, the problem I faced was that they all said my concept was interesting but they had never seen a comprehensive book like this actually printed, so it probably wasn’t feasible. I wonder what the Wright brothers or Dr. Jonas Sulk would say about this narrow mindedness.
Any tips for new writers hoping to write non-fiction?
Cast all doubts aside and just write write write and forget about whether or not you will get it published, it will be right, etc. First, clearly define who your readers will be and state your objectives in writing the book. In my case, I taped 24 objectives of my book on the wall in front of my computer screen. Some of these included writing in clear, simple terms because the reader will speak English as a second language. (Review after review compliments me on the easy reading style of the book.) Another objective was to end up with a book that’s fun to read, NOT a stuffy textbook, as so many on this subject are. I also wanted to use lots of pictures where possible and a personal voice that suggests the reader is one-on-one with me like a discussion we’re having in the park. Another one was to actually use slang words and phrases in my narrative with explanations of their meaning.
Finally, I recommend new writers of non-fiction at least try to get endorsements, as I succeeded in getting from the US ambassador to China, China’s ambassador to the US, along with other ambassadors and worldwide scholars and editors. I was reluctant, as most writers are, not knowing if my book would meet with their approval. As my grandfather used to tell me as a small child, you won’t know unless you try, will you? So, before the book was finished, I sent copies of the first few pages of each chapter asking them for a SHORT comment. I was stunned by the responses. Lesson: just do it, you might be surprised. Good luck with your new book!!
EXCERPT FROM BOOK
In the Introduction I write this conclusion, “With all of our cultural differences though, you’ll be surprised to learn how much our countries—and we as human beings—have in common on this third rock from the sun called Earth. After all, the song played at our Disneyland parks around the world is “It’s A Small World After All.” Thanks for coming along on this journey with me. Thank you for allowing me to share my America with you. And thanks to all of you who shared your country with me.”