Acknowledging My Villagers


On that trip it was my good fortune to be wrong;
being mistaken is the essence of the traveler’s tale.
Paul Theroux (1941- ) Riding the Iron Rooster.

Isn’t that a great quote?  It’s going in my book.  In fact, it’s the first of seven that made it into the book.  This one (Paul is a former Peace Corps volunteer too, by the way. Did you know that?) will lead the pack.


It’s 11 pm on Tuesday night and I’ve just finished putting together the document that will go to my publisher, Victoria Twead, in Spain (of all places; who says you need a publisher in New York City?) who will then bustle about making the changes listed and get my book out by the end of the month.  Personally, I’m shooting now for July 26, my grandmother’s birthday. She’d be 110.


I wonder what my granddaughter will be doing on my 110th birthday?  That’s actually not as far off as I’d like to believe.  But I digress.


This blog was born in desperation and in gratitude. I’m going to emphasize the gratitude.  Frankly, I don’t have my blog ready for tomorrow.  But my book is on my mind. Specifically the Acknowledgement Section.  So, guess what I’m posting?


I’m thankful to so many people.  And this is my way of giving each of them some public acknowledgment. I mean, whoever reads the Acknowledgement section at the back of the book (or even when it’s in the front of the book?) Huh?  This way, each one will get a little extra spotlight.


AND, it will give anyone I missed a chance to call me up and say WTF?  (and I’ll be grateful for the call)

Studying culture without experiencing culture shock is like practicing swimming without experiencing water.         Geert Hofstede (1928- )


Yes, I’ll be sprinkling these quotes throughout.  I hope you like them too.  I think they give a bit of a hint as to what my universal theme is that runs through my story. 



It takes a village to write a memoir. And my village is huge.

Seven years is a long time and there were many iterations before it became At Home on the Kazakh Steppe. To those readers who read earlier versions, drafts, and excerpts I say, “I’m so sorry!” My book back then read like a doctoral dissertation, a series of journal entries, or a self-indulgent manifesto: pick one. But you gave me needed encouragement to keep going, and for that I also say, “Thank you.”


Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. 
Helen Keller (1880-1968)

To the members of the Eastern Shore’s Own Tuesday night writers’ group under Lenore Hart in Virginia and the members of the End of the Road Monday noon writers’ group under Reeve Lindbergh in Vermont, I say, “Thanks for being there.”

To Abby Colihan, MarySue Vinci, Susan Reed, Martha Holden, Lori Basher, Jeanne Shea, and Tara Ackerman I say, “Thank you for saying yes. That was very kind.”

Jack Adler and Kelly Boyer Sagert led various Writers’ Digest online workshops and helped me hone this craft in the genre now called Creative Non-fiction. From them I began to learn the difference between a memoir and a doctoral dissertation.


If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion, and avoid the people, you might better stay home.  James Michener (1907-1997)

A special thanks to my first editor, Alison Stewart, who took the initial 435 pages to a more workable 325. Ginger Moran, Kelly Boyer Sagert, and Bonnie Lee Black also took professional stabs at it at one time or another and with each pass, the story became clearer and cleaner. I thank you.

Thanks to Nancy Drye, Megan Shulte, Annelies Lottman, Karen Huber, Amy Johnson, Denzel Benson, Jean Matray, Sarah Starkweather, and Mary-Elizabeth Bristow who read the full manuscript at one stage or another, sometimes twice, and always forfree. I’m truly grateful to have you in my village. I thank you for your time, your support, your good ideas and your friendship.


We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing
our wings on the way down.      Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007)

My final editor, Cami Ostman in Washington, kept her eye on that omnipresent “narrative arc” and held my hand as we slaughtered darling after darling, removing nearly one-third of my work. If the story reads smoothly and with dramatic tension, it’s due to Cami’s ability to combine ruthlessness with compassion. I am in awe. And I thank you.

Special thanks to Gulzhahan Tazhitova, Gulzhan Zhalelova, and Assem Alipbekova who stood by via the Internet throughout the writing, helping me with spelling questions, memory gaps, and the correct wording of different Kazakh sayings. Their support helped tremendously. Still, any mistakes are mine alone.

Yes, it does take a village to do most anything, really. And here at home, as I brought my book to fruition, I turned to two old friends for help. Bob Thomas,, an architect and former neighbor of ours in Philadelphia, drew the fantastic map that helps us get oriented to the region. And Anne McKinsey,, a graphic designer who once sang tenor with me, created my cover design. To both of them I am truly grateful. I encourage you to check their websites for more information on their various talents.


The proper means of increasing the love we bear our native country is to reside some time in a foreign one.    William Shenstone (1714-1763)


A huge thank you to Victoria and Joe Twead, my publishers, aka Ant Press. Their unflagging enthusiasm for my book from first read through was a burst of fresh air on dying embers. And their diligent efforts to get my story launched into the world, while still leaving me in charge — or at least thinking I was — was masterful.


My final thanks goes to my husband, Woody Starkweather, who remains my first reader. For that, for your support over the last seven years as this book took shape, and for so very much more, I thank you. Joining the Peace Corps was your idea.


Wherever you are happy, you can call home.   Dalai Lama (1935 – )


8 Responses

  1. possum
    | Reply

    I can feel your excitement all the way down here! I am so happy for you and looking fwd to reading this book.
    I have borrowed a few of your quotes to tack onto my Sunday Musings quote section. Don’t think I have ever quoted Geert Hofstede before.
    And it is true, we can never have a complete list on our acknowledgement page (I am one idiot who reads them and finds them interesting in a weird way – but I have a friend who likes to read tombstones, so, hey!) But you can (must) give it your best shot and beg forgiveness to the rest, swearing you smacked your head when they reminded you.
    Best wishes. Can’t wait to read it!

  2. Marian Beaman
    | Reply

    I hope you can pause and enjoy your amazing accomplishment even before the July 26 book launch date.

    As you know, I love quotes and have a folder for quotations I like on my desktop and also publish a Purple Passages post monthly. Here’s one to add in the travel column: The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page (St. Augustine).

  3. Cami
    | Reply

    Oh, to be known as the one who made a woman kill her darlings… We killed them with great care and respect, though, Janet. Gently… Acknowledging that they were, indeed, brilliant bits of sentences or whole paragraphs. And they live on in our hearts. Congratulations. I’m so proud of you.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      And, knowing I can let them live on here on my blog helps. Life after death, virtually.

  4. Flora Morris Brown
    | Reply

    Hi Janet,

    I didn’t travel with you on your publishing journey, but I’m delighted to learn of your safe and happy arrival at the end of it.

    I loved all of your quotes, and have plucked a few for my own use. I didn’t think you’d mind.

    Congratulations and abundant rewards.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Flora, How very nice of you to comment here. Thank you. I hope you’ll come back. I promise to be much better at responding in a more timely manner.

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