Some expats show they have the write stuff

Special to Retire NOW in Costa Rica

Retirement in general is good, and retirement to Costa Rica is great. But soon a new arrival begins to wonder what to do with all the free time.

A local businessman who provides international relocation points out that not having a clear retirement focus can be fatal. When a retiree spends his days drinking beer and watching television, health may be threatened, he cautions. He has done a lot of business moving the possessions of widows back to the home country because of that, he said.

Another expat retirement expert has updated her book on retirement here and also warn retirees about too much free time.

Says the expert, Helen Dunn Frame, of her book: “The biggest change was to do with Retirement 101, Planning Beyond Financial Security, now Chapter 1 . . . It talks about planning how to fill the wonderful free hours so you don’t get bored and depressed which may lead to death.”

She joins hundreds in the medical field encouraging retirees to stay active or face the consequences.

A number of expats here have heeded this advice and turned to authoring books. Just as modern technology has reduced the costs and efforts of producing a newspaper or magazine, so it has for writing. And there are plenty of places offering help for a price.

A.M. Costa Rica’s files shows it has outlined the works of expat authors, including: historian Alfred Stites, Grecia resident Joseph Riden, Albert A. Correia who completed a fictional trilogy, local pastor Kenneth D. MacHarg, Aaron Aalborg, Michael Crump and K. Francis Ryan, Escazú poet Ficklin Bryant, former Alajuela resident Mary Jay,  Santa Ana resident George Pritchard Harris, heart surgeon-turned-culinary expert Lenny Karpman, land-use expert Armond Joyce, Grecia resident Paul Furlong and even anonymous expats. There are many others too numerous to mention.

The late A.M. Costa Rica columnist Jo Stuart wrote at times about her book club and the successes of its members, Frans Lamers, Greg Bascom, Crump and Carol McCool. Ms. Stuart published her own book based on her newspaper columns here. She said the regular meetings of the club promoted creativity.

The Amazon website lists over 100 pages of books about Costa Rica. Many contain travel information. Many are action fiction. Some, though, are highly technical and the product of a life’s work.

And each day the technical aspects of publishing a book become easier. There are services such as Smashwords that can quickly translate a Microsoft word manuscript into the handful of standard electronic formats and distribute it to retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble, Apple and Kobo. Amazon, itself, runs a self-publishing service in which the author can get up to 70 percent on sales.

Createspace also will generate electronic formats for a self-publisher, but it also can produce print versions on demand. Amazon also has its publishing program.

The investment was enormous when books had to be produced on paper in large quantities. So were the prices. Sociologist Mavis Biesanz and associates produced her classic, “The Ticos: Culture and Social Change in Costa Rica,” in 1998. The price still is $24.50 on Amazon. But electronic books can be had for free and at prices as low as $1.99. That’s because the author can put up a book for under $100. And now nearly everyone has a hand-held reading device for electronic books.

Another authoring pioneer of sorts is Chris Howard who has produced travel books, language books and real estate, mostly on Costa Rica for years. Another pioneer is rancher-turned-environmentalist Jack Ewing, who came to Costa Rica from Colorado in the 1970s. He turned a cattle operation into Hacienda Barú National Wildlife Refuge, and the natural beauty is captured in his books.

Of course, there are many online sites that are ready to help. R. Bowker Co. used to provide international book identification numbers for free. Now the company tries to ratchet authors up to $395 with its self-publishing package. Individual identification numbers are $125 each

The firm that has captured millions from writers over the years by exploiting the dreams of authors is Writer’s Digest, which publishes a magazine and the annual Writer’s Market. The Poynter Institute, the prestigious chronicler of the newspaper industry funded by The Knight Foundation, even has a low-budget online writer’s workshop directed by Coach Roy Peter Clark. Even the spelling and grammar program Grammarly is marketing its product heavily to would-be writers.

In short, a potential author can drop thousands of dollars on products that may or may not be useful.

Unfortunately, writing, however sparkling, is only part of the equation. Nikki Halliwell, an author at Help For Writers, warns on her firm’s website that “self-publishing involves far more than just writing. The process of creating and releasing a book offers the opportunity to indulge in many creative skill sets, such as cover design, marketing, building a fanbase and many more.”

In other works, the new author really is in the marketing business fighting an uphill battle against better-known writers, large publishers and flashy trends. And Mark Coker, Smashwords founder, candidly admits that some authors who publish through his site never sell a single book.

Then there is the way large publishers work. Peter Benchley, who wrote “Jaws” in the early 1970s, was asked to do that in part because of his family name. Reporters at top newspapers and magazines routinely are approached by publishers who already have a story idea in mind. Frequently, the reporter has no special knowledge on the subject.

Still, plenty of expats are achieving a personal dream by producing a novel or non-fiction epic. Some even use self-publishing to harangue Costa Ricans about their Kafkaesque encounters with officialdom.

And the writer’s payday at the end of the rainbow would be a call or email from a Hollywood producer who wants to put the work on the silver screen. That does not seem to have happened yet.

A.M. Costa Rica originally published much of this article.  Retire Now In Costa Rica http://retirenowincostarica.com/

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