Thursday, July 5, 2012

Guest Blog with Chris Rakunas

The other day I was contacted by Chris Rakunas about doing a Spotlight Interview for his book, Tears for the Mountain.  Chris was concerned with the fact that his book is non-fiction and most of my interviews cover fiction.  I told Chris to go ahead and fill out my interview questions, and while I was reading through his responses, I realized that he drew much of his inspiration from some interesting life experiences.  So I sent Chris another message and invited him to write a guest post.  I just hope you find his sources for inspiration as compelling as I do.  Enjoy!
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Journey to Inspiration
I have been very fortunate to be able to travel often in my life.  Both of my parents spent a great deal of their lives travelling, my mother living all over America and my father through Europe as a child, and I always had the desire to see many of the things that they had seen.  Every family vacation was an adventure, whether it was looking at Tasmanian Devils in Australia or braving storms in British Columbia.  We even managed to turn trips to rural Indiana into memorable events.  So it was not that big of a stretch for me to quit my job and wander around the world for the first half of 2007.
When I returned, I took a job in healthcare, and eventually I was made the Chief Operating Officer of a small, community hospital in a rural town in Florida.  It was the type of place where the people were friendly, years were remembered by which hurricanes struck, and it was not uncommon to have alligators sun themselves on the helicopter pad.  The job was mostly paperwork, and completely unglamorous.  Lost among the capital budgets and physician contracts, a picture of me on top of a mountain in Mongolia resurfaced on my desk one day during a meeting, and the directors in my office had no desire to hear about customer service any more.  They wanted to know about Mongolia.  The only way I could placate them was to promise to send them some pictures via email if they promised to do whatever it was I had been trying to get them to do for the last hour.  They agreed, and that Friday I fired off some photos and a story about singing a Frank Sinatra song to a village in Terelj, Mongolia.  (Old Blue Eyes plays well on the Steppes.  Who knew?)
Again, this type of stuff didn’t seem out of place for me.  My mom can tell you about catching a possum in New Zealand, and my dad can give you directions to the best custom boot maker in Hong Kong.  I thought everyone’s family was like that.
During the next month’s staff meeting at the hospital, I noticed that my directors were only half-paying attention, and when I asked what was the matter, they told me.  “We’re waiting for another travel story,” my Physical Therapy director said.  I was pretty sure that the nods I was getting from the rest of the team were just polite, let’s-be-nice-to-the-boss ones.
John, my Radiology Director convinced me otherwise.  He said, “If I have to sit through another one of your boring meetings and I don’t get a good story about someplace exciting, I’m gonna blow my brains out.”
That started the Occasional Friday Afternoon Travel Story, and it quickly spread to other departments in the hospital.  During weeks where I was too busy to write – you know, because we were actually taking care of patients and not acting like the cast of Gray’s Anatomy – I would catch grief from the staff about not getting their weekly story.
This pretty much convinced me of a few things:
a)      People want to hear about other places.  No matter how wonderful of a place you live, the grass always seems a little greener on the other side.

b)      There is always an interesting story to tell. 

c)       Stories get better the more detail you can provide, so places you’ve been make for great settings.  A story about bribing Russian officials is good.  A story where you can describe the hotel you were in, the sheen of the officer’s hair, the light blue of the carpet, and the way that that S.O.B. looked when he demanded thousands of Rubles to give you an exit visa so you could get on your flight out of there is even better.
(NOTE TO THE US ATTORNEY GENERAL’S OFFICE: I didn’t say I was the one who bribed any Russian officials.  I just said a story about that would be good.  So put away the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and leave me alone)
After I finished Tears for the Mountain, I waited to begin another book.  TFTM is a really compelling story about a medical mission trip to Haiti, and the money from the book goes to benefit an orphanage in Port-au-Prince.  I wasn’t sure if I would write something else or if I was going to be a one-hit wonder.  (As long as I didn’t end up on VH1’s “Where are they now?” I would be ok with that)  But in early January 2012, I was standing at the foot of the Temple of the 7 Dolls in Dzibilchaltun, Mexico, and it just hit me: this would really make a great setting for a story.  A few minutes later I was inspired by the clear blue waters of the cenote there, and the plot for my second book, The 8th Doll, popped into my head. 
It ties together facts from the ruins, Mayan architecture, and the Mayan 2012 apocalyptic prophecy to create a very fast paced adventure.  While it’s not a true story like my first book, The 8th Doll really felt like it was the type of thing that people would be interested in hearing.
I was fortunate enough to be stranded in San Diego Airport for an entire day following my buddy Brendan’s wedding, and I used the time to think about other places I had travelled and other stories I had heard on the road.  I used those stories to craft the follow up, The Eye of Siam.  Pretty soon, every time I was on the road to anywhere – even to Wal-Mart here in Oklahoma – stories inspired by travel were popping up in my head. 
I now have a pretty decent back log of outlines for my next several books, enough to keep me writing deep into 2013.  They all have elements of places I’ve been to or things I’ve done.  I hope they keep you as interested as my directors back in the hospital were. 
Chris Rakunas is the author of> Tears for the Mountain: Delivering Hope to Haiti After the Earthquake, published by Divertir Publishing, available in paperback or e-book at></a,, and worldwide at  His first novel, The 8th Doll, will be released on 31 July worldwide.  His second novel, The Eye of Siam will be released later in the year.  You can tell him your favorite travel story at  

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Thank you Chris for taking the time to talk a little bit about your books and how you go about creating your stories.  If you'd like to learn a little bit more about Chris's book, Tears for the Mountain, be sure to drop in on August 13th, 2012 to read my Spotlight Interview with him.  Until then, happy reading!
-J.E. Johnson

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