Sunday, April 5, 2009

Travels and Inspiration

Since I am one of the first authors to blog, I guess I can start by introducing myself. We moved to sunny Florida five years ago and never regretted the cold and the snow. Over the years, I traveled to over fifty countries for business or vacation and I like to set my stories in the fascinating places I visited. My romantic suspense books, TO LOVE A HERO and FRENCH PERIL are available as ebook and paperback at Cerridwen Press. My medical romances, BABIES IN THE BARGAIN and PRESCRIPTION FOR TRUST will soon be released by The Wild Rose Press.

Of course, I am avid reader. Aren’t we all? Now that I write, I read much less than the book- a-day I was addicted to. But let me tell explain the events that led me to write my first book.

In a previous life, I was a chemist mixing solutions, dipping my gloved fingers in dirty waste, running complicated equipments and declaring your drinking water safe enough to drink. My life became more interesting in 1995 when I won an international contract to refurbish laboratories in Belarus. That’s when I pulled several maps and opened the Internet to discover where exactly Belarus was and to learn as much as I could about this country.

My fear of the unknown subsided when several officials from Washington, DC, announced they were accompanying me and two managers from my lab to introduce us. I was carrying a large purse and two carry-ons, one with official papers, and the other with my supply of drinking water for the week, apples pre-washed with safe American water and a box of crackers I planed to survive on. No wonder I was slim at the time. We landed in Minsk without problems, excitement bubbling through me.

Things deteriorated as the passengers pushed each other toward an old wobbly escalator, my two managers preceding me with as much luggage. My first step on the damn escalator sent me flying and screaming straight into my companions’ back. One caught my carry-on and the other saved my neck.

It was freezing cold in Minsk, but we were so well received by everyone, officers, directors, chemists, journalists. I worked with colonels and generals, was invited to theirs homes and became friend with their wives. I traveled fifteen times to Minsk over the course of three years and appreciated the Belarussian hospitality. During the inauguration of the lab we were featured on their national TV several times. Needless to say, I fell in love with Belarus.

My contract also encompassed business trips and lab refurbishments in Ukraine, Russia and Kazakhstan. I enjoyed visiting Moscow and Sergei Possad, in Russia, and I didn’t mind a tour of Kiev in the Ukraine. Unfortunately, the lab where we worked was located in Ouman, a small city where running water was available for two hours in the morning and the evening. You had to save water in a pitcher to flush the toilet and store your supply of drinking water in another pitcher. It’s the same water that sat in the rusty pipes for ten hours prior to use, so it didn’t matter if you mixed them up. I also filled an aluminum bucket—they call it tub there—and heated the water with an electric wire for my weekly bath in a freezing room!!! I couldn’t wait to get out of Ouman.

In winter, Kazakhstan looked like the North Pole. A white desert stretching to the horizon. The capital Almati is a modern city surrounded by mountains. The spring offered beautiful sceneries. I have gorgeous pictures of hordes of wild horses running free in the country side. I could have enjoyed Kazakhstan, but Stepnogorsk, the god-forsaken place where we worked, was infested with mosquitoes that delighted on sucking my blood. So I spent more time smacking and squashing the pesky suckers than admiring nature.

Stepnogorsk boasts of one large avenue but very few paved streets. Is it any surprise that I broke my knee while strolling through the so-called streets? I listened to local advice and rubbed my knee and leg with vodka to disinfect and numb the pain, but I refused to be treated by “a good doctor from the old communist regime”. When I almost got arrested at the international airport of Almaty for carrying a lovely little icon I bought in Moscow and still had in my suitcase, I swore to God I would never come back to this place.

It was in Belarus that I learned the many uses of vodka. Shot glasses of vodka were shoved in my hands to celebrate contracts and party. Bottles of vodka were generously passed around when we walked in the freezing cold. When I ran out of apples and crackers, I had no choice but to share the official dinner, sitting at the right of a general who gallantly filled my plate with greasy morsels. My stomach revolted. Before dessert, I excused myself and made a beeline for the nearest restroom and later locked myself in my hotel room, wondering if I was going to die alone in a Belarussian hotel. Not to fear. The general sent two colonels with a bottle of vodka and orders to cure me with as many drinks as they deemed necessary. After four treatments of vodka, I forgot my stomach cramps, my headache and even my name.

People were genuinely nice but totally ignored the meaning of deadline. Patience and resilience were necessary virtues when working in Eastern countries. After so many trips and adventures, we accomplished our mission and I had incredible stories that needed to be shared.

Five years later, I took an early retirement to write my first book, TO LOVE A HERO, The sizzling romance of an American scientist and a Belarussian general, blossoms amid a web of intrigue and a clash of two cultures. Through my novel, I lived again my fantastic trips to Belarus. My fictitious story highlights the hospitality and warmth of the gorgeous and gallant Belarussians officers who sing, toast with vodka and make a woman feel like a goddess.

TO LOVE A HERO is available in paperback at Cerridwen Press.

Short Synopsis:
Admired by men and adored by women, Major General Sergei is a true hero in his country. When a lovely American chemist stumbles at the airport straight into his arms, Sergei has more on his mind than patriotic duty.
On her first international business trip to Belarus, a Russian country dominated by male chauvinism and intrigues, Cecile finds more chemistry than she bargains. Can she betray his trust to save his career? Will her love cost him everything he values?

SIMPLY ROMANCE REVIEW: Outstanding Read. Ms. Risk hits a homerun with this story. I definitely recommend TO LOVE A HERO , and while you're at it pick up a bottle of vodka! Nazhtrovia!!
SATURDAY BLURB SPECIAL, Beyond her Book Blog on Publishers Weekly, June 28, 2008 Read by Joysann I found myself googling Belarus for some of its history, and that means I enjoyed the story a lot.
TWO LIPS REVIEW: Mona Risk tells a poignant yet beautiful and sweet story of two people falling in love, who must fight their attraction...
REVIEW YOUR BOOK: Mona Risk is a talented author. She knows how to weave intrigue and romance into her story. Fans of romance and suspense will enjoy To Love a Hero.
NIGHT OWL ROMANCE BOOK REVIEW : To Love a Hero by Mona Risk is a wonderful & adventurous story of love overseas.

Please visit my website


Anonymous said...

What fascinating adventures you've had!You made me smile very early on a Monday morning and that's not always easy to do!

Tessie Bradford

vickyb said...

Oh, Mona! I had to chuckle at your experiences - they sounded so much like what my daughter went through. She spent two and a half years in Romania with the Peace Corps and told us all about the restrictions on running water, hot water, "tubs" that weren't, etc. It gave her a whole new outlook on "comfort" necessities! :)

Vicky Burkholder

Amber Skyze said...

Your journeys sound fascinating Mona. And now you get to use those journeys for your writing. Hats off to you!

Mona Risk said...

Thanks for stopping by Tessie, Vicky and Amber. Many of my adventures are happening to my heroine Cecile but she has a handsome hero to save the day.

Vicky, I bet your daughter has a lot of stories too.

Judy said...

Mona, what great adventures and fodder for a lot of tales! Enjoyed it...

Arkansas Cyndi said...

I'm not sure I'd have survived with a sense of humor, as you seemed to have done! Vodka cures anything, seems to be the theory, huh?

What an adventure!

Janice Lynn said...

Mona, your travel photos are so lovely and always make me want to plan a trip! Congrats on your many successes. :)


Paris said...

Mona, I loved your stories and pictures. What an interesting life! And To Love A Hero sounds wonderful!

Mary Ricksen said...

To Love A Hero was a wonderful story!
Filled with intrigue and mystery, the story takes you there. Put on your fur coat, you are gonna need it!
Way to go Mona!!!!

Scarlet Pumpernickel said...

What interesting background information you have given us! I visited Croatia last year and was shocked to find their restroom facilities consisted of a four inch hole in the floor! Talk about culture shock! You story is intriguing and made so much more so by the background you have shared.


Jean Hart Stewart said...

Wow, you must have a lot more stories in your head, girl. Loved reading about your shady (?????) past. More to come, I hope

Marianne Evans said...

What a fascinating description of the culture and events! Enjoyed it very much! I love traveling, but with money being tight as it is right now, armchair travel is the M.O. in my world - so thanks for the trip and adventure. :-)

Mona Risk said...

Marianne, if you love to read and like to travel, stick by my side and I will take you around the world in my books and blogs. Thanks for stopping by.

Mona Risk said...

Jean, you wouldn't believe the shady secret stories dwelling in my head. They will come out on time. LOL

Mona Risk said...

Scarlett, I've visited the holes you are talking about in Stepnogorsk. I even have a picture standing on one of them. I should dig in my box of pictures and posted. Just for your information, I am very decent in the picture. LOL. But I don't have pictures of when we used the bushes!!!

Mona Risk said...

Mary, I am so glad you enjoyed To Love A Hero.

Paris, you won't regret reading it.

Mona Risk said...

Janice what a nice surprise to see you here, knowing how busy you are.
Thank you.

Nightingale said...

The pictures were magical and I'm sure your time spent there was too. It is reflected in your wonderful novel To Love a Hero, which I very much enjoyed, Mona.

Mona Risk said...

Thank you so much Linda. You made my day. Nothing pleases me as much as to hear that readers, and even better successful authors, enjoyed my book.

Marianne Stephens said...

A very interesting life you've led! Loved the part about vodka! You had lots of background to use for your story!

Mona Risk said...

Marianne, thank you so much for stopping by. I still have my frog pin I plan to wear at RT. See you there.

Anita Birt said...

Thanks you for filling us in on your adventures before deciding on the quiet life of a writer. You have reams of wonderful material to use as you pen your stories.

My travels have taken me to Greece, Rome, the Holy Land, France, Germany, England, Scotland and Wales.

That you worked in foreign countries without North American amenities makes your story absolutely fascinating.