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Monday, 20 June 2016

ℚ Leaving Shangrila - Isabelle Gecils

Today we have the pleasure of meeting up with author to talk about Leaving Shangrila (, Morgan James Publishing, 330 pages), a Memoir.

"The poignant life story of a woman who escaped a restrictive past to embrace an independent future.

Gecils resonant chronicle explores themes of belonging, family allegiance, and starting over.  As it does so, it effectively tells the story of the burgeoning liberation of a young girl who had her eye on a bright horizon.

A well-paced memoir steeped in strife, struggle, sorrow, and, eventually, freedom."
--Kirkus Reviews


Author Q&A | Synopsis | Teaser | About the Author | Giveaway & Tour Stops


A very warm welcome to Isabelle Gecils; thank you for joining us on BooksChatter!

What was the inspiration for Leaving Shangrila?

"When people experience adversity early in life, they tend to place those memories in a dark corner of their mind, and never revisit it again.  That’s is what I did.

And by doing so, that cleared the path for me to create a relatively successful life.  I attended UCLA and got an MBA from Kellogg at Northwestern.  I worked at prestigious consulting firms, founded a company and created a successful and stable life.  I had effectively erased my early life and created a different narrative of who I was.

Yet, when my first son was born, I felt this strong calling to tell my story.  I wanted him to know who I was.  Where I came from.  I wanted to share how hard it was to get to where I had gotten.  Most importantly, I wanted to give him the message that irrespective of where you begin, through life choices, you can choose where you end up.


But when I shared portions of the story with others, there was this immediate interest to know more, learn more and even though I had thought my life could not have been more different than most people I know, they were surprisingly relating to one or more aspects of my journey.  It was then that I realized that my story had a larger audience than my family, and then the seed for Leaving Shangrila was planted."
How much of yourself is reflected in this book, and how?
"All of me.  Although I often say these days that I am a different person than the young Isabelle portrayed in the book.  The essence of my younger self personality remains.  I am very tenacious, persistent, goal oriented, have a strong sense when something isn’t right.

What I hope is no longer part of me, because I have made a point to live a different life now that I have free will to do what I choose, is to have the negative habits, lying, stealing that I developed to cope with my life.  I am so big on honesty, that I couldn’t even talk to my children about Santa Claus.   Some have told me that this is sad for them… but I don’t feel that this is so.  My children will be the first to say that “mom never lies.”"
The first thing that draws me to a book is its cover.  Can you tell us about your cover for Leaving Shangrila - why you chose that concept and who the artist is.
"I took a picture of my sons while hiking at Hurricane Ridge, at Olympic National Park in Washington.  They were walking with their heads up, with a sense of purpose.  I initially wanted this picture as a cover.

The problem of course was that they are boys, while I am obviously a girl.  They were wearing baseball hats, which at least when I was growing up, was not a common attire at all, and they were too young.  But I shared this picture with the cover designer, asking to replicate the essence of a picture.  A young girl, walking with a purpose through mountains.  And that is exactly what she did.

But the girl she came up with, was nothing like me.  She was too hip, too cool, too sophisticated.  I told her that the concept was right but the girl needed to change.  Rather than change her, she told me to go find the girl on my own and gave me a link to tens of thousands of stock pictures.  After two or three minutes, I found the picture that graces the cover.  I immediately identified with the girl.  The messy hair, the bare feet, the dress, the walking with purpose to an uncertain and blurry future.  The whole cover changed to be that picture, and I am so pleased with the result."
Why should we read Leaving Shangrila and what sets it apart from the rest?  What makes your book unique?
"When I first started writing Leaving Shangrila, I thought it was a book that would stay in my family because my story was so unusual, I did not expect people to relate to it.  This is story of a young girl, living in a farm in the jungles of Brazil with a completely dysfunctional family.

The biggest surprise about Leaving Shangrila is just how relatable parts of the story are to my readers.  Either because they dealt with adversity, had similar longings, plotted to change their situation, felt misunderstood and many other aspects.

Leaving Shangrila’s target audience are those who enjoy strong characters, relate and root for the mistreated, have a dose of strength to read the more harrowing examples of abandonment, abuse and neglect, but that feel satisfied with true stories of strength and triumph over adversity."
Can you tell us something quirky about Leaving Shangrila, its story and characters?
"I thought it was ironic that Shangri-La, a named reserved for a version of paradise, bliss or heaven turned out to be the name of where so much darkness took place."
Who would you recommend Leaving Shangrila to and what should readers be aware of (any warnings or disclaimers)?
"My readers have been so diverse.  They included women’s groups, men’s groups, middle school children, teenagers, retirees and people from all over the world.  I believe that is so because the themes of Leaving Shangrila are so universal in nature.  We have a common humanity about us after all.

As I mentioned before, readers who appreciate a story of triumph over adversity (and can read through the adversity) will truly enjoy Leaving Shangrila."
If you could / wished to turn Leaving Shangrila into a movie, who would be your dream team?
"I can’t think of a young girl’s actor in particular, but I would like it to be someone like Thora Birch on the movie My Girl [played by Anna Chlumsky], years and years ago.  She was so strong and smart, and a little bit awkward too.  An older version of me would be someone like Emily Blunt.

Locations… there are in fact many locations described in the book not all of them in Brazil. There are scenes in France too in particular, Brazil before I was born.  It would be visually stunning I believe to turn Leaving Shangrila into a movie."
What do you like to write and read about? Do you stick to a particular genre or do you like to explore different ones?
"Despite the fact that I wrote a memoir, my favorite writing topic isn’t about me.  In my day job, I am a consultant in the energy industry.  While that isn’t my favorite topic either, I am well trained in factual writing, what happened, why it happened, and what will happen as a result of this history.

I have been recently doing research on what it takes to have a successful relationship, how to “have it all” (in terms of relationships, children, career and me time), and the habits that foster happiness (well-being) and success (monetarily speaking) in people.

I enjoy writing about real life situations that I see, either in my own life, that of my children, but often that of my friends and coworkers."
What is your writing process?
"A little bit every day.  It took me years to write Leaving Shangrila.  But all I needed was a goal post: the calling to write my story.  I did not focus on how long it would take, but just that eventually I would get there. Writing time was precious, not only in terms of minutes, but also in frame of mind to write while inspired.

Whenever I could, I wrote first thing in the morning, when I think best.  But this was often difficult.  So I used night time to mostly edit and review.  I often carved out between 30 minutes to 2 hours at least one day during the weekend.  But most often, writing had to fit around everything else that was going on in my life: work, kids, divorce, new relationships, friends, trips.  As long as I was moving forward, I thought that I was going in the right direction."
What is in store next?
"Leaving Shangrila was just published in May.  For now, I am enjoying the process of reaching readers, talking about the book, and honestly, getting the rest of my life in order.  I am getting married next year.  We moved to a beautiful neighborhood late last year, but that means setting everything up and getting my boys adjusted to our new life.

I felt a strong calling to write Leaving Shangrila.  But the first version of it, I had covered my entire life span until that time.  My book advisor convinced me to end Leaving Shangrila where it did.

I wanted to tell the rest of the story.  How I adapted to my new life, the struggles I continued to face and how I overcame them.  I resisted ending the book with half my life untold.  It was then that my book adviser wisely told me “you have more than one book in you.”  So I will probably write the sequel.

But as I mentioned earlier, I also enjoy studying the skills and habits of how to have a better, happier, more fulfilled life.  I also wanted to serve as an example that no matter where you started in life, you can end up in a good place.  I hope to use the platform that Leaving Shangrila has created to share that message as well."
And as a final quirky thing, to get to know you a little bit better... do you have a pet or something that is special to you that you could share with us?
"I thought I was a dog person (OK, I still am a dog person).  But when my younger son became allergic to dogs, we had to give her up.  It was a sad day in our lives…

I resisted having pets since, but then my older son begged me for a pet.  Given that I was a single mom at the time and having a dog would just not be fair to said dog, we rescued a cat. He is polydactyl, that is he has extra toes, 24 in total to be exact and these huge, disproportional paws relative to his body.  So naturally his name is Paws.

It turns out these huge paws serve a purpose.  He can climb straight up columns.  He has no fear.  He jumps from our 2nd story deck to a nearby tree.  He is the most active cat we have ever known.  And when he is not traipsing in our yard, he follows me around, just like a dog. "

Wow! Go Paws! Aww, you can see the extra toes!  Sweetie!
Thank you for sharing him with us :-)

Leaving Shangrila
Available NOW!

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7 comments:

  1. Thank you for hosting me. I love the creativity of the site! And all the pictures. A picture of Paws is coming soon.

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    1. Hi Isabelle, thank you for popping by! Paws is now live :-)
      Hope you are having a great tour!

      Flora

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  2. Awesome post! I really enjoyed reading it, thanks for sharing :)

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  3. Thank you so much Victoria. I enjoyed the interview immensely and I am grateful and honored for the opportunity to be here today.

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  4. What's the best piece of advice you would give to someone who is considering writing a memoir?

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  5. I really enjoyed reading your interview, thank you!

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