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Life Arts    H2'ed 10/29/13

Novelist Corban Addison Tackles Human Trafficking in "A Walk Across the Sun"

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Joan Brunwasser
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My guest today is Corban Addison, author of A Walk Across the Sun [SilverOak Books, 2012].  Welcome to OpEdNews, Corban.  

JB: I understand that you've been writing for a long time but this is your first novel.  Tell us where the idea for this book came from, please.

CA: In 2008, I was practicing law and writing on the side, searching for a story with wings. I'd written three novels that were rejected by publishers in New York and went into a drawer to collect dust. My wife and I happened across a film called Trade about international sex trafficking. It was very hard hitting and painful to watch, but it opened our eyes to the reality that child trafficking is not only a global phenomenon, it is a local phenomenon, happening in cities and neighborhoods in the U.S. The film initiated a conversation in our household, and out of that conversation came the idea for A Walk Across the Sun. My wife was the one who first conceived of the story. She came to me and strongly suggested that I set aside the other projects I was working on (the ones that weren't going anywhere) and write a novel that would humanize and personalize the issue of modern-day slavery for readers around the world. I thought it was a great idea and ran with it.

JB: It was a great idea! A Walk Across the Sun also covers a lot of territory and is very complex. Did you find it daunting to handle the various threads of the story?

CA: Writing a novel, particularly one with many layers, is a bit like working a multi-dimensional puzzle, except that there isn't only one way to fit the pieces together. There are many. As a storyteller, I'm looking for the best way to bring the many elements of the story to a resolution. Thankfully, I like puzzles. The hardest part of writing A Walk Across the Sun was getting India right. As an attorney, I found it relatively straightforward to understand the dynamics of international human trafficking. But I had virtually no history with India before I started the research. The most gratifying reviews I've gotten since the book launched have come from Indians who said they recognized themselves in the story and praised the authenticity of the narrative.

JB: That is gratifying! Tell us how you did your research. It probably wasn't only books and internet;  I'm imagining it involved some travel, no?

CA: My objective in writing the story was to capture the grim realities of modern-day slavery in a narrative at once enlightening and hopeful. To accomplish this, I had to become something of a subject-matter expert on the slavery issue, and I had to get the foreign context right. My research was immersive. I read everything I could get my hands on about trafficking and India; I spent time with Indians and experts in government in the U.S.; I made contacts with lawyers, activists and social workers in the field; and I planned a trip that would allow me to live as much of the story as I could before I wrote a word. After months of reading and interviews, I traveled to India and Europe and did on-the-ground research. I went to court with the lawyers; I visited safe houses and met girls who had been rescued from the sex trade; I interviewed field agents about their work investigating pimps and brothel owners; and I went undercover into the brothels of Mumbai to meet trafficking victims firsthand. Without this experience, I could never have written an authentic story.

JB: What exactly did your "on-the-ground research" add to your understanding?  And while you were doing it, were you ever afraid for your safety?

CA: There is a maxim among authors: Write what you know. I research and travel so I can write what I know. My on-the-ground experience is the lynchpin of my understanding and the key to my creative process. In my view, you can't write about a place without having walked its streets, spent time with its people, eaten its food, smelled its aromas (and stenches), and developed a sense for its soul. You can't write a compelling story about an issue like human trafficking if you haven't spent time with the people who know the issue best--advocates, activists, police officers, investigators, and (critically) survivors. 

It may seem strange since I'm a novelist, but the last thing I wanted people to accuse me of is inventing a fictional world. I wanted to tell a story that is searingly real without being historically true. To do that I had to live the story first, at least as much of it as I could without taking undue risk. On that score, I definitely got outside my comfort zone, but I didn't put myself in great danger. The risks I take in my research are calculated to add value to the story I'm writing. I'm not an investigative journalist, though it sometimes looks that way. As the product is different, so is the process.

book cover by courtesy of the author

JB: How did you juggle all the extended travel with your legal practice, not to mention your family life?

CA: I had to take a six-week unpaid sabbatical from my legal practice to do the on-the-ground research. Thankfully, the partners at my old law firm were generous and offered me the freedom to travel. A lot of firms would have said no. It was definitely an intense experience working on the book on top of handling legal cases, but my wife and I found a way forward that was sustainable for us, at least in the short term. I could not have done it without her strong support and her willingness to care for our baby son while I was away.

JB: I bet that was tough on everyone. So nice to have your wife behind you in such a big way. Speaking of being away,  I understand that you just got back from an extended stay abroad. Can you talk about that? Was this related to your book? To a new project? Tell us what you can.

CA: I just returned from a seven-week trip that took me to eleven countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. The first five weeks were research for a new book I'm working on (the details of which I'm keeping close to the vest at this point). After that, I did a publicity tour of the UK and South Africa to support the launch of my second novel, The Garden of Burning Sand, in those countries. Garden continues some of the themes I developed in A Walk Across the Sun in that it addresses violence against women and girls in the context of Southern Africa and the United States. It tells the story of a Zambian girl with Down Syndrome who is raped on the streets of Lusaka and the non-profit team of lawyers and social workers--including Zoe Fleming, the daughter of a U.S. Senator and presidential candidate--who come to her aid. It will be released in the U.S. on May 6, 2014 by Quercus/Random House, a month after the launch of the trade paperback edition of A Walk Across the Sun .

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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