Author Jo Patti will present her first book, stories of escaping danger in conflict zones around the world, during a book event Thursday at Ignacio Community Library.
During the event, which starts at 5 p.m., Patti will share excerpts from her books, “Kismet” and “Getting Off the X,” with community members and the local writer’s group. She will also share tips and strategies for writing fiction, nonfiction, poetry and short stories during a Q&A session.
“This book is somewhat a cautionary tale, giving some warnings ... about some of the things that can happen,” Patti said. “It’s not things you would normally be told.”
“Getting Off the X” is a military term for getting out of the line of fire or targeted area. Since the end of 2006, Patti has worked in conflict zones in over 20 countries for agencies like the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Agency for International Development and United Nations. She provides monitoring, evaluation, research and training for education and health-focused programs.
In the non-fiction book, she compiled stories from at least 14 countries – all focused on the moments when people have to make a decision to evade physical, emotional or spiritual dangers.
She will also present “Kismet,” a book of poetry, and “Zen and the Art of Skiing,” a project by her son, Denali Schmidt. Schmidt and his father, Patti’s ex-husband, died in 2013 while climbing K2 in Pakistan, the second tallest mountain in the world.
Patti has found catharsis through poetry, especially while processing grief.
“We had a lot of deaths in our family and with people that I work with, so sometimes, for me, writing poetry is a way to express that,” she said.
Her daughter encouraged her to write. When she looked for books about people who worked in conflict zones, they were mainly by journalists, soldiers or novelists. She couldn’t find very many books that shared the perspective of a health and education professional.
“I thought, yes, OK, I will start writing a series of books,” Patti said.
As a medical practitioner in traditional Chinese medicine, specializing in trauma, Patti worked with refugees from various countries including Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Somalia.
She has worked with Aboriginal, tribal and indigenous communities in New Zealand, New South Wales, Australia and the United States. She has been a Sundancer and pipe carrier, ceremonial positions of honor, on Lakota and Menominee reservations.
She never has a regular day in her job. She works at least 12 hours a day, at least six days a week.
“You’re never really off duty,” she said.
American organizations have sent her to places that are so dangerous no American has recently visited. But where she goes, her colleagues and interpreters are also in danger – something she has had to remind the organizations.
“People get killed,” she said. “Lots of really, very serious things happen with trying to push programs on places that are not ready.”
For the more experienced writer who wants to be published, she said other authors can connect writers to publishers. Asking authors who are successful in a genre to read your work can help forge those connections, she said.
One tip for amateur writers, she said, is to focus on the genre they most want to write in.
“Read the writers you think are the best,” she said. “Just keep reading, reading, reading.”