Welcome to The Burning Hearth and to spring! My happy kicks in when the crocus and daffodils begin to bloom. However, so do my allergies. I’m certain my sneezing can be heard up and down my block. But I am embracing this spring, sneezing and all, with a vigor I haven’t felt in awhile. I’m allowing a lift in my spirits to take hold, and with that I’m tapping my toes, and my keyboard, and dancing all about.
Before turning this post over to my guest Jeanee Sacken, I have a few personal announcements to make. I had a piece published in the Canandian online journal talking about strawberries all of the time earlier this month titled “My Mother’s Home.” Also, over at New Flash Fiction Review, the editors published a special issue honoring its founder Meg Pokrass. I had a piece included titled “What Blooms.” I hope you’ll take the time to read these two pieces, as well as the other contributors stories. It’s all flash, so all brief, and all definitely worth the read.
And now, it is my pleasure to turn this post over to Jeannee Sacken. I met Jeannee through Red Oak Writing, and was immediately taken by her stories of traveling the world. She is a photojournalist and the author of the recently released Behind the Lens. She has traveled all over the world taking stunning pictures of the people and the sites she sees. I asked her a few questions about her travel adventures and her journey from English professor, to photojournalist/adventurer, to author. Her answers are compelling, and the photos she shares with The Burning Hearth ignite the imagination in both their beauty and simplicity.
Take it away, Jeannee!
Thank you, Connie, for this opportunity to post on your blog about my work as a photojournalist and author. Twenty years ago, I was an English professor at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, beginning to pursue my love of photography. Following a trip to Honduras where I rode horseback into the mountains to photograph a Mayan woman, I realized I had found my new calling in life. Leaving academia, I embraced life as a freelance photographer and since then have traveled extensively in Central and South America, Asia, and Africa, documenting the lives of women and children. Oh, and that Mayan woman? The pictures of her didn’t work out as I had hoped, but I captured an image of her daughter that helped launch my career. As do all of my images, this photograph tells a story: Although education is technically “free” in Honduras, families must pay for uniforms and books, which change each year. Hence, most indigenous families can’t afford to send all—or sometimes any—of their children to school. In this family, only one son attends school. His sister dyes corn husks and makes decorative dolls to sell in the market in Copán to pay for his uniform and books. Look closely and you’ll see the stains on her fingers.
What is the most beautiful place you’ve traveled to?
With my husband, I’ve scaled the stunning red dunes in the Namib Desert, reveled in the Edenic beauty of Ngorongoro Crater, stood on the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro to gaze 250 miles across the Serengeti to the Indian Ocean. But in the winter of 2020, we journeyed through Vietnam and fell in love with its beauty. Hanoi is a vibrant city with a charming French colonial district, beautiful lakes, and many jaw-dropping temples. A morning’s drive down the coast brought us to Bai Tu Long Bay with its otherworldly karst landscape of sheer limestone islands jutting out of the South China Sea. The misty afternoon gave way to an overnight spent on a traditional junk. From there we continued on to Hoi An—a town of lanterns that centuries ago was a trading hub. Walking through the streets of the old section of town at night, we were dazzled by the lanterns. On to Hue—Vietnam’s political capital from 1802 to 1945. Thirteen of the Nguyen emperors have exquisite tombs ringing this city—the site of some of the fiercest fighting during the American war which followed the French war. Just knowing what happened in these fields for the last 150 years and seeing the serenity and majesty of these places captured my imagination.
What is the most life changing thing you have witnessed in your travels?
When I travel, I capture images and collect moments. Hundreds of them. Today I’m remembering a magnificent trip we took a couple years ago to one of my favorite places on earth: Zimbabwe. We were there to photograph the Great Elephant Migration across the KAZA frontier and down through Hwange National Park on the edge of the Kalahari Desert. The matriarchs teach the location of paths and watering holes to the rest of the herd, and this information is passed down from generation to generation. When surface water dries up from August to October, elephants know where to go. One day, during a very long drive along an ancient migratory route, we came upon an elephant who had been poached for its ivory tusks. Given the size of the elephant, his tusks were probably massive, bringing the cartel that runs the poachers somewhere in the neighborhood of $300,000.00—a fortune in a country where many villagers can afford only one meal a day. But to see this once magnificent pachyderm slaughtered was devastating. Later that afternoon, we reached our camp where there was a “blind”—a shipping container partially buried in the sand—situated right next to a watering hole where pumps bring up water from aquifers deep below the desert. From here, I was able to photograph elies coming to drink and play, particularly the babies whose trunks are not yet long enough to reach down the bore hole to the water. Instead of drinking from the bores, the little ones played joyfully in the mud. Death and life in one day—an inspiration for my next book.
Where are you traveling next?
We are returning to Zimbabwe and South Africa to photograph big cats and wild dogs. Unfortunately, given that South Africa’s borders are pretty much closed, we’ve just had to re-schedule this photo shoot for the third time. We’re also booked for a hiking trip in Tasmania, land of stunning green vistas, ancient forests, incredible animals including the Tasmanian devil, and charming inns. Plus, it’s a foodie paradise. We’ll stop off in Australia for a while as well.
What triggered the creation of your new book series?
Truth: Inspired by a story about the disappearance of maquilladoro workers that I heard on NPR’s All Things Considered while sitting in my car in the Sendik’s parking lot some years ago, I wrote a novel set in Ciudád Juarez. The novel didn’t work, and it lived on the shelf in my study. A couple years ago, I gave it another look. I still really liked the main character and decided that Annie Hawkins Green needed new life. She became a war photographer, which meant I needed a war. I also wanted a U.S. military presence. The field of possibilities narrowed. Because I’d read numerous novels and nonfiction set in Afghanistan and knew of the rich cultural traditions of the country, Annie landed there. Behind the Lens, the first book in this series of suspenseful women’s fiction, endswithout a complete resolution of all the storylines. Hence the second book in the series, Double Exposure. And although the Afghan part of the storyline gets wrapped up in this book, there is still an important narrative arc involving many key characters. I’m now working on the third book in the series which is set in Zimbabwe.
Tell us about Behind the Lens.
A seasoned war photographer, Annie Hawkins Green exploits a photographic moment in a small Afghan village that leads to unexpected and horrific consequences for which she blames herself. Years later, Annie returns to Afghanistan to teach a photography workshop at the school for girls run by her expat best friend, Darya—Annie’s way of seeking redemption. As the Taliban gain prominence in the once peaceful region, Annie’s nightmares from her last time in-country come roaring back with a vengeance. But are they just dreams? The unshakeable feeling of a grim, watchful presence makes Annie think otherwise. As she struggles with her nightmares, more trouble brews with the suspicion that Darya’s teenage daughter is sneaking away at night to meet her shadowy boyfriend. Meanwhile, Annie’s own daughter wages war with her father and stepmother back home, feeding Annie’s all-consuming mom-guilt. Her only comfort, a poetry-writing U.S. naval officer who saved her life all those years ago, is now at the other end of a satellite phone 7,000 miles away. As Lisa Lickel wrote in her review for Wisconsin Writers Association, “Behind the Lens is a stunning debut novel ultimately about friendship and family set amidst cultural upheaval.”
Follow Jeannée at https://www.jeanneesacken.com.
I’m so pleased Jeannee agreed to be my guest this month, and I do so hope you’ve enjoyed reading about her travels, her book, and viewing her photos.
Inspired by the story I wrote for New Flash Fiction Review, “What Blooms” I am doing a tribute to all things Pooh next month. I never realized how many Pooh related books and stuffies and such are in my house. Between my daughter and I, there is, if you will, a significant amount of Poohaphernalia. What I’m most excited about is a video reading I will be doing of one of the Pooh stories. I miss reading to my dance students, and my daughter and her classmates when she was younger and I worked in her school library. If you have children, or are just a lover of Pooh yourself, I hope you will stop by next month to see all things Pooh and my reading of In Which Christopher Robin Leads an Expotition to the North Pole. TTFN