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An Interview with Sher Davidson, author of Europe with Two Kids and a Van

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Sher Davidson was born in California, where she graduated from the University of California, Berkeley. She wrote her first book, Europe with Two Kids and a Van, at age 30, published in 1973 by now-defunct 101 Productions and distributed by Charles Scribner’s Sons in NY. The book follows her family’s six-month journey in nine European countries camping in a VW Van in 1972-73. This was a turning point in the family’s lives when they decided to move from urban California to a more rural environment. It was a time of national upheaval over the Vietnam War and a time when Sher wanted to share with her family what she had experienced and loved after her college graduation working in France getting to know some of the many world cultures.

While tapping out the memoir of her family’s travels on her father’s old upright typewriter, Sher was also starting her first jewelry design business to help with her family’s income while her husband returned to graduate school. She could not find the time to write again until thirty-four years later. In 2014, Sher self-published her first novel, Under the Salvadoran Sun, inspired by her humanitarian aid work in El Salvador following the Civil War there. Subsequently, while living part-time in Mexico, she and her husband founded a non-profit organization to support a refugee shelter in Celaya, Mexico. After attending the annual San Miguel de Allende, Mexico Writer’s Conference Sher began to write more regularly. In 2022, she and her husband returned to Oregon where she wrote her second novel, Dark Secrets, A Legacy of Memories from 1939 Sweden. Sher’s fascination with her Swedish heritage, the fact that Oregon has a large Scandinavian emigrant population, and her long-time interest in WWII history inspired this historical fiction story. The story also reflects her interest in inter-generational trauma. Finally, with encouragement from her family and friends, Sher recently published the 50th-anniversary edition of Europe with Two Kids and a Van, Travel Memoir and Guide, an updated version of her first book. In the meantime, she has also been working on a personal memoir, and a story from that manuscript was selected for an anthology, Memory as Muse, Then and Now, edited by one of Sher’s former writing coaches, Maia Williams. Though 81, Sher says she has many other story ideas waiting to be written.

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

As a young person, still in high school, I had a very influential English teacher who encouraged me to write. Always interested in the visual arts, I pursued drawing and painting until much later in my life when I realized how much I loved to write in my travel journals and also enjoyed writing poetry. I always loved to read and believe that influenced me as well. I’ve been inspired by the writing of Maya Angelou, Isak Denesen, Harriet Doerr, Barbara Kingsolver, and more recently Anthony Doerr and Ruth Ozeki as well as the late Oregon writer, Brian Doyle. Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird, has helped me with my own writing and encouraged me to forge on.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

I earned my living as a professional jewelry designer, owning a retail and wholesale business for 18 years and then as a painter and sculptor after returning to college at the age of forty-five to get my art degree. I also taught art to adults and to children, via a program called Young Audiences. Some query me on how could I have done so many things in my life and my response is always, if you are fortunate to be of good health, live a long life, and possess a lot of interests and enthusiasm, you, too, can do a lot in that one lifetime.

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

The book title Europe with Two Kids and a Van was suggested by my publisher after reading my manuscript. I liked it and it stuck. As for my novels Under the Salvadoran Sun and Dark Secrets, I found it harder to find the right title, but knew when I did.

How did it feel when you first saw your book cover? Or when you first held your book in your hands?

When I held my first book, the non-fiction Europe with Two Kids and a Van, I was awestruck and also felt a great deal of pride, shared by my family. I have an old black and white photo, published in our local paper, of me holding that first book when it arrived in my mail, I look rather dazed!

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

Perhaps the music of the times: Pete Seeger’s “If I Had a Hammer,” Joan Baez and the Beatles as well as my favorite French singers, Charles Aznavour and Belgian, Jacques Brel.

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

The one thing I hope readers take away from my book, Europe with Two Kids and a Van, is the encouragement to “dream” and then to know that dream can come true if you work at it. If you want to see other countries, meet the people, learn about their cultures, and share that with your family–just do it! With the existential threat of climate change now is the time. As I explain in my book, you may not be able to visit the number of countries we did all at one time, but it’s possible to go to one, or even two countries, in a shorter amount of time, camp and meet the people without breaking the bank–it just takes good planning and the “will” to do it. It’s a gift to give your children, to help them be “citizens of the world” and to have a better grasp of history.

What was the most rewarding/meaningful part of publishing your book?

The most rewarding part of publishing my book was the feedback I received in reviews and in 1973, when it was first published, in handwritten letters from families who used the book as inspiration and a guide for their travels.

What new writing projects are you currently working on? Or, other projects that are not writing?

I’m working on a sequel for Dark Secrets and also trying to finish a personal memoir.

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