Interview with author of What Foreigners Need To Know About America From A To Z, Lance Johnson.

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Denise Alicea

This blog was created by Denise in September 2008 to blog about writing, book reviews, and technology. Slowly, but surely this blog expanded to what it has become now, a central for book reviews of all kinds interviews, contests, and of course promotional venue for authors, etc







Each of the 26 chapters’ brush strokes contributes to the final painting of what America is all about and who Americans are. The chapters are grouped into four sections. (Individual books are also available for each section.)

· Section I – America’s HeritageThis defines the historical background of why America and its people became who and what we are today. To understand complex America, it is important to gain this understanding.

· Section II – America’s CultureThis smaller book focuses on who we are as a nation and how we conduct our everyday lives, ranging from customs and etiquette, to what’s on the minds of Americans, to education, literature, movies, and a whole lot more. It even includes what we think of foreigners and what they think of us.

· Section III – America’s BusinessThe third book explains our complex business environment, operations, customs, and why American businesses are successful around the world. It also provides information for dealing with American business personnel in the US and abroad, for starting and operating a business of your own as many foreigners do, and for increasing your chances of being hired by an American employer here or abroad.

· Section IV – America’s LanguageThese chapters discuss practical ways for English-as-second-language speakers to improve their grammar, speech, writing, and communication skills, including accent reduction. Common English grammar and speech errors made by foreigners are identified with simple tips for overcoming them and improving the image they create.

Note: The author uses tricky and often-used idioms in a natural conversational setting to help English as a second language learners better understand one of the trickiest aspects of the language.



Recent Book

“What Foreigners Need To Know About America From A To Z: How to understand crazy American culture, people, government, business, language and more.” It paints a revealing picture of America for those foreigners who will benefit from a better understanding. Endorsed by ambassadors, educators, and editors, it also informs Americans who want to learn more about the U.S. and how we compare to other countries around the world on many issues.


Where are you from? Tell us a little about yourself!

Born and raised in America and now living in Los Angeles, I have long been fascinated with the history and culture of America and foreign countries and how they differ. Having visited 49 of the 50 U.S. states and traveled in 81 countries, I’ve learned among other things that the Black Sea, Red Sea, and the Blue Danube do not reflect those colors, and that Iceland might better be called Greenland and vice versa. Also, how America and its people are perceived abroad both correctly and incorrectly. And how America’s perception of the rest of the world can vary, too.

A student of cultural differences, my travels also allow me to explore the difficulties foreigners face understanding American ways and language, and how that affects their success in dealing with us. I consult, teach, and conduct seminars about the subjects in this book. I have an Ivy League graduate business degree and studied at Oxford University in England.

My American heroes include American visionary presidents Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt, and inventor Thomas Edison, all of whom had significant roles in the development of America and its culture as we know it today.

Equally important on my list are those foreigners who came to America and despite overwhelming discrimination, sacrifice, and deprivation contributed to the rich history of the early settlement of America. The legacy of all these immigrants resides throughout America today.


Tell us about your book. How did it get started?

When I teach overseas and travel the world, I’m always amazed at the interest people have in all things American. Our language, government, people, music, and films. Our behavior. Even our negative image on the world stage. They want to know why the rules for our crazy English language are not more consistent like their languages. They’re puzzled why the U.S. feels it must be the policeman of the world. They want to know why Americans feel they are better than the rest of the world. Why we dislike foreigners but like wars.  Why we don’t share our wealth with the rest of the world. Why we are all fat and drive such big cars and if the two are related.  I’m especially amused when they ask me why we say “excuse me” for the slightest of things because I don’t think we do that as often as we should.

When we discuss my culture I learn about theirs, too. After years of these exchanges I searched for a book that I could recommend to them that condensed and simplified what America is all about. There wasn’t one. So I began thinking about writing one, not quite sure I wanted to tackle such a big undertaking. That soon changed.

I began my A to Z book that would take two years to write. Halfway through my writing, research, and consultations with dozens of experts in some fields, a major overseas publisher acquired the book’s rights. I finally had the confirmation I wanted: What I was doing was indeed important. Another year and this undertaking would be finished and I knew it would be of help to those who need to know more about America in order to succeed in their efforts with Americans. It was published in 2006. An updated and expanded version was published in July 2012.


How do you create your characters?

Actually, my character I create in the book is the average American. It is dangerous to generalize, but in order to portray a helpful picture of Americans and our culture, I had to create this “character”—perhaps theme is a better word— for the reader to give them better insight.


What inspires and what got you started in writing?

I’ve witnessed my foreign heritage friends in America struggle to adjust to a new culture that’s in stark contrast to their own. There is so much for them to learn as they get new jobs, open businesses, enter school, and make friends. Even our rules of etiquette pose difficulties for them. It was because of them that the seed was planted for the book. Then, as noted above, the seed germinated into a book because of all the contacts I made with foreigners overseas and the questions they had about “crazy America,” as some call it.


Where do you write? Is there something you need in order to write (music, drinks?)

I sit at my desk overlooking the front porch and driveway. I find I do best in the morning hours. However, I’ve been known to write late into the night when I am on to something or want to wrap up a chapter. I keep a bottle of Acqua Panna next to me with Pandora’s soft computer music in the background with my friends Sinatra, Nat King Cole, George Shearing, June Christy, and the gang. Sometimes I’m interrupted by Malibu Barbie, my Great Dane, who reminds me she needs to go outside or it’s time for her dinner or walk.


How do you get your ideas for writing?

Many ideas came from my interaction with immigrant Americans and my asking them what topic they would like to know more about America that is confusing to them. Grammar and speech always come up, as does geography, all of which have chapters in the book. The same is true with foreigners I meet overseas or from the classes I teach there. When I taught in China a few years back using the book as a text, I asked the class which of the book’s chapters they had the most interest in. They replied the chapter on religion because they are not allowed there due to government control. Also, I get ideas from articles in the news that point out difficulties foreigners or minorities have in understanding or relating to American culture.


What do you like to read?

Actually I enjoy reading the daily Los Angeles Times that does a good, objective job of reporting the news in detail. The same with venerable Time magazine. They are great spawning grounds for information ideas in my book.


What would your advice to be for authors or aspiring in regard to writing?

I was asked this question by Aaron Paul Lazar on his blog at Here’s what I said about my twelve-year odyssey to write the first and then the second book:


  • First and foremost, don’t give up on something you truly believe in, as I almost did when scores of agents and publishers said they had never seen a book like this, so it probably wasn’t worth pursuing. There will always be naysayers for everything we want to attempt in life…and that includes agents and publishers.
  • Get a good editor who is forthright, honest and not afraid to slash and burn here and there. However, keep your eye on your North Star. My guiding light proved to be the right direction on several issues I had with my editor.
  • Keep rewriting until you have the tone and flow you know is right for your book. Know who your reader will be. In my case it was foreigners who likely read English as a second language, thus my language had to be simple. I also scattered light-hearted humor and personal notes to avoid a textbook tone.
  • Don’t be in a hurry to see your book printed because you only have one chance to make a good first impression. And, yes, once printed you’ll hit your forehead with open palm when you still find typos and dumb errors previously in hiding.
  • And finally, the big shocker is the marketing effort that must follow the publication. As most authors say, this is the hard part, not the writing of the book. I found the books I needed in the Frugal Book Series ( most helpful.


Anything else you’d like to share?

Here are the closing paragraphs in the book’s Introduction that tells why I wrote the book:

“With this better understanding, we will all feel more positive and have mutual respect for one another. It has worked for my students and it will work for you. With all of our cultural differences though, you’ll be surprised to learn how much our countries—and we as human beings—have in common on this third rock from the sun called Earth. After all, the song played at our Disneyland parks around the world is ‘It’s A Small World After All.’

“Thanks for coming along on this journey with me. Thank you for allowing me to share my America with you. And thanks to all of you who shared your country with me. Peace. LJ”

1 comment

carolynhowardjohnson 11/13/2012 - 1:30 pm

I love this idea about creating a character the author has for writing nonfiction books . We often forget how important it is to think of our books as living beings–and of the kind of character the audience for that book might be! Wow, what a question! And what an answer!_Best,__Carolyn Howard-Johnson_Excited about how much the new edition of the Frugal Book Promoter (expanded! updated!) can help writers with the tried and true and the new media, too. Now a USA Book News award-winner in its own right ( it the original edition was also a Reader Views winner and an Irwin Award winner._


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