Interview with Cornelia E. Davis, Author of Risking Is Better Than Regretting

22 Jun 2021

What can you tell us about your new release, Risking Is Better Than Regretting?

My new release is part memoir, part adventure travel, and part reflections on challenges I faced in life. It was March 2020, and I was seeing the early reports of a new disease circulating in China. Instinctively, my intuition told me that I would not be going on this trip to Mongolia in September 2020, and I was feeling depressed. Then I saw this challenge on the internet about – write your next book in six months! And I thought, I could do that, especially as more and more countries started to close their borders and impose restrictions on their citizens. And so, in lockdown, I started to reflect on the opportunities that presented to me and how choice, chance, and change were inter-connected.

What or who inspired you to become an author?

As I got closer to retirement, I began to reflect on my life as a medical epidemiologist (disease detective) in Africa and Asia. What did I want to do in retirement? I had my “bucket list” of places I wanted to see before dying. But I had this deep urge to write about my experiences in smallpox eradication in India. It was this event that changed my medical focus from being a pediatrician in California to working overseas in international public health. I wanted my “smallpox brothers” to know what I faced as a Black, woman doctor up against the sexism and caste system in India in 1975. Since I was a junior doctor in the program, I needed to write this book quickly before the older, experienced smallpox doctors started dying off. And that’s how I wrote my first memoir- Searching for Sitala Mata, Eradicating Smallpox in India.

What’s on your top 5 list for the best books you’ve ever read?

Well, that’s a hard question to answer. I’m such an eclectic reader but here you go:

  • “The Lord of the Rings” (1-3) by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini
  • “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
  • “Memoirs of a Geisha” by Arthur Golden
  • “Cutting For Stone” by Abraham Verghese

Say you’re the host of a literary talk show. Who would be your first guest? What would you want to ask?

As the host of a literary talk show, my first guest would be Oprah Winfrey. I have always longed for one of my books to land on Oprah’s Book Club. So, I would ask her to reflect on her life:

  • Would she agree with the statement that “risking is better than regretting”?
  • Oprah has had an incredible life. Can she share one of her uplifting experiences?
  • Oprah opened a boarding school in South Africa for disadvantaged girls to educate and empower them. Why did she pick strengthening education versus, for example, providing funding to reduce childhood mortality which was high in the country?

What’s your favorite thing about writing?

I write non-fiction books, and all have been memoirs. By writing a memoir it allows me to remember a time in the past, that played an important part in my psyche. If the writing is good, I can get in touch with those feelings and savor the moment, and then I get to share that moment with others.

What is a typical day like for you?

Unfortunately, nothing has been typical in the last year and a half in lockdown in Mexico where I retired. Normally, I do some exercise in the morning (2x/week with my trainer, and 2x/week walking for an hour). However, seniors were asked to stay indoors, and I could only go to my trainer wearing a mask and exercising outside in the garden. Then if I am writing a book, I write every morning for two to three hours. Usually, I have set a word count to attain. After writing I allow myself to go on the internet and answer emails or look at the headlines. But the covid-19 figures were so depressing, I stopped looking at the headlines. Before covid, I would meet friends for lunch once or twice a week. I am also active in The Lakeside Community Theatre so before covid, there were five annual plays, and I would audition and usually get a part in one play.

I found lockdown to be boring and zoom webinars just don’t replace seeing people face to face and interacting. I am so glad I was able to get vaccinated in March 2021 and slowly, restrictions are being lifted. But Mexico had difficulties getting the vaccines, which means masks and no indoor restaurants and bars in the foreseeable future!

What scene from Risking Is Better Than Regretting was your favorite to write?

There are several scenes in Risking that I enjoyed writing. The chapter about The Legendary Turkana Bus brought back many “first time experiences”! It was 1977 and the first time I was heading for Africa, the first time in Kenya and climbing Mt. Kenya!  I was meeting one of my best girlfriends from medical school days. We were meeting after 8 years, and she was teaching in the Nairobi medical school. I had just finished working on smallpox eradication in India. So, the reunion was especially poignant after all those years. I was fortunate to live and work in Nairobi for ten years (2002-2011), but a lot had changed since 1977. So grateful to have experienced Kenya in 1977.

Do you have a motto, quote, or philosophy you live by?

My tag line on my website states: One person can make a difference! It doesn’t matter in what arena you worked; it just matters if you helped to make it better!

Cornelia E. Davis is the author of the new book Risking Is Better Than Regretting

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