Interview with Amy Holan (aka Havi Zavi), Runner Up in the WOW! Q2 2023 Essay Contest

Sunday, July 02, 2023


Amy Holan (also known as Havi Zavi) is a Licensed Psychotherapist and writer who publishes, a synthesis of travel essays, art, culture, and adventures. She is also a contributing columnist at Womancake on Substack, a publication serving large slices of wisdom for women over 40. When not traveling the world, she splits her time between the desert and a small, rugged island in the Pacific Northwest. A proud Childfree by Choice woman, she is delighted by the other honorariums she holds: wife, auntie, sister, cousin, friend, dog mom. You can find her on Instagram @havi_zavi. 

----------Interview by Renee Roberson 

You can read Amy's essay, "Machine Guns and Family Bonding," here.

WOW: Travel and adventure experiences provide such great material for essays. What are some important elements you think writers should consider when writing creative nonfiction that involves travel? 

Amy: I believe the best creative nonfiction is when vulnerability shines through and you feel a connection with the author. Travel evokes vulnerability and provides plenty of opportunity for an author to connect with the reader. Traveling puts you out of your comfort zone in so many ways. Away from the creature comforts of home, figuring out food, trying to find your way to the museum, or, in our case, a pretty large language barrier. The moments when things go the worst are often the moments when we find our resilience and power. These are also the moments that end up being the most memorable. Try to push yourself into activities that make you uncomfortable to get the most material. Then lean in when everything is going wrong. Pay attention to the feelings and interactions that happen around you. Did someone you were traveling with surprise you with how they responded? Did you surprise yourself? Cultural differences certainly exist but in a difficult moment we also find that humanity shares the same language. Moments of connection are always themes that unite and inspire and sometimes connection might be a shared glance, a helpful stranger, or, in our case, a moment of connection in a family trying to find their way in a new life together. 

WOW: What was your family’s time like living in Honduras after the journey you write about in your essay? 

Amy: It was a time that redefined us as a family. Without speaking the language we were forced to speak to each other. This brought us closer together. We spent our days doing our homework as quickly as possible so we could spend as much time as possible on the beach. We were barefoot 98% of the time and learned how to swim in the ocean and contend with jellyfish stings. It was also during this time I discovered my love of reading and devoured whatever was put in front of me. The house we lived in was half built so in the beginning we had to shower in the warm torrential rain. When we finally had water in the house, we experienced mild electrocutions due to the poor wiring. It was a beautiful, chaotic, strange, fun, and stressful time. To this day we laugh about all the things that went wrong, including the day my brothers were swept out to sea on a Costco air mattress and the time we took a bush plane to an island and the plane died halfway down the runway (stories still to come). 

WOW: Oh my goodness! What a teaser! You now divide your time between the Pacific Northwest and the Arizona desert. For any of our readers who have never visited those places, what do you think makes them such a desirable place to live? 

Amy: The Pacific Northwest is where I was born and raised. I still believe it to be one of the prettiest places on earth. We live on a small island that is very rural with a lot of farms, lakes, and hiking, and spend most of our summer days gardening, paddleboarding, swimming, and trail running. In the winter we transition life to the desert which has a completely different kind of beauty. There are incredible sunrises, sunsets, blooming cacti, and hiking not far away. It is a lovely balance between being surrounded by lush green and gorgeous tans and reds. 

WOW: What wonderful descriptions of those places. How did you first get inspired to write creative nonfiction? 

Amy: As a young woman in my twenties I became obsessed with the memoir genre. Having been a literature nut for years (Jeffrey Eugenides, Kurt Vonnegut, Irvine Welsh, Zadie Smith are a few favorites), I found new authors (to me) with beautiful prose in this genre (Dani Shapiro, Lidia Yuknavitch, Dave Eggers, Joan Didion, David Sedaris). Reading beautiful writing has inspired me to find ways to create and contribute my own voice. 

WOW: What advice do you have for traveling abroad for the first time? We’d love to hear some of your tips! 

Amy: Learn a few words of the native language of the place you plan to visit. Things like "please", "thank you", "table for two, please", "bathroom", and "check, please" are great starting points. Even in a place like Barcelona (where I am currently) where everyone speaks beautiful English, the effort is appreciated. If you want to take it further I recommend using Pimsleur (I wrote a piece about that here: to get some basic knowledge. Be city savvy, but not so paranoid you are afraid to leave your hotel room. Check out new neighborhoods, take the metro, and make friends. Remember people live where you are visiting, so be mindful and respectful of locals. And once in a while put your phone down and just live the experience.

WOW: Great tips! Thank you so much for sharing your writing journey and quite frankly, inspiring me to write more about my own travels!


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