Sep 18

I recall that one of my favorite moments in researching Beauty from Afar came not from the travel and not from the interesting people I met along the way. It was in finding out that Michael Crichton had written about medical tourism in — of all books! — Jurassic Park.

I’m not making this up; and the information made it into the introduction as a short section, which I added today.

I’m finding that I have to edit the text of Beauty from Afar, onscreen, with an actual copy of the book on my lap. The digital version I have to work with is missing words, occasionally, and is also entirely … mispunctuated. (Is that a word?) This is because I’m working from a Quark file turned into an Acrobat file, from which I copy and paste text into a text file, and then massage it.  Copy changes and even vanishes. Note to any other authors who try this: Yes, of course you could use the final version you submitted to your publisher in MS Word, or whatever. But … are you sure that’s the final version of the book?

P.S. The physical copy of Beauty from Afar has 215 pages. When I started this project, I thought that this online version would … mimic that. It made sense to me … the book has some 65,000 words and I thought that 300 or so at a time would be about right. And given that I’d like this project to at least pay for itself, I thought that having 215 pages with advertisements was not a bad idea.

Just a few days in, though, I’ve discovered what you would have, soon enough, if I had stuck to the plan. Page breaks are artifical and annoying unless you have pages you can turn immediately. (Well, it bothers me, anyway.)  So I’m repaginating as I go. This online version of Beauty from Afar, I’m thinking, will be more like 100 pages, in the end. I intend that each page will end as unjarringly as possible. There are no “widowed” words in the book; there will be no widowed paragraphs in the online version.

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Sep 18

Introduction Page 2 | Seeking Beauty from Afar: How I Got My Smile Back

Jurassic Park It’s Not …

I remember what I had known about Costa Rica before I had started thinking of it as a place where I might get fine dental work done inexpensively.  Not a lot — but perhaps about as much as did my friend.  In fact, I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that I had not been 100 percent sure that Costa Rica was not an island, though I vaguely recalled that Costa Rica was somehow prominent in the 1991 bestseller, Jurassic Park.  I had to look it up. Michael Crichton’s ill-fated island was located off the coast of Costa Rica.  It is hardly a friendly reference point for a potential visitor.  In fact, it seemed to cause a little embarrassment when I mentioned it to a few Costa Ricans, as though they worry that North Americans might actually fear that there are T-Rexes and raptors in the outskirts of San Jose. But in the book, there is a casual mention of Costa Rica as a destination for those interested in having cosmetic surgery.

“Bowman, a thirty-six-year-old real estate developer from Dallas, had come to Costa Rica with his wife and daughter for a two-week holiday. The trip had actually been his wife’s idea; for weeks Ellen had filled his ear about the wonderful national parks of Costa Rica, and how good it would be for Tina to see them. Then, when they had arrived, it turned out that Ellen had an appointment to see a plastic surgeon in San Jose. That was the first Mike Bowman had heard about the excellent and inexpensive plastic surgery available in Costa Rica, and all the luxurious private clinics in San Jose.”

This, in 1991! I asked Michael Crichton, through his publicist, how he had come to include this aside. Though Jurassic Park is, of course, fiction, it seemed unlikely that the author would have wholly invented his characterization of Costa Rica. The response I received was that it was a long time ago; Crichton didn?t remember how he had come to include the passage. In any case, I felt as though I was more than a dozen years late to a party. I found out later that Costa Rican plastic surgeons have been catering to U.S. patients since at least the late 1970s. Who knew?  Lots of people, obviously; and at the same time, hardly anyone.

“We can’t say it’s a new thing,” I told my editor at Northeast, Stephanie Summers. “It?s been going on for a long time.” She was unimpressed.  “It’s new to our readers,” she said.

And it was.  Months after the story ran I was still getting e-mail. I put the article online, more or less as a roadmap for others who might want to think about undertaking a similar journey. I thought — there’s a book in all this. And there was. Dentistry in Costa Rica barely touched the surface of the cosmetic work being done outside the United States — the same or comparable quality, just for a lot less money.

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