Guest Posts, Book Excerpts

Book Excerpt: Rash by Lisa Kusel

October 25, 2017

We love our readers and we love our writers, and when one of our writers publishes a book, we can’t help but share. Enjoy! -Angela

By Lisa Kusel

One night my husband, Victor, turned to me in bed and said, “Sweetie, I think I need to do something different.”

I was so engrossed in reading The Line of Beauty that I only half-heard him and thought perhaps he was referring to sex. But then I saw he had his finger stuck inside Three Cups of Tea.

“Okay. Like what?” I asked right away, not wanting to lose the moment. A potential deliverance from the mundane floated, like steam from a cup of chai tea, under my nose. I gestured at the book. “You want to go to Afghanistan and teach in one of those schools?” Victor had been teaching middle school for over fifteen years, first in private schools then public. He was the most passionate and principled teacher I knew.

“No. I’m not going to drag us to Afghanistan—not with a six-year-old—and by the way, the story takes place in Pakistan.”

“Okay, not Pakistan, but somewhere else, maybe? You could teach anywhere,” I said, clutching at what I thought could be a turning point, a crossroads, a pivotal moment. I pushed the covers off and sat up. “When we first met, you said that someday you wanted to go teach in another country, remember? Why not do it now?”

Now, because I had just spent two years writing what I thought was my best novel yet, only to have it rejected by ten publishers. My agent suggested I let it sit in a drawer for awhile and go start a new novel. Wouldn’t it be marvelous if I wrote my new better book in some exotic locale, perhaps somewhere with an ocean view?

“I mean Loy is the perfect age to learn other languages,” I added because I didn’t want him to think it was only about me.

“Yes, she is.”

“Think about it, Victor,” I pushed. “There isn’t anything about our life right now that would keep us from leaving, right?”

He leaned back against the pillow and stared out the window. I threw my book onto the nightstand and followed his gaze out toward the bright landscape swathed in a full moon’s glow. I could make out dozens of oaks on the long stretch of Sierra foothills beyond our fence line, broccoli-like with their leafless curly branches and long thick trunks.

“Yeah. Yeah, I agree that it should be now, because in ten years I’ll be, what, fifty-six,” he said. “But not there. Not some place that’s dangerous.” At the mention of the word, dangerous, our old cat Rex began furiously licking his back paw.

I reached over and took Victor’s hand; his strong kind hand that had held mine for going on fourteen years. “You’re totally in a place with teaching where you can try something out of your comfort zone; something that could make a real difference.”

“You’re right. I am. Let’s try to figure out how we can do that,” he said, giving me a hurried kiss before opening the book again, the book I decided to have bronzed someday. “Good night.”

“Good night,” I replied, suddenly energized. Thrilled that my husband, my life partner, my would-be hero, was up for having an ADVENTURE, if the right one pulled up, that is.


The promise of paradise fell into my family’s lap on an afternoon in early spring. I was languidly swinging back and forth on the front porch of our blue house on the hill in Nevada City, California, watching the woodpeckers peck at our siding, when the mailman drove his truck up the long steep driveway. Rex snoozed in the sun beneath a naked oak tree. He was deaf enough not to notice the engine approaching. Old enough not to bother raising his ragged head when the mail guy hustled up the steps, handed me my mail, and shot back down to his truck before I could even ask him how it was going.

I tossed the propane bill and two special offers for satellite TV aside and opened the latest issue of Brown Alumni Monthly. I wasn’t technically a Brown University alum, since I’d only gone to graduate school there in the late eighties, but I liked seeing what real Ivy-leaguers had done with their lives—as opposed to what had become of us groovy California state university kids.

I skimmed around the classes from the 1980s and saw that someone named Mark consulted with Fortune 500 companies on corporate social responsibility. Wendy was recently promoted to chief marketing officer at her D.C. law firm. Good for her.

Rex was suddenly beneath me, sliding the side of his face along the insole of my hanging foot. He meowed, then jumped into my lap and batted my face. I read on while rubbing my palm back and forth along the hard nubs of his vertebrate.

Stephen was practicing acupuncture in San Raphael, while Professor Hannah taught geography at Oregon State University. Scott and Kristen had just welcomed their fourth child, and Brad and his family had just moved to Bali to help start a brand new Kindergarten through 12th-grade school.


I said it aloud: “Bali.”

My mouth played beach ball with the word.

My brain filled with images of orange flowers and blue-green seas.

I put Rex on the ground and ran to the computer to look up the school in Bali, trying to focus on the words instead of the cerulean skies and swaying palm trees that washed across the pages.  Innovative ecological and sustainable education…the buildings will be constructed out of bambooorganic gardens will be planted throughout the campus…I quickly clicked over to JOBS and when I saw they needed a 7th/8th-grade teacher, I hooted into the air, immediately sending the link to Victor. I knew he wouldn’t read any personal email until he got home from teaching, but I was too excited not to send word ASAP.

“The director is in my Brown alumni magazine,” I wrote. “It looks amazing, right? Just like what we were talking about!”

I spent the next hour Googling John Hardy, the founder of this Green School. Born in Canada in 1949, he dropped out of school due to supposedly undiagnosed dyslexia. In the Seventies he traveled to Bali where he learned traditional Balinese jewelry-making techniques. He got so good at it that he opened his own factory and hired a legion of Balinese artists to forge his silver designs, which were sold in upscale stores like Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus.

In 2007 he sold the company—called John Hardy—for how much was not revealed, but a few business articles alluded to something like $150 million.

There was a piece in The New York Times with pictures of him and his gorgeously-fit second wife Cynthia, and their two adorable daughters Carina and Chiara in their lavishly- designed wooden house overlooking a lush river valley.

When I heard Victor’s car coming up the drive I looked past the computer and watched Loy unbuckle herself from her booster seat and jump out of the car. Victor hoisted his heavy daypack onto his shoulder then reached into the backseat to grab Loy’s small pink princess pack. In perfect stillness she waited for him to take her hand.

As they walked up the railroad-tie staircase to our front door I imagined my beautiful family standing together with John Hardy’s beautiful family amidst all that tropicalness.

“Victor! Come in here now!” I yelled from the computer desk in the den as soon as they entered the house. “Look at this,” I said. “This school is exactly what you were talking about; a place where you can make a real difference. The students are going to come from all over the world. The curriculum is like green-colored Waldorf. It’s perfect.”

“From your perspective, maybe. Get up and let me finish reading about it.”

“Wait, you read the email I sent you?”

“Lisa, when you put OUR LIVES WILL NEVER BE THE SAME AGAIN in the subject line, you know I’m at least going to peek.”

I kissed the top of his balding head then went to go find Loy, who was sitting on the couch holding a large plastic doll, its completely bald head turned against her flat chest. “Hi, my love, how was school?”


“You hungry? You want some cheese and crackers, or what about a smoothie?”

“After I feed my baby, yeah, I want a smoothie.”

I kissed the nursing mother and went into the kitchen. I got as far as taking out the frozen blueberries and peeling a banana, before I could take it no longer and walked back into the den to stand behind Victor.


“It looks good. Great, actually. I mean, the thing that I’m most attracted to is that it won’t be just rich international kids. They plan to offer spots to local Balinese kids, too.”


“I’m a little concerned that they’re not really clear about the curriculum, though.”

“Just think about Loy!” I said as I kicked that silly doubt of his down the hallway. “She’ll learn so much about other cultures. I mean, she’ll probably be speaking three languages by the time she gets to middle school.”

Loy appeared at the doorway. “What did you just say, Mommy? What am I speaking?”

“Nothing, kiddo,” I said, pulling her and her sated baby into the kitchen with me. As I watched Loy suck blue yogurt through a straw I pictured her running through the jungle, her  reddish hair streaked through with blonde highlights, her legs tan and strong.

“You want to go live in Bali?” I asked the unsuspecting Loy.

“Are you and Daddy going too?”

“Of course. We’d never go anywhere without you.”

She jumped off the stool and ran up the stairs. “Yes, I want to move to Bali!” she yelled,  before running toward her bedroom.

Inside the den, I found Victor typing a cover letter to the school. I read over his shoulder, perhaps making a few too many minor suggestions. He pushed the chair back and said that he had to deal with his own students’ work at the moment, and if I wanted to pursue this phantom job in Bali, I should write the letter myself.

“This suddenly sounds too important to you,” he added as he reached into his bag and slid out a whopping pile of student papers. “I get that you think this would be an interesting place for me to teach and, yeah, for Loy it’d be nothing but great, but what about you? What will you get out of it?”

“I, ah…it’s Bali! How can it not be amazing? Look what happened to Elizabeth Gilbert.”


“She wrote Eat, Pray, Love.”

“Seriously, sweetie. What has that got to do with you?” Victor had a pen poised over an ink-smudged sheet of paper. I knew once he dug in and started correcting work I’d lose his attention, and Bali might float away like so much fairy dust.

“Well, uh, she’s a writer too, and she goes to Italy then India then Bali; because she’s hoping to find—”

“I don’t care about her, Lisa. What do you want?”

Why did I want to run away from our perfect life in California? What was I looking for exactly? A change of scenery? Sure. A new place to write? Yup. What else, Lisa, what else? Why else would I want to leave our little blue house on the hill in our tiny artsy town in the mountains where we had a gaggle of friends, and Victor had a good-enough job, and I had a little writing studio on the property?

Was I afraid that if we didn’t move to Bali we’d live in this house until Loy went away to college, and the thought of that unchanging scenario made me feel trapped? Was I worried that, like the sea at low tide, the passion between Victor and I had been steadily receding? But then again, no man in his right mind wanted to make love to a woman who’d been as moody and withdrawn as I’d been the last year.

But, if we moved to Bali, my relationship (and sex life) with Victor could only improve. I’d try to spend more time with Loy. It’d be me, not Victor, she’d run to after she scraped her knee. I would become a supermom.

If we moved to Bali, I reasoned without any real reason, I would finally find true self-love and inner peace. Isn’t that what happens to people who hang out doing yoga all day with other groovy ex-patriots on some heavenly palm-jammed island? For sure, I would learn to experience the shivery synaptic snap of the moment. I’d get keener; be able to smell the purple in Loy’s paintings; see the perfume wafting off the skin of beautiful women; hear the fish swim.

I would reinvent myself. I would find contentment. I would be present.

Victor and I would fall in love all over again.

Bali would make that happen. Bali. How tropical and flowery that sounded. Yes, if we moved to Bali, all would be light and golden and I’d—

“Lisa, I’m still waiting for you to answer my question.”

“I think if we moved to Bali, I’d learn how to stop searching for something new all the time and be grateful for what I have.”

Lisa Kusel believes everyone has a story to tell. She’s told a few: the novel Hat Trick, and Other Fish in the Sea, a collection of linked stories, were published by Hyperion. Her poems and essays have appeared online, as well as in the tea-stained journal on her nightstand. She recently completed Goodlove, a suburban suspense tale, and, when not flying off to Florida to care for her mother who is suffering from dementia, she’s working on a young adult novel. She and her husband/best friend live in Burlington, Vermont, where they are raising their teenage daughter to be compassionate, self-empowered, and politically engaged and enraged. Lisa blogs at; tweets at @lisakusel12; and posts visuals on Instagram at lisa_kusel 


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  • Reply Lindsey Schoen October 25, 2017 at 8:18 am

    This is great! I am going to buy this book, she is a beautiful writer. Thanks for sharing Jen. Miss you, xoxoxo

    • Reply lisa kusel October 27, 2017 at 11:56 am

      Thank you, Lindsey! xx lisa kusel

  • Reply An Excerpt of RASH | On Monkey Forest Road February 7, 2018 at 7:31 am

    […] Excerpted Rash. Wasn’t that just so darn nice of them? […]

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