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Author Q&A w/ @IsabelleGecils | LEAVING SHANGRILA | @GoddessFish Presents #Memoir + $30 GC #Giveaway

Goddess Fish Promotions has organized a virtual book tour for Leaving Shangrila: The True Story of a Girl, Her Transformation and Her Eventu...

Goddess Fish Promotions has organized a virtual book tour for Leaving Shangrila: The True Story of a Girl, Her Transformation and Her Eventual Escape by Isabelle Gecils, a memoir available now from Morgan James Publishing.

Be sure to follow the tour and comment; the more you comment, the better your chances of winning. The tour dates can be found by clicking the banner below.

Leaving Shangrila:
The True Story of a Girl, Her Transformation and
Her Eventual Escape
by Isabelle Gecils


GENRE: Memoir



Leaving Shangrila: The True Story of A Girl, Her Transformation and Her Eventual Escape by Isabelle Gecils, is the captivating memoir of a charmingly complex heroine.

Isabelle paints a colorful world as she tells the tale of how she forged her own path in the midst of turmoil. The story, set in Brazil where she grew up, is populated with fascinating characters, both good and bad. From a narcissistic mother to her perpetually flawed lovers to three resilient sisters, Leaving Shangrila’s motley crew make for an endlessly intriguing storyline.

Leaving Shangrila begins with young Isabelle, trapped in a hellish world. Surrounded by lies,
manipulation, and abuse, Isabelle is desperate to escape the adversity of this place. Filled withtremendous strength and an unyielding drive to survive, she begins her journey toward freedom and self-realization. Through the trials and obstacles along the way, Isabelle goes back and forth to balance who she is with what she must do to survive.

With themes of perseverance, self-reliance, and the resilience of the human spirit, Leaving
Shangrila: The True Story Of A Girl, Her Transformation and Her Eventual Escape highlights the important character traits one discovers on the path to finding their self. Truly empowering and inspirational, readers everywhere will relate to this coming of age story.



How did you come up with the title of your book?

Shangrila is the name of a farm, in a remote jungle in Brazil where I grew up. My mother ran away with her then lover to this farm, where he could pursue his dream of leading a religious sect. Because my eventual stepfather and my mother had no interest in working, they relied on my father’s alimony payments. But these payments would cease if my father discovered that my stepfather existed. So we lied. About his existence, the religious meetings, and all the eventual control and abuse that happened within the circular walls of our round home. As I grew up, I had sense that something was not right with my world. I wanted a different life for myself. I had to find a way to leave Shangrila. Hence the title of the book.

Tell us a little bit about your cover art. Who designed it? Why did you go with that particular image?

I took a picture of my sons walking purposely during a hike on Hurricane Ridge, at Olympic National Park in Washington state with a beautiful mountain range in the background. While I wanted to use this picture (and you can see it on my website), the problem of course was that my children are boys, and I was a girl, and they were too young at the time. That is, as much as I loved the picture, it would not work as the cover of Leaving Shagnla.

I shared the concept of the picture - of a girl walking through a mountain range looking purposeful – with my publisher. The first draft of the cover was what I had asked for: a beautiful mountain range with a girl perched on the top of it walking on a trail. But the girl on the cover was too hip, too cool and too sophisticated. That is, everything that I was not, when I was a teenager. 

That girl simply did not represent me and my story. I wanted a girl that elicited sympathy, purpose, and a little bit of desperation. So I asked for a girl change. Instead of giving me a new girl, my publisher shared with me link to a website with tens of thousands of pictures, with the mission to “find the girl” who would then be perched on that mountain top. During that search, I came across the picture that now graces Leaving Shangrila. I immediately related to that girl, she was barefoot, her hair unkempt, wearing a dress, and with an age range aligned to who old I was when I struggled to escape from Shangrila. Even though you can only see her back, you can tell she is walking with a purpose. I saw that picture and immediately felt that I had found the girl, that if it were not for her blond hair, that it could have been me. I shared that picture with the artist. And instead of placing her on a mountain top, they took the whole picture and with some slight blurring and color change made it the cover.

Who is your favorite character from your book and why?

Kaiza, for sure. She had a very strong sense of right and wrong. She was a loyal friend, and an overall beautiful person both in and out. As were those who surrounded her. Her boyfriend at the time won the title of most handsome man at the university, and she was equally stunning. Kaiza had a big and generous heart. But when she was confronted to what she saw as a betrayal on my part, she did what a person with strong sense of morals would do. She rejected the betrayer and what she stood for. I think it was my first exposure to a truly strong woman who had a keen sense of boundaries. There is a lot to learn from that.

What other books are similar to your own? What makes them alike?

When I read This Boys’ Life, by Tobias Wolff, I immediately related to it, and used it loosely as a model for how I structured Leaving Shangrila. I particularly liked the fact that the main character was neither portrayed as a victim, nor a hero. He certainly got himself into plenty of trouble of his own making, but you could not help but think that he did so because he was trying to escape from his life, and because he had a dearth of role models to learn how to behave any differently. The primary inspiration this book gave me was the power of just telling a story as it is. Not to make myself as a victim, as I could easily have done. Nor as a hero, as I could have done too, by only highlighting the inner strength it took to overcome the circumstances of my early life. But I did not do that either. Because the truth is, I had accumulated plenty of bad habits as a consequence of having to survive my childhood. There was no other way. I had to lie, and steal and be duplicitous. But these same survival skills got me into a whole lot of trouble later in life, when I had achieved what I really wanted, love and friendship and then lost it all. But how else would I have learned to leave these bad habits behind?

Do you have any unique talents or hobbies?

I would not necessarily call it a unique hobby, because I see plenty of people doing so too, but I love spending time on mountains, whether on some strenuous hike, mountain biking or skiing. I feel that this is when I am able to clear my head, shed some stress and recharge. Most I cross paths with during these outings tend to specialize on one activity vs. the other, and as a result, they become really good at it, and form a tight community around them. I prefer to choose the activity depending on its destination, and then as a result, I become part of various groups. But time in nature has become almost a requirement for me. I find it difficult to relax otherwise.

How can we contact you or find out more about your books?

My website has a contact me page, and information about the Leaving Shangrila, a schedule of past and future events, a short bio and a blog. You can find it at

What can readers who enjoy your book do to help make it successful?

Write a review! Truly, if you love Leaving Shangrila, besides spreading the word among your friends, is to write a review. Social proof is incredibly important. That reviews, especially positive ones, are just that. It removes the “risk” from a potential reader about what they can expect to find in the book. It is also my understanding that places such as Amazon have a minimum threshold of required reviews until the book becomes “discoverable.” That is, it shows up in searches on a particular topic, or suggestions of books to read that are similar to one they just searched for. Reviews don’t have to be elaborate or too detailed either. Just honest.

Do you have any tips for readers or advice for other writers trying to get published?

When my manuscript was completed, I attended the San Francisco Writer’s Conference with the express purpose to find an agent/publisher for Leaving Shangrila. I printed several copies of my manuscript and of a book proposal I wrote based on a Google search I had done on how to write one. Yet, when it came time to share these documents I carried with me the whole weekend with a couple of publishers who expressed interest, I actually refused. 

Why? Because I listened to them speaking during the conference about what it is they were looking for, what would grab their attention, what would make them say yes. And I recognized that I did not have these elements yet polished. They also said that I had “one chance” to get it right, “five seconds” to grab their attention before my labored over manuscript will go to the trash can, and other scary sounding comments. So I came home and took another month polishing my manuscript, rendering as error free as I could. I also bought myself a book on writing a winning book proposal and started from scratch, carefully and comprehensively following their advice. The end result was two offers for Leaving Shangrila.

My advice is to listen to those you are pitching to (in person is great, but many agents and publishers also offer guidelines on their websites and submissions webpages), and then give to them what they are looking for.



My entire class staged a school play, except that, unlike everybody else, I watched it rather than act in it. Joining the theater troop required almost daily rehearsals at one of my classmates’ lavish colonial homes near school. I was not invited to join the group. They already knew I would not come.

At the school grounds, my classmates cracked jokes about what happened during their afternoons together. They perched on one another as they traded stories and exchanged hugs. I heard about the English classes they took after school, their boat trips around the bays of Rio de Janeiro, the excited chatter that accompanied field trips I was never allowed to join. When the entire class decided to spend a lightly chaperoned weekend in Cabo Frio, a town with white, sandy beaches and coconut trees lining the boardwalks, my jealousy meter spiked. For two months, that is all anyone talked about. Since I did not even receive an invitation, nobody spoke with me.

I felt lonely observing them. I longed to be as adored as were the two most popular girls in my class: Isabela and Flavia. Isabela, despite the discolored white spots all over her skin due to type 1 diabetes, was the reigning queen. The boys swooned over Flavia, two years older than the rest of us although she repeated third and fifth grade due to her poor academic performance.

I observed these two girls, searching for what it was about them that made them special. Yes, they were both beautiful. While their beauty may have helped with their popularity, it surely was not the main factor, as there were other pretty girls too. I decided that what they had in common, what nobody else had, was that they were the best athletes in my class, even perhaps the best in all of the school.

Isabela and Flavia were always the ones everybody wanted to have on their team and as their friend. They were either team captain or the first pick. They seemed to try harder than everybody else. So I thought that if I truly focused on sports, then I could be just like them. If only I could excel on the handball field—as girls did not play soccer, despite the madness surrounding the most popular sport in Brazil—then maybe, just maybe, my social standing could change too. I made a plan. One day, I would be just as great as these two. One day, I would be chosen first.

At the beginning of each week, the P.E. teacher assigned two captains. They, in turn, each picked a team for the week. We played handball on Tuesdays, volleyball on Thursdays. And every week, for the past three years, I was the captain’s last, grudgingly chosen pick. I knew why. Had I been captain, I would have chosen myself last too.

I did not score any goals in handball. My throws were either too weak or out of bounds. Knowing this, my team did not bother passing the ball to me. I spent the game playing defense, barely succeeding at blocking the other team’s powerhouse players as they demolished the team I was on. When an opponent charged towards me dribbling the ball, I got out of the way. In volleyball, I removed my thick glasses for fear they’d be broken, and as a result, I could not see the ball coming to hit me in the face.

I did not particularly enjoy playing sports. However, to change my standing in the team-selection pecking order, I practiced with a purpose. During games, I became more aggressive. I wore my glasses. I reached for the goal, whereas before I simply stood on the sidelines. I blocked more aggressively too—even if it meant pulling my opponent’s shirt or hair—no matter that this often led to a penalty against my team. During these early weeks, I returned home with two broken eye glasses, earned a couple of red cards, and made my teammates angry.

At home, after completing my homework, I begged my two sisters to play ball with me. They did play, but not for long. When they grew tired, I threw the ball against the wall, attempting to increase my arm strength. When my arms felt tired, I ran around the farm to increase my speed and reflexes by dodging a pretend ball. At night, as I drifted to sleep, I prayed silently so that my sisters would not hear me plead: “God, please, make me be chosen first.”

As weeks turned into months, I became quite adept at catching the ball as it ricocheted from the wall towards me. I was no longer chosen last. That horrible fate was bestowed on a shy and almost as awkward classmate who had the extra disadvantage of being overweight, which slowed her down compared to me; I was slight and scrawny. Yet, despite months of effort, I did not score any more than before, did not throw the ball any harder or more accurately, and hardly touched the ball at all. Since I often increased the penalty count with my new, more aggressive tactics, the coach had me sit out whenever there was an odd number of players.

A year into this futile attempt, I felt a deep sense of disappointment but realized the foolishness of pursuing an utterly impossible dream. Maybe one had to be content with their lot in life, I concluded. Any attempts to try to change who one was, or what one wanted, were futile. Feeling defeated and deflated and knowing that, despite any effort, the sports court was not a place for me, I talked myself out of my goal. I stopped practicing in the afternoons. I removed my glasses again during games. I accepted that I was not meant to be popular and that the world where my classmates lived did not belong to me.

I hated my life. I hated going home where there was nothing to do and nobody to play with. I hated how different we were—with our round house, with our religious meetings, with our inability to do anything other than go to school. Not knowing what to do to change any of it, I returned to my routine, finding friendship in books and getting all my validation from my grades.

Two months later, I felt sick.

My head and muscles hurt; my nose was running; and I coughed uncontrollably. I barely slept. My mother suggested I stay home. No matter how sick I felt, I would never choose to stay home with my stepfather lurking around. Anywhere was better than home. Despite my illness, I dragged myself to school that day. It was a Tuesday, which meant handball day. That morning, I walked to the handball court, hoping my swollen eyes and drippy nose would help me avoid playing at all.

“Coach, I am sick,” I said with narrowed eyes. “Can I sit out the game today?”

“Being sick isn’t enough reason not to play,” the P.E. teacher said, not even bothering to look at me. “So, go play.”

Although students never questioned the decisions of a professor, I protested feebly.

He dismissed me again, treating me as a little pest who could not be taken seriously.

“Here is what you will go do,” he told me. “Your team needs a goalie. Go defend it,” he said, pointing towards the goal. The regular goalie was also sick that day, but unlike me, she had the good sense to stay at home.

Off to guard the goal post I went, grateful at least that I did not have to run or be pushed around on the court. I hoped that a strong team defense would prevent me from having to exert much effort. My teammates groaned and shook their heads in disbelief as they saw me standing in front of the goal, mumbling that the team had already lost. The opposing team congratulated themselves before the whistle blew. “This will be easy,” they bragged within earshot, ensuring I knew they considered themselves to have already clinched victory. Having me guard the goal was the same as having no goalie at all.

A surge of anger and despondency bubbled up within me upon hearing their snickers. I felt tired of always being at the bottom of the totem pole, tired of feeling ridiculed and different. I puffed my chest as if this would make me larger, ignoring how painful it felt to take deep breaths.

My team’s defense did not keep its end of the bargain. The balls from the opposing team flew towards the goal at unreasonable speeds, from what appeared to be impossible angles. Yet, I blocked them out. I blocked every single ball that came towards me. I shielded that goal as if my life depended on it. At the end of the game, my team won by a landslide.

Not used to the taste of victory, I did not distinguish the elation I felt from the confusion at this unexpected turn of events. My dumbfounded classmates looked at me as if they saw me for the first time, trying to make sense of what had just happened.

They, and I, were in awe.

My feat as the goalie made the gossip circuit and by the following week, despite some lingering doubt about my abilities, I was picked third in the line-up. I had jumped seven places in one week! This was better than an improvement; it was a major victory!

At the sound of the whistle, the players moved. I tried to concentrate. Not feeling as angry as I did the previous week, my confidence waned even before the game started. But I wasn’t playing for the game. I was playing for my dream, my rank in the social pecking order, and my desire that for once, people would pay attention to me.

Nobody pierced my defense of the goal. My team won again.

Two weeks later, the captains planned the team selection for the school’s annual Olympic Games. The teams played together for two months in preparation for the week-long competition, held at a sports complex where all the parents—and the large, extended families that most Brazilians had—watched the games. The Olympics was the talk of the school.

My class split the girls into teams; these teams would play both handball and volleyball. The P.E. teacher selected the team captains. To my utter surprise, Isabela was not one of them. Thus, there was a possibility that Flavia and Isabela, the two best players, could be on the same team together. And that, I was sure, would lock in victory for whichever team they were a part of. I hoped that I would be chosen, even if last, to the better team. It was obvious to me that the opposing team would have no chance and would simply be crushed.

There was an air of excitement and nervousness at the school playground as the captains readied themselves to make their picks. Flavia was one of the captains. Ana Cristina, a strong but not stellar player, was the captain of the opposing team. After a coin toss, Ana Cristina was first to select players.

“I want Isabelle,” she said pointing at me.

She clearly meant Isabela, with an “a”, and not me, with the French spelling of a name most Brazilians did not get right. It made no sense to me that she would have chosen otherwise. So I did not budge.

“You heard her, Isabelle,” the coach said, tapping me on my shoulder. “Hurry up and move to Ana Cristina’s side.”

I was too stunned to hear the loud murmur emanating from the cluster of the other girls at this unexpected choice. This could not be right. I thought Ana Cristina had been crazy to select me. This choice guaranteed that Flavia would pick Isabela next. Ana Cristina’s team would be decimated. No team could win against the two stronger players.

I looked at Ana Cristina with panic in my face and shook my head. “Don’t do it,” I whispered. “Pick Isabela first.”

She looked at me, puzzled.

“Why?” she asked

“Get the next strongest player. Don’t let them be on the same team. Worry about the goalkeeper later!” I stated, with a modicum of desperation in my voice.

She stared at me with a serious frown on her face and gestured impatiently, beckoning me.

“Isabelle, just come over here.”

As I walked, she spoke loudly enough for all the other girls to hear. “If I do not choose you, Flavia will. Then my team will not ever have the slightest chance. Nobody can score when you are defending that goal. You are the most important player here and the one I want on my team.”

Still stunned, I moved next to Ana Cristina as the selection continued until all girls were sorted into teams. Once I got past my horror that we would now face Flavia and Isabela together, I remembered my wish made months earlier, the one I gave up so easily, about being chosen first. Yet, even in my wildest dreams, I had never expected that it would happen during the most important and visible athletic event of the school year. I felt an unfamiliar feeling of elation fill my chest. I felt I could burst. A broad smile spread across my face. I went home, screaming with joy: “I was chosen first! I was really chosen first!”

And for the first time in my life, I believed I was good at something.



AUTHOR Bio and Links:

Isabelle Gecils grew up in Shangrila, a remote farm in a lush jungle in Brazil. But who really knows where she hails from? Her immediate family hailed from 6 different countries: France(dad), Egypt (mom and grandma), Turkey (grandpa), Lithuania (grandpa) and Poland (grandma).  There is a freedom in belonging nowhere and everywhere at the same time.

Leaving Shangrila is the story of Isabelle’s journey from a life others choose for her to one she created for herself. To support the writing of this memoir, Isabelle completed the Stanford Creative Nonfiction Writing certificate program. She currently lives in Saratoga, California, with her husband, four sons and two territorial cats.



Isabelle Gecils will be awarding a $30 Amazon or Barnes and Noble GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. Good Monday morning and start of a great week. Thanks for the chance to win

    1. Thank you James and I am glad you are enjoying and a part of the tour.

  2. Awww, I just loved that excerpt! Good luck on the tour and thank you for the awesome giveaway!

    1. Thank you so much Judy. This was a turning point in my life, when I first achieved a dream I wanted for so long. I have relied on that moment multiple times in my life over the years, as I confront challenges and I think to myself, "what do I need to do in this situation to become a goalie?"

  3. Who are some of your favorite authors; what strikes you about their work?

    1. This Boy's Life, by Tobias Wolff had a big impact on me. As the title implies, it is a story about a boy whose single mom flew away with him in search of a better life, but got herself and her boy in a lot of trouble due to her continuing bad life choices. The boy told his tale, and did not make himself to be a victim, nor a hero, even though he did plenty of mischief. I thought to myself that this was a powerful way to tell a story, and that is what I tried to do in Leaving Shangrila.

      A book I read recently that also touched me was the Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, which I realize is in everyone's favorite list. But it is so for a reason. I felt that the author brought so much emotion and humanity to her characters, even the evil ones. She explored well why the sisters became who they were, due to neglect and abandonment by their father, and even still they tried so hard to please him and to feel his love, even though he did not deserve. I identified with Isabelle (she does have my name...) because she refused to accept the life others expected of her.

  4. Enjoyed the interview and excerpt. Love the cover too. Thanks for the giveaway chance!

    1. Thank you Marcy. I have enjoyed addressing the interview questions and to have a chance to speak about Leaving Shangrila, the process and life in general. I also love the cover and I feel it depicts well what the book is all about: a girl who walks on a path towards a destiny she wants for herself.

  5. thank you for the chance to win :)

    1. You are welcome. Thanks for reading the post and being part of the tour.

  6. Great post, I enjoyed reading the excerpt and interview! Thanks for sharing :)

    1. Thank you. I am so very glad you enjoyed the excerpt which is the Prologue of Leaving Shangrila and a turning point in my life. I enjoyed very much addressing the interview questions and thank you for reading it.

  7. Replies
    1. Thank you so much Rita. I have very much enjoyed answering the interview questions, and to give more information about Leaving Shangrila, the process of developing it, and just life in general. I am so glad that you enjoyed it.

  8. Fascinating and exciting excerpt.

    1. Thank you so much. This represented a turning point in my life, and a moment that I refer to often when I reach cross roads in life. I am so glad that you enjoyed it.

  9. This book is "my cup of tea", looking forward to reading it!

    1. Thank you so much Nikolina. I hope you will love it. Leaving Shangrila is meant to be an inspirational story that shows that no matter the circumstances, there is strength in us.

  10. Thank you so much for hosting me today!

    1. Thanks for doing the interview and best of luck with the rest of your tour.


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