Wednesday, December 15, 2004
Andrew Hempstead -- Travel Writer
Andrew Hempstead on Travel Writing
Andrew is an experienced travel writer who has posted a superb array of travel advice for both experienced and potential travel writers. It's best to just go to the link above, since you'll find all the hot links there, but I'll post his homepage below just to give you an idea.
Travel Writing as a Business
No doubt about it, travel writing sounds like the dream job to many people. For the vast majority of aspiring writers, earning a living from traveling and writing remains just that—a dream. The good news is that getting your work published is easy. The bad news is that earning a living from getting your work published is infinitely more difficult.
Most guidebook writers are signed on by publishers as experts to a particular region, or start out by researching and updating for an established writer. Contracts for writing a guidebook vary greatly between publishers, with potential returns that are usually poor and occasionally good. Payment is either via royalties or work-for-hire (set fee). Many outside the guidebook writing world would be very surprised at how little some of the better known publishers pay their writers.
InfoExchange is Tom Brosnahan's analysis of the guidebook writing industry, with solid information for beginner writers, including the excellent essay "Is Guidebook Writing Worth the Money."
The following travel guidebook publishers supply online writing guidelines and information on submitting book proposals:
► Avalon Travel Publishing
► Lonely Planet
► Rough Guides
► Sasquatch Books
GETTING YOUR ARTICLES PUBLISHED
The easiest and least expensive way to have your travel articles published is to focus on writing about where you live or vacation, then submit your story ideas or finished pieces to local newspapers and magazines. These outlets are bombarded with literally hundreds of stories and queries (story ideas) each week. In this flooded market, many will pay little or no money for your work. Like signing up to write a guidebook, you may be surprised to learn that payment from even major magazines and newspapers sometimes won't even cover expenses.
The ideal scenario is to produce work for a variety of outlets from a single trip, to submit photography with your writing, or to spin off articles from guidebook writing. Websites such as BootsnAll.com and Away.com provide a good outlet for beginning writers, as do magazines like Transitions Abroad.
To find other markets for your travel writing, search at Google using the term "travel writing guidelines" and you will instantly find literally hundreds of outlets offering online guidelines for submitting your writing.
Here are other helpful sources of information on travel writing markets:
► Writers-Editors Network is loaded with information for freelance writers of all genres. Basic membership starts at US$39/C$47 per year, which includes the monthly Freelance Writer's Report, containing want ads, market updates, and contract information. Excellent value.
► The US$30 subscription to Writer's Market includes access to an online database of over 5,000 paying markets. See below for the printed version.
► Writers Weekly is a free e-zine packed with information for writers of all genres. Includes freelance job and assignment offerings.
TRAVEL WRITING ORGANIZATIONS
The following organizations have rigorous membership standards, which in turn give them creditability:
► American Society of Journalists and Authors
► Australian Society of Travel Writers
► Canadian Authors Association
► National Writers Union (United States)
► Outdoor Writers Association of America
► Society of American Travel Writers
► Travel Media Association of Canada
► Writers' Guild of Great Britain
Many larger cities have writing clubs, some specifically for travel writers, others for writers of all genres. These can be an excellent way to meet with other writers and exchange ideas. Look for them in your local phone book or online by searching for "(your city) writing club." Online communities of travel writers include Travelwriters.com, which provides a forum and meeting place for travel writers from around the world.
Don't be sucked in with offers of free trips and press cards, which are the eye-catching incentive offered by some writing organizations. Before signing up, do some research—check how experienced their members are, contact members in your area, and ask questions about the benefits. Also find out who is behind the organization; be wary if it's an individual.
The market is awash with travel writing courses and how-to books, all provided by "experts" who are probably making more money selling their knowledge than they ever did actually writing for someone else. The following titles will help at any stage of your career.
► The printed version of the 2004 Writer's Market (Writer's Digest Books, US$20.99) has been updated annually since the 1920s. It is, by far, the most comprehensive book for writers looking for new markets.
► The New Tax Guide for Artists of Every Persuasion (Limelight Editions, 2002) includes valuable tax information for U.S.-based writers, as well as blank spread sheets for recording expenses and income. And the cost (US$15) is deductible.
► The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success (Marion Street Press; $15) comes highly recommended for its insights on getting started in the magazine writing business.
► A Way to See the World (Thomas Swick, The Lyons Press, 2003; US$25) details the travels of a writer with a unique approach to the profession, which leads to interesting insight on why travel writing in general is so superficial.
MORE LINKS FOR TRAVEL WRITERS
► Carl Parkes' blog The Travails of Travel Writing is an insider's view of the travel writing industry.
► Durant Imboden, one of the few writers who has made the transition to profitable online travel writing, gives his take on the profession and changing markets at Writing.org.
► Travel Web Owners is a collection of non-corporate, destination-specific websites. Strict membership qualifications maintain a high caliber selection of sites.
► Canadian writers who have authored books should register their work at Access Copyright, an arm of the the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency.
► Go Media Canada is the official media website of the Canadian Tourism Commission. Benefits for accredited writers includes newsletters, travel assistance, media releases, and access to an image library.
► Media Bistro is for all media professionals—job listings, a forum, how-to pieces, related news articles, and more.
► Free for qualified travel writers, Media Kitty provides a database of contacts, press releases, trip opportunities, and a tool that allows you to post requests for information on specific destinations.
► Peter Jason Riley supplies tax information for writers at Tax Guide for Artists, as well as income and expense worksheets tailored especially for writers.
► Publishers Weekly is the news magazine for the book industry. Print and online versions, with lots of subscription bonuses.
► Writer's Marketplace is a leading forum for travel writers and photographers. Also includes one of the better publication and market databases. Membership requires affiliation with a major writing organization and costs US$29 per year.
OTHER WEB SITES TRAVEL WRITERS MAY FIND HANDY
► Acronym Finder is the place to find the meanings of acronyms and abbreviations.
► Free access to an online dictionary and thesaurus is at Dictionary.com.
► Earth Cam is a directory of streaming video web cams from around the world.
► For converting most measurements —weight, length, area, temperature, speed, etc—click through to Online Conversion.
► Edward Hasbrouck’s Practical Nomad is a comprehensive directory of travel tips. The online version includes insightful articles while the printed version (Avalon Travel Publishing) has been updated for 2004.
► Time and Date.com is an easy-to-use tool for finding the time anywhere in the world, and generates calendars for years past and present.
► Tourism Offices Worldwide Directory lists sources of tourist information around the world.
► The most useful online currency converter I have found is at www.xe.com/ucc
► Wikipedia does a good job of describing the differences between British English and U.S. English. The few differences between Canadian English and U.S. English are discussed here.
Shanghai Financial Centre
While not exactly related to the art, craft, and travails of travel writing, I enjoyed the list and will post it here in it's entirety, before it disappears into the blogosphere, never to be seen again. I've done some editing to clean up the text and get rid of all those obnoxious pop-up ads for Las Vegas and such. Las Vegas pop-ups at Outside? Somehow, that just doesn't seem right.
There are a couple of good reasons to visit the Outside website. First, they have pretty pictures of all the book covers. Second, they have Amazon links to most titles, so you can order them for your personal library.
Outside Magazine and their 25 Book Recommendations for Explorers too Damn Lazy to Actually Explore, but Like to Read about the Stuff
The Outside Adventure Canon
The 25 (Essential) Books for the Well-Read Explorer
By Brad Wieners & The Editors
Hey, we're with you. Given half a chance, we'd much rather hit the road than the armchair. Nothing can replace the intensity of authentic experience. Yet experience needs shape and wisdom— and behind every great adventure are the stories that inspired it. We read before we go; and after we arrive, free and clear in far-flung terrain and edgy places, we invariably find echoes of the voices that led us there.
The following list is devoted to books that offer the truest inspiration, the deepest reflection, the strongest provocation. These are books that seize imaginations and rattle sedentary lives. Longtime readers will note that this is our second venture in literary list-making. The first Outside Canon, which appeared in May 1996, spanned many centuries, from Gilgamesh to Al Gore, and encompassed a host of genres, including fiction, sports, environmental manifestos, natural history, poetry, and how-to books.
This time around, we were determined to drill to the core. To compile the distilled contents of a tool kit for adventure literacy. The writing, we decided, must be urgent and contemporary in spirit, so we narrowed our sights to the last 100 years or so. No fiction. No collections and no geopolitical reportage. (Otherwise, how could we pass up Cahill and Kapuscinski?) Nothing classic for the sake of self-importance—we wanted two-fisted, readable works defined by an insatiable appetite for the world at its wildest. Books that do what the indomitable boxer Joe Frazier had in mind when he said, "I don't want to knock my opponent out. I want to hit him, step away, and watch him hurt. I want his heart."
25. OLD GLORY
THERE ARE GRANDER adventures than Raban's on this list, but few as eloquent. "I found that I had landed up in a tree slum," Raban writes during his journey in a 16-foot aluminum boat down the Mississippi, "where overcrowding and miscegenation had made it almost impossible to make out the individuals in the tangled mass....They didn't seem to be aware of the opportunities for trees in North America." Though Raban's wit is always intact, we do sometimes question his fortitude. (What's up with his mortal fear of birds?) But we're suckers for his Brit's-eye view of America—and for his Huck's-eye view of the Big Muddy: "I drifted downstream, just letting the river unroll around me....The charts and tree book seemed hopelessly thin and theoretical when set against the here-and-now of the Mississippi itself. The river was simply too big, too promiscuous...it would never tamely submit to posing for its portrait."
24. A WALK IN THE WOODS
HANDS DOWN, far and away the funniest book you'll ever read on long-distance through-hiking. In his lazy, TV-addled pal Stephen Katz, Bryson couldn't have picked a less prepared partner for an attempt on the Appalachian Trail—nor a better comic foil. "For two days, Katz barely spoke to me. On the second night, at nine o'clock, an unlikely noise came from his tent—the punctured-air click of a beverage can being opened—and he said in a pugnacious tone, ÔDo you know what that was, Bryson? Cream soda. You know what else? I'm drinking it right now. And I'm not giving you any. And you know what else? It's delicious.'"
Piers Paul Read
THE PERFECT STORM
YEAH, SO WE CHEATED. Try as we might, we couldn't break the tie between these two blockbusters of disaster. Fact is, they've both outlasted their initial sensational appeal— and one reason, we suspect, is that they're stories of people confronted with great danger they did not seek. British author Read's subjects—members of a Uruguayan rugby team whose Fairchild F-227 crashed in the Andes in October 1972—had no intention of conducting a ten-week, cannibalistic survival course above timberline. Especially grisly—aside from, yes, the consumption of "raw meat"—is the avalanche that buried the survivors on their 17th day stranded: Read gives a paragraph or more to each man, and you may have to remind yourself to inhale: "Pedro Algorta, still buried beneath the snow, had only what air he held in his lungs. He felt himself near to death, yet the knowledge that after his death his body would help the others to survive instilled in him a kind of ecstasy. It was as if he were already at the portals of heaven."
Junger's Massachusetts fishermen were out trying to make a living when a "once in a century" nor'easter hit in October 1991, and their hard luck deepens this account of their loss. Perilous work is Junger's grand theme, and his abiding respect for it enables him to go beyond the events at hand, whether deciphering complicated meteorology or reporting the angry sorrow of wives and brothers seeking justice that isn't coming. In the paperback, eager to get it right, Junger cleared up controversies surrounding his facts, but he'd already taken what could have been a maudlin story and banged it into a thriller.
22. MY JOURNEY TO LHASA
FRANKLY, SHE'S NOT in the demographic. She's 54. She's stout. She's a former opera singer, for crying out loud. Who cares? A scholar of Eastern religion and Tibetan language, David-Neel was indisputably a fearless traveler, a rogue's rogue who, in 1923, disguised as an illiterate pilgrim, became the first Western woman to reach Tibet's forbidden city.
Mind you, My Journey to Lhasa doesn't reinvent the form. David-Neel sets down what happened in the order it happened, and her attention to detail is almost anal. She even has the requisite adventure sidekick, a young Sikkimese monk. An unlikely pair, they're stuck together in an escapade that involves everything from fooling the locals with their disguises to crossing 19,000-foot passes at night. "Was the lama far behind?" she writes. "I turned to look at him. Far, far below, amidst the white silent immensity, a small black spot, like a tiny Lilliputian insect, seemed to be crawling slowly up....An inexpressible feeling of compassion moved me to the bottom of my heart....I would find the pass; it was my duty."
David-Neel's prose is of its time, in the best and worst ways, but her account has the power to awe even today.
"JUST OCCASIONALLY you find yourself in an odd situation. You get into it by degrees and in the most natural way but, when you are right in the midst of it, you are suddenly astonished and ask yourself how in the world it all came about."
So begins Heyerdahl's Kon-Tiki, the very prototype of the seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time fool's errand. Heyerdahl, of course, set out on a balsa raft in 1947 to prove that the South Pacific could have been peopled by natives of Peru. Along with five equally loco Norwegians and a parrot, he survives on fish that literally hurl themselves on deck, meets up with a few sharks, and endures a beaching in Tahiti. Though the trip proved inconclusive (to say the least), it created such a sensation that lecture halls around the world sold out for debates on Polynesian history. Heyerdahl's antics can have a hand-me-down quality, something vaguely remembered from seventh-grade social studies, but just because everyone's supposed to read him doesn't mean he's not great company. Heyerdahl's happily aware that his is an absurd cosmic prank, but it's still one heck of a story of men and the sea.
20. GREAT PLAINS
TALK ABOUT A ROAD TRIP: Frazier begins this gem with an ode reminiscent of Whitman—"Away to the great plains of America, to that immense western short-grass now mostly plowed under!"—and ends with 65 wonderful pages of notes on everything from Dodge City's other nicknames ("Bibulous Babylon of the Frontier") to how Native Americans used their bodies as alarm clocks by drinking lots of water before going to bed. In between, he cruises from the Black Hills to Turkey, Texas, holding forth with visionary zeal: "Personally, I love Crazy Horse," he writes, "because, like the rings of Saturn, the carbon atom, and the underwater reef, he belonged to a category of phenomena which our technology had not then advanced far enough to photograph." Sure, we fought over whether Frazier packed enough red-blooded adventure into this book to make the cut. He gets around mostly by car, so we might just as easily have tapped Steinbeck's Travels with Charley, or Least Heat-Moon's Blue Highways, or gone straight for the source of our adolescent wanderlust with On the Road. Well, we could have, and we didn't—not because we don't love those other asphalt serenades, but because Great Plains both delivers a song of the open road and defibrillates the heartland like no book we know.
19. YOUNG MEN AND FIRE
MACLEAN MAY BE be best known for the novella and short stories collected in A River Runs Through It, but the nonfiction Young Men and Fire, an unfinished work written in his "antishuffleboard" years and published two years after his death, has every bit the passionate following River did before Redford brought it to the screen. In many ways, this is the original smoke- jumper story, reopening the file on one of the worst firefighting disasters in history, the Mann Gulch Fire of 1949. Some of the earliest jumpers chuted in and set to work on the massive Montana blaze not far from Maclean's cabin; two hours later, 12 of the 15 had been burned "like squirrels." By turns intensely beautiful—rarely is something so dangerous rendered so lyrically—and exquisitely erudite on the physics of fire, Maclean's affecting book is full of taut passages that jack your pulse rate as the men try to outpace the runaway blaze. "The grass and brush of Mann Gulch could not be faster than it was now," Maclean writes, as the smoke jumpers realize they are hemmed in by a ridge. "It could run so fast you couldn't escape it and it could be so hot it could burn out your lungs before it caught you."
18. RUNNING THE AMAZON
AS RUNNING THE AMAZON opens, our man Kane is something of an Outside Everyman. He's been editing a newsletter for the Rainforest Action Network; he arrives in the Andes toting a copy of The Portable Conrad; he's joking about being shot at by the Shining Path. (Soon enough this won't be a joke.) He's also the only American among nine men and one woman attempting the first descent of the Amazon. Not a splashy writer so much as a sharp one, Kane starts slowly but soon has you gulping down chapters the way the team knocks back pisco: "At the beginning at least, whitewater adrenaline comes cheap. It's the river doing the work, of course, but like a teenager with a hot car, one forgets what the true power source is. Arrogance reigns....You think: Let's get on with it." And Kane does, observing how arrogance gets chastened to humility, and noting each snag of dysfunction in a team of which only four go the distance. It's that combination of interpersonal struggle and poignant scenes of life on the river that elevates Running the Amazon above the deluge of first-descent books. That and the fact that he had 4,200 miles of material to work with.
17. THE LONG WAY
"WHEN YOU HAVE long skirted vast expanses stretching to the stars, beyond the stars, you come back with different eyes." So writes Moitessier, contemplating his return to dry land after ten months on the open ocean. We love this book because of its sheer boldness: At the head of the pack in the 1968 Golden Globe, the first round-the-world solo yacht race, the author passes up the chance to claim victory and just keeps going. Moitessier ultimately puts ashore in Tahiti, having slingshotted a farewell note aboard a passing ship and jettisoned his clothes and many cases of good red wine along the way. At sea the Frenchman is a holy fool, disillusioned by society and reluctant to let go of the ineffable feeling of well-being he gains at sea. There are any number of supposedly more gripping, can't-put-it-down seafaring stories (see the sad tale of his fellow racer Donald Crowhurst on page 65), but we challenge you to find one more appealing than Moitessier's thoughtful and high-spirited log. And that goes for the man who inspired him, Joshua Slocum, number seven on this list. It's no coincidence that Moitessier named his 40-foot steel ketch Joshua.
YOU READ Robyn Davidson and think: I've had friends like you. Friends around whom fun tends to metastasize. Friends you facetiously hate, because they blow into town and stage weekends it takes weeks to recover from. No question, she's plumb crazy—"gone tropical" as she puts it—but crazy in the best sense of the word. At 27, the young Australian arrived in Alice Springs with six dollars, trained two wild camels (you try it), and set off for the Indian Ocean with the semiferal dromedaries, two tame ones, and her dog. But behind the madcap drama of the "camel lady," as Davidson became known, are a young woman's complicated emotions about the end of adventure and the arrival of fame. Reaching the ocean after 1,700 miles, she "rode down that stunningly, gloriously fantastic pleistocene coastline with the fat sun bulging on to a flat horizon and all I could muster was a sense of it all having finished too abruptly, so that I couldn't get tabs on the fact that it was over." Just weeks later she'd be feted in New York, realizing that she "was forgetting that what's true in one place is not necessarily true in another. If you walk down Fifth Avenue smelling of camel shit and talking to yourself you get avoided like the plague." Davidson is the world's most reluctant darling—but walking wild, ragged, and alone, she blew the dust off the tired, musty feet of white-male adventure.
15. A SHORT WALK IN THE HINDU KUSH
"NEWBY TO FRIEND: I'm bored. Let's drive to Afghanistan and climb some previously unvisited peaks in the Hindu Kush. "Friend to Newby: Good idea, but we don't know how to climb mountains. "Newby to Friend: Not a problem. We'll go to Wales for the weekend and learn how."
That's how Tony Wheeler, the founder of Lonely Planet and the proud U.S. publisher of A Short Walk, summarizes this droll classic, the original buddy flick of Extreme Lit. Without Newby, there might never have been a Bryson, an O'Hanlon, or a Cahill. He's the backpacker without a cause, the sort who gives himself over to the journey—a quite ambitious trek through Afghanistan's rugged Nuristan region—certain that only by blundering forward can the purpose of the excursion be revealed. Newby reminds us that even a valid passport is inessential to traveling. All you really need is to be game.
14. ARCTIC DREAMS
THANKS TO FELLOW badass Edward Hoagland's glowing New York Times review, critics couldn't seem to refer to Arctic Dreams without the word "jubilant," which, from a certain perspective, is curious. After all, close encounters with polar bears, killer whales, and walruses, while thrilling, aren't necessarily joyful, and tend to make the author, by his own confession, rather anxious.
"It is not all benign and ethereal at the ice edge," Lopez writes. "You cannot—I cannot—lose completely the sense of how far from land this is. I am wary of walrus....A friend of mine was once standing with an Eskimo friend at an ice edge when the man cautioned him to step back. They retreated 15 to 20 feet. Less than a minute later, the walrus surfaced in an explosion of water where they had been standing."
Lopez may feel inexperienced, but it's hard to imagine a better interpreter of the far north. His descriptions of the Arctic Ocean shine: "A geometry of lightning-bolt-shaped leads, of long black ponds, jagged rills, and ridges of debris that meander like eskers stretches as far as light and the atmosphere let you see." And come to think of it, though Arctic Dreams involves a great deal of solitude and icebergs and cold, jubilant is the word. Lopez leaves us amazed by the natural world, respectful of our place in it, and elated at its dazzling variety.
13. IN PATAGONIA
WE KNOW WHAT you're thinking: Idiots, it's fiction! But the claims that Chatwin lied to fashion the episodes and characters that make up this exquisite little book turn out to be greater exaggerations than Chatwin's own. Sure, he got things out of order, mangled some Spanish, and dished up a few now-classic Chatwinian embellishments (Se-ora Eberhard's run-of-the-mill steel chair becoming a Mies van der Rohe, for one). But In Patagonia is at heart a personal quest—to find the origins of boyhood fascination, "a piece of brontosaurus" supposedly recovered from a thawed glacier in Punta Arenas by Chatwin's seafaring cousin. At first Chatwin's prose seems uniform—like Hemingway, only boring. But his subtle sentences sneak up on you, and their economy allows him to surprise, leaving an indelible impression. Take Walter Rauff, exiled Nazi and inventor of the lethal Mobile Gas Truck: "There is a man in Punta Arenas, dreams pine forests, hums Lieder, wakes each morning and sees the black strait. He drives to a factory that smells of sea. All about him are scarlet crabs, crawling, then steaming. He hears the shells crack and the claws breaking, sees the sweet white flesh packed firm in metal cans....Does he remember that other smell, of burning?" Chatwin's haunting images stay with you, reminding you that this is one messed-up, astonishing world.
12. THE MOUNTAINS OF MY LIFE
BONATTI'S MEMOIRS—finally published in the United States just two years ago—take pride of place here over a number of towering works on mountaineering because (a) Bonatti was a god, a poetic soloist whose career included a controversial role in the first ascent of K2, and (b) he proves he can write as gracefully about a sunrise over the Alps as about an epic first ascent: "The horizon showed up sharply, enchanted peaks plucked clean by the claws of a freezing and frenzied wind," Bonatti says of his 1962 ascent of the Alps' Pilier d'Angle. "When I looked out I saw the most beautiful spectacle one can encounter at dawn on the peak of Mont Blanc: on the one hand the Italian flank flooded with warm and blazing light, on the other the Savoie still immersed in night."
Take nothing away from Gaston Rebuffat's 1954 Starlight and Storm, the Frenchman's spare and lovely tract that made the case for climbing as a communion with, rather than siege upon, mountains. And we know as well as anyone that Maurice Herzog's canonical 1953 Annapurna was the Into Thin Air of its day, inspiring Ed Viesturs and countless other next-generation alpinists to take up climbing. But in returning to Annapurna we found we'd rather skip Herzog's press-release nationalism and hang out with Bonatti.
11. TOUCHING THE VOID
AS MOUNTAINEERING survival stories go, this is the destroyer of its class: an incredible climbing epic in the hands of a pitch-perfect writer. The book starts out as a journal about the solace (and menace) of going high and remote (Peru's 21,000-foot Siula Grande) but soon becomes something else entirely. On the descent from the 21,000-foot summit, the author, suffering from a broken leg and damaged ribs from a previous accident, falls into a crevasse. His partner, Simon Yates, presuming him a goner and unable to keep Simpson's dead weight from pulling him off the mountain, does the unthinkable: He cuts the rope. Alone in a canyon of ice, Simpson veers from stubborn determination to screaming anger and despair: "There was no one to hear," he writes, "but the looming empty chamber behind me made me feel inhibited, as if it were some disapproving silent witness to my weakness."
The book's device of interspersing the devastated Yates's thoughts in italics makes for amazing reading, and the pair's reconciliation three days later at base camp, after Simpson has dragged himself down the scree, is a scene—and theme—that rises far above the mountaineering genre. Present the ethics of this book to someone who's never climbed a mountain and you could still end up talking about it all night.
10. ARABIAN SANDS
THE LAST GREAT British explorer? Eric Newby, for one, might jokingly beg to differ, but that's because Thesiger called him a pansy when they met in the Hindu Kush. Sir Wilfred, the now-92-year-old troubadour who explored Arabia's Empty Quarter before the oil fields tamed Bedouin culture, valiantly resists the lame camel jokes made by so many of his contemporary countrymen and, in contrast to many of today's travel diarists, rarely makes himself the subject of his own stories. Thesiger's love of the desert is never easy, always hard-won. "I climbed a slope above our camp and bin Kabina joined me. I was hungry; I had only half my portion of the ash-encrusted bread the night before. The brackish water which I had drunk at sunset had done little to lessen my nagging thirst. Yet the sky seemed bluer than it had been for days. The sand was a glowing carpet set about my feet." For us, the question was merely, Which Thesiger? Yes, Marsh Arabs may be, as some critics claim, the better book, but Arabian Sands is electric. And sure, we love those pithy quotes from T. E. Lawrence's The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, but we're in no mood for that bombast cover to cover. Stick with Thesiger: He'll make you wish you were born 50 years earlier and could make the trips he did—with him.
9. COMING INTO THE COUNTRY
LIKE THESIGER, there's no question that McPhee belongs on this list—the struggle comes in choosing which book. We were charmed by the slightly obscure Survival of the Bark Canoe. And certainly we heard from those who agitated for Encounters with the Archdruid, about environmental guru David Brower. But in the end our vote went to Coming into the Country. Drawing on a marathon canoe trip down Alaska's Salmon River and a season in a cabin on the Yukon River, McPhee knits together a passion for the backcountry, an unsentimental yet stirring view of Alaska's native tribes, and a hard look at the many misguided attempts to manage the Last Frontier's natural resources (with a brilliant recap of the pipeline saga). McPhee pretty much tackles all the big questions here: "To a palate without bias—the palate of an open-minded Berber, the palate of a travelling Martian—which would be the more acceptable, a pink-icinged Pop-Tart with raspberry filling (cold) or the fat gob from behind a caribou's eye?"
Really, no one has done a better job of combining ride-along backcountry hijinks and lucid parsing of enviro policy than McPhee does here. Four hundred thirty-eight pages, and nothing less than the fate of Western civ, on a canoe trip.
8. INTO THE WILD
IS INTO THIN AIR the more influential book? Absolutely. Is it the more thrilling? Arguably. However, not only is Into the Wild more arrestingly written and reported than its more famous cousin, it also stands up better to rereading. And whereas Into Thin Air delivers a stinging indictment of what's wrong with modern mountaineering—including ill-prepared individuals trying to "buy" the world's summits—Into the Wild, which follows the final days and nights of a young idealist named Chris McCandless, speaks to anyone who has ever yearned for something pure, to be free of the affluenza of American life, to be self-reliant.
Like Into Thin Air, Into the Wild began as an article in Outside. But the book combined that investigation with material from new sources, people McCandless had met en route to Alaska who were brought out of the woodwork by the article. One of those whom McCandless touched most profoundly was Ronald Franz (not his real name), an 80-year-old so taken with the young man that he waited at McCandless's campsite in the desert near the Salton Sea for his return.
From the accounts of people like Franz to close readings of McCandless's underlined copies of Doctor Zhivago and Walden ("No man ever followed his genius till it misled him"), Krakauer not only gets why McCandless retreated to the bush, but makes use of his own backcountry experience to empathize with him. Some readers have suggested that Krakauer is too easy on the kid and that McCandless ought to be viewed as suicidal, manipulative, or ridiculous, but Krakauer keeps it all an open question. Into the Wild reminds us that the very qualities of being in the wilderness that thrill and restore us—or lead us, as Roderick Nash wrote, to "either melancholy or exultation"—can swiftly take our lives.
7. SAILING ALONE AROUND THE WORLD
Captain Joshua Slocum
A CENTURY LATER, Slocum's account of the first-ever solo circumnavigation of the earth, and then some, on his 37-foot sloop, Spray, remains the title by which all other sailing books are judged—not only because of its derring-do, but because it's completely winning. "The day was perfect, the sunlight clear and strong," Slocum writes. "Every particle of water thrown into the air became a gem, and the Spray, making good her name as she dashed ahead, snatched necklace after necklace from the sea, and as often threw them away." Few contemporary sailing accounts come close to matching Slocum's logs, not least for the captain's sly wit: "Some hailed me to know where away and why alone. Why? ...The shore was dangerous!" This coming from a man who'd previously suppressed a mutiny and survived an ocean storm in a canoe. Sailing Alone Around the World only improves with age, because reading it is like being present at the creation of the modern explorer-adventurer. Thoreau may have convinced us to return to the wild; Slocum revealed how that journey could be a feat of endurance, and a lighthearted spectacle to boot. If only the multitudes who followed his example did so on the page. Slocum never sells you on his story; he just tells it.
FIRST OFF, he was there. Sure, Alfred Lansing's 1959 Endurance has stood the test of time as a journalist's chronicle, and Caroline Alexander broke new ground four years ago with her own Endurance's comprehensive retelling of Sir Ernest Shackleton's epic survival story. But as captain of the real HMS Endurance and navigator of the lifeboats he and Shackleton used to effect a rescue across the Southern Ocean, Frank Worsley proved himself not only one of the finest small-craft sailors of the 20th century, but also a less official, more anecdotal, and, ultimately, more electrifying diarist than Sir Ernest himself.
By now, most people know this story down to the last dog and cat, but the immediacy of Worsley's account revitalizes it. If you don't feel his sorrow in losing his ship to the ice pack, share his delirium glissading down to the South Georgia whaling station that would be their salvation (a scene to which Shackleton, ever careful not to seem whimsical, gives only a cursory line in South), or tear up when the two men return to their friends on Elephant Island 128 days after they set out, you don't love adventure.
5. DESERT SOLITAIRE
Three decades and change later, Cactus Ed is still Iggy Pop in a stale world of environmental classic rock. So punk that it transcends the natural history genre, Abbey's account of two seasons spent as a ranger in Arches National Park is about soul-searching, but without an ounce of New Age squish. "I dream of a hard and brutal mysticism in which the naked self merges with a non-human world and yet somehow survives still intact, individual, separate. Paradox and bedrock." Argue with that.
4. THE SNOW LEOPARD
SIMPLY PUT, The Snow Leopard gets to the heart of why we go to the mountains. There are many other fine books on the subject—John Muir's My First Summer in the Sierra comes to mind—but none succeed, as Matthiessen's does, on so many levels.
One could say, for example, that it's a book about sheep. After all, it delivers a funny, anecdotal account of American zoologist George Schaller's field research on the Himalayan blue sheep, or bharal. ("Oh, there's a penis-lick!" G.S. cries out, observing the rut. "A beauty.") Then there's the mythic cat of the title, which had been glimpsed by only two Westerners when Matthiessen and Schaller set out to track it in 1973. And the place—the mysterious Land of Dolpo, a last enclave of Tibetan culture. And finally, without ever becoming a book about recovery, The Snow Leopard charts how the author came back to life after a great loss—his wife, Deborah, had died of cancer the year before he left for the Himalayas. "Why is death so much on my mind when I do not feel I am afraid of it?" Matthiessen asks, while walking a sheer Himalayan ridge. "Between clinging and letting go, I feel a terrific struggle. This is a fine chance to let go, to 'win my life by losing it.'"
3. WEST WITH THE NIGHT
SURE, MARKHAM STARTS a touch self-consciously, wondering aloud where, in the blur of her career as a pilot in Kenya during the 1930s, she ought to begin this tour de force memoir. But if you haven't forgiven her this slightly contrived opening in three or four pages, we'd be surprised. The essence of a fascinating party guest, Markham is not only charming, but full of real adventures to tell—from being mauled by a lion at age seven and nearly trampled by an elephant as an adult to bringing game hunters into (and, happily, back out of) the wild. Equally adept at telling a nail-biter as she is at waxing poetic about an African horizon or making you sorry her dog got gored by a warthog, you discover early and often why Hemingway gushed that she made him feel inadequate as a writer. "The only disadvantage in surviving a dangerous encounter," she observes, "lies in the fact that your story of it tends to be anticlimactic. You can never carry on right through the point where whatever it is that threatens your life actually takes it—and get anybody to believe you. The world is full of skeptics." Markham is one of the few authors you are nearly always grateful to have as the hero of her own stories. Read her as soon as you can, but be prepared to fall in love with a ghost.
2. THE WORST JOURNEY IN THE WORLD
SO MANY SUPERLATIVES have been heaped on this sick pup that it's hard not to feel a little jaded before you read it. "The Worst Journey in the World—it's the book that has had the biggest impact on my life."—Sir Edmund Hillary, Adventurer
Don't let the hype—or, for that matter, the dozens of other books on Robert Falcon Scott's doomed 1911 South Pole expedition—scare you off. Livelier than Scott's own writings (collected in Scott's Last Expedition) and more immediate than Roland Huntford's modern classic The Last Place on Earth, Cherry-Garrard's first-person account of this infamous sufferfest is a chilling testimonial to what happens when things really go south. Many have proven better at negotiating such epic treks than Scott, Cherry, and his crew, but none have written about it more honestly and compassionately than Cherry. "The horrors of that return journey are blurred to my memory and I know they were blurred to my body at the time. I think this applies to all of us, for we were much weakened and callous. The day we got down to the penguins I had not cared whether I fell into a crevasse or not."
1. WIND, SAND AND STARS
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
LIKE HIS MOST FAMOUS creation, The Little Prince, that visitor from Asteroid B-612 who once saw 44 sunsets in a single day, Saint-Exupéry disappeared into the sky. Killed in World War II at age 44, "Saint Ex" was a pioneering pilot for Aéropostale in the 1920s, carrying mail over the deadly Sahara on the Toulouse-Dakar route, encountering cyclones, marauding Moors, and lonely nights: "So in the heart of the desert, on the naked rind of the planet, in an isolation like that of the beginnings of the world, we built a village of men. Sitting in the flickering light of the candles on this kerchief of sand, on this village square, we waited out the night." Whatever his skills as a pilot—said to be extraordinary—as a writer he is effortlessly sublime. Wind, Sand and Stars is so humane, so poetic, you underline sentences: "It is another of the miraculous things about mankind that there is no pain nor passion that does not radiate to the ends of the earth. Let a man in a garret but burn with enough intensity and he will set fire to the world." Saint-Exupéry did just that. No writer before or since has distilled the sheer spirit of adventure so beautifully. True, in his excitement he can be righteous, almost irksome—like someone who's just gotten religion. But that youthful excess is part of his charm. Philosophical yet gritty, sincere yet never earnest, utterly devoid of the postmodern cop-outs of cynicism, sarcasm, and spite, Saint-Exupéry's prose is a lot like the bracing gusts of fresh air that greet him in his open cockpit. He shows us what it's like to be subject—and king—of infinite space.
Future Architecture in Beijing
Michael Shapiro is a Bay Area writer and author of a new book about the craft of travel writing, in which he interviews a dozen-plus writers and now goes online with MSNBC in the following sequence:
Michael Shapiro Interview on MSNBC
Live Talk: At Home with the World’s Great Travel Writers
Writer Michael Shapiro answered your questions on Tuesday, December 14 at noon ETIf you've ever read Bill Bryson, Frances Mayes, Paul Theroux or any other great travel writer, you probably want to know more about their life stories, their favorite destinations, how they craft their books, and the places they call home. For the past two years Michael Shapiro, a travel journalist, has traveled throughout North America and Europe to interview these writers where they live.
The result is his new book: "A Sense of Place: Great Travel Writers Talk About Their Craft, Lives and Inspiration" published this fall by Travelers' Tales. Shapiro met Jan Morris in Wales, Frances Mayes in Tuscany, Arthur Frommer in New York, and Isabel Allende near San Francisco, among many others.
On Dec. 14 at noon ET, ask Michael about travel writing, about great travel books for holiday gifts, or about travel literature for your next destination.
Michael Shapiro is also the author of "Internet Travel Planner" and will be glad to answer questions about using the Net to learn about destinations or to find affordable flights and hotel rooms.
Michael Shapiro is the author of "A Sense of Place: Great Travel Writers Talk About Their Craft, Lives, and Inspiration" termed a "fascinating read" by National Geographic Traveler magazine and "illuminating, entertaining and insightful" by the Chicago Tribune. The book includes interviews with 18 writers, including Bill Bryson, Frances Mayes, Paul Theroux and Arthur Frommer.
A travel writer himself, Shapiro has biked through Cuba for the Washington Post, celebrated Holy Week in Guatemala for the Dallas Morning News, and floated down the Mekong River on a Laotian cargo barge for an online travel magazine. He has also contributed to the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle and Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel magazine.
Michael Shapiro: Greetings everyone and thanks for joining me. I’m ready to answer your questions now. Feel free to ask me about anything ranging from the craft of travel writing to using the Internet for travel.
Chicago, IL: Hi Michael, I have traveled extensively around western Ukraine. This is the most beautiful land I have seen and truly an undiscovered gem. Assuming their current political issues are brought under control, do you think that these areas have the chance of becoming the next Prague or Budapest? What do you think it will take for travelers to be inspired to visit this region? Thanks!
Michael Shapiro: Though I’ve yet to visit Ukraine, I’ve heard it’s a beautiful place. You’re right; typically most travelers will wait until a country’s political situation settles down. When that happens, Ukraine very well could be the next hot destination, but the whims of travelers are about as predictable as the stock market. One thing that would surprise me is if Afghanistan became a hot place to visit in three to five years. Just a Southeast Asia (especially Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos) became hot some years after the war there, I believe Afghanistan, with its ancient culture and hospitable people, will become popular soon, if stability takes hold. Let’s hope for the best for the Afghani people. After so many years of strife they deserve some peace.
By the way, I think your city, Chicago, is a great place to visit; nothing like a weekend ball game at Wrigley Field.
New York, NY: Travel and writing are the two things I really love, and I've been thinking about taking the travel-writing plunge. What would you say is the best starting point for a completely unknown, but terribly passionate, traveler/writer?
We’re just starting and already I see several questions asking about how to become a travel writer. First, let me say it took me years to become adept at writing and to learn the difference between a travel journal and writing for publication. But there are people who haven’t had much experience and manage to get their writing published. In my new book, A Sense of Place, I interviewed 18 travel writers and each had different advice for writers. Jeff Greenwald said learning to write is like learning to play the oboe. It takes years of practice. Peter Matthiessen said he had to write a lot of “bad short stories” before he became a talented writer of travel for The New Yorker. And Sara Wheeler emphasized that one should read voraciously. She said she’s stunned that many of her writing students don’t read much.
Several strategies: read lots of travel and other types of writing; join a writers group and get feedback from other aspiring and working writers. Take a seminar: a bookstore near San Francisco called Book Passage offers an annual travel writers conference in August where you can take classes from legends like Tim Cahill and Jan Morris. And keep submitting your articles to all sorts of publications – persistence pays off.
And your passion will guide you - without that passion, good travel writing is almost impossible.
New York, NY: What do you think about the new "aggregator" sites. Are they really better than Orbitz and Expedia?
Michael Shapiro: The new aggregator sites are one more option for travelers to search for web fares, but certainly not be-all and end-all. We’re a long way from one-stop shopping. For those who haven’t heard: aggregator or “metasearch” sites scan dozens of other travel web sites searching for the best deals on flights, hotels and rental cars. A good example of this is Sidestep.com which has been around for three or four years. Sometimes I’ve found better deals at Sidestep than elsewhere but one has to download the software into your computer – it isn’t just a web search. Sidestep says that starting next month it will offer web search too. The most exciting new aggregator, the one that seems to have the most potential is called Kayak.com which is now in beta. That means you can try it out now if you like and use it, but it’s not fully up to speed yet. Gary Lee at The Washington Post did a nice job writing about aggregators last month, see:
Mesa, AZ: I want to take long bamboo chimes to my grandson in Chicago. It has 4 tubes on it. Would I put it in my suitcase and check it or carry it on the airline with me? I worry that the scanner may see the bamboo and think it is a bomb. Please advise me...we are flying American West. I did wrap the other gifts I plan to check in luggage. Thanks.
Michael Shapiro: What an original question - I'd call the airline in advance and seek their advice - good luck!
Little Rock, AR: I work for a non-profit group and travel occasionally to countries that are not commonly considered tourist sites. There is not a lot of information in the travel industry (books, websites, etc.) about these countries and I would like to share my experiences and recommendations with the world. What is the best way to go about this? If I wrote a book, would I have any legal obligation to my employer since they are the one sending me to these less-traveled places? Thanks!
Michael Shapiro: I doubt you'd have any legal obligation but check with your employer first - that seems the fair thing to do. And I find the web is an amazing source for destination info and a great place to share your findings. You may not get paid but you can have the satisfaction of sharing your discoveries on sites like www.bootsnall.com that convey your impressions and pictures to the world.
Manchester, NH: After interviewing so many great travel writers, I was wondering if you think it's more their literary abilities/talent or the places they write about that make their works sing?
Michael Shapiro: Great question. I think it's their literary skills primarily and also their curiosity. I think a good writer could write about almost any place and make it interesting. Though certainly choice of place has something to do with it. When Tim Cahill is pursuing tigers along the Iran/Iraq border, I'm interested. But I'll follow my favorite writers -- Pico Iyer, Bill Bryson, Jan Morris, and so many of the others I interviewed for "A Sense of Place" -- just about anywhere.
New Orleans, LA: Is it safe to travel to Israel? I've wanted to go for quite some time but my husband is too scared.
Michael Shapiro: Perhaps right now there's someone in Israel wondering if it's safe to go to New Orleans. I don't mean to make light of the question; it's reasonable to be concerned about traveling to Israel but people in other parts of the world wonder about coming to our big cities. My inclination is usually to go - millions of people there survive every day, but if your husband is too uncomfortable the worry could make your trip unpleasant. Ultimately it's a personal choice. I often think of Pico Iyer, the travel writer who is constantly traveling the world and the closest he came to dying was at his family's home in Santa Barbara during a forest fire. So you never know.
Los Angeles, CA: I used to get really good airfares on Priceline, but it seems like they've got the same as everyone else right now. True...or just my personal experience?
Michael Shapiro: Probably somewhat true. Regular airfares now are relatively low (and occupancy is high) so it's hard for Priceline to offer steep enough discounts to make their restrictions worth accepting (you can't change or reschedule flights, no FF miles, etc.) But I still find Priceline can offer good values for hotel rooms and rental cars. You can still find nice three-star hotels in many cities for about $50-60, a great savings over standard prices. Before you bid, check biddingfortravel.com and betterbidding.com to see what others are paying.
New York, NY: I guess my question is less about becoming a good travel writer than a published one. I've been published in other mediums. Can I take those clips to a travel magazine, or do I need to really have travel writing clips. How do I get hired (just moved here from the Midwest)?
Michael Shapiro: Yes, all clips, as long as they're well written, are helpful. Editors want to see that you can write. If you can write a colorful feature or well researched news story, that's a big plus. Magazines typically want story queries - that means you approach them with an idea and if they like it and feel you have the skill to write well, they may assign the story. One thing I'd advise: start as a freelance writer doing one piece at a time. Unless you have a lot of experience it's unlikely a magazine will hire you as an editor or regular contributor.
Boston, MA: How does one begin submitting articles to magazines about traveling? Is it better to send a query proposing an article, or an already completed article? And, perhaps most importantly, are payment amounts pre-set, or how do magazines negotiate them?
Michael Shapiro: It varies: newspaper travel sections typically want completed stories sent to them on hard copy. Some accept email submissions. You can often call a publication and ask for its submission guidelines -- sometimes these are posted online.
Magazines want queries. These are well researched proposals, typically about a page long, no more than two pages long, outlining the idea and why you're the right person to do the story. Then there's is typically follow up if the editor is interested. When can you go? How much will payment be. Most publications typically have a range and new writers start at the lower end of that range. Typical magazine pay can be anywhere from 25 cents to $3 a word but don't expect to get to even $1 a word till you've done quite a few pieces.
Newspapers pay much less, perhaps $250 for a 1500-word story. Sometimes you can sell pictures to newspaper travel sections to augment your income. You can negotiate with both newspaper and magazine editors but until I've sold my first piece to a publication I don't negotiate too hard.
Phoenix, AZ: Hello Michael, I am a travel agent and I've always dreamed of becoming a travel writer. What do I need to do to get started? I have extensive experience traveling and I am a very good writer. Thanks
Michael Shapiro: I've covered some of the basics earlier in this conversation but you have one thing in your favor: you're a travel agent. So you know about some destinations and you can travel cheaply. Because you can't expect to make much money as a travel writer early in your career, it's best for aspiring travel writers to have the idea that they perhaps can supplement their income, or defray some of their travel expenses, by writing.
One issue you should be aware of: many of the top newspapers and magazine will *not* accept stories based on travel that is subsidized by hotels or airlines. So if you get a price break that disqualifies you from writing that story for the NY Times, Washington Post, SF Chronicle and many others. The reason is simple: if a hotel knows who you are, you'll possibly get different service than other guests. Better publications want you to remain anonymous.
So how can you make any money - good question. Don't count on it but please do write if you're passionate about it.
Stowe, VT: How do you (and the writers you interviewed) think travel writing differs from say, sports writing? Or fiction? Or hard news reporting?
Michael Shapiro: This is a good question. Many of the travel writers I interviewed in A Sense of Place don't consider themselves travel writers. They're just writers and many feel the best writing isn't really about travel but about their perceptions of the world. Jan Morris calls it "egobiography." And if you look at some of the masters of the form, people such as Paul Theroux, Jonathan Raban and Redmond O'Hanlon, their books often read like novels more than travel narratives.
That said, I think travel writing really is a genre. It brings together so much: history, sensory awareness, architecture, interactions with people, and on and on. Really I think the best travel writers are Renaissance people; they have such a breadth of knowledge. And the clear distinction between fiction is that it's not ok in travel writing to make stuff up. Some writers reorder events but if you're creating characters, that's fiction, not travel writing.
Phoenix, AZ: Do travel writers/editors ever hire researchers to travel for them? I'm not a writer, but would love to travel for free. Is there any kind of job like that?
Michael Shapiro: I can't imagine writers hiring people to travel for them; you have to rely on your own impressions to write travel well, but there are jobs at travel magazines, such as fact checkers. This can be a good way to learn the business from the inside and get a sense of what editors want. Once you're known, you're more likely to have your story pitches considered.
Lancaster, PA: Hi Michael: I enjoy your work. I am very interested in submitting for print travel articles and features. I have traveled extensively, and people love it when I recommend destinations, what to do when there, fun and delicious restaurants, best beaches, mountain hikes, where to find the hidden jewels, etc. Where does one start? To whom should I submit articles, and how? Thank you.
Michael Shapiro: Every writer's path is different: I started as a news reporter and kept traveling on my vacations, and then I wrote these stories up for newspaper travel sections. I find that newspapers are the best places for breaking into print.
But as I bet you know, the Web offers so much opportunity for writers who are coming up. Some of the best travel writing I've seen lately has been on Worldhum.com -- two writers who until recently weren't that well known are included in "The Best American Travel Writing 2004".
I'd also recommend sending stories to Travelers' Tales, the San Francisco-based publisher of travel literature. They have country guides, for example a collection of true stories about Greece, and other theme guides like their annual roundup called "The Best Travelers' Tales 2004".
So there are more options than ever. As Bill Bryson said in our interview for "A Sense of Place": there are so many options for travel writers compared to fiction writers for example. It's much easier to get a story published about a weekend getaway than it is to get your fiction published.
Thanks for the kind words about my work.
Atlanta, GA: I'd really love to become a travel writer. How do most people get their start in this industry? What's the average yearly salary?
Michael Shapiro: The salary question is almost impossible to answer and gave me a bit of a chuckle because it's so difficult to get writing jobs in this business. Most of the writing you read in travel magazines and newspapers is written by freelance writers. Of course these magazines have staffs but typically the staff is a small group of editors. And it usually takes some time writing before one can because an editor. So start by writing and if you love it stay in the biz and you may end up with a full time job. For me news journalism was the way to make a living but that's getting harder these days too.
New York, NY: What do you think makes a great travel writer/travel writing?
Michael Shapiro: Curiosity and openness. When I asked Barry Lopez (author of Arctic Dreams) about this, he said, "I listen." So you do need to listen and not just to people you meet but to the ancient whispers carried by the wind. In less poetic terms: get a feel for the place; I agree with Jan Morris and Bill Bryson: the best way to get a feel for the city is to simply walk around with all your antennae out.
The writing is the hard part. I'm attracted to stories that make me care about the people the author meets and evoke the landscape. In some of the best travel writing the landscape is almost another character in the larger story. I could go on but I think the best writers say it better for themselves.
Some of their comments are on my site, www.nettravel.com, which also links to the intro and the Tim Cahill chapter of my book, so you can get a sneak peak if you like.
Anonymous: In interviews, obviously, one would want to have done research, be a good listener, form questions that haven't been asked a thousand times before, etc. But is there some little thing, some tactic you've developed, that helps you get to a unique place in an interview?
Michael Shapiro: You're right about being a good listener - that's key. For me much of the work is preparation. Before the interview, I learn as much as possible about the interviewee, from books, magazines and the Web. One thing is to ask friendly but not fawning, questions at the beginning and cover more controversial subject later, after you've gained that person's trust. I think the key is that you show the interviewee that you care about him or her, part of that is preparation, another part is eye contact, and that you're passionate about their work and they're likely to open up. And of course, avoid judgment. Finally, don't fear silence. A short lull in the conversation could lead your subject to say something they hadn't considered previously.
Ukiah, CA: Is there a list of B&Bs in the London area?
Michael Shapiro: I imagine many of the big listing sites, like bedandbreakfast.com have sections on London. You can use Google to find sites specific to London B&Bs.
Chicago, IL: How do travel writers choose which destinations to cover?
Michael Shapiro: Mostly writers come up with their own ideas, occasionally an editor will suggest a place to a veteran writer. Typically they follow their heart and go to the places that call them. Other times it's more pragmatic. As a writer based near San Francisco, I often write stories about northern California for publications outside the area. I do this because many publications and their readers are interested in the area, and local travel minimizes my expenses.
Washington, DC: I'm planning to go to Paris for my birthday at the end of January but the dollar news looks awful. It's dampening my spirits and my planning. Am I realistic in thinking that my budget is significantly hampered or should I be finding someplace nice in the U.S. as an option?
Michael Shapiro: It's true that the dollar's plunge has made Europe more expensive. On the bright side, late January is a great time to get ultracheap airfares. Last winter I travel from SF to Milan to London and back for less than $500 including all taxes and fees.
The biggest expense is hotel but many hotels offer deals in the winter when occupancy is low. Check this site's daily newsletter to stay abreast of specials -- other sites like smarterliving.com list deals too.
Columbia, MO: Hi, I am a college student studying journalism. What advice would you give me on how to break into travel writing?
Michael Shapiro: Just keep writing. And don't focus just on travel writing - do all sorts of writing. Pico Iyer told me that during his graduate school years he wrote lots of book reviews and when the recruiter from Time magazine arrived he had lots of articles to show him. And of course the more you write, the better you get. It's a practice.
Michael Shapiro: That's all the time we have for today. I wish I could have answered everyone's questions but if you did have a question about travel writing that didn't get addressed, perhaps you'll find the answer in "A Sense of Place". The writers I interview in there say it better than I do.
Thanks for spending the past hour with me - it's been great fun to have this global conversation. And best to all of you for the holidays and new year.
Thursday, December 9, 2004
American States Geography Quiz!
Some time ago, I posted a game about identifying the countries of the world, and discovered I did pretty well, except for those countries in central Africa and the new nations created by the breakup of the former Soviet Union.
Today's quiz requires you to place individual states on a blank map of the United States, and it's tougher than you might think, since EXACT placement is required and the interior states are a bitch. But good luck.......
American States Geography Quiz
Monday, November 29, 2004
Godzilla Rejects Conde Nast Contract
Think only travel writers get screwed by their publishers? Think again. Photographers are also falling down the deep hole into economic oblivion, as pointed out today in a snippet from The New York Post:
PHOTOGRAPHERS are fuming at the strict new contracts Condé Nast is making them sign. "If you want to shoot for Condé Nast publications — any of them — you have to sign this contract that basically means you sign your life over," groused one lenser. According to several snappers, Condé Nast is offering three types of contracts. "One says they pay you basically nothing and own all the works thereafter," our source said. "The middle contract states they will pay you $50 if they resell your photo, and the top contract says they'll give you a bit more money for reselling. But the principle of them all is the same: they own you and your work. Making us give up our photo rights is basically taking away our living and ensuring that if they open up a Vogue in the Czech Republic, they can fill the magazine with our work for nothing."
So far, shutterbugs and their agents have stood firm: "No one we know has signed the contract yet, but it is a matter of time. We have to eat, you know." Exempt from the draconian arrangements are top talents like Annie Leibovitz and David LaChapelle. A rep for Conde Nast declined comment.
Thursday, November 18, 2004
Writer's Block? Not Me!
Hack your way out of writer’s block
Nov 18, 2004
I recently had occasion to do some…errr…research on writer’s block. Yeah, research. That’s what I was doing. Like a scientist. I found lots of great ideas to get unstuck and wrote the best ones on index cards to create an Oblique Strategies-like deck. Swipe, share, and add you own in comments.
Talk to a monkey
Explain what you’re really trying to say to a stuffed animal or cardboard cutout.
Do something important that’s very easy
Is there a small part of your project you could finish quickly that would move things forward?
Sit down and write anything for an arbitrary period of time—say, 10 minutes to start. Don’t stop, no matter what. Cover the monitor with a manila folder if you have to. Keep writing, even if you know what you're typing is gibberish, full of misspellings, and grammatically psychopathic. Get your hand moving and your brain will think it’s writing. Which it is. See?
Take a walk
Get out of your writing brain for 10 minutes. Think about bunnies. Breathe.
Take a shower; change clothes - Give yourself a truly clean start.
Write from a persona
Lend your voice to a writing personality who isn’t you. Doesn’t have to be a pirate or anything—just try seeing your topic from someone else’s perspective, style, and interest.
Get away from the computer
Write someplace new - If you’ve been staring at the screen and nothing is happening, walk away. Shut down the computer. Take one pen and one notebook, and go somewhere new.
Quit beating yourself up
You can’t create when you feel ass-whipped. Stop visualizing catastrophes, and focus on positive outcomes.
Maybe try vacuuming your lungs too.
Add one ritual behavior
Get a glass of water exactly every 20 minutes. Do pushups. Eat a Tootsie Roll every paragraph. Add physical structure.
Listen to new music
Try something instrumental and rhythmic that you’ve never heard before. Put it on repeat, then stop fiddling with iTunes until your draft is done.
Accept that your first draft will suck, and just go with it. Finish something.
Unplug the router
Metafilter and Boing Boing aren’t helping you right now. Turn off the Interweb and close every application you don’t need. Consider creating a new user account on your computer with none of your familiar apps or configurations.
Write the middle
Stop whining over a perfect lead, and write the next part or the part after that. Write your favorite part. Write the cover letter or email you’ll send when it’s done.
Do one chore
Sweep the floor or take out the recycling. Try something lightly physical to remind you that you know how to do things.
Make a pointless rule
You can’t end sentences with words that begin with a vowel. Or you can’t have more than one word over eight letters in any paragraph. Limits create focus and change your perspective.
Work on the title
Quickly make up five distinctly different titles. Meditate on them. What bugs you about the one you like least?
Write five words
Literally. Put five completley random words on a piece of paper. Write five more words. Try a sentence. Could be about anything. A block ends when you start making words on a page.
Beating That Block
Monday, November 15, 2004
Here's some background on the amazingly ambitious World Heritage Virtual Reality Tour:
The WHTour is a non-profit organization dedicated to creating a documentary and educational image bank of printable panoramic pictures and online virtual tours for all sites registered as World Heritage by the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). All panoramas are shooted, built and uploaded on this website by Tito Dupret, a 33 year-old multimedia director from Belgium and Bijuan Chen, his 26-year old multimedia assistant from China.
So far, they have covered Bangladesh, Eastern Canada, China, Cambodia, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, The Philippines and Vietnam. This represents 13.2 % of all 788 WH sites : 104 sites with 525+ Virtual Reality movies (VRs) available via the above menus. This project is at its beginning only and will need years to complete. The WHTour is slowly growing since July 2001 and constantly seeking financial help in order to pursue its mission. People involved in the WHTour are volunteering.
The following explanation about Virtual Reality is taken from the World Heritage Tour site, and gives some background on the fabulous VR images found at their homepage. You'll need Quicktime and some patience - about 60 seconds - to download each file if you're still stuck with 56K dial-up connections.
Quicktime and virtual reality
In order to navigate through the WHTour web site, you need to download the Quicktime plugin. It is easy, fast, free. You will then be able to navigate in virtual reality movies the way described here. Once you've downloaded a VR file, click once directly into the image, then hold the mouse down and drag it around. You seem to fly around the image in all directions, a 360 degree exploration of the environment. You can also zoom in closer with the "shift" key or zoom out with "ctrl" key.
What is virtual reality (VR)?
Virtual reality opens up the world to us in a way hitherto unknown, by allowing people to visit almost any place from practically any location without time constraints. It is a media drawing upon traditional photography and film industry. It depicts more than a photo but without the time limits of a movie. It is an interactive media meaning that the audience is active. Without their participation, the VR movie would be without animation ; in essence the audience gives life to the picture by viewing it from various angles, zooming in/out and clicking hyperlinks/icons.
It is also a very "light" and practical media. One person with skills and a backpack is enough to cover any site in the world. For this reason, it is inexpensive to produce compared to other animated systems. Moreover, it is a broad-ranging medium insofar as it can be supported on many different media systems, from a light web interface to heavy cinema productions or any printing support and at any quality level.
What is QuickTime VR ?
QuickTime VR lets you rotate your view of a scene through a complete 360 horizontal x 180-degree vertical sphere. As you change your view of the scene, correct perspective is maintained, creating the effect of being at the location and looking around. QuickTime VR is the first mainstream technology to enable theses experiences based on real world scenes.
How does the WHTour create virtual reality movies?
Taking a selection of digital images, each VR movie is made by stitching together 28 of these images. The computer creates the effect of being inside a sphere giving the user the scope to view all around oneself at 360 x 180 degrees. Actually, this sphere is made with the six separate sides of a cube : the front, right, back, left, top and bottom sides. The borders of each side connect to the others and the illusion is perfect.
For the WHTour, all VR movies are produced on site with a laptop and then disseminated on the internet through local connections. Each VR is about 1/2 day postproduction according to the complexity of stitching. Each VR of the WHTour is manually stitched.
Angkor Wat in Virtual Reality
Angkor Wat by Isaac at BigTrip.Org
Have you ever wanted to travel around the world, take outstanding photographs, and post them on your website to universal acclaim? Well, Isaac and his girlfriend did this last year, and the results are nothing short of stunning. The most curious thing about his website is the complete lack of personal biography, contact information, or background on his journey. Does anyone have the story on Isaac and his round-the-world photographic tour? Be sure to check his images of Angkor Wat, Phnom Penh, Hong Kong, and India.
The Best Travel PhotoBlog Ever
Sunday, November 14, 2004
Antartica by NASA
Travel Magazines for the Rest of Us
Tim Leffel's Cheapest Destinations
Quick, name the last three travel magazines or newspaper sections you read. Now think hard and try to remember how many articles you saw about traveling on a tight budget.
Those two answers probably sum up everything you need to know about why people travel the way they do. Where I live in the US, Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel has done a good job of showing the mainstream reader how to get a better deal, but its circulation is dwarfed by that of Travel & Leisure and Condé Nast Traveler, magazines that are really aimed at the most affluent citizens of the one of the world's most affluent countries. Big city newspapers such as the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune contain some great travel writing, but only a fraction of the typical Sunday travel section pays more than passing attention to finding the best values. It’s a little better in Europe and Australia, but most publications still tilt disproportionally toward expensive travel—-after all, that’s where the ad dollars come from.
This was true even during the travel slump and worldwide recession of the past few years. You see lots of luxury, luxury, luxury, as if every traveler boarding a plane is on their way to a five-star hotel and a spa treatment. Over time this warps readers' perceptions and makes them think every vacation has to cost a fortune.
A fellow travel writer calls these swanky publications "travel porn" and I can't think of a more apt description. I once saw a cartoon in a men's magazine in which a woman is standing next to a pot-bellied man in an easy chair. "Why do you watch that stuff?" the woman asks, pointing to a pornographic movie playing on the TV. "Because it makes me feel like everyone in the world is having a wild and crazy time," he replies. "Well, everyone except me."
The idea of fantasizing about a life you can't lead yourself is a big part of the "armchair traveler" appeal of glossy travel magazines. A typical issue contains dozens of advertisements for diamond watches, luxury sports cars, and handbags that retail for over a thousand dollars. Between the ads are stories about resorts we have no business frequenting unless we're in that lofty portion of the population who has more money than they have time to spend. It's nice to look at the stunning photos and read about locations if that's as far as it goes. For too many non-millionaire tourists, however, they look at those stories and think that's how everyone travels-everyone except them. So when they pick up the phone or log on to make travel reservations, they go in with the mindset that travel is, and should be, expensive.
Next time you leaf through a travel magazine, take a look at the non-travel advertisements. Do those products match up with the way you live your life? If not, try a different magazine-and a different kind of travel.
Some great magazines for independent travelers got killed off when the recession hit, including Escape, trips, and Big World. A few good ones have stuck around however:
Published in Toronto, with a Canadian perspective. Was always great, but is now hands down the best travel magazine in North America for thinking, independent travelers. Insightful and culturally sensitive writing, with a view from the ground, not from the Four Seasons balcony.
I'm biased since I have a regular column in here, but it's a great resource. Created in 1977 as the "antidote to tourism," it is the definitive guide to working, studying, or volunteering overseas. They also publish some brief travel articles that provide plenty of no-nonsense advice. The publishing company is known for some very helpful books and directories for those planning to live overseas for some time. Click here to subscribe or check a quality bookstore or library for a copy to see for yourself.
Only published in fits and starts, but this magazine manages to combine an experimental edge with a corresponding usefulness for all nomads. Not afraid to tackle taboo subjects and is open-minded enough to cover Asbury Park, NJ and Vietnam in the same issue. Also contains interesting book and world music reviews.
Frommer's Budget Travel
This is a corporate magazine mostly geared toward package tourists, and a lot of articles are about the usual suspects (Italy, the Caribbean, etc.) but it does focus on independent overseas travel a fair bit. You can subscribe for next to nothing by checking the Web subscription sites, so you'll certainly get your money's worth from the web links and resources alone. Has some good info about value destinations and how to get good airfare and hotel deals.
This UK magazine is a great find if you can get a Europe-bound friend to pick it up or you live near a magazine store that carries imports. (Or if you live in England of course.) Literate travel articles, great travel book reviews, and beautiful photography, but all the while still remembering that most travelers aren't living off $500 a day.
Travel Magazines for the Budget Traveler -- Links and More Information Here
Wednesday, November 10, 2004
CNT Editor Welcomes Freelancers
The long, sad saga of a travel writer attempting to sell his article to a disturbingly evasive editor at Conde Nast Traveler. Also note that the magazine pays only $800 for 1200 words.
Adventures in Journalism: World Traveler
By William Georgiades
November 10, 2004
A writer chronicles the birth and painful demise of an ill-fated travel writing piece.
... "We did, we did," she says. But some of my colleagues wonder if there is something we can peg the story to."
This is a death knell. I've used this ruse myself many times, when I was in her position over the phone. An editor's job is always to say no in the best or most excruciating way possible. Ideally, one can say, oh, we ran that exact story just 19 months ago, so sorry, but great idea; which is invariably the case, as magazines tend to tell the same story on a rotating basis of nineteen months. Or you can say you are not interested and you might be alienating a future Important Person. The last line of defense, however, is to say your colleagues have problems with the story and that a colleague says there is no peg and magazines are nothing without stories that have pegs. Can you imagine a world without pegs?
... Nine months pass and she is not in touch. She nods to me at two parties, as if to say, what are you doing here (a question I am asking myself at both occasions). Seated near her at an outdoor summertime dinner party, she regales our neighbors, telling them about this brilliant piece I'm working on for her. I don't point out that she's had it for months, that it's all of 1,200 words, and that she hasn't responded to the 17 ideas I've sent over the past several months. I don't mention that the enthusiastic editor won't speak to me anymore, and that our mutual friend tells me I almost cost her her job. Sitting there at that summertime dinner party feeling the crush of success all around me, I look at the pigtailed now-37-year-old editor and think of the glory that will hit newsstands. I smile at her suggestively and she blushes like the young woman she is not.
... "Well, there's a slight problem. Unfortunately at the last minute our editor cut back our pages and it was either you or A. M. Homes's piece about the view from her apartment window so, it broke my heart, but we had to cut your story at the last minute. I am so sorry. But," She says this "but" very, very quickly, before I can say anything, "but I think it'll hold for a year—you do say the celebrations have been going on for six hundred years so... and of course I'll make sure you get paid right away. But payment will have to be a kill fee, just in case the story never runs, so that's 25 percent, and 25 percent of $600..."
The Travails of a Freelance Writer with Conde Nast Traveler
Note: Here's the hilarious blurb about the above article as posted in The Gawker
Another Day, Another Evil Editor
William Georgiades, former editor of Black Book magazine and Vanity Fair contributor, has written (for free?) a Mediabisro "exposé" on the wild world of freelancing. Georgiades recounts the long and painful process by which he was tortured by an unnamed editor (who is so totally Dana Dickey) at Conde Nast Traveler for over a year, only to see his 1200-word article in the trash. On the bright side, the experience gave him the opportunity to write about the ordeal and reiterate some basic truths about editors: they're cloven-footed devil beasts.
Monday, November 8, 2004
Thursday, November 4, 2004
Media Bistro Monkey
The following discussion is from the members section of Media Bistro in the Forums section. I've removed all the names to protect the innocent, but left in Elizabeth Spiers of Gawker fame since she's the MB staffer who responded to the rants. But first, the "Who We Are" profile provided by Media Bistro:
Who and what we are.
mediabistro.com is dedicated to anyone who creates or works with content, or who is a non-creative professional working in a content/creative industry. That includes editors, writers, television producers, graphic designers, book publishers, people in production, and circulation departments — in industries including magazines, television, radio, newspapers, book publishing, online media, advertising, PR, and graphic design. Our mission is to provide opportunities (both online and offline) for you to meet each other, share resources, become informed of job opportunities and interesting projects, improve your career skills, and showcase your work.
> Sponsor an event or advertise with us.
Our greater goal: to revolutionize the way creative/content industry professionals relate. Call it the AvantGuild, a new guild for the new guard in media. Media professionals have so much in common, yet we work in our little cubicle worlds, rarely meeting, rarely sharing our collective experiences. We want to create a new version of the 14th-century guild system — so that talented professionals in related industries can meet informally, mentor each other, work on projects together, and more. Go ahead, call us idealists. Call us medievalists even!
And now for the rants:
Anyone know how to pitch MB's essay department? They tell you how to pitch about everyone but themselves...at least, I haven't found anyting on the website about this. I sent the site an email but no one answered. I also heard a rumor that they don't pay anything whatsoever. Any truth to that?
For a site that is supposedly for members of the media, I find it sad and even irritating that they expect writers to donate their services. If they manage to pay the staff and the company hosting the site and the landlord for their office space and the electric company and so on, why should writers provide for nothing that which actually helps draw people to the site, which in turn allows them to charge for advertising? And even the idea of in-kind compensation is something that the writer has to know to ask for? Even while Laurel is quoted by a reporter about this being a money making machine?
This sounds more and more like so many other things in writing - the magazines, the seminars, the newsletters, the editing services. Yes, there are some that are more than worth the money (ASJA and Freelance success are that for me), but in all too many cases, there is a common smell. It's the aroma of someone people who had been in the business but had then decided that writers were strictly suckers and ought to be treated that way. ''Oh, yeah, we can get writers to do this - they'll fall for anything.''
I will donate my time to non-profits that I particularly like. I will spend time trying to help other writers if I can. But I'm not giving away time and effort to what is clearly a for-profit business.
Seems to me a fair in- kind trade would at least be a year's worth of free advertising in their freelance marketplace, to maintain and upkeep such a listing costs a fraction of what they're actually charging individual writers, or a spot in one of their writing bootcamps.
I think that's one of the things you can negotiate for, if you know to ask. Now you do. I like MB, and have found the site extremely useful, especailly for jobs. But it seems to pose as a money-making business when it's convenient, and as a struggling nonprofit when that suits its ends--when it needs to rationalize or explain not paying writers or its constant call for volunteers (the latter seems to have ebbed, though). What businesses call for volunteers? Again, I don't like to bash MB, because the site, and many of its panels and short classes, are good and useful, and not that expensive. I just wish it would get over its irritating hypocrisy. Instead of advocating for better treatment for writers, it perpetuates the writer-as-victim philosophy--bad pay, late pay or no pay, bad contracts, the idea that writers should be grateful to have their work displayed anywhere--that it should be working to combat.
Posted – 11/3/2004 12:12:39 PM
Here's what I told a few people who inquired yesterday:
The standard policy right now is that we don't pay for essays, but historically we've compensated people who write for the site on a regular basis w/ avantguild memberships, other freelancer services, or whatever we can scrape together. there seem to be (at this point) enough good writers who will write for free to build a clip file and to get their writing in front of editors (and a wide variety of editors, at that) so there's not a tremendous amount of pressure to do otherwise. That said, the policy is very erratic and where we need to compensate, some people already have avant guild memberships so i'm trying to come up with a better way of doing that. If you have suggestions (besides the obvious $1 a word, which doesn't appear to be tenable*) do let me know. I'm looking for creative solutions. And money isn't entirely out of the question, but it'd probably come out of my own pocket and not my budget, so it'd have to be really fucking good. I don't exactly make Anna Wintour-level money.
*MB is profitable, but more on the solid-small-biz level than the media conglomerate level. And it was never a non-profit (which is a descriptor of intent and tax treatment, not profitability. Most non-profits are profitable.)
For those who don't have her finance background, let me explain in simpler terms what Elizabeth is saying (which, in fairness to her, is no more or less than she can say as mouthpiece for the business plan Laurel created):
Newbie writers are essentially like illegal immigrants, or mine workers in pre-union times, or underage children in third world sweatshops. It's fair to exploit them because they are willing to be exploited. You want the clip but don't want the exploitation? No problem. Someone else will put up with it. You, unlike the utility companies or the landlord, are completely expendable. Don't like it? No problem. There are plenty of other suckers out there who will be more than happy to create the content that creates the page hits that create the numbers MB uses to sell its classifieds and otherwise continue charging forward as, in Laurel's words to The Economist, ''a money-making machine''. You're a log to be thrown on the engine. Don't want to get burned? There's plenty more logs where you came from, so screw off.
This is, as Erik Sherman already said, a shameful way for a business to treat the professional community it allegedly exists to serve.
With all due respect, Elizabeth, the theory that editors are (more) likely to call you with work after you write for free on this site is, in my own limited personal experience, not necessarily true. My essay on trauma ran here last spring -- yes, because the potential payoff was some increased exposure for my new/first book and no, I was not paid. Nor was I paid to run a concomitant BB discussion on the same topic, a thread that ran for several weeks with many thoughtful messages. Maybe my writing just sucks, but no one has contacted me since then to assign work to me. So you pays your money (or do not receive any) and you takes your chances...Flame me for making that decision.
I did it once, but am unlikely to do it again. I doubt anyone with a choice (i.e. experienced writers; see floruja's comments) or without a timely or specific need for (greater) exposure for their ideas or POV will repeatedly do so either. The only writer whose name I've read here and then recently somewhere more exalted, (and you can guess wildly and inaccurately as to cause and effect), who may also have worked for free, is Lizzie Skurnick whose byline has recently appeared in the NYT Book Review. With all due respect to Lizzie, and good for her, did Sam really come trolling the MB site for new writers? I somehow doubt it.
Good grief, call off the dogs. I think it's great that MB is willing to work with new writers, even if they don't have the $$ to compensate. It's a great way to get clips. I've written for other sites for free, and for the pleasure of it, and for clips, and it was a great stepping stone to get paid assignments. If you don't like the policy, you don't have to write for MB, for free, in-kind payment, or otherwise! There's lots of other outlets out there!
Media Bistro Discussion on Pay for Freelance Writers