Robert Young Pelton
A few weeks ago I attended the Adventures in Travel Expo at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, and was pleased to listen to several lectures by famous travel writers such as Kira Salak and Robert Young Pelton. I've been reading Pelton for many years and had previously met him at the Book Expo in Los Angeles in 1994, soon after he had taken over the corpse of Fielding's and was cranking out books at a furious pace. I purchased his guide to Borneo, which turned out to be the biggest piece of crap in the world.
He has improved mightily over the years I think, in large part due to the efforts of his editors. His monthly column in National Geographic Traveler is always a hoot.
But the most impressive part of the lecture was his photography: stark, black-and-white images of war zones around the world. I was amazed, since I only knew him as a writer, though his real talents lie in his superb photography.
Rolf Potts has just posted an interview with Pelton, filled with Pelton's pithy and devastating opinions about the craft of travel writing.
How did you get started traveling?
I lived in a car when I was 16. I couldn't afford an apartment but I could afford $150 for a tired pink 1962 Rambler Classic Cross Country. Living in a car is called being homeless, but when you drive around and pick fruit for a living it's called traveling.
As a traveler and fact/story gatherer, what is your biggest challenge on the road?
I travel mostly in active war zones with insurgents, rebels and people who kill other people for a living. Gaining their trust and staying alive are probably the two most critical skills.
Have you ever done other work to make ends meet?
I am multi-hypen these days: Adventurer, filmmaker, businessman, author, writer, director, lecturer, columnist, host, explorer, executive producer, photographer, pundit, vagrant and student of life. In my past life I have been a lumberjack, blaster, boundary cutter, ad spokesman, copywriter, hostage, marketing guru, hardware store manager, and bounty hunter. Lets just say I get bored easily, and writing is a broad enough excuse to do something interesting, get into trouble, and see what happens.
What advice and/or warnings would you give to someone who is considering going into travel writing?
Don't. It's like the label "war correspondent". You either write or you don't. My advice to people who aspire to be me is to stop whining and just do it. Everything falls into place once you begin the process. If it doesn't, there is always Wal Mart. Just write and use it as your passport to learning about the world.
Rolf Potts Link