Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Interview with a Travel Writer...Terah Shelton

Today I’m talking with Terah Shelton, a freelance travel writer based in Atlanta, Georgia. Her travel articles have been published in numerous magazines and newspapers, including Trips and Journeys, Go World Travel, Arkansas Traveler, and Southern Arts Journal. Terah maintains a blog, Traveler’s Pen, where she dispenses travel information. She also teaches a travel writing course, How to Travel the World, at Emory University, Atlanta and online.

Hi Terah and welcome to My Year of Getting Published. Thanks for taking time out from your travels (Terah’s currently travelling around Europe) to answer a few questions.

1. Did you always want to be a writer ? How did you get started in writing ?

I didn't always want to be a writer. I wanted to be a singer, actress, and a dancer. But, as I got older, I discovered I could not sing, could not act, and, well...I can dance, but not good enough to go on tour with The New Kids on the Block (remember them?). When the New Kids broke up I decided it was time for me to be realistic about my career aspirations.

My sixth grade teacher, Julie Cook, found one of my stories and encouraged me to read it in front of the class. I did and they loved it. Seeing their reaction to something I wrote inspired me to continue writing.

2. What do you consider your first big 'break' as a travel writer?

When the first query I submited was accepted by Byline. It wasn't a travel piece, but it was my first clip. Seeing my name in print motivated me to go for what I really wanted: to become a travel writer.

3. As a traveler and writer, what are the biggest challenges you face on the road ?

Being an African-American female, when I travel, I’m accustomed to friendly and quirky encounters. Long stares, cheerful grins, inquiring gazes, double looks, widened smiles, and spontaneous conversations. Not out of racism or prejudice, but completely good natured and amiable. In some of the countries I visit, it’s not everyday they see a black person, yet a black woman traveling alone. I’ve acclimated to this behavior and chalked it up to curiosity.

As a writer, one of the challenges I face on the road is staying focused. I'm currently in Venice and all I want to do is sit in San Marco Square and people watch all day. Sometimes I forget I'm here to work.

4. What advice can you give aspiring travel writers wanting to get articles published in national magazines and newspapers ?

Study the publication inside and out. Know what to pitch and who to pitch. Research the editors and keep track published articles. Then, write a dynamic query letter. If you receive a rejection, follow it up with other query letters. Finally, be patient. It will happen for you.

5. You teach 'How to Travel the World on a Budget' at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. How did that come about ?

Before I moved to Atlanta last year, I started sending out letters of introduction to local and regional newspapers and magazines in hopes of landing a contributing writer position. While researching those publications, I learned Emory University was accepting applications for instructors. The topics were open and I learned they did not offer a travel class. I filled out an application and wrote a class proposal. Admittedly, I didn't think they would accept it. But, the next day, I received a call from the department asking me to come to Atlanta for an interview and presentation. And the rest is history.

6. Finally, what is your favorite place and why ?

My favorite place...hmm...that's interesting because I don't normally tell people what why favorite place is. I know I'm a travel writer and my job is the inform people about the interesting and undiscovered destinations in the world, but I believe in keeping a few places secret. I will share one of my favorite places.

It seems, my favorite place is always the last place I visited. Off the cuff, right now, I would have to say, Lubec, Maine. Why? Because it's the easternmost point in the continental United States, home to the nation's first sunrise. I love raw, uncooked places, unseasoned by life. Where things may or may not make sense. And I found this in Lubec.

Terah, thanks for the interview. Hope you enjoy the rest of your travels...good luck.


Previous interviews: Rudy Maxa, Shannon Hurst Lane, Wendy Perrin, David Whitley

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