Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Interview with a Travel Writer...Tim Patterson.

Tim Patterson, aka The Rucksack Wanderer, is joining us today. Tim is travel writer who contributes regularly to online sites such as Brave New Traveler and Matador Travel, as well as the Common Language Project, Tales of Asia, and TravelMag. Tim has mainly focused on online writing but you can find his first full length magazine feature, Undiscovered Islands in Cambodia, in the Australian travel magazine Get Lost (issue 13). Tim is constantly on the move but you keep up with him at his blog Sleeping in the Mountains. He is currently planning on moving to Argentina for the rest of the year.

Hi Tim and thanks for stopping My Year of Getting Published.

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

First I wanted to be a fisherman. One of my earliest memories, from toddler times, is of proposing to a girl named Emily. We were eating green grapes and sugar cubes, and I told her I wanted to get married, but that I was going to be a fisherman, and was that OK with her? Happily, Emily accepted. I haven't seen her in almost 20 years though. Wonder how she's getting along.

The first stories I wrote were about fishing and animals. I idolized a fishing writer named Ray Bergman, who wrote for Outdoor Life magazine and died in the late 1960s. At age 8 my friend Brendan Wenzel and I wrote and illustrated an ambitious book entitled "A Field Guide to North American Mammals." I saw Brendan last week, actually - he's now an artist who sculpts giant animal puppets out of styrofoam and lives in Brooklyn with an albino hedgehog. So we're both chasing our dreams.

I've always loved to read, and had some talent for writing, but it wasn't until I tried a "real" job that I decided to take on writing professionally. It's a lot of work, but the thought of going back to a desk makes my blood run cold. My travel writing career is still three words that are difficult to say without choking, but I'm happy eating beans and rice and buying one new shirt every other year, so maybe I'll make it in this profession after all.

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

The first magazine feature I landed was with Get Lost, an Australian adventure travel magazine. I was living in a field in Northern Thailand at the time, building a hut out of mud and straw with a dear friend named Ryan Libre, who is an incredibly talented photographer. Ryan and I had just completed an expedition to a road-less coastal region of Cambodia and pitched a story about Cambodia's islands, which are just as beautiful as any in Thailand but totally undeveloped. We were living on about $150 a month and built the hut - windows and all - for only about $250, so after scoring the magazine feature it seemed feasible to support ourselves as writers and artists.

3. What advice would you give to someone who is considering going into travel writing? Any tips to breaking into newspapers and magazines?

The most practical piece of advice I have is to start writing while you're still working a normal job, wait until you've built up some contacts and experience and then cut loose and go for it. Read Rolf Potts book Vagabonding, sell everything you own apart from a laptop and 2 sets of clothes, and hit the road. Don't start in an expensive country - you'll be broke long before you see your name in print. Instead, backpack around somewhere like Southeast Asia or Central America, where you can live cheap and find lots of material to write about. Consider renting a little bungalow in Thailand and drink water all day long in a shop with wireless Internet.

Discipline is vital. Write every day. If your computer breaks, write long-hand. If your hand breaks, hold the pen between your teeth and write that way. If you swallow the pen, bash your face against a wall until your nose bleeds and smear words on the paper with the blood. Write, write, write.

Don't be discouraged by rejection letters or editors who ignore your polished submissions. Persistence is the second most important thing, after discipline. Keep at it. When you get a reply, latch onto that poor editor like an African honey badger and don't let go until she changes her address or publishes your work. When you do get published, treat yourself to one wild night on the town, set your alarm for 7 am the next day, and get up and start writing again. Ernest Hemingway probably said that the test of a true writer is whether or not he will write hungover.

Magazines and newspapers? Good luck. Start online. Get yourself a blog - they're easy and fun. Submit to online travel magazines. I love, an up-and-coming travel community that pays for quality travelogues and just launched a "Bounty Board" feature, with a list of assignments in need of writers

4. What do you see as the future for travel writers in the printed media and online ?

The Internet is simply amazing. Anyone can publish Anything to Everyone from Anywhere, Anytime. There's just no way for traditional print media to compete with that. By the time I'm old and gray, very few people will still read print newspapers. My Mom says she hates reading on a screen, but my generation is different - we're growing up on Online is where it's all going. Already, you'll find some great travel writing on the Internet - check out sites like Worldhum, Perceptivetravel, Bravenewtraveler and MatadorTravel.

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

I was thinking about this question for a little while...and realized that my biggest challenge so far hasn't been on the road - it's been coming home. When I'm traveling, even when I find myself in a pickle - like the time Ryan and I ran out of water and food on a wild Cambodian island and were menaced by men with hatchets and AK-47 rifles - it's all part of the adventure. Strange as it may seem, the toughest part is being home, seeing my family, hanging out with old friends and wondering what the heck I'm doing with my life.

I can hike 5 miles through the jungle on a pack of ramen and some coconut milk, but I can't pet my cat without wondering if I should settle down and plant a garden and go to law school. Funny, isn't it. On the road, I'm just on the damn road, and life is wonderful.

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

This is impossible to answer, but let me try:

My favorite place is on the edge of a cliff, at sunset, or sunrise, with someone I love, and enough food and water to last us a day or two. The tent is rigged snug, our air mattresses are plump and our down sleeping bags are dry. There's a peak to climb, with snowfields to slide down, and a river below, with big, innocent trout in it. We have nowhere to be, and can build a fire if we need one.

If you're looking for destinations - here are some favorite places.

1) You Sabai - the best little cooking school in Northern Thailand

2) Salt Cay in the Turks and Caicos Islands - my family's secret island

3) Craftsbury, Vermont - the most wonderful community in New England

4) Luang Prabang, Laos - the most romantic town in Asia

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