Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Interview with a Travel Writer...Joe Ray.

Today we talk with Joe Ray, a food and travel writer based in Paris. His articles, which you can read at his website, have been published in leading newspapers such as the Boston Globe, the Star Ledger, the Montreal Gazette, and the Associated Press. He also has a blog Eating the Motherland that documents his three month stay in Sicily.

Hi Joe and welcome to Write to Travel.

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

Gradually, then all at once. I had a series of real jobs after college where I was spending more time writing than I should have and doing a few freelance pieces on the side. Finally, I ended up as a writer for an Internet company. Not long after bubble burst, and with little money, almost zero experience and no plan B, I moved to France and decided that I was going to be a journalist. It was one of the craziest ideas I've ever had, but having no net underneath you is a great motivator.

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

In 1998, I wrote a piece for the food section for The San Francisco Chronicle about trying out as a line cook in three well-respected San Francisco restaurants. The connection to food editor Miriam Morgan came through friends of friends, but I was on my own from there and luckily, Ms. Morgan was very helpful. After that, it doesn't snowball, but that first article is helpful for landing the second and the second the third...

3. What advice would you give to someone who wants to break into writing?

It sounds clich̩, but write about what you know and love. I had cooked in about a dozen kitchens across the states Рfrom cheap diners to upscale Asian and Vietnamese places and loved it. I love cooking and knowing a little about how it works is a huge help. Plus, It's so much easier for me to pass on my enthusiasm about food than, say, accounting.

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

I think a lot of the outlets we write for are asking themselves the same question, so as a writer, being flexible and attentive to their needs is key. I took pictures as a hobby for years and eventually I started selling my photos with my stories – editors seemed to like being able to get a story/photo package and I liked making more money. Now I'm onto my second digital reflex camera and I like shooting as much as working on a story. Similar things could be said for getting into audio and video.

5. Which travel writers and/or travel books have influenced you?

For me, it's not necessarily travel writers, but people who have that enthusiasm about what they write or do. I went through a big Hemingway phase, but came away mostly appreciating his gift for brevity. Steinbeck's "Travels With Charley" makes you want to jump in a truck, hit the road and finish the day with a glass of applejack. I read Jeffrey Steingarten's "The Man Who Ate Everything" when I was starting to hit a bit of a stride with my own work, and it was wonderful to see his combination of knowledge, enthusiasm and humor. Finally, Julia Child's "Mastering The Art of French Cooking" and just about anything from M.F.K. Fisher should be required reading for anyone who likes to eat.

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

I've been on the move for the last two years, essentially living out of two bags, which can lead to a little meltdown every couple of months. (Where is that box with my birth certificate? Where will I find an apartment the next time I head back to Paris?) That said, the privilege to have gone to some of the places I've been and meet some of the people I've met always outweighs it.

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

For some of the best food and dining experiences, the Pinotxo food kiosk in Barcelona's Boqueria market, a Sicilian gelateria, an Argentine steakhouse, a Parisian bistro, and, for a good dose of plaid, New England accent and a killer coconut cream pie, the Agawam Diner in Rowley, MA - all with friends or family.

(photo by Olivier Benoit)

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Anonymous said...

great interview, Joe. I'm excited to check out your articles. I love tagging my favorite foods along my travels. Tastes tend to linger in memories, don't they?


Joe's articles can be found over at his website - hope you have a cup of coffee and plenty of time, cause you're going to want to stay a while...



Lylah M. Alphonse said...

Joe is awesome. And inspirational. And did I mention awesome? Every post I read on "Eating the Motherland" made me hungry...


'Eating the Motherland' is a blog that shouldn't be read on an empty stomach...

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