Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Interview with a Travel Writer...Lauren Viera.

Today we talk with Lauren Viera who is the assistant Travel Editor at the Chicago Tribune. I discovered Lauren earlier this month when reading her article A new state every three weeks and thought she would be interesting to interview. Luckily for us, she agreed.

Hi Lauren and welcome to Write To Travel. Thanks for taking some time to talk with us.

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

Actually, yes. I recall writing stories in third grade -- one of them about my wanting to be a writer. I became interested in journalism in high school, thanks to a really inspiring teacher and great experiences working on the high school paper. I wrote arts features and submitted some of my stories to local music zines, and from there I began to build a portfolio of clips.

By the time I got to college and joined the staff of the student newspaper there, I had a strong enough portfolio to apply for internships -- which I did relentlessly, finally landing one at the Los Angeles Times. Having a variety of arts & entertainment clips from the L.A. Times opened up a lot of freelance opportunities thereafter; freelance opportunities led to more solid clips; more solid clips led to job opportunities. And so it goes.

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

About five years ago, I was writing for an alternative weekly in San Diego, Cal., that was launching a travel section. I was freelancing full-time and had a flexible schedule, so I pitched a few longer-term assignments -- one of them on exploring my Portuguese ancestry. My editor had learned about a press trip to the Azores, so I applied for it and went for about two weeks. It was incredible -- not only the experience of visiting a place to which I'd never been, but getting an in-depth perspective on everything, complete with escorts and translators. Ironically, that little alt-weekly folded before the article was published, but I've thought about pitching it elsewhere some day.

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

Do a lot of other types of writing first.

Travel writing often involves reporting on all kinds of subjects -- dining, lodging, entertainment, nature, geography, culture, shopping and retail, history, sometimes religion. It doesn't hurt to be well-versed in at least a few of those areas before attempting to write about all of them at once.

Starting local helps, too. My first real travel assignments (since the Azorean trip was a no-go) were all to places within a short drive of Chicago, where I live. With any writing, knowing your subject well and having the capacity to report thoroughly is always going to be to your advantage.

That said, pitching a story on a destination that's within a few hours from you is a great place to start, since you're likely to know it better -- and thus likely to write more cohesively about it -- than somewhere that's foreign to you.

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

Like all aspects of the media industry right now, there's definitely a big move toward online publishing. Even at the Chicago Tribune, where I work, I spend about half of my time writing stories for print, and half of my time finessing stories or packages that will have a longer lifespan on the Web. I don't think newspapers' Travel sections or steadfast travel magazines -- like Travel + Leisure or Conde Nast Traveler -- are going away anytime soon, but there's definitely a growing need for comprehensive travel guides on the Web.

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

I'm still very new to travel writing, relatively speaking, so I'm still learning different authors' voices. But as far as reference books go, I tend to use Lonely Planet more than any other publisher. They're well-written and comprehensive, and they don't mince words. I love the Moon Metro series of maps, and for glossy travel books, I love the DK Eyewitness Travel series.

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

For one, cramming it all in. I almost feel like it degrades local culture to attempt to grasp the essence of an entire city (or even just a neighborhood) in a short period of time -- and then paraphrase that short period of time into an even shorter article -- but that is the job of the travel journalist. You're never going to be able to see it all. I try to make my experiences as thorough as possible and write about them as gracefully I can, always with the understanding that there is a ton more beyond what my notebook and I experienced. A more personal challenge for me as a traveler is being a vegetarian. I'll be doing a fair amount of international travel in the coming months, and I have a feeling I'm in for a lot of meat-eating. But it's part of the job, so I'll do it.

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

This is a tough one. I love the Pacific Northwest; I love Tuscany; I love Copenhagen. I haven't yet been to Bali, but it's my favorite place right now because I'm planning on going later this year, and the anticipation is exciting. As soon as I've been there, then a new unknown will be my new favorite. Sometimes, my favorite place is my backyard in the summertime. As wonderful as travel is, it's always nice to come home.

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Kara said...

I'd like to know if the Chicago Tribune takes freelance submissions. If so, can Laura give us the inside scoop on the best way to query/submit?



Hi Kara,

Will see what I can find out. Stop back at the comments here later next week.



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