Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Interview with a Travel Writer...Robert Todd Felton.

Today we talk with travel writer Robert Todd Felton. Since deciding to take a break from teaching four years ago, Robert has published three books and is having too much fun to return to the classroom. His writing has been published in National Geographic, Backpacker, and Automotive Traveler. Having just finished writing his latest book, Walking Boston, which is due to released in the coming months, Robert is now contemplating co-authoring a book on the best ice cream shops in New England with his two kids. You can read more about his plans at his his Red Room blog.

Hi Robert and welcome to Write to Travel. Thanks for stopping by...

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

Yes, I always wanted to be a writer. I wrote stories as a child, poetry as a teenager, and fiction as an adult. I was an English teacher for nearly a decade and kept trying to make time to write but never managed it. There are those people who can write successfully with a full-time job. I am not one of those people. I wish I were.

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

About the time my wife finished graduate school and wanted to return to working more, I was beginning to burn out on teaching. What I really wanted to do was make a go of it as a freelance writer. So we agreed I would take a year off from teaching to be there for our kids and try to land some writing assignments. A week later, a friend emailed me to ask if I knew any writers. A friend of his was starting up a publishing company and they were looking for a writer in New England to write a literary travel guide to the Transcendentalists. It was unbelievably lucky – a perfect match. I am passionate about both travel and literature; it was exactly the type of book I would buy.

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

Take courses. Not only does it introduce you to the both the craft and business of writing (and it is a business), but the best ones help create a network of other writers you can lean on. In addition, read. I know that is a bit obvious, but I can’t overstate the importance of reading article after article in the magazines you are targeting. Not only do you get the tone and scope of what their authors are writing, but you get a better sense of the types of subjects.

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

I think it is an exciting time for writers. With the web, there are so many places to put your words and pictures that you should never be at a lack of places to send your work. Granted, many of them are not paying, but they do offer a way of building a platform and honing skills. At the high end of paying markets, there is so much competition that you really have to be on top of your game to get a shot. And then, there is a fair amount of luck – sending the right pitch to the right editor at just the right time. I came back from Sayulita, Mexico with a great story. I pitched it to National Geographic Traveler only to find out she had just signed a contract for a story on Sayulita the week before.

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

Although he is not often considered a “travel writer” as such, and there are a whole host of other problematic issues with him and his work, Ernest Hemingway captures the tactile, sensual details of place and travel better than anyone else I’ve read…except perhaps Annie Dillard. She is also not considered a travel writer, but her books explode with the details of place. Jack Kerouac, John Steinbeck, William Shakespeare, Henry David Thoreau – the list is long as it is apparently male-centric.

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

For my books, I have always done the photography as well as the writing, so when I am out traveling, I definitely feel torn between the two. You really can’t photograph and write about a place simultaneously. Sometimes, like on my recent trip to Cuba, I will have time enough to concentrate on first one, than the other. But usually, I am trying to stuff a day’s worth of photography and a day’s worth of writing into a single day.

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

My family has owned a small cabin in the Sierra Nevada mountains in California for close to thirty years. Although I have lived across the country and in Europe, that lakeside cabin has always felt like home. It is both peaceful and joyous, relaxing and exciting. There’s lots to do or places to just do nothing.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice to read an interview with this excellent travel writer. His books are a delight and make a great gift.

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