Welcome to Gypsy Wednesday! Every Wednesday, I strive to highlight all the juicy morsels related to travel and beyond.
When I conceived of this wacky idea I never imagined meeting a woman of Carol Perehudoff’s caliber. Carol is a Toronto-based freelance travel writer and blogger. She writes a travel column at the Toronto Star, Canada’s biggest newspaper. While somewhat new to the blogging community, writing a fantastic site full of quips and travel stories at Wandering Carol, the Toronto Star is only the tip of the fountain pen, the meat of her work is in the ink.
Her articles have appeared in a variety of magazines including Spalife, enRoute, Review Magazine, Pure Canada and Royal Wings and a whole slough of newspapers like the Chicago Tribune, New York Post, San Francisco Chronicle, St. Louis Post Dispatch, New Orleans Times-Picayune, New Hampshire Union Leader Post, the Halifax Chronicle Herald, Vancouver Sun and St. Petersburg Times.
Oh, that’s not all. Her narrative essays have appeared in the travel anthologies A Woman’s Europe, published by Travelers Tales, 2004, and Go Your Own Way: Women Travel the World Solo published by Seal Press, 2007. She’s currently working on a travel memoir.
Head spinning yet? Mine certainly did, but a precious opportunity lit up my interview sensors. If travel writing is a kernel bubbling, why not ask the source? With gumption and a lack of starstruck inklings, I’m the perfect thick headed gal who would ask De Niro for an interview, not even realizing the significance of De Niro. Carol Perehudoff is resoundingly significant – read on to find out more.
Q: You’ve written for many periodicals, newspapers and anthologies, how did you get started doing this?
A: Here’s how I became a travel writer. Read it and avoid my mistakes.
Step One) I was trying to write fiction and getting nowhere, so I signed up for two back-to-back workshops at the New York Summer Writers Institute in Saratoga Springs. The second fiction workshop was full, so I joined the nonfiction group. James Miller was my grumpy, brilliant teacher and to this day I haven’t had a more insightful workshop leader, except maybe Philip Lopate. This class changed my world. From being a crappy fiction writer, I went to being a not-quite-so-crappy nonfiction writer. All my essays were about my travels and it wasn’t great art but at least people were laughing.
Step Two) I attended the Book Passage Travel Writing Conference in Marin County near San Francisco. This taught me the basics of travel writing so I went home and wrote two articles. One was about how not to learn rock climbing in Thailand (i.e. climb up a mountain roped to a stranger) and the other was about a state-run German spa where, to my therapist’s knowledge, no North American had ever been. It really helps to get noticed if you’re writing about something unusual. A local weekly paper bought the rock climbing piece. The spa article I sent to the San Francisco Chronicle. Eight months later it was picked out of their slush pile and my career began. It truly makes me wonder if some things are just out there waiting to happen.
Q: For the novice travel writer – how does one go about making contacts? It can seem daunting!
A: I don’t think contacts are as important as the writing. In fact, that’s what I loved about travel writing. I could do it all by email and no one knew me. I didn’t have to impress anyone with my wit, looks or charm – especially important as I have none of those qualities.
But – you do need the addresses and names of editors. There are various ways of getting lists of these. I believe I bought mine from travelwriters.com. After I wrote my first article I sent it out to about 5 places. Then I pooled my addresses with a couple of other emerging writers and we ended up with a spreadsheet of over 100 editors. I’d write a piece and then mass email it to all of them. After you send an editor enough articles, she/he gets to know you … even if they never buy your work.
Q: Many new writers don’t know how to write a query letter or pitch a story – can you give us a quick lesson?
A: I took a different route. My approach was to write an entire travel article then send it out on spec – spec meaning the editor can look at it then reject it or buy it. This works well for newspapers, but for magazines, pitching is required. I hate pitching. I probably pitch about once a year. When I do pitch, I try to make a snappy first line, maybe exactly as the first line of the article would be. Then I say what the article would be about, why it’s timely and why I’m the one to write it. I usually only pitch spa articles, because I do go to a lot of European spas that many writers don’t know about.
Q: Why did you choose this path versus penning travel guidebooks?
A: I have never wanted to write for a guidebook. I hate gathering details like phone numbers and I hate touring endless hotels - though I use guidebooks when I travel and admire those who write them. For me, though, it’s always been about craft – about narrative structure, humor, dialogue, etc. Articles and essays give me the freedom to write what I want.
Q: What are some of the perks doing what you do?
The other perk is going on a press trip with a group of journalists from all over the States, or Canada or Germany or wherever, and feeling like you are so lucky to meet these articulate, cynical, hilarious people. Especially when you’re all doing a night train through Turkey together and feel as if it’s the wildest adventure ever.
Q: What are some of the negatives?
A: Apart from exhaustion and jetlag, it’s going on a press trip with a group of journalists from all over the States, or Canada or Germany and feeling like you are going to throw yourself in front of the train if you have to hear anymore about their bad knees, their husband, Harvey, or how the bellman didn’t carry their bags upstairs. Travel, like any profession, attracts all types. Not that I’m any better. I love to complain and whine. It’s one of my favorite hobbies. My biggest complaint is the long dinners I have to endure on press trips when what I really want to do is have a hot bath and read a book.
Q: Everyone has a backstory to their chosen profession. Why travel? And not day trader or lawyer?
A: I was born with a terrible urge to travel. It’s so bad I take a homeopathic medicine to stop me from traveling so much. I am not making that up. I take four little pills a month. I tried, in London, England, to work in an office and felt like I was in prison. That cured me of 9 to 5. Then I got a scholarship to study in Seoul, Korea and ended up with an MBA. But I knew I’d never use it. I also knew that no one in their right mind would ever hire me.
Q: What wise words can you pass on to those interested in pursuing travel writing?
A: Revise revise revise. I know people who spend way more time marketing than writing, whereas I spend almost no time marketing. Granted, it’s easier for me right now because I have a column. But I really believe that if you have a polished thoughtful well-written product (and don’t use as many adjectives as I just did), you’ll find a home for your story. Although, in all honesty, my friends who put in more time marketing than writing do as well or better than I do, so try everything and stick with whatever works. And don’t take rejection personally. I’m quite proud of mine. My favorite rejection is from a piece I wrote about visiting a prison in Russia and talking about my ancestors that were imprisoned and exiled when they wouldn’t fight for the Tzar and an editor wrote back, “This is too trite for me.” I wish I’d framed it.