From the mid-80s to the late 90s, I made my living as a travel writer. With my two franchise guidebooks, Frommer’s Brazil and Frommer’s Chicago, I was able to earn in six month’s time a modest yearly wage as a professional writer. The remainder of the year’s laboring time I devoted to developing and publishing my own work. Also, as the millennium approached, I was well on my way to completing a doctorate. This belated effort was my second bite at that apple, and the one that took.
Travel writing was both the most frivolous, as well as the most important, genre I ever took on as a writer. Frivolous because it was a purely commercial undertaking where you set about filling in the blanks for a text of the many pre-existing categories - hotels, nightlife, tourist attractions, restaurants - that were demanded by the needs of the hospitality industry. What made travel writing of such critical importance to me was the fact that it involved a level of discipline, turning our so-many pages of finished copy every day, that is the sine qua non of the writer’s trade. In principle, anyone can be a writer, but few are willing to undergo the labor intensive and isolating process required to get there. There’s nothing like a deadline and a paycheck to spur on a working stiff, which was how I saw myself. I never had pretensions of being an artist or a literary writer. And yet, there was a license allowed writers of Frommer’s Guides in my day that permitted a wide range of free expression. You had to be factual and detailed, but you could package your information in quality descriptive prose. Best of all, you could express your opinion in non-rhetorical ways on social, political and historical issues, which, of course, were the subjects of greatest interest to me. Travel writing was truly an apprenticeship that allowed me to develop my own brand of originality, so that, in the end, it was not the carrot nor the stick that brought me to, and kept me, at the keyboard. It was the writing.
There are only a few samples of this travel and guide book writing here. But if my later more serious prose is better written in the sense of being able to express my ideas clearly, and give them the twist that is the by-product of an original imagination, then I owe that outcome to travel writing.
Brazil's Isle of Serenity — Travel & Leisure, May 1986
Exploring Maine on Country Roads and Byways
Cuban Notebook 1994