Thursday, November 11, 2010
Interview with author Linda Ballou
Today my guest is travel writer, Linda Ballou. Linda has agreed to talk about her experiences.
1. Tell me a little about your book and give a short synopsis.
This is how my editor. Barbara Milbourn, summed things up:
In roughly twenty short stories, travel writer Linda Ballou takes us with her up active volcanoes in Costa Rica, down hundred-mile rivers in the Yukon Territory, over combination jumps and oxers in Ireland, beneath the Sea of Cortez, and along unforgettable jaunts through deserts, woods, peaks, and valleys in both hemispheres. Her tales span years of traveling—sometimes alone, occasionally with her mother or life partner, and often with others in search of soft adventure. Brimming with action, intelligence, regional history, funny mishaps or tight squeezes, each story is set against a backdrop of nature’s jaw-dropping beauty. Ballou aims to share her world view, and through her Eco-alerts make the reader care more deeply about our vanishing resources and places of wild beauty.
2) What gave you the idea for this particular book?
This is a collection of the most meaningful outdoor adventures I’ve taken over and how they affected me. As an adventure travel writer, I write at least two articles that are designed to satisfy my hosts and one personal essay for myself for each trip I take. These are often two vastly different perspectives of the same experience. Essays take advantage of literary technique and generally try to convey a lesson learned or a reason why the experience mattered. While, articles are informative, fun and designed to inspire the reader to duplicate the adventure. This is an eclectic mix of essays filled with chills, spill, giggles and squeaks.
3) Are you a full-time writer or part-time, and how do you organize your writing time?
I have been writing all my adult life and consider myself a professional. However, I have kept a roof over my head for the last thirty year by selling real estate in Los Angeles. I have a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature, a screenplay, two novels, and numerous articles and short stories under my belt. Getting Lost Angel Walkabout out of my drawer and into the hearts and minds of readers frees me up for more adventures.
4) When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
Writing sort of grew on me. My parents migrated to Alaska from Southern California when I was thirteen. This was a shock to my system and psyche. Even though I was accepted in the miniscule town of Haines, Alaska, I was essentially different from my peers. I remember taking long solitary walks along the misty shores of the Lynn Canal as a teen. I started reading more and questioning my role as a woman. Books became my best friends. Even though I am gregarious, I am also introspective. Journaling became a part of my daily life. Writing gives continuity to my existence. It gives me a voice in the” long conversation” that is our culture. The writer’s path is a solitary, arduous affair that is not for everyone, but it is right for me.
5) What do you hope readers will take from your writing?
Some of my stories are written to make readers smile. No Exit from Auckland makes me laugh every time I read it. I thought I had outsmarted the system by renting a car off terminal and saving a few bucks. I didn’t realize that I was to pick up my car in downtown Auckland, where people drive on “the wrong side of the street.” Several near deaths later, I made it out of town alive. Others are more serious reflections like the opening tale about Raven’s River. The float through the largest roadless wilderness area crossing international borders in the world was nothing short of life-changing for me. It was a very important journey and one I felt compelled to share. There are about five stories set in Hawai’i, a very special place in my heart that became the impetus for my historical novel Wai-nani, High Chiefess of Hawaii. So, there are many different reasons that I wrote the stories and each story has a different message for the reader.
(6) What types of writing do you prefer, and why?
Short is better now. I don’t want to take on a novel again for a while. Travel essays and articles are easily incorporated into a busy life filled with much more travel in the near future. I am aching to get to Australia, Tasmania, Africa, the Lake District in Chile, well the list goes on! Right now I want to travel while I am still fit enough to do it in an “active” way.
7) What is the toughest part about being a writer and how do you get past it?
I find the placement process is quite tedious. Especially, now that print magazines are in such trouble. No budget for freelance is a common reply to queries these days. The Internet is changing the landscape with lots of opportunities for placement, but e-zines seldom pay for content. I have often let my work go out for free to satisfy my travel hosts. This allows me up to move forward to the next travel opportunity. Time is of the essence for me.
8) What draws you to non-fiction writing?
I actually like creative non-fiction the best. Critics view the genre as an oxy-moron—a contradiction in terms and therefore not viable. But, my travel writing her, Tim Cahill, has successfully melded dramatic writing techniques into his journalism with satisfying results for readers. I don’t change the truth, but I may dramatize an incident with descriptive language, or add a piece of dialogue to pull the reader in.
9) What kind of research did you do for this type of book?
Before I take a trip I do extensive research about where I’m headed. I love to read other travel narratives written by the best. That might include Mark Twain one of our countries earliest travel writers or Paul Theroux our most snide and many more great writers. It makes the journey much more meaningful for me. When I arrive at my destination I want to be free to experience it while I am there not reading about it. I don’t want to miss a significant aspect of the journey because I was not informed before arriving. I am always looking for the hook or angle that will make my story different from those that have already been written. This arm chair travel is fun for me and makes my stories unique and better than average.
10) What about your book makes it special?
It is outdoor adventure for starters. Most travel books are about more conventional ways of traveling. I put people in my back pack and take them to places they couldn’t get to any other way. Riding in the High Sierra’s of California, river rafting on the Pacuare River in Costa Rica, back packing in New Zealand are not things everyone can do. I hope to inspire those that can to get up off the couch to start packing and let those who can’t come along for the ride. Some of my stories like “Not Enough Said for Solitude" are more reflective and talk about the concept that re-connecting with the beauty in nature can be our salvation.
11) What are your views on self-publishing versus traditional publishing?
Traditional publishing has long been crushing to real creativity. Big houses are only interested in the bottom line and how your book is going to pay their bills. I am interested in writing about what is important to me not fulfilling fickle mainstream media demands. That is why I chose to support myself in another fashion all these years. Getting my historical novel Wai-nani published was huge. As Maya Angelou says, ”There is no greater anguish than harboring an untold a story that needs to be told.” I did try to get a traditional publisher, but it became clear to me that my story crossed genre boundaries that were not readily acceptable to mainstream publishers and/or agents. I had to get that story out before I could move forward in my writing life. I had invested too much of myself into it to let it go by the wayside. Thank goodness for the option of Star Publish LLC, a boutique publisher that took great pains to get the job done right. I was able to maintain the integrity of my story and consider Wai-nani, High Chiefess of Hawaii to be my proudest achievement. This act empowered me to complete and publish Lost Angel Walkabout-One Traveler’s Tales.
12) What is your marketing plan?
Whether you are traditional or self-published you must be committed to marketing your work. Non-fiction is supposedly easier than fiction to market, but I think that only is true for ‘How To” books. For Lost Angel, I took a “one good deed deserves another” approach. At the back of the book I have a list of the outfitters that hosted me. I sent them each a book and suggested that they cross-promote with me. You put me on your blog, and I will put you on mine sort of approach. They all have lists of people who love the outdoors. Surely, those people would love my book and would want to learn about each of the outfitters I have named. The responses from the outfitters are not all in yet. Some wanted to participate and some did not. They all liked my book and are pleased to be mentioned.
I have hired a virtual assistant to help me with the blogging and social networking required. This is fun, but time consuming. My helper gives me time for interviews and speaking engagements. I am using the internet as much as I can. I am posting excerpts like the one below on various sites to pull readers in.
"The world has been spinning for about twenty minutes now. It is the top of the fourth day of my horse-pack trip into the High Sierras. When I stepped over a rill meandering through the grass, I sank into the moss and lost my balance. My fall was shortstopped by a jagged branch, jutting upward from a slumbering log that lodged in my rib cage. Fired by John Muir’s rapturous account, “My First Summer in the Sierra,” I had never asked myself the question: What would happen to John if he tripped while scrambling up14, 000-foot granite peaks, thrilling to animals, plants and rocks alike? I simply decided I had to experience for myself chattering creeks and celestial light on the mountains.
Now, flat on my back yards away from the Pacific Crest Trail in the John Muir Wilderness, the reality of my isolation has set in. It is a five-hour horseback ride from our camp in Cascade Valley to the nearest telephone. A hardy backpacker might come this way, or the occasional horse tour company, but they have all settled into their respective camps for the night. Cell phone transmissions don’t travel through the granite walls that John loved so well, and something inside my body is terribly wrong.
Will the Lost Angel survive? Find out in “Falling in the Footsteps of John Muir” included in her collection Lost Angel Walkabout-One Traveler’s Tales.
13) Do you have an agent and do you feel an agent is necessary for non-fiction?
I’ve had two agents in this lifetime and neither of them worked as hard for me as I work for myself. I really don’t know if I want one anymore. If I believed they would move me forward on my journey, I suppose we could talk.
14) Any tips for new writers hoping to write non-fiction?
Find your niche then become an expert in your field. Make yourself standout when you query with your specific knowledge. Read the magazines you are trying to break into and come up with a story idea they have not done. If you are trying to break into travel writing go to my site www.lindaballouauthor.com and get my free download “How to Make Travel Writing Work for You.”
15) Where can people learn more about you and your work?
Go to my website www.lindaballouauthor.com Check out my articles page, photo essays and media pages for each of my books. My blog is filled with fun travel tips and all things Hawaiian. You can follow me there or sign in to be on my ‘Hot Contacts” list to receive bulletins as the break!
Linda, thank you for taking the time to visit with me and talk about your work.