A Interview with Linda Lappin

LindaHeadShotTravel writing instructor and prize winning author Linda Lappin joins us today to talk about common mistakes made by inexperienced writers and to share a few writing tips from her new book from Travelers’ Tales, The Soul of Place.  Linda also shares her thoughts on the changes she expects in travel writing in the next few years and recommends some must read books – in addition to hers, of course!

How did you get started as a travel writer and what led to you getting your first few articles published?

Travel writing is more a sideline for me than my main genre. I also write novels, biographies, poems, essays, reviews –all dealing with travel, travelers, and displacement in some way, and I work as a literary translator. Having been an expat for over thirty years, I’d say that my experiences of foreign cultures have shaped my daily life enormously, so that is why I write about them.

My first published travel piece was about housesitting in a decrepit old village in the Sienese woods. The next-door neighbor was an elderly dowser who claimed he could travel outside his body. The other neighbors were octogenarians who planted by the moon, often foraged for food, and had searing memories of the Nazi occupation of Tuscany. I wanted to make a record of that place and its people who were the survivors of a vanishing lifestyle so I put my observations in a travel journal and sent it to a “call for submissions” address for women travel writers that I had seen purely by chance. The piece was selected for the anthology Tanzania on Tuesday published by New Rivers Press. Encouraged, I kept writing about places I loved and publishing in various places, from literary journals to travel sites. Some years later, I met many of the writers in that first anthology, through writers’ events, networking, and the internet. It’s important to be in touch with other writers working in your particular field, or living in your area to exchange information and offer each other support.LindaTravel1

Your new book from Travelers’ Tales, The Soul of Place, is about becoming a great writer by being a good observer. What are the main things inexperienced writers do wrong or badly?

From a technical point of view, frequent flaws by inexperienced writers include wordiness, hyperbole, POV and tense problems, clarity, and hackneyed phrases. Another common error is not doing enough background research, not going deep enough. Then there are problems of voice, tone, focus, and ego that you begin to grapple with as you grow as a writer. You have to know your reader too and be aware of their expectations, which you can use to your advantage.

You say early on in the book that “Learning to read our environment and translate it into stories and imagery involves heightening our attention, honing our powers of observation, and training ourselves to see patterns and make connections…” What are some of the tricks or exercises you advise writers to use when doing research on site for a story? 

Psycho geographical mapping techniques like “deep maps” and “desire maps,” which I discuss in my book, The Soul of Place– A Creative Writing Workbook will uncover a lot of material – stories, lives, conflicts, and connections that you might miss at first glance. The practice of “Flanerie” will lead you to unexpected encounters and into hidden corners where you see even familiar places from unusual perspectives. Learning to read landscape narratives in your environment will widen your horizons and tuning into the genius loci of a place will help you taste its essence. LindaTravel2

Most writing advice books are about constructing the long narratives that are getting more and more scarce in today’s publishing environment. How does someone distill all the observations they’ve made into a more common 400-word format?

Narrow the focus, decide exactly what your intention is: convey information, evoke an atmosphere, tell a funny story, tantalize the reader , share a spiritual experience, seize the pulse of the moment? You can’t do all these tasks in 400 words, but you can do a couple of them. So depending on the purpose of your piece, choose the structure, stylistic devices, and details that serve that purpose and carry it forward. Leave out the rest.

Travel bloggers taking article notes on a smartphone–good idea or bad?

Why not? Whatever works best for you. My eye needs a bigger space to think on. I sometimes use a notebook, sometimes an iPad, sometimes a piece of paper in my pocket.

How do you earn money as a writer and how do you see that changing in the next five years?

I find that reviews, critical and craft essays, trade publications, and food related travel articles tend to pay better than travel narratives. To make money, I teach writing, conduct workshops, and lecture occasionally. I will be teaching a writing workshop on the Greek island of Andros this summer, for the Aegean Arts Circle. I have worked as a translator, research assistant, editor, and event organizer for other writers, too, but it is harder to make money as a writer than it used to be and with so many excellent websites and magazines that don’t pay their outside contributors at all, I think it is going to get harder. Also copyright is a problem. Too many people now believe that articles, books, music, films, should be freely available via internet to whoever wants them and that has a negative effect on writers’ and publishers’ incomes. Marketing, platform developing, creating a niche, building a following, and communicating with readers via social networks are skills that any writer who wants to survive must master and set aside time for.LindaTravel3

I’m going to tell a young student to buy two writing books (besides yours) and three great travel-related books for their office shelf. What should they get?

The two best writing books I know are: One Year to a Writing Life by Susan M. Tiberghien –it is not only concerned with craft and genre, but with the process of creating and The Right to Write by Julia Cameron.

For three great travel related books, I’d recommend The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles. The Collected Poems of Elizabeth Bishop – for whom travel was a key theme, and My Journey to Lhasa by Alexandra David-Neel. Aside from the extraordinary tale she tells, her persistence in getting where she wanted to go — no matter what– is an inspiring life lesson.

Linda Lappin, prize-winning poet, novelist, essayist, and travel writer is the author of The Soul of Place-A Creative Writing Workbook: Ideas and Exercises for Conjuring the Genius Loci (Travelers’ Tales 2015). She has published three novels: The Etruscan (2004, 2010, runner up in fiction at the New York Book Festival 2010), Katherine’s Wish ( 2008 Gold medal Ippy Awards in historical fiction, finalist for the Foreword Book of the Year), Signatures in Stone (2013, Overall Winner, Daphne Du Maurier Award). Her essays have been published in The Kenyon Review, the Literary Review, Prairie Schooner, Rain Taxi, Writers’ Chronicle, anthologized by Seal Press, awarded the Travelers Tales/ Solas House Bronze Medal for travel writing, the Hugh J. Luke award for the essay, and nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She has held workshops at the following venues: the USAC Study Abroad Study Consortium in Italy, the Centro Pokkoli in Italy also in coordination with the Kenyon Review Italy Program and the Converse College Creative Writing Program, Rome Feltrinelli International, Paris Women’s Writing Workshop, and the English Department of Christian Albrecht University in Kiel Germany. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Iowa.  Keep up with Linda’s work at her website www.lindalappin.net  And learn more about her upcoming travel workshops at www.pokkoli.org.  You can also connect with her on Twitter @LindaLappin1


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