May 10, 2014

How I Write: Go Out And Play In The World

Steam rising at Wai-O-Tapu – "sacred waters" – in Rotorua, New Zealand, yesterday. 

My pal Kristen Gill invited me to a "blog hop" – started by Ellen Barone – where authors share insights into the writing life. Below I've answered four questions and tagged Justine Ickes, Lanee Lee, Jen Singer and Matt Villano to keep the ball rolling.

Kids play on the Aranui. Copyright AC.
1. What am I writing? 
I have limbs starfished everywhere, as usual: reporting on financial news and shepherding the redesign of, plus all the usual teaching, photography and travel writing. My favorite article in the hopper taps into tattooing culture from Samoa to the Marquesas and Papua New Guinea. Against a backdrop of Pacific body art, I’m exploring the power of seeding stories into our bodies... and also how very grumpy I’ve made my mother by “scribbling” on her only child.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre? 
Lots of gratuitous classical references (hey, a girl has to use her Latin degree whenever she can!). More seriously, I’m a big fan of immersive reporting, exhaustive research and prose where every word counts. And I try to infuse my work with big ideas and strong emotions, wherever possible.

Humor plays a role too. My editor at Ms. Magazine once pronounced me “too flippant for a feminist.” What a terrific inadvertent compliment!

3. Why do I write what I do? 
The work I love – photography and travel writing – takes me places even Dr. Seuss couldn’t have imagined. And I remain grateful for every morning I wake up and go play out in the world: exploring, sharing, inspiring. Even the scratchy moments have their own louche charm, like changing a tire with a spoon or second-degree acid burns from a damaged dive light. These are, after all, reasonably nice problems to have, compared to what much of the world faces...

A giant river otter in Guyana.
Whenever possible, I’ve put my skills and connections behind work that can rouse change, understanding and better stewardship of the earth. I’ve reported on light pollution and the 100-mile diet. I’ve written about Kenyan lion conservation, Guyana’s carbon offsetting and Fiji’s successful reseeding of giant clams, the mollusks that discourage coral-killing algae. But often I can only touch upon these topics, when they deserve the center stage. So in 2014, I’m making a push into more science, nature and ecological writing. It’s time to pay it forward!

4. How does my writing process work?
I glut on research, interviewing and reading as much as possible, before I ever hit the keyboard. I write in short bursts, circling to the top, reading down, then churning out a new passage. My “big brother” Edward Readicker-Henderson – and other amazing folks – often pitch in, critiquing my most important manuscripts.

When I’m not traveling on assignment, I work on my hamster wheel (treadmill desk) or at an office co-op I share with friends, including my fellow travel writers Candace Dempsey, Christy Karras and Chelsea Lin.

And now, please meet some more of my crazy-talented buddies, who'll be keeping this blog-hop bouncing along next week.

Freelance writer, cultural anthropologist and instructional designer Justine Ickes specializes in non-profit communications, international education and cross-cultural relationships. Her work has appeared in Gastronomica, Language Magazine, Matador, The Magazine, and West Jet’s Up! in-flight magazine, among others. On her blog Justine explores multicultural marriage, her Turkish-American life, and other cultural curiosities. Justine also develops training programs, writes grants, and creates custom content for the United Nations, the Peace Corps, Berlitz, and other clients. She speaks Spanish, dabbles in Turkish, and is working on her English. (See Justine's blog-hop musings!)

Matt Villano is a freelance writer and editor based in Healdsburg, Calif. In 17 years as a full-time freelancer, Villano has penned pieces for publications such as TIME, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Sunset, Entrepreneur, National Geographic Traveler, and more. He currently serves as senior editor of the Expedia Viewfinder blog from Expedia, and co-writes the weekly gambling column for the San Francisco Chronicle. Villano’s real passion is writing about family travel, which he does regularly on his blog, Wandering Pod. He spent the fall of 2013 living with his family in London; in the summer of 2014, the clan is off again to Hawaii, Florida, and Peru. (Check out Matt's blog hop post!)

Jen Singer is the editor-in-chief of and the author of six books. She has a necklace with a Scrabble tile on it (J8), because she is a word nerd. (Read Jen on cancer, parenting and telling good stories with emotion and flair!)

Sip by sip, Lanee Lee valiantly tries to live up to her @WanderlushDiary Twitter handle. In her world, cultural immersion begins with a toast – from matcha to moonshine. Based in Los Angeles, she is co-founder of the female-centric blog, a contributing editor at and Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) member. She contributes to American Way, Robb Report, Travel + Leisure digital, Westways AAA, Every Day with Rachael Ray, Cooking Light, C Magazine, Cigar & Spirits and more.

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