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Archive for the ‘Travel Writing’ Category

Now available on Amazon, Travels in India — the e-book! It’s the illustrated full story of my adventures in India, most of which is  material that has never appeared on the website. The blog has more photos than the e-book, but the e-book has all the details.

Travels in India gives a blow-by-blow description of my month long road trip in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh in March of 2011. As you know if you’ve followed the blog, I visited the major tourist attractions in Delhi, Bikaner, Jaisalmer, Jodphur, Udaipur, Jaipur and Agra. I also visited a few places that were off the beaten path. But more than that, the e-book tells the stories of the people I met, some of them wonderful, some fun and some irritating.

This travelogue has lots of detail about eating, drinking, getting sick and bathroom facilities. It’s what everyone wants to know but is afraid to ask, particularly women. If you find that too much information, perhaps you might like another travelogue better.

If you want to know what it’s like for a woman to travel alone in India who’s not a college-aged backpacker, this book might be helpful. This is not a guide book, it’s the experiences of a traveler. Most of all, if you want to be immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of India and be entertained, Travels in India is for you!

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I’ve just published a memoir: Bread From the Sky. For a variety of reasons, I procrastinated for years before working to bring my handwritten journal into shape for publication. Living in Togo was a tremendous experience, and thoughts of West Africa kept returning, stories that begged to be told.

How many cat heads do you have to eat before you acquire the characteristics of a cat? Why do you hang a snail shell in a tree? How do you get a curse removed? And who buried a gri-gri in the yard? These and other burning questions are answered in Bread From the Sky.

Here’s a synopsis:

    Wanting a career change and armed with a graduate degree in international studies, a woman in her mid-40s leaves her divorce and ordinary life behind for a two-year stint as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Togo, West Africa. 

    She learns survival skills in order to live without electricity or plumbing like the rest of the people in her adopted village. She also gains language skills as, in addition to French, which is still the official language, there are over half a dozen local languages in common use at her village. Adjusting to a new culture, several different languages and some very old attitudes is sometimes difficult, frustrating and funny.

    There are friends to be made, foods to get used to, bureaucrats and insects to contend with, health issues to recover from and red tape to choke on. Dealing with people who want to rip her off, who harass her (sexually and otherwise) and who always want something from her isn’t easy. The challenges are offset by the warmth and friendship that was found along the way as well as some amazing experiences.

    As a wise man said to her, “Africa will change you, whether you want it to or not.”

Bread From the Sky is the true story of my two years in Togo as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

It’s now available as an e-book on Amazon, Amazon UK and Smashwords.

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Interviews and Reviews

In connection with the review of Travels in Ghana, I was recently interviewed on a book reviewer’s website. Syria Says is a newly-launched website featuring indie author book reviews. The review is on the home page and also appears on the Amazon page. The interview appears on this page.

Juniper Grove, another book reviewer site, recently posted a very nice review, also. That review can be seen here.

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I’ve recently taken advantage of the popularity of e-books and massaged my Travels in Ghana website into one. The blog will remain, as it’s the best place to host so many photos. But an e-book is a much friendlier format for new readers than having to page through 117 posts on the web.

This would have been unthinkable a few years ago. Now it’s not only possible, it’s easy and doesn’t cost anything other than your time. I’ve added new material that has never appeared on the website.

Travels in Ghana is a travelogue of a road trip in 2009. From Accra to the painted village of Sirigu, the people, the adventures and the sights are described. There are insights and explanations of Ghanaian customs, culture, cuisine and daily life. Among the places visited are the slave castle at Elmina, the stilt village of Nzulezu, Mole National Park, Sirigu and an unexpected find at Bolgatanga.

Travels in Ghana is currently available for $2.99 on Smashwords and is also available on Amazon US and Amazon UK.

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There’s too much time between now and the trip to India to obsess over details or to get anything further accomplished. All that’s left for the moment is to glance at the itinerary from time to time and smack my lips.

But the calm waters above give no hint of the turbulence deep within the murky lake of my brain. I’m making giant waves of progress with the manuscript of my Togo memoir. Years ago I opened a blog and put up a few posts based on journal entries. The blog title is A Handful of Memories, also the working title of the memoir.

I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Togo a dozen years ago, and the blog was where I dropped an occasional memory from time to time when the muse whacked me over the head. The time has finally come when I could look at my handwritten journals and mold them into something substantial.  Planning the India trip has been the catalyst.

It’s like eating your vegetables before being allowed dessert or finishing your homework before watching TV.  India will be such a kaleidoscope that I wanted to have a clean slate so I could work on the India travel notes after I return without anything else competing for my attention. This was such irrefutable logic that I took off my cloak of procrastination — which is something like a cloak of invisibility — and got to work on the Togo manuscript.

The more I worked on it, the more memories surfaced which hadn’t been originally recorded.  A Handful of Memories no longer works as a title and Three Gunny Sackfuls of Memories isn’t tremendously appealing, but I’m too paranoid to reveal the new one until closer to publication. Publication is expected before I leave for India. If all goes well, I’ll have it available as an e-book in January 2011.

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I love photography, and as a travel junkie, I love looking at travel photography. But even though a picture is supposedly worth a thousand words, pictures can’t  tell the whole story.

It’s frustrating to page through images on Photobucket, PBase, Flickr or somebody’s travel blog and not know enough about what you’re looking at. And that’s why, if I’m given a link to someone’s travel photos on a photo sharing site, I only give them a cursory glance, if I look at them at all.

I want to read an informative blog so I’ll know the story behind the pictures.  I want to know how you came to meet the stranger with the beautiful smile or the lady with the beautiful scarf, what you said to him and what they said to you.  There are many photos and photo collections which can stand alone without explanation.  But even if they’re hanging in a museum, there’ll be a little card next to them with a few words on it.

Whether you go to an exotic, off-the-beaten-path location or visit Paris, there’ll always be scenes that warrant a bit of explanation.  There’ll be things about your images that you, the traveler, will know but the reader who hasn’t been there won’t have a clue.  What does that sign in a foreign language say?  What about the body language of the person in the photo?  Sometimes even what a person is wearing has meaning in another culture. These are the mysteries in the photos that need to be revealed in words.

No matter how beautiful the images, I lose interest much  more quickly if there’s no story to accompany them.

On the other hand, don’t go overboard. When travel blogs turn into history essays, I also lose interest. A little historical background is good. If I want to know more, I know where Google is.

What I really want to know is your travel experience:   what you felt, who you met, what you ate, what occurred.  And, of course, I expect photos to illustrate each and every one of these things!

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Stories Without Pictures

Travel junkies are also armchair travel junkies.  I’ve always loved travelogues and adventure stories, even as a child, long before I could take any journeys myself.

Travelogues began as newspaper articles and books without illustrations.  Without the benefit of images, a travel writer had to pay great attention to detail,  making sights, sounds and smells come alive by virtue only of the printed word.  Adventurers of the Victorian age like Mary Kingsley, Mungo Park and Sir Richard Francis Burton became masters of the art of travel exposition. Readers, most of whom could not afford the luxury of travel, voraciously consumed every word.

Victorian writers journaled in pen and ink as they traveled.  No way would all their experiences otherwise have survived in their memories until the end of their voyages many months later.  And without the benefit of illustrations, they really had to pay attention to detail.

In the modern age, travelers largely have gotten out of the journaling habit. I try to record the most important events during my trips, but I find it a chore.  After a fun day of sightseeing, I don’t look forward to writing it all down by hand.  It’s just tedious. I can’t handwrite anywhere near as fast as my mind is racing, and my wrist ultimately puts a quick end to the task.

But I can type 120 wpm, and it’s second nature rather than drudge work. I haven’t yet invested in a netbook to help me capture all that I experience.  I don’t travel often enough to justify the expense and I prefer minimalist traveling, taking the least possible amount of stuff with me.  Lately, because of my upcoming monthlong trip to India, I’m reconsidering the netbook.  Details fade from the memory too rapidly, especially when you’re being wonderfully overwhelmed in new sights, sounds and smells.  It would be nice to be able to capture more of it in detail on a netbook day by day rather than just fragments now and then that have to be pieced together after the trip.

The advent of photography didn’t change travelogues much. Photos greatly increase the price of a printed book, and readers prefer to pay less.   But I always treasured the books that did have illustrations and maps.  Although a good story can be told without pictures, there’s no doubt that images exponentially enhance the printed word. I hope more future ebooks include them, as even in black and white on my Kindle, I’d still love to see them.  For the photographer in me, stories without pictures aren’t quite as satisfying.

Blogging gives writer/photographers the capability to present travel stories loaded with illustrations at no cost to either the writer or reader.  But there’s a cost to the writing.  There’s now more of a dependency on images instead of adjectives to bring the reader into the experience, especially if one doesn’t journal along the way.

Analyzing my two most recent travel blogs, I find that to be true even though I did take notes during the trips. If I were writing either one of them as a book without the photos, I’d take more time with the prose and beef up the descriptions.  Maybe it isn’t as necessary  in a blog as in a book, but I’m going to make it a habit to write future travel blog posts as if there were no illustrations.  It certainly encourages better writing and definitely makes it more interesting for the reader.

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