Monday, October 12, 2015

Tantalizing Travel Tales at the Mill Valley Library

Last week I participated in a reading at the Mill Valley Library called Tantalizing Travel Tales, hosted by Lisa Alpine, author of Wild Life: Travel Adventures of a Worldly Woman. Other all-stars in the 3-part series have included Pam Houston, Don George & Molly Giles. According to the library website:

"Led by local travel enthusiasts, writers, adventurers, and tried-and-true world travelers, the Library's travel and cultural lecture series aims to inspire and inform. Speakers share their experiences of exploring their heritage and culture or their experiences being out in the world, exploring exotic locales and making a difference in far-flung corners of the world. Join us and take a little trip right here within the Library."

It's been a long time since I read my writing aloud, and it was confirmation on the importance of having an audience for our work, as they were incredibly responsive both during the reading and afterward. 

It's always a challenge to stay focused on one's presentation while at the same time noticing the audience's reactions. Early on, I had to remove my glasses for readability, which blurred the sea of faces a bit. (I was pleased when my my stepmother said I delivered the story with irony, and no one could tell how nervous I really was!)

Before I went, I could hear the inner critic: "It's an old piece, do not you have something fresher?" 

Since most of the travel writing I do these days is in my role as copywriter for Viator, I revived an old travel story set in Brazil, which won a silver certificate in the romance category of the Solas Awards by Travelers' Tales in 2008. The piece got me into grad school in 2010 and I've since revised it multiple times, still hoping it finds a home in print, but thinking maybe this reading would be its final send-off.

With only twelve minutes at the podium, I realized the 10-page essay was too long to fit in, but I didn't want to leave the audience hanging midway, especially since there isn't any "buy the book to read the rest" option and I'd rather not refer to my original draft still posted in the online archive. 

So I took time beforehand to condense the travel tale by more than 1,000 words--always a great exercise in concision, which of course begs the question: Is all that I cut out (mostly setting and some characterization) superfluous to the story?

Once I heard the first laughter along with nods and ahhhs, I knew the story was a success. About five people came up afterward with words of praise: one asking where to find it so she could send it to a friend; another citing the rhythm of language (both English and Portuguese); and a Brazilian woman from the front row whom my father said was nodding and nudging her partner throughout the reading, who spoke to me at length in both languages. About all I remember now is "Adoro! Adoro!" I adore (it).

Ten friends and family members showed up in support!
Posing with my librarian cousin

I say all this not to brag, but as reminder to myself and my blog readership that just when we doubt ourselves we may find our greatest supporters in the company of strangers. Writing is such as solitary thing, and when we churn the same piece over and over and over again in our minds and on the page, there's nothing like the interactive experience of sharing to serve as motivation to write more.

What a pleasure it was to participate with these other writers and hear their work as well:

  • Kirsten Koza, author of Lost in Moscow: A Brat in the USSR
  • Roger Housden, author of 23 books including Saved by Beauty: A Journey Through Iran
  • Christina Ammon, travel journalist and Deep Travel writing tours organizer

For more info, click on Tantalizing Travel Tales part II (October 20) or part III (November 3):

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