Archive for January, 2011

Five Years Ago This Week…

…my first ever travel story was published in The Ottawa Citizen. Time flies, huh?

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Over the course of a few weeks last year, from mid-November to late December, I read my way through David Foster Wallace’s second essay collection, Consider the Lobster — and I’ve been trying to gather my thoughts and write something coherent about it ever since. Trouble is, I was so overwhelmingly impressed by the book that I can’t seem to get beyond an initial layer of breathless fangirlism to whatever more, er, thoughtful thoughts may lie underneath.

Wallace and his writing had initially passed me by entirely. My first clear recollection of his name coincides with his 2008 suicide: co-editor Jim Benning wrote a brief obit post for the World Hum blog, and over the next few days I followed a trail of links and wondered how I’d missed hearing about the writer whose death had lit up the internet.

Over the next couple of years, I continued to see Wallace’s name pop up here and there, on World Hum and beyond; I even wrote a couple of Wallace-related blog posts myself. But apart from a few excerpts, I still had yet to sit down and give any of his work a proper read.

With “Consider the Lobster,” I’ve finally remedied that. And boy, am I glad I did.



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New Blog: Travelers North

A quick (but pretty major) update on my end: I launched a new blog this morning, Travelers North.

The aim is to offer a mixture of photos, links, personal notes and practical guidebook-style information about travel in Alaska, the Yukon and (eventually) NWT, Nunavut and beyond. I’m pretty excited about it.

The accompanying Twitter feed is here: @travnorth. Check it out!

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Thanks to Matador Nights co-editor Kristin Conard, who posted this interview with Jon Krakauer in the comments of my Origin Stories post.

Here’s Krakauer on his early writing efforts:

I knew that you couldn’t make a living simply writing about the outdoors, so I made an effort from the beginning of my freelance career to write about other subjects. Since I had been a carpenter, I felt like I could bullshit my way writing about architecture for Architectural Digest. I had been a commercial fisherman, so I had queried Smithsonian about a commercial fishery in Alaska, and they went for it. I queried Rolling Stone early on about firewalking, walking on hot coals, and agreed to write it on spec.

I tried writing for local Seattle magazines and found that it was just as difficult to get published locally as it was nationally and the local magazines paid literally ten percent as much, so I said fuck the local stuff. I was setting quotas that I would write ten query letters a week, and I definitely worked hard, but I got lucky. Because I wanted to pay the rent, I didn’t have any grandiose ambitions of being an artiste; I wanted to pay the fucking bills, so I worked really hard.

I realized that what I wrote for Rolling Stone had to be pretty different from Smithsonian, and I gave them whatever they wanted, I wanted to sell the article. It was useful, as a writer, to try out different voices and it was also smart, as a businessman.

The whole thing’s worth a read – there’s also some interesting stuff about the emotional process of writing Into Thin Air, and returning to climbing, in the wake of the Everest disaster.

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So instead of retracing our steps from Anchorage up the Glenn Highway and along the Tok Cut-off to the Alaska Highway, we took a last-minute detour up the Parks Highway to Fairbanks, then headed south to Tok along the Richardson Highway. It was worth the detour: We had clear views of Mt. McKinley for much of the day’s drive between Anchorage and Fairbanks.

Here’s a shot I took at our lunch stop in Talkeetna:

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Off to Anchorage

I’m hitting the highway first thing tomorrow morning, headed for Alaska’s biggest city and something the good folks there like to call “Beer Week.” Yeah, story research is hard, right? Stay tuned.

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For a few months now — heck, for maybe a year or two — I’ve been feeling a little bit oppressed by my internet connection. Yes, it’s the way I make my living, and yes, it’s a weird and wonderful world in many ways, one that has connected me to a lot of great people. But it’s also basically a constant in my waking life. I live alone and I work from home and I don’t have a television, so a frightening percentage of my day — generally including meals and whatever down time I’ve allowed myself — takes place in front of my laptop.

I work on the internet. I do most of my recreational reading on the internet. I watch TV and movies on the internet. I look up recipes on the internet, I pay my bills on the internet. I do much of my communicating with friends and family, again, on the internet.

It’s time for a break.

So, starting tomorrow, and inspired in part by my friend Frank Bures, who instituted internet-free Mondays for himself last year, I will be going offline on Wednesdays. Not entirely, of course — at least, not right at first. I’ll allow myself a first-thing-in-the-morning and a mid-afternoon email check, on the off chance that an editor has dropped a fabulous assignment in my lap, conditional on a rapid reply. (Hey, it could happen.) But beyond that, I’ll be unplugging for the day.

Wednesdays will still be work days. I’ll read (actual books and magazines!) and write (yes, still on my laptop) and maybe head up to the archives if I’ve got any research on the go. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Wednesday turns out to be my most productive day of the week. I’m looking forward to it.

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