Photos: Robert J. Ross

Creating "Virtual Souvenirs": Interview With EBook Author Jill Paris

by Katka Lapelosová Sep 19, 2013

READING ABOUT other peoples’ experiences abroad is one of the best motivators for me to travel. So when Jill Paris approached me about her eBook, Life Is Like a Walking Safari, I happily obliged a read-through. I instantly related to the author’s compiled adventures of discovering her love for the Orkney Islands, stepping out of her comfort zone and into a Viennese Dirndl for the Jaeger Ball, and sticking it to some obnoxious flightmates on her way from Paris to LA. It reminded me that, while our experiences may be different, the stories travel writers tell have common roots.

I’m very interested in the whole ePublishing versus traditional publishing debate. After reading Life Is Like a Walking Safari, I wanted to find out more about how digital media is affecting the travel writing business, and what the process was like. Jill was able to expand on these ideas and how they influenced her compilation, providing insight which may be useful for those interested in ePublishing their own work.

* * *

What influenced your title choice, Life Is Like a Walking Safari?

In one of my eBook’s essays titled “My Lucky Safari,” I conclude with the observation that:

Maybe life is like a walking safari. If you venture out expecting lions and leopards all the time you’ll almost always never find them. Maybe the best things are the ones you never knew you wanted to see. The ones that, scary as they may seem, were just the things you needed to unleash reality.

For me, the unpredictability of travel and how it gives back in ways you cannot possibly fathom, is what keeps me constantly yearning for more.

What made you decide to do a compilation of pieces instead of focusing on one experience you’ve had?

When I began writing five years ago, I attended the master’s program at USC in Professional Writing and it was during a personal essay workshop that I found my “voice” and fortunately had the epiphany to humorize and recount my travel experiences in essay form. Initially, I was leaning toward fiction as a concentration, but it was Dinah Lenney’s class that completely changed my mind. I can remember proudly announcing to her around the 8th week, “I think I want to write about my travels!” It was an exhilarating breakthrough for a writer without direction. I’ve been traveling several times a year for over 30 years and thought my travels were somehow the easiest to relive on the page, probably because they’re my most cherished memories.

Of the 16 essays included, 13 have been previously published in either print magazines or online travel websites, so combined they make a very cohesive travel collection with a common theme — the inexplicable human connection.

How did you keep your stories collected and organized? Pad and paper? Blog-on-the-road? Type it all up as soon as possible, and stick it on a flashdrive?

I usually pack at least three notebooks and take thorough notes every other day or so while I’m traveling. Train journeys, airport lounges, quiet cafes — all make excellent note-taking locations. It’s amazing how quickly I can forget names and details unless I write it all down.

When I first started writing, everything came from memory. But, as I learned, you can’t always rely on that. So, I began to take notes more. Once, during the Orkney Islands trip, I was physically taking notes while riding along in the bus, at the concert in the dark, and later at the pub over a few more pints. Additionally, I will take a ton of photos which helps tremendously. When I get home from an adventure, I’m always so thankful I’ve taken the trouble to keep decent notes as many of my essays, including “The Price of Happiness,” relied heavily on my trusty notebook. It was while rereading the notes from that piece that I decided to write it in the second person because oddly, I’d practically written it that way without intention.

Did you begin traveling to have something to write about, or did you begin writing based on what happened during your travels?

My first few essays were all from previous travels. “Shopping for Dirndls” was written in the summer of 2008 while I was in Paris at a writing workshop. I’d actually spent time in Vienna (where the story takes place) over the course of two winters in 2002 and 2003. Another one of the essays, titled “The Reluctant Hedonist,” was recounted from a crazy trip to Jamaica in 1989. But all of my stories now are based on new travels that happened within the past few years. I don’t think I’ve ever purposely chosen a destination just to write a story.

What was it like to work with the Thought Catalog eBook series, and how did you get involved with them?

A few years ago, I submitted a couple of humor essays that I intentionally reworked for their audience: “Cautionary Advice for Closet Cougars: Do Not Shop Drunk with Twenty-something Girls” and “I Adore a Good Airplane Cock-Up.” Both were true stories from the same Paris workshop in 2008. The plane story sort of got written in an email to a friend.

And, then, just a few months ago, Stephanie Georgopolus (formerly of Thought Catalog) asked me if I wanted to do an eBook of all my travel essays. It was a complete surprise and extremely flattering. Timing-wise it was absolutely perfect, and I was thrilled to finally have a substantial body of work to make up a book.

How do you think the ePublishing business has affected travel writing?

I think ePublishing has not only affected travel writing, but probably the entire writing industry. It’s a wonderful, new digital world without boundaries. Just the other day, I shared the link to my eBook on Facebook with a woman in Northern Ireland who’s featured in one of my stories, “Punch-Drunk Irish Love.” Within moments, I noticed her friend remark that she’d heard the owner of a B&B in the west country talking about my story and mentioned me by name. Suddenly, book sales increased and that kind of priceless eWord-of-mouth would never have crossed over the ocean so quickly otherwise. It’s absolutely remarkable.

I don’t think the industry is oversaturated at all. I definitely hope there’s room for as many travel blogs / travel eBooks as the Internet will withstand. Personally, I find travel a lot like writing, in that it’s a kind of art form itself. It’s quite subjective.

Do you think travel writers should stick to ePublishing, or still set their sights on creating hard-copy books?

Both! There are still many, many readers who cannot seem to part with their beloved hard-copy books. So, if you can pitch your travel book to an agent who can then find a publisher interested in publishing it, that’s utterly fantastic. However, if a new travel writer wants to self-publish an eBook, it’s much more affordable than having a hard-copy book published. It’s just that — what happens next? The marketing aspect is daunting and, without the help of an editor and/or publicist, your masterpiece gets a bit lost.

But, then again, maybe it’s not about sales or notoriety. Maybe an eBook is like a virtual souvenir we share with the ones we love. But, if it happens to become an international bestseller, gets adapted as a screenplay, is translated into umpteen languages, well, that wouldn’t totally suck either.

Your work has been showcased in several anthologies, including The Best Travel Writing 2009, Leave the Lipstick, Take the Iguana, and The Best Women’s Travel Writing Volume 9. What were the major differences between collaborating with those publications, and creating your own publication?

For the travel anthologies, I submitted the stories to the Travelers’ Tales website and then months later, they notified me via email that my story had been included in the upcoming anthology. Each editor was incredibly wonderful to work with. I was fortunate in that the editing was slight on each story so I never felt like my work had been drastically altered or changed.

For the eBook I practically had complete control. I got to choose the cover art, the title (which was also my master’s thesis title) and even the order in which the essays appear. It was Stephanie’s idea for my former thesis adviser and author, M.G. Lord (The Accidental Feminist, Forever Barbie), to write the eBook’s foreword. I was deeply touched M.G. took the time to pen such a thoughtful introduction for a former student. She taught me so much.

What is your next big project? Will it involve ePublishing or any other kind of digital media?

I have been toying with the idea of turning the essay “My Lucky Safari” into a book of fiction or possibly a screenplay. New territory for me. Exciting! I’ve just started a Facebook page for Life Is Like a Walking Safari and all are welcome to join. It will feature tons of photos, videos, and diary entries of present and future travels. And, I’ll also be posting the dates and locations for book readings for The Best Women’s Travel Writing on the West Coast. Or, possibly even the East Coast. Any excuse to travel, right?

Jill Paris is the author of the newly released eBook “Life Is Like a Walking Safari.” She holds an M.A. in Humanities from SFSU and a Master of Professional Writing degree from USC. Her travel essays have been published in the Travelers’ Tales anthologies “The Best Travel Writing 2009,” “Leave the Lipstick, Take the Iguana,” and “The Best Women’s Travel Writing Volume 9.” Her feature stories have appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, Travel Africa, Gadling, Wanderlust & Lipstick, Fathom, Thought Catalog, and more.

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