Some time ago, a book arrived arrived that swept the travel writing world. Do Travel Writers Head to Hell? caused a whole lot of controversy using its depiction of guidebook writing. Lonely Planet even had to issue special statements to reassure users that its books were accurate.
Now, with the problem having died down, writer Thomas Kohnstamm reflects on the controversy, guidebooks, and writing.
Nomadic Matt: Your book created a whole lot of controversy when it arrived this season. Did you anticipate such a media firestorm? Did you imagine there will be such a negative a reaction to the novel? Thomas Kohnstamm : I knew that there will be some controversy, but I assumed (perhaps naively) that the conversation will be based on that which was actually said in my own book. A lot of the blow-up was predicated on speculation, rumors, and misquotes. 99% of the people criticizing me and my book hadn’t even seen a copy of the book or read an individual page of it.
The controversy handled you saying that for the Colombia book, you never visited Colombia. However, you were asked to create the history portion of the article, that may really be achieved from any library. Do you consider the media just blew this out of proportion? That originated from a conversation that I had with an Australian journalist about the problem of “desk updates” in travel writing. I wrote the annals, Environment, Food & Drink, and Culture parts of that book — simply the intro of the guidebook.
Would my research have benefited from me visiting the united states: yes. However the the truth is that on many low-budget travel writing projects (i.e countries like Colombia), publishers can only just afford to send several the writers in to the field.
Lonely Planet DIDN’T contract me to visit Colombia as there is not enough profit the cover the book. I did so the research based from memory, notes, interviews with Colombians, and research at the Colombian Consulate in SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA.
The journalist twisted my words to create them sound as though I have been paid by LP to visit Colombia and Personally, i determined that the amount of money was insufficient and for that reason lazily sat in the home and made shit up. The complete newspaper article was written with the intent to be as sensational and scandalous as possible.
This article was found by some news wires and traveled the world and blog echo chamber without the deeper thought or evaluation. And everything was based on an individual, faulty story within an Australian tabloid.
Last month, I interviewed a travel writer who said that your book was an inaccurate description of the profession. According to him, just a little self-discipline, the opportunity to negotiate a good contract, plus some professionalism will get the work done. What’s your ideas upon this? Do Travel Writers Head to Hell? is approximately my experience as a, wide-eyed travel writer focusing on my first project. It isn’t a book about my whole career as a travel writer.
Obviously, I learned how exactly to function in the market far better as I had more projects under my belt.
Many people enter serious financial trouble on the first project or two. If indeed they don’t figure ways to make it work beneath the tight time and financial constraints, they are simply just replaced by another wide-eyed travel writer who’ll work for bit more when compared to a byline and an opportunity to travel. The potential labor pool is virtually limitless.
Also, I received only the best marks from Lonely Planet on my writing. I might experienced some bumps in the street, but I usually submitted quality work in the long run. I ended up performing a many more adventurous, cutting-edge research and insightful writing than a lot of those play-by-the-book earnest writers who spent most of there time visiting the same kind of hotels down the tourist trail.
I read you once got pistol whipped while on assignment. From that story as well as your book, it appears guidebook writing is one interesting calamity after another. I was only pistol whipped once — fortunately. I had a whole lot of crazy experiences as a travel writer, but I like to try the proceedings in confirmed place and not simply float through as a detached observer. Sometimes I enter over my head.
How did your friends and relations respond to the book? It’s pretty raw. I bet there have been not thinking about reading about your drug and sex exploits. My mom didn’t look after the drinking. My girlfriend didn’t look after the sex. My father thought it had been all great. I purposefully wrote it without feedback from family and friends as I needed to produce about my experiences within an unvarnished, honest way.
It looks like your days as a guidebook writer are over. What exactly are you doing now? I haven’t written a guidebook in a couple of years. I am just focusing on books and screenwriting at this time. I hope to keep to accomplish some travel writing, but I favor the book-length format.
Most writers begin wanting to be considered a writer. This type of fell in your lap when Lonely Planet sent you to Brazil. What made you stay a writer rather than go back in to the business community you left? I began wanting to be considered a writer too — although I was originally most thinking about authoring politics. My first guidebook project arrived a bit more abruptly than I had anticipated, however in Do Travel Writers Head to Hell? I discuss how I had already written a phrasebook for Lonely Planet years before and have been offered some guidebook writing back 2000.
I had a nascent writing career in my own early twenties but was distracted by a couple of years spent in academia. When I dropped out of a D Phil program, I accidentally washed up available world.
Travel writing has taken you to numerous places. What’s your preferred country? That’s hard to state. I love Brazil and can spend Christmas and the brand new Year there this season. India was the most fascinating places that I’ve traveled. I really like skiing in France and Chile. I’d prefer to visit Mozambique and Madasgascar.
After seeing the guidebook world from the within, do you still recommend people utilize them? I still recommend guidebooks and have a tendency to prefer Lonely Planet to the other brands. Having said that, I’d argue that guidebooks are subjective (and somewhat arbitrary) and so are not the singular or correct way to approach a destination. People should use guidebooks as a simple tool, however, not follow them slavishly.
Otherwise, guidebooks basically make sure that a large number of people all have a similar unique travel experience.
Thomas Kohnstamm currently resides in the Pacific Northwest and continues to create waves along with his book, Do Travel Writers Head to Hell? In case you are thinking about reading more, you can buy the book at Amazon.
Note: This article was originally published in 2008.