08 December 2012

Goodbye Lonely Planet

Almost exactly three years ago, after writing and posting my travel stories for several years, I came across an item on LonelyPlanet.com stating they were looking for travel bloggers. At the time I was in Puerto Vallarta writing a daily column and quickly sent out an email to LP. A few days later, I was one of the new, “Lonely Planet Featured Bloggers”.  What a thrill that was! Even though my first three years of living in Vietnam had been prior to the start of the LP Blogsherpa program, now a much wider audience would have direct access to all those stories and others to come.

An email the other day informed all the Blogsherpa writers that sometime in December the program would be eliminated and our posts will disappear from the pages of LP.com. Now all those lovely tales from writers traveling and living in places far and near will no longer be available with just a click on a Lonely Planet destination page.
My story about Building a Boat in Mui Ne, won’t be found on the Vietnam pages.
The one about the Puerto Vallarta Botanical Garden will also disappear.

There are the stories from Hoi An.

And Ho Chi Minh City.

 And the one about the Golden Gate Bridge turning 75 this year.
I will miss my LP readers and miss the oportunity to share my stories with such a large audience.
Happy travel to all.

10 May 2012

The Golden Gate at 75

I grew up directly across the bay from the Golden Gate Bridge. On most days I could look out and see its vibrant orange towers spanning the entrance to the bay, yet I had never stepped foot on its hallowed concrete and metal. May 27th will mark the 75th anniversary of that glorious feat of engineering. The other day, not wanting to fight the massive crowds that are sure to be there for the celebration, I decided that it would be a good time to visit.

The weather was un-San Franciscanly hot; I knew that temps would hit close to 80 degrees. It rarely gets that warm in the middle of the summer, let alone in the spring. Accordingly, I set out in my lightest summer clothing.

Getting to San Francisco is a quick trip under the bay on BART, (our subway), but finding the right bus to get from downtown to the bridge was quite a task. I trekked up and down Market Street and then over to the Ferry Building in hopes of finding the correct bus stop. I had found bus route numbers on the internet, but where they stopped remained a mystery to me and everyone else I asked. By that time I found the correct corner, (30 or 40 minutes later), it was hot enough that I was actually getting a bit sweaty; rather unheard of in San Francisco, but very welcome.

The bus ride out to the bridge is not for the fainthearted. Going on Golden Gate Transit was supposedly faster than on the Muni bus lines, but I have my doubts. Yes, it took me to the bridge, but the driver had to take time to explain the bus options to every person, (mostly tourists), who got on. If you want to continue your trip to Sausalito, pay more now, then after you cross the bridge, take the ferry back. Or if you want to wait for Muni, it’s a dollar cheaper. I do applaud his willingness to help people out, but it added a ton of time to the trip. One would think that in San Francisco there should be a quick, downtown-to-Golden Gate shuttle, especially since they encourage you to use public transportation.

And although it took forever for the bus to get to the bridge, and I was wondering why in the heck I had thought this would be a good idea, all bad thoughts were quickly forgotten as soon as I gazed onto that magnificent structure. It truly is breathtaking.

How wonderful! The Golden Gate Bridge on a splendid day! But then I stepped off the bus and swore; it was freezing! It doesn’t matter how many weather reports one checks, it will always be cold on the bridge with that wind blowing in from the ocean. Then again, that meant that there was no cloud cover and I had picture perfect views of the bridge.

Stepping onto the walkway I tried to avoid the bicycles flying by on my left. I shivered and knew I had keep my head down, battle the chill and get to the first tower of the bridge before stopping, in hopes that I would find shelter from the frigid gusts. Wind whipped through my thin cotton shirt and I gave up on trying to wear the hat I had brought. Once at the first bridge tower, I moved into a protected section and again felt the glorious heat of the day.

It really was a magnificent day and I thought about the men who had built this structure when the weather was never this good and the winds were often much stronger. How did they do it? And that was back in 1937!

What really struck me was that the width of this great structure appeared so small when you are actually standing on it. I could have leaned out and touched cars going by; there just isn’t that much space between the walkway and road. And if there’d even been a small break in the traffic, I am sure I could have run across to the other side. And speaking of safety issues, there aren’t any suicide barriers on the bridge. It wouldn’t be difficult to take a swan dive into the waters below.

Although the bridge is only 1.7 miles, this was not the day I would walk the entire length. It had taken too long to get there and although I could practically see my house as I stood on the bridge and looked over to the east bay hills, I knew it would be an arduous return trip. That and a bum knee sealed the deal as I trudged back to try and find a bus stop. Again, there was no clear indication of how to return to the city center so I just followed other tourists and/or flagged down a passing bus. I seriously considered hitch-hiking but just at that point the correct bus pulled up.

From where I am now sitting in my living room, I can almost see the Golden Gate. (If just a few trees were cut down, I could see it.) Now when I look at it I see it in a different, eye-level perspective, and recall what it felt like to walk her mighty span. It took me a few years to get there and I am so glad I finally did it.


07 March 2012

Why Can't I Sell My Books?

Why can’t I sell any of my books? They’re original, interesting, people like them, and I get great reviews. But I can’t seem to get my writing noticed.
I don’t need to be on the New York Times Best-Sellers list. I don’t need to become fabulously wealthy. I just need about $1000 a month. I really don’t think I am expecting too much.

Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve had stories running around in my head. All the ordinary places and situations I’d encounter seemed like they could have had a much more interesting storyline. Nevertheless, it was only much later in life that I started to put down in words my alternative view of what could be.

As much as I loved inventing people and placing them in whatever universe I chose, I knew writing could not be a career. I was a Flower Child of the 60’s; I needed to save the world. I became an educator, and that is how I have spent my life until about a year ago.

I did really love teaching and probably still do. But I can no longer tolerate all the negatives that go along with the profession. I just want to be happy, and writing makes me happier than anything in whole wide world.

My “professional” writing career started with the advent of the blog. Suddenly, I could tell stories about the people and places I encountered while working and traveling overseas. I added beautiful pictures onto a readymade template and voila, I was a published author. It was a joy to know that anyone in the world could read my words. Now that my name was out there, it gave me new hope that I could succeed as a novelist. I continued to work on my book projects.

My travel writing took a further leap forward when I became a Lonely Planet featured blogger. This lead to writing a few shoe reviews. And last fall I had an article published in a Vietnamese, English language magazine. Aside from a few pairs of shoes, I was not paid for my writing. Still, it made me happy.

I thought my dreams had been answered when print-on-demand, self-publishing, became a viable alternative to stacks of rejection letters. Finally, for a few hundred dollars, I could have copies of my murder mystery in book form, rather than as stack of photo-copied sheets. I eagerly awaited the arrival of the first batch of Murder, Jaz, & Tel Aviv, completely thrilled with my story, my cover, and the back blurb. I was sure I would be able to at least make back my investment. If everyone I knew in my life bought just one copy, and then told just one friend about it, I’d be on the road to a real career as a writer. That did not work out as planned.

Surely, my paranormal romance, The Curse Breaker of Cairo, would propel me into the ranks of self-employed author. This time there were even more ways to market myself. Following the advice of other independent authors, I joined twitter, (not that I really get it), and I contacted numerous paranormal romance sites. I sent out a bunch of books to folks who were interested in reading and reviewing both of my works. I did a giveaway on GoodReads and was ecstatic when over 1000 people entered the contest. I eagerly sent out ten books to the winners and waited by my laptop to read their ratings and reviews. Out of all the many books I have given away over the past seven or eight months, only two people have written reviews.

I’ve contacted local, independent bookstores and several agreed to take a few copies. I went by a Barnes and Noble and pitched my book to the head buyer. Although she was quite impressed with my product and was sure it would sell, they were not able to carry print-on-demand books. And last week I sat outside a coffee shop in a trendy neighborhood shopping area, box of books and sign by my side, hoping to get a few sales. Only one person even talked to me.

So what do I do world? I worry that my travel writing has fallen by the wayside since I have been stuck in the US for nearly a year. Then again, that shouldn’t bother me since it never did generate any money and really hasn’t furthered my writing career. In fact, more people are now accessing my blog for the photos than the writing. Should I switch to photography? I keep writing, of course, but soon that will not be enough. Working full time on stories and marketing sounds noble, but it doesn’t pay the bills.

I will try to continue to believe in the stories I invent and in my ability to carry readers away to a world outside of their own. I will persevere in my marketing tactics even if they often seem pointless. I will flood the universe with positive thoughts and visions of my books on shelves throughout the land. I haven’t yet given up.