Good day Rebecca and thanks for agreeing to participate in our interview.
Rebecca, please tell our readers a little bit about your personal and professional background.
I grew up on the campus of an abandoned boarding school with only my next-door neighbor and my imagination for playmates. With the empty classrooms, stage, and dorm rooms as places to play I had no trouble making up games and stories.
It wasn't uncommon for us to decide in the middle of the night to go on a trip and leave the next morning. She always had her overnight bag packed just in case. As a child, I used to line up all of my stuffed animals and play train. I would make them passports and visas and pretend that we were flying through the Alps or on our way to England. (I loved The Secret Garden.)
Despite the fact that I wanted to grow up and be a cowgirl, I graduated from Eastern Kentucky University in with a B.A. in Anthropology. During my college years I worked on several research projects for the Appalachian Regional Commission and presented our findings publicly at national meetings and for various organizations. I intentionally thought I would use my Anthropology degree to go into environmental law. A change of course lead me to travel writing and I eventually found my passion in that, however. I've written articles for several magazines and in 2004 had my travelogue Finding Henry: A Journey Into Eastern Europe published by Hazel Green Publishing. I've spent the past few years conducting writing workshops for high schools and non-profit organizations and traveling around to different book fairs and festivals and talking about my travels and my book.
How did you get started traveling? What do you consider your first "break" as a travel writer? As a traveler and fact/story-gatherer, what is your biggest challenge on the road?
Although I had traveled a lot before I began college, my interest in it as a profession did not manifest until I met a man by the name of Dr. David Zurick. He was a professor in geography and traveled a lot throughout Southeast Asia, most notably the Himalayas. He had published several books on tourism in reference to sustainability and always filled our lectures with talks of his travels. He helped me get a scholarship to study German and German culture in Austria and later helped me plan a solo-backpacking trip throughout Europe.
When I returned, with three journals full and 29 rolls of film, I knew that the traveling bug and complete wanderlust had hit me. I knew I wanted to travel, but I wasn't sure how to turn that into a profession. I talked to him about it and he told me that sometimes if you can't find a career you like, you have to invent your own. I had already published some poetry and short stories so writing wasn't a completely new idea to me, but I had never written non-fiction.
During the next trip I created a blog that detailed the restaurants and hotels that I was staying at and visiting. This eventually came to the attention of some online travelzines and websites that dealt in travel reviews and I was approached about doing a couple of reviews for them. Later on I was commissioned to do full blown articles. After receiving encouragement from these, I finally felt that I was in the right place.
The biggest challenge on the road is knowing that although you are there to have a good time and experience the culture, you are still essentially there to work. I get a lot of funny looks when I sit down to a meal and whip out the 35mm and digital camera to take shots of my food-especially when I begin rearranging things to make the shot better. I often travel alone and it can be lonely at times, too. There aren.t many people who can take the time off of work and travel with me and I have found that although it can difficult to be alone during bad times it can be equally as bad, if not worse, being alone during the good times as well because there's no one to share the moment with.
Norm: What advice would you give to someone who is considering going into travel writing?
You have to try and find your own voice. I wish I was as entertaining and humorous as Bill Bryson or could come up with a good hook like Tony Hawks who wrote Round Ireland with a Fridge, but that's just not me. You really have to find your niche and then be as true to yourself as you can possibly be when you begin writing. On the business side of it, never toss out an idea. Sometimes one trip can spur ten different articles. I went to a place in Massachusetts to write an article about a working farm hostel and while I was there ended up getting the idea about writing an article about the local literary tourism after spending the day at Louisa May Alcott's home. You never know where your inspiration will come from. I also advise people to submit their work to as many places as they possibly can. There are many types of travel publications and chances are that there is probably one out there for you.
Norm: As you have traveled many times to the Balkans, could you tell our readers where are the Balkans and why are you attracted to this corner of the globe?
Rebecca: Using the phrase the Balkans today can be quite controversial because there are different means of defining the region. Some people think that there is a negative connotation with the word Balkan and sometimes simply call it Southeastern Europe. The current common definition is that they generally mean the countries of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Greece, Republic of Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro, and the European part of Turkey. Slovenia, Croatia, and Romania are also sometimes considered part of them so you can basically say what used to be the former Yugoslavia. I first visited the countries of Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia almost in defiance to popular tourist destinations. I had spent a lot of time in Western Europe, and in Eastern Europe, and wanted to do something different. I remembered when the Olympics were held in Sarajevo and clearly remembered the Balkan War. As I talked to other independent travelers I heard tales of beautiful beaches, Roman ruins, spellbinding scenery, and warm locals. Since I had largely associated the area with ethnic cleansing, religious strife, violence, and destruction I was intrigued by the new information. I met some Bosnian families who had immigrated to the United States and after hearing their tales of the beautiful Mostar Bridge, the Sarajevo Old Town, and the horrors they went through during the war I felt like I was missing out on something big by not witnessing the area myself. As soon as I entered Croatia I felt something in the air that I had never experienced before. Everything seemed to be alive. By the time I moved on to Bosnia I knew I had found my niche as far as destinations went. There is something endearingly sad and uplifting about Mostar. Such destruction and terror, and yet so much beauty there as well. The people and their warmness humbled me. To see buildings completely torn apart by shrapnel next door to a busy ice cream shop is really hard to describe. You want to cry because you know something bad happened, and yet you see the people moving on with their lives and finding good in a simple chocolate scoop in a cone and it makes you feel hopeful. On the other hand, the scenery is absolutely breathtaking. I have walked around the castle walls in Dubrovnik and lost my breath at the site of the Adriatic and the islands in the distance. The Mostar Bridge, which has just recently been rebuilt, is a marvel. And the mountains in Slovenia are at least as lovely as their counterparts in Austria. In general, there are very magical places to be found. Most of the places are largely unvisited by tourists right now which makes them even more special. You feel like you have them to yourself.
Norm: As a follow up to the last question, would you suggest to couples seeking a unique romantic experience that they travel to the Balkans, and if so, could you describe 6 of the most romantic venues in the Balkans?
Rebecca: I would definitely recommend traveling to the Balkans if you're looking for a romantic escape. My top six places would be:
can be found here. The park is a UNESCO Heritage site and is covered with clear lakes,
forests, and amazing flora and fauna. Serbia and Montenegro tends to be a beautiful
I understand you will be launching two novels, could you tell our audience something about these novels? What challenges or obstacles did you encounter while writing your books? How did you overcome these challenges?
One of my novels, the one that should be coming out late next spring, is a coming of age story set in Central Kentucky and the Aran Islands in Western Ireland. As an author I have to find a balance between being true to myself and yet at the same time trying to find an idea that hasn't been used before. A lot of things I write are autobiographical, but in this case I referenced a lot of issues that face the area of Kentucky where I am from.
There is a huge community of Appalachian authors, as well as Appalachian Kentucky authors, but Central Kentucky has largely been ignored. I would like to try to give it a voice, and I did to an extent with my novel, although it carries the universal theme of friendship. The challenge I met while writing it was that I occasionally became too involved in the process and had to step back and regroup from time to time.
There were days that I stayed at the computer around the clock and only ate when someone remembered to bring me food. I put a lot into it. I'm currently working on a ghost story that I hope will be out late next year. I love to listen to people talk and tell stories and although it might not always appear that I am digesting information, I tend to remember everything so that I can use it later on if I need it.
I think some people might be more surprised at the ghost story than the other one. I haven't let anyone read anything of it yet because it jinxes me. I try to warn everyone that my fiction writing is completely different from my travel writing. I can manipulate characters and events in fiction-not such a great idea when you're sticking to facts. No matter what I am writing, I absolutely have to be in love when I write. I fall in love with my characters, with the setting, with the places-even with the ideas. If I'm not passionate about the subject matter I can't write at all. I guess I always need a muse.
Norm: Is there anything else you wish to add that we have not covered?
I've talked to other people about this so I don't think it's that rare, but other writers almost never mention it. I am very musically inclined and generally walk around with songs running amok in my head. When I write, whether it's an article, a novel, or a short story, I like to associated people and places with music and songs. I assign theme songs of sort to certain events and when I sit down to write about that subject I always pop in the CD that I made. It brings back the mood that I was in when I originally made my notes and is an easy way to feel in the spirit again. In the case of my Finding Henry book I made an entire soundtrack and I listen to it every time I sat down at the computer. I do this with just about everything. I've decided that if the travel-writing thing doesn't work out I might look for a career in being the music editor for the movies.
Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future projects.
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