I’m about to launch a second book. On my own. In just a few days. It’s a little more than a collection of some of my travel essays and stories I’ve been posting on my blog. A few stories are “new”. Some I cover without enough detail, maybe because there’s too much there to write about. I haven’t yet reached a point as an author where I can let go of all my secrets with indifference.
In a different century, I might not have made any effort beyond the daydream of publishing a book. But self-publishing is possible and it costs you nothing now but your time.
So I’m free to make an unfiltered fool of myself.
Although computers and the internet have made publishing for the average person easier to do, at no cost, I reasoned the opportunity was always available to publish, maybe since the discovery of writing, or even drawing on cave walls. Even before the computer and the internet, you just needed money to print your book, without an agent or publisher. So I haven’t developed an outsized ego based on the century I am living in. I just needed time to collect my stories.
I’m publishing through the usual mechanisms. I’m still undecided though about the purpose of these book selling platforms when I can sell a digital-only product on my own. There’s still the middle man who takes his form as Amazon (I realized I lied to someone the other day when I said I don’t use Amazon), iBooks, and any entity, Square, PayPal, Venmo, that makes it easy for you to take money from anyone who finds you on the internet. I suppose these platforms’ algorithms may help people find your book.
The book came together over the last few months, but any notion that it didn’t take much more time is wrong. I’ve been working on these stories for a couple of decades. Behind any travel story is the travel. Writing the story after the travel is almost trivial. I’ve been practicing, writing stories in my journals and on my blog for years. Once in a while a story of mine is picked up in another form of media.
The struggle to self-publish has been to overcome the idea that my stories aren’t interesting enough for anyone else to read. But sometimes you feel compelled to do something for no other reason than you just want to do it. And it’s the only way to get better at writing books if you think you want to write books.
I’ve also learned through my painting and photography that the internet gives you an audience of potentially seven billion people. Someone out there wants what it is you have to sell, whether it’s a service or a product.
It’s said authors should choose one person and write their book for them. I chose me! I don’t know why other than I’ve been writing for myself for years. I think the idea of writing stories started for me with scuba diving. I didn’t record much more than the technical details of my dives at first in my notebooks. Date, weights, temperature, depth. But the dive logs got more interesting as I left diving in the the stone quarries and began to travel to tropical paradises around the world. Now there were pygmy seahorses, hairy shrimp, and many charming dive guides.
A two-month solo trip to New Zealand and Australia inspired me to begin journaling about everything else that happened on my dive trips, or just the cities I was living in. Journaling somehow started to be the thing I would do at night at dinner when I was alone. A way to process what was happening while I lamented quitting my job to travel for those two months. And now I have a pile of travel journals and dive logs, filled with the minimum of details about my trips, sometimes becoming just a record of the names of the places I’ve been to.
But then one day, I wrote a story a business person said they liked enough to pay me for it. This first foray into the business of writing failed, not because of me, but because it wasn’t the right business opportunity for me. I kept writing anyway, too naïve to know better.
Somewhere around the beginning of 2022, someone else told me they loved the way I write. I thought, it’s time to finish this book of travel stories.
None of the stories are high adventure. But my stories make me laugh. Like the ones from when I ended up living in Norway for seven years. Becoming an expat is the best way to travel, you’re making money, and every day something different happens while you invest in living in another culture. It’s the epitome of “slow travel”, the kind of travel you do where you stay in one place for a while and leave a piece of your heart when go.
This idea of slow travel became to me a major theme running through the book. Because the least stressful way to travel around the world is to visit friends. A career in science gave me the network, and I took the advantage of it to see some of the world. But when you realize who you’ve connected with over the years, that gives you a travel plan for a life time. I’ll never have enough time to travel to all the places my friends live.
Writing never seemed a natural path to me. Low scores on standardized tests and some negative experiences writing about things I didn’t care about drove me in another direction in my life and career. I’m still making these mistakes.
But I had to try putting some of my travel stories and essays into a book. And well, after the last few years in lockdown, I convinced myself that maybe my stories are exactly the kind of stories people need to read.
My stories are those mostly of a solo traveler, but I was never really traveling alone. The jobs of so many people must go right for your travel to happen. Sure I made my journeys often alone, but from the pilots to the dive masters, to the French baker, someone had to do their job for me to have these experiences. In this time with a focus on essential workers, it’s hard for me to forget these people, some of whom changed my life and will never even know it.
So I sometimes think we have limited expectations towards what travel can do for us. It’s fun. It’s another tick off our bucket list. More food to try. More mountains to climb. More seas to go under.
The average travel story talks less about how travel changes us. What happens after the travel. Or because of the travel. The average travel story covers the facts, what to do when you go somewhere, but what about the consequences of the travel in the story? What happened to the writer after the story? Or the other players in the story? What did the events of the story change in that person’s life? More travel? A new job? A new life? A new romance?
I struggled a bit to organize the stories. Maybe unconsciously I put them together from an innocent starting point and ending with how travel transformed and consumed my life. One trip led to another throughout time. Then a close friend reminded me that the title has the word postcards in it. So if you can imagine what my refrigerator looks like with all the postcards I’ve collected throughout the years from friends, family (and myself), that’s how the stories went together. Sort of…
But I’ve finished it and now all I think about is how I should have done it. It’s part of the lesson.
At some point, it’s time to move on to the next project.
Coming 01 May 2022, Postcards to me.