These colorful nicknames all describe something special about Portland, Oregon. My recent trip there made me think about how to best capture the essence of a place, the little details that make it unique.
When I travel, I take notes about the destination in case I want to use it in a future work of fiction as place-setting or character background detail. (I'll write more about that next week in Rose's Red Pen.) However, people may have other reasons to write about their travels. A friend of mine creates amazing photo books of her trips for her family. Some may just want to write a fun Facebook post for friends while a persistent desire to break into travel writing itches at others.
Since nonfiction travel writing is not my niche, I consulted two of my colleagues. Vicki Meade's work has appeared in Baltimore Magazine, Lodging, and Chesapeake Travel and Leisure. She says that travel writing comes down to finding the right angle, not just visiting a place. Using Venice as an example, Vicki suggested writing about where visitors could try blowing glass rather than a travelogue of the city.
Beth Rubin, the author of several guidebooks (including 11 editions of Frommer's Washington, D.C. with Kids) and hundreds of travel features for print publications and the Internet over 30 years, agreed with Vicki. She stressed the importance of distinguishing your work from a pro forma destination piece. An article on West Virginia might focus on a local craftsman who makes mandolins, a new restaurant, an undiscovered place to kayak, or an eccentric innkeeper.
Travel writing is a difficult market, Beth says. Several glossy print magazines have folded while others fight to survive. She recommends Googling travel websites to try to break in that way. Beginners likely won't be paid for their writing until they've built up a body of clips. But you never know, she says. If you think you've hit on a great idea, craft a succinct pitch letter and send it to the travel editor. What have you got to lose?
Let's return to Portland. Writers there have found many interesting angles. They have focused on the thriving independent bookstores and followed in the literary footsteps of Beverly Cleary, whose characters Henry Huggins and Ramona Quimby lived on Klickitat Street. Me, I'm tempted to write about the best places to find hard cider.