Tag Archives: travel
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Let Yourself Be Gutted

6 May

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I Discovered a Thriving Literary Community as an American Writer in Paris (Guest Post)

1 May

I’m excited to publish this guest post about the Paris literary community by my writer friend Norma Jaeger Hopcraft, the author of The Paris Writers Circle and blogger of In Search of the American Dream. If you’ve been following me for a while now, you know I’ve written about the artist and literary community in Paris on a number of occasions, including my posts on the Surrealist movement and the The Beat Hotel. Norma reports back from her time living as a ex-pat writer in Paris, showing that the Paris literary community is still thriving today. If you’re looking to take a writing sabbatical abroad, she provides a plethora of resources for writers seeking literary community in Paris.

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When I moved to Paris one July recently, I arrived on a Thursday, took Friday to catch up with myself (I didn’t have to hurry—I had at least one year in Paris ahead of me—yes, be jealous!). On Saturday I launched myself upon the City of Light.

 

I took the Metro to the Eiffel Tower, explored the Parc du Champs-de-Mars at its foot, was offered replica Eiffel Towers in six sizes and colors by wandering, thin African young men. Then I headed for the Place des Vosges. On foot. On a hot day. When I got to the Place, I lay on my back on the grass, like a hundred other people, and gathered my forces around myself. I was 3,000 miles from home and did not have money to fly back and see a familiar face. I was on my own, knowing nobody in the entire city. In the country. In all of Europe.

 

I had found when I arrived on Thursday that my landlady, Martine, whom I first met via Skype, spoke great English. She went out of her way that first day to make me comfortable in my studio apartment in the ground floor of her home. I was famished when I arrived on her doorstep, had no Euros in my pockets. I asked her what I could do to get something to eat – I had no idea where a grocery store was.

 

I’ll never forget – she offered me the steak that she planned to cook for herself and her visiting son a few hours later. I was deeply moved but asked her to take me quickly to the nearest grocery store. I bought some pre-cooked chicken thighs and salad. Martine paid for them because my debit card didn’t work. I paid her back in Euros within the hour.

 

Her two nieces, Christelle and Daphné, lived in Martine’s house, in bedrooms upstairs. They were great 20-somethings who welcomed me and opened their hearts to me in the type of soul-friendship that’s a rare experience in the U.S.

 

Okay, so, in the Place des Vosges, laying on the grass, I had three faces I knew in Paris. I had a place to live. I had enough food. What did I need next?

 

Well, I was in Paris on a creative writing sabbatical. It was a gift to myself, not related to a university or artists’ residency. So I needed a circle of writers, incisive critiquers, who could help me improve my memoir. Finishing it was my goal for the year.

 

On that sunny Saturday in late July, I lay on the grass in Place des Vosges and prepared to meet my first Paris writers circle. The group was called Paris Lit Up, and I met them in a hot café where I trembled to purchase a Perrier. It bought me my seat in the café, but it nearly busted my tiny budget.

 

It was my first experience of English-speaking expat writers meeting in Paris. People in the critique group came from all over – Iowa, Barcelona, Berlin. We critiqued each other’s work, laughed over it, and then I went “home,” wherever that is, exhausted. When I got there, Martine fanned herself and said, “It’s so ‘ot.”

 

Two months went by with Paris Lit Up as my only writers’ circle, and then a Meetup popped up, to be held in the moderator’s Paris apartment. I was curious to see her space, and besides which, it sounded like such a nice gathering. “Meet, eat, and critique our work,” the description said. Eat together. Hmmm. That would form nice bonds, I thought, and I signed up.

 

Author Hazel Manuel led the Meetup, which still meets and is called Paris Scriptorium. People once again were from all over. Haze was from London by way of Wales and living full time in Paris. Ruth was British, married to a Frenchman. Kat was Russian, finishing a Ph.D. in English literature at the Sorbonee. Cris Hammond was an American living on a péniche (a barge) on the Seine. He’d written a book about traveling on it all over France’s 5,000 kilometers of canals and rivers. It’s funny. I loved it.

 

I ditched writing the memoir – so difficult to go back into all that pain – and wrote a novel instead, The Paris Writers Circle. It’s about four writers—four creative egos—who undergo dark days in the City of Light. Haze’s group critiqued it over the course of the year. The warmth of the bonds was fantastic, the talent for critique outstanding, and I’m still in touch with many of the participants today.

 

Then another Meetup popped up: The Paris Writers Group. It’s still meeting in a café and still running. After I left Paris, a member of Haze’s group, Graham Elliott, started a new Meetup, Paris Creative Writers. It meets in L’Amazonial Café, on Rue Sainte-Opportune, in the First Arrondissement, on Tuesday afternoons. If you Google “meetups paris writers in English” you’ll find all three groups.

 

I left Paris before I could attend Graham’s Meetup, but I never unsubscribed from his or any of the groups’ email lists. Every time a new meeting comes up, I wish like crazy that I were in Paris and could go.

 

So any writer who goes to Paris has three great critique groups in English (the fourth I’ve mentioned, Paris Lit Up, seems to be on hiatus) that they could attend, immerse in, and find the literary community that will help them improve their writing. They’ll also form bonds of friendship that will last even after they leave and there are thousands of miles between them and their friends’ familiar faces in Paris.

 

So make me jealous! Tell me you’re going to Paris and that you’ll attend any one of these groups! Leave a comment for me here or on my blog. And check out The Paris Writers Circle. One reviewer says, “If you love Paris, you’ll be swept away!” Another says, “Paris comes alive!” and “Outstanding for story appeal, character appeal, and character development.” Enjoy! And get to Paris!

Book Marketing in Train Stations

2 Mar

Free Books Library

I had a nightmarish situation at the train station the other night. I went out to Connecticut to visit a dear friend, and we got so wrapped up in conversation that I almost missed the last train of the night. She rushed me to the train station, where there were several others also waiting for the train.

Sigh of relief. I made it.

I ran to the ticket kiosk and purchased my ticket back to Grand Central. I thought I was just in the nick of time. The train would be pulling into the station any second.

But it didn’t.

Conversations with the several other confused bystanders led to various theories: the train had left early, the train was delayed. An app and the MTA website both said the train was delayed. We waited.

And waited.

No train. Some dude tried to get us to take an uber with him to Stamford. “It’ll get you a little closer,” he said. Not close enough, I thought. He left.

We waited some more.

Still, no train. A couple finally had enough of the waiting and also called an uber. They were going to Washington Heights and offered to split it with us. It was only going to be $80. Between 4 people that would be a bargain–especially considering the fact that I’d spent $22 purchasing the wrong ticket on the way out to Connecticut. My ever-hopeful friend believed that the train was just delayed, though, so we said we’d just wait.

And wait we did.

We waited over an hour for the train. We tried calling several numbers listed, but no one was working those late hours. There were no employees in the station. Was the train delayed over an hour? Was it canceled? Finally, an employee came by. She told us the train had come early and left without us. It was 1:45 in the morning, and the next train would come til 5am.

We tried to find an uber, but suddenly the prices had been raised to close to double of the original amount. That, and we no longer had anyone to split the cost with. The friend we were visiting told us we could crash at her place, but we hadn’t brought toothbrushes and new contacts and makeup. We endeavored to get home. We ubered back to the city, and I took a scary 3am subway ride home. I was the only woman in a train full of men. Not my wisest decisions, but I felt like I’d been leaking money and didn’t want to pay for a taxi home. I finally got in around 3:30am. I watched an episode of Frasier to unwind.

The good news in all of this is that I did a bit of free book marketing. The train station in Connecticut had a kiosk of free books, where straphangers were encouraged to take a book to read on the train. The selection was curious and random and lovely. Something for everyone. Maimonides. Edgar Cayce. Allison Pearson.

I’d heard of this take-a-book and leave-a-book trend before. And I’d experienced it years ago at hostels when I’d gone backpacking through Europe. It’s such a great way to meet new books.

I didn’t have a copy of Burning Furiously Beautiful on me, so I did the next best thing I could think of: I put a few postcards on the kiosk. What better author to read about on the train than Jack Kerouac, who was known for his intrepid travels?

 

You might also like:::

 

 

 

 

Road Trip: Under the Balls in Washington, DC

28 Sep
I road tripped out to DC for the weekend recently to see one of my dear friends from Scripps. She and her husband are both museum people so I always get to soak in a museum with them and learn fascinating history. It was fantastic seeing the greater DC area through their eyes, as most of my previous trips have been boringly touristy. I never realized how much I liked DC til this trip!
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 Crème Brule donuts @ Astro 
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 The Beach exhibit @ the National Building Museum
 
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Veggie tacos @ District Taco
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Like the Beat Generation reader I am, I spotted Amiri Baraka’s book in the window @ Busboys and Poets (named after Langston Hughes!)
 
My friends were the perfect hosts! We talked about our mutual love of Dateline, accosted people with adorable dogs, and confided in one another about working in the arts.  
 
I can’t wait to go back to visit them.

Friday Links: For the Literary Traveler

27 Jun

Happy Friday! I’ve rounded up a bunch of Buzzfeed articles that feed my need to travel. Hey, if you’re a starving artist and not traveling anywhere this summer at least you can read!

The Trainspotting Guide to London

12 Literary Spots in London That Every Book Lover Needs to Visit

17 Bookstores That Will Literally Change Your Life

23 Beautifully Bookish Places to Explore This Summer

26 Real Places That Look Like They’ve Been Taken Out of Fairy Tales

40 Books That Will Make You Want to Visit France

 

 

Link Love: Travel Tattoos

25 Apr

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Would you ever pull over to the side of the road and get a tattoo while out on a road trip? Would you ever get a tattoo for each trip you took? What about a compass or the coordinates to your favorite place? A literary-inspired quote about travel?

Here are a few travel-inspired tattoos. What’s your favorite?

Man’s Tattoo Tracks World Travels

The lines in the middle of the road

Road Trip temporary tattoo by Kyle Steed

Tattoo from a road trip experience with lyrics from Fall Out Boy’s “Alone Together”

Miles to go

43 Rad Tattoos to Pay Tribute to Your Favorite Place

Plane tattoo

Walk on the world

This map almost blends in

Kerouac-inspired tattoo

Muir-inspired tattoo

 

Jack Kerouac Tour of Denver

27 Mar

jack-kerouac-tour-denver-magazine-reviseIllustration by Jackie Besteman via 5280

Isn’t that map cute? It was created by illustrator Jackie Besteman, who does an entire series of maps.

Over at 5280, Chris Outcalt put together a Jack Kerouac tour of Denver that includes a “believability index.” You can check out the jazz joints, cabaret clubs, and hotels here.

This reminds me to tell you that scholar Bill Morgan‘s Beat Atlas: A State by State Guide to the Beat Generation in America is a great resource if you go on the road in search of Beat-related haunts.

Literary Kicks, which you already know is one of my favorite sites, also has a page put together by Andrew Burnett entitled Neal’s Denver.

Denver.org also offers an online list of Beat-related places that also comes with recommended reading for each place.

If you’re looking to read about Kerouac’s time in Denver, Paul and I cover it in Burning Furiously Beautiful, which is available in print through AmazonBarnes & Noble, and Lulu and as a Kindle through Amazon.

What are your favorite places in Denver?

 

#AmtrakResidency Politics Makes Me Laugh

19 Mar

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During my lunchtime reads, this headline, via Poets & Writers, made me laugh:

“Republicans Denounce Amtrak Residency”

The link round-up led to The Atlantic’s article “Shocker: Conservative Republicans Hate the Amtrak Writer Residency.

I’m not one to blog politics, but I will talk copywriting: these two headlines grabbed my attention and made me actually laugh out loud. It sounded like an Onion article! I kind of love the fact that they’re so outlandish and made me think about politics and the media.

Are some Republicans seriously against writers getting to use a seat that would’ve otherwise gone empty on a train? Of all the things going on in the world, is Amtrak’s residency really worth the political hubbub? Did the “liberal media” exaggerate and twist what Republican senators actually said? Are the senators’ concerns that the taxpaying public has subsidized Amtrak services with $1.5 billion and yet are giving away free tickets legitimate? Should the government help fund writers and those in the arts as a means toward furthering our cultural heritage?

When the Amtrak Writers Residency was announced a few weeks ago, friends came out of the wood works to urge me to apply. After all, writing and being on the road is my literary jam.

Then the official application was released. Thousands of people applied. And, I started hearing murmurs about the fine print.

No matter what your politics are and your stance on copyright, Amtrak’s certainly made headlines. Someone in their marketing department is doing something right!

6 Best Books of 2013, According to Me

26 Dec

It’s that time of year when everyone’s doing their Best of 2013 lists, so I figured I’d add mine!

I know most people pick 5 or 10, but I picked 6. Why 6, you ask? For arbitrary reasons. Yes, I read more than 6 books this year. No, they weren’t all from 2013. And no, not every book that I read that was published in 2013 made this list. These just happen to be the very best of the books that I read that were published in 2013.

This isn’t a ranking, but rather a listing in a way that one theme flows into the next.

 

paradise

This Is Paradise by Kristiana Kahakauwila

I saw this face-out on a shelf at Barnes & Noble, picked it up, and read the first few lines. The prose was exquisite. I’d nearly given up on fiction, frustrated at how it can be so overwritten yet simple at the same time. This was the type of writing I’d been missing in my life. The language is just gorgeous. I want to reread it already.

 

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The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

I had read Wolitzer’s The Wife in grad school and felt it was too heavy-handed, so I cautiously picked this one up after hearing the high praise for it, which almost always dooms a book for me. The Interestings deserves to be on every best of 2013 list. Not only are the story and the themes (the nature of love, the nature of friendships, family, jealousy, career, money, art, New York) thought-provoking on many levels, but the writing strikes that perfect balance of appearing both deliberate and breezy, literary yet conversationally authentic. It’s the type of book I want to now read reviews of and discuss with others, especially women artists.

 

LeanIn

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg

I read this for my Scripps College book club, which is composed of alumni from a wide range of class years from the women’s college. We’re all at various stages of our careers, including stay-at-home moms, working moms with infants, moms whose children have flown the nest, recent grads who have just entered the workforce, and mid-career-level women in relationships and not. Some have Ph.D.s, others want to be yoga instructors. The resulting conversation we had about this book is that, in the end, you have to find out what works for you and that may change depending on where you are in your life.

I also happened to finally get around to reading a book a colleague had given to me a few years ago: Patty Azzarello’s Rise: How to be Really Successful at Work AND Like Your Life, which came out in 2010. While Sandberg’s book is chock-full of important statistics and food for thought, Azzarello’s, though perhaps not as carefully edited, offers tips that are actually practical for people in the workforce.

 

Print

A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett

This book, the true story about a Canadian journalist and her Australian ex-boyfriend photographer who are kidnapped in Somalia, gave me nightmares. Literally. I became obsessed with the story, reading articles,  watching interviews with the people involved, and following them on Twitter. It got me thinking a lot about perceptions of the West, feminism, and ambition.

 

Manana

Manana Means Heaven by Tim Z. Hernandez

The publisher sent me this book, and I was a bit leery going into it that it would come off as fan fiction, but Hernandez’s Manana Means Heaven is an incredibly important book to the Beat canon. Through poetic diction, this novel tells the moving story of one of the little-known people who crossed paths with Jack Kerouac. It gives voice to a woman who didn’t even know she’d been written about decades earlier in On the Road.

You can read my interview with Tim here.

 

heart

My Heart Is an Idiot by Davy Rothbart

I’ve written about Davy Rothbart before, having encountered one of the stories in this book in The Paris Review and comparing him to Jack Kerouac and then going to see him read in Brooklyn, where I met his dad and pulled a sword out of his cohort. This book technically came out last year, but the paperback came out this year, and it is brilliant. I had to stifle my laughter quite a few times on the subway to keep people from staring at me as I read this book. The thing is, though, there’s a lot of heart in this book too. It’s more than just a bunch of stories that make your eyes bug with incredulity over the antics Rothbart gets himself in. It shows the tenderness and beauty and wonder of humanity in all its forms, from an aspiring DJ to a con-artist.

 

Tell me your favorite books of 2013 below in the comments section. I’m looking for some new reads, and I figure if you read my blog we probably have similar taste! …And by similar taste, that probably means all over the board.

 

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Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is now available as an ebook and paperback!

 

The British Are Coming!: Beat Influence on The Kinks

13 Nov

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Today I’m continuing my discussion of Olivia Cole’s fascinating thesis that American media had a profound impact on post-World War II England, argued in her article “Won over by the West: The irresistible allure of Americana for post-war Britons” for the November 2013 issue of British GQ.

Cole points to The Kinks’ frontman Ray Davies’ “love/hate relationship with America,” referencing a Kerouac-like affair with the road.

A little background info that doesn’t appear in her article but might be helpful: The Kinks are the British rock band behind the songs “You Really Got Me” and “Lola.” They were formed in North London in 1964 — also known as the year The Beatles landed in America and set off the British Invasion.

In reviewing Ray Davies’ new memoir Americana: The Kinks, The Road And The Perfect Riff, Cole explains how the British band leader’s youthful obsession with “the cowboy heroes of Fifties Westerns” and American comic books “got him daydreaming and writing songs.” Growing up the seventh out of eight children — the youngest being Dave Davies, his Kinks bandmate — Ray Davies had barely even traveled out of his hometown of Fortis Green and dreamed of America.

Cole reports that the freedom of the road was at first alluring to Davies. Using Amazon’s preview, I read in Davies’ chapter The Empty Room:

In recent years I had become a transient observer, never settling anywhere and, after a life on the road, never committing to a place or a person.

Davies’ romantic relationships could not be sustained on the road. Cole refers to his failed relationship with Chrissie Hynde, but following the dissolution of his first marriage he attempted suicide. Rockin’ Town town put it this way:

First, his wife of nine years, Rasa, split taking the kids. A week later, Davies was admitted to Highgate Hospital and treated for a drug overdose that looked suspiciously like a suicide attempt.

Cole reports that Davies felt the loneliness of the road. She writes that he:

wonders to what extent the rock-star/beatnik lifestyle lets anything meaningful stand a chance.

Ray Davies, born in 1944, would have been thirteen when On the Road was published in the US. It does not appear from Cole’s article that the Beat Generation’s influence on The Kinks was explicit. However, Davies discusses the same jazz musicians that captivated Kerouac, the adventure and disappointment of a life on the road, and Americana.

Here is Barnes & Noble’s overview of Ray Davies’ memoir Americana: The Kinks, The Road And The Perfect Riff:

As a boy in post-War England, legendary Kinks’ singer/songwriter Ray Davies fell in love with America—its movies and music, its culture of freedom, fed his imagination. Then, as part of the British Invasion, he toured the US with the Kinks during one of the most tumultuous eras in recent history—until the Kinks group was banned from performing there from 1965-69. Many tours and trips later, while living in New Orleans, he experienced a transformative event: the shooting (a result of a botched robbery) that nearly took his life. In Americana, Davies tries to make sense of his long love-hate relationship with the country that both inspired and frustrated him. From his quintessentially English perspective as a Kink, Davies—with candor, humor, and wit—takes us on a very personal road trip through his life and storied career as a rock star, and reveals what music, fame, and America really mean to him. Some of the most fascinating characters in recent pop culture make appearances, from the famous to the perhaps even-more-interesting behind-the-scenes players. The book also includes a photographic insert with images from Davies’s own collection from the band’s archive.

The book was published by Sterling Publishing on October 15, 2013.

Tune in tomorrow when I talk about Cole’s discussion of Iain Sinclair’s take on the Beat Generation in his forthcoming book American Smoke.

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Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is now available as an ebook and paperback!