Tag Archives: travelogues

John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, and Jack Kerouac Write about Nature

23 Apr

muir

“Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world.”

~ John Muir

It was conservationist John Muir‘s birthday over the weekend and yesterday was Earth Day. A few years ago, I had the great pleasure of editing a reissue (not the one pictured above) of his My First Summer in the Sierra and writing the flap copy, and I quickly became absorbed in the poetic language he used to described the beauty of the earth. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you might have caught on that even though I absolutely love the glittering sidewalks and Art Deco skyscrapers of New York City, I am just as comfortable out in nature. (It’s the suburbs I can’t stand!)

Muir was an early advocate of nature preservation and founded the Sierra Club. He used to hang out with Teddy Roosevelt, whom I’ve also written about, and they’d go off exploring Yosemite. Can you imagine any of our recent presidents going off into the woods with someone we’d today probably label a hippie? It was this very friendship between Roosevelt and Muir that led to America’s natural beauty being preserved. Interestingly enough, Muir and Roosevelt were both rather talented writers, and their works are travelogues through nature.

Jack Kerouac referenced John Muir in The Dharma Bums, a novel that makes you want to drop everything and go sit in the woods for a great long while. He also wrote about Muir in an essay entitled “The Vanishing American Hobo“:

John Muir was a hobo who went off into the mountains with a pocketful of dried bread, which he soaked in creeks.

Kerouac was incredibly well read and would often read history books about America before or during his road trips. As “The Vanishing American Hobo” indicates, Kerouac saw the landscape and economy of America changing before his eyes as he traveled. The era he lived in was the beginning of the great highway system, and he saw why Muir’s conservation efforts were so important.

We tend to associate road tripper Jack Kerouac with cars and bars, but he actually loved nature. On the Road is essentially a glowing account of America’s landscape, the melon patches, the sun-drenched sky, the ragged mountains. In Big Sur, we see him sit out and just stare at the ocean, absorbed in nature. His obsession with animals gives us a poignant insight into his psyche.

We often put labels on people, and to see literature through critics’ lenses. What if we read John Muir’s work as literature instead of viewing it as nature writing? What if we read Jack Kerouac’s work as nature writing instead of counter-cultural novel?

What if we saw a story in a blade of grass? What if we listened really hard to the call of a bird?

You might also be interested in this article I wrote a few years about John Muir for Burnside Writers Collective:

And in this clip of me reading from Burning Furiously Beautiful about Jack Kerouac’s empathy toward animals.

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Writing Wednesday: Building Your Book Before You Even Begin Writing It

5 Sep

David Krell’s article “From Book to . . . Blog? Inspiration for the Aspiring Nonfiction Author,” published in Publishing Perspectives is jam-packed with great advice for nonfiction writers.  To sum it up succinctly: start garnering interest in your nonfiction book before you even publish it.

Krell offers five tips on how to build your author platform before you’ve even published books.  He advises that you can score interviews and forewords for your book as well as lectures at conferences before you’ve even finished writing your book.  This, in turn, will improve your chances of writing a well-informed book, obtaining a reputable agent, and selling your book successfully because you’ll have taken the time to build up your reputation as an authority on the subject and gotten other authorities on the subject to contribute to your book.  You should read his tips on Publishing Perspectives for more insight on how to begin building your platform and become a successful author now, even before you’ve written a book.

In relation to Krell’s advice, here are a few questions I think a nonfiction writer should start thinking about as early as possible:

Who is your target audience?

What are the sub-themes of your book?  What are the various angles you can use to market your book?  (Krell’s book is about the Brooklyn Dodgers, but his friend suggests it’s also about urban history.  One of my books is a memoir about growing up Greek American in New Jersey.  It touches on family dynamics, coming-of-age stories, New Jersey, Greece, identity, and the immigrant experience.  Another of the books I’m working on is about Jack Kerouac.  Looking at it through a broader lens, it could appeal to anyone interested in the Beat Generation, the 1940s and 1950s, travelogues, and American history.)

Who would you like to interview?  (Approach them now.)

Who would you like to write your foreword?  (Approach them now.)

Who would you like to blurb your book?  (A blurb is the endorsement on the back of a book.  Approach people now.)

What associations are there for your subject?  (Sign up for the mailing list, get to know its leaders, volunteer to help with an event or to write a guest blog entry.)

What conferences are held on your subject—or on your sub-theme?  (Begin attending, meeting people, speaking.)

What websites are about your subject or sub-theme?  (Sign up for their newsletter, leave comments on their posts, offer to guest blog.)

What books are similar to yours?  (Read them to get ideas.  Also, read the acknowledgements to find out who their agent is.  Begin following the agent’s work to see if you’re interested in signing with them.)

Are there any other questions you would add to the list?

By thinking about these questions now, you’ll have a clearer vision of where you’re headed.  You’ll also be more motivated to continue writing because you’ll have people who are already invested in your success.

Happy writing!