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When Life Requires a Change in Longitude: Interview with Authors Larissa and Michael Milne

Sometimes, life throws wicked curve balls at inopportune times – such as, middle age. A lifetime of plans fly out the window, and you’re left facing … what?

A couple of years ago, Larissa and Michael Milne experienced this scenario. To put it more bluntly, they encountered a personal apocalypse of sorts. Faced with a Milnes-Proposal covernumber of very difficult options, they chose to rekindle their love for each other – and to do it away from their Philadelphia home. So they sold everything, got on a plane – and spent the next year experiencing the world in what has grown into a most amazing story. Imagine taking in North Korea, Vietnam and Namibia while dealing with major family issues back home …

The Milnes are writing about their 31-country, 6-continent journey in Changes In Longitude, a book that couples travel narrative and poignant memoir, with the Milnes’ journalistic skill and catchy humor present throughout. The book is now beginning to make its rounds in the publishing world, where it is certain to find a home that puts copies in countless readers’ hands in the near future.  One thing for sure: the book is bolstered by one of the best and most brand-conscious websites out there, www.changesinlongitude.com.

Recently, I had the chance to interview the Milnes, to whom I was introduced through my work for another travel narrative author and client, Lynne Martin, author of the forthcoming Home Free. As you’ll see, the Milnes’ experience is distinctive, unique – and well worth turning the pages to follow, for both its travel and emotional richness.

Bob Yehling: In this busy publishing cycle of travel memoirs and narratives, you have a truly unique personal story that prompted your decision to travel for a year? Could you elaborate?

Larissa and Michael Milne: On the surface, our decision seems like a lark or reaction to a mid-life crisis. In reality, it sprang from much deeper roots. We were reeling from the physical and emotional strain of years of dealing with a destructive family situation related to our daughter, whom we had adopted from Russia. By the time she became an adult, our relationship with her was broken and we became reluctant empty nesters. We needed time to heal so we turned to our love of travel.

Larissa and Michael Milne pose with their Rocky statue in Philadelphia. The statue made the journey with them.

Larissa and Michael Milne pose with their Rocky statue in Philadelphia. The statue made the journey with them.

BY: You combined truly exotic or hard-to-reach destinations with some world favorites – North Korea, Namibia, Vietnam, etc. Could you describe how that added to your experience – and to the narrative of Changes in Longitude?

Milnes: This journey was about discovering new places as we rediscovered ourselves. We indulged our natural curiosity for far-flung destinations, seeking to understand the people behind the places. Since journalists are not permitted to enter North Korea, we provide rare perspectives of this isolated country. We met people there who were warm and welcoming, so unlike the vitriol spewed towards the world by their government.

In Vietnam, we toured the My Lai Massacre site (from the Vietnam War). Locals, once they found out we were Americans, embraced us and said “U.S.-Vietnam friends now.” We realized that no matter how much governments are in conflict, people are the same all over the world and respect each other.

BY: One of my favorite scenes is when you find yourself mired in a Scottish meadow, ankle deep in mud – with a bull getting ready to charge you. Why do you feel readers gravitate so readily to funny, even mindless moments within the larger scope of the journey?

 Milnes: Those I Love Lucy moments are entertaining. They remind us that travel is all about creating memories, experiences that you can’t predict. In 400 days of travel, we had our fair share. Wait until you read about Larissa’s encounter with a toilet on a Malaysian train.

BY: You’ve been writing a column for the Philadelphia Inquirer, as well as pieces for National Geographic Traveler and other magazines. You were also featured in Smithsonian Magazine. What age groups have you heard responses from? And how did this writing prepare you or aid your decision to write Changes in Longitude?

 Milnes: Chucking it all to travel is a dream of many, regardless of age. The phrase “you’re living the dream” is one we heard consistently from people all over the world. Travel stories in newspapers and magazines typically place the reader “in the moment” by telling them the who, what, where and why of the story. We spread our wings more in the book by taking the reader beyond what happened in the moment; delving deeper into the situations we encountered and people we met.

BY: What were the advantages and challenges of writing this book together?

Milnes: We each have slightly different perspectives of our experiences, which adds dimension to our narrative. It can be a challenge writing in a collective voice.

BY: You’ve obviously read several travel memoirs and narratives. What in your reading moved you the most about these works? And what devices did you find most advantageous to your book (though obviously tweaking to distinguish your voice and journey)?

 Milnes: Normally we enjoy reading narratives that make us want to visit a place. But there are also books like J. Marten Troost’s The Sex Lives of Cannibals. After reading it, we have absolutely no desire to visit Kiribati, but love the way he wrote about the country and its people with candor and affection. We both relish Bill Bryson; the way he writes with humor, but also delves into the local history, which places his observations in context.

BY: Why do you feel travel is such a great way to work through traumatic emotional or structural changes in our lives?

 Milnes: Travel takes a person completely out of the routines of daily life, giving them the space and time to heal while gaining a self-awareness they wouldn’t achieve at home. Living in a foreign land where nothing is familiar also avoids stepping on many of the emotional trip wires that are pervasive at home.

BY: The best single moment of your trip?

 Milnes: There was no one “best” moment, but there was a pivotal one when we realized how the journey was affecting us. This occurred on a beach in Perth, Australia as we were watching the sun melt into the Indian Ocean. It was the first time we realized that rather than taking a break, we were making a break; we would not return to our prior lives.  Every step forward would help us shape our new life.

That first step occurred sooner than expected. As more folks flocked to our isolated spot, we found out that we sat smack in the middle of a nude beach. To remain clothed would make us the odd man and woman out. So we shed our clothes as easily as we were shedding the vestiges of our former life. But one of the nice things about travel is that no one knows who you are. You can be anyone you want and even reinvent yourself along the way.

BY: The most challenging moment?

 Milnes: In North Korea, we were fed a steady diet of propaganda related to the Korean War and U.S.-North Korea relations.  We were warned ahead of time not to counter the guides with our version of these historic events. It wouldn’t reflect well on our hosts, and we wouldn’t their change minds, anyway. But when we were touring the War Museum in Pyongyang, Michael had enough of the alternative history – and apparently, it showed. He was pulled away from the group by an Army guide who questioned where he was from and why he was being so “callous.”

BY: Now that you’re shopping Changes in Longitude, what do you feel are the central themes, or even experiences, that readers may find most engrossing?

 Milnes: No matter how down your life might be, travel can provide uplifting moments. String enough of those moments together and you can find a path forward to true happiness, a happiness that is newly defined.

We embraced a much simpler lifestyle. (Living out of a 22” suitcase for a year will do that to you.) As the world became our home, our need for personal space has shrunk, and we no longer need the stuff we used to own. We learned to adapt to new environments and situations quickly; instead of acquiring possessions, we’re more interested in acquiring a wealth of experiences. None of this would have happened if we had continued with the same routine of our prior life. If you want to change your life, then change your life.

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Catching Up on Stories, Legacies, and Interviews

Catching up on a lot of good writing news while getting ready to head to San Diego for the Southern California Writers Conference – always a great weekend of fun, frivolity, and connection with other authors, editors, agents and publishers.

Last week, author Martha Halda and I were interviewed on Jennifer Hillman’s Abstract Illusions Radio TCW_r2_ecover-loresshow. Each of us talked with Jennifer for about an hour on this wonderful Internet radio show that merges creativity, expression and spiritual topics. I discussed my newest books, The Champion’s Way that I co-wrote with Dr. Steve Victorson, and my novel, Voices, that will be out later in 2013. I also talked about the writing process, and how vital it is to submit well-edited manuscripts, whether you have a publishing contract or are self-publishing. I will be addressing this topic directly at the Southern California Writers Conference.

"A Taste of Eternity" author Martha Halda

“A Taste of Eternity” author Martha Halda

Martha spoke about her memoir, A Taste of Eternity, concerning her near-death experiences and how she has repurposed her life to align more closely to what she experienced, and to share those  with others. She’s currently shopping the book to publishers, and is receiving a ton of comments and reaction to her work. Since I am helping her with the book and editing it, I’ll give you some inside information right now: It is a fabulous read, with a lot of content you haven’t seen in any other near-death memoirs. Let me put it this way: Any middle-aged woman who jumps off 50-foot cliffs into the chilly Himalayan snowmelt waters in the Ganges River to celebrate her birthday is going to be writing from a place of fearlessness. That’s what makes A Taste of Eternity so special.

I’ll be interviewed on all matters writing April 26 on The Write Now! cable television show in icon-spring2011Orange County, which is co-hosted by my partner in all things poetry, The Hummingbird Review publisher Charles Redner. Really looking forward to it. Speaking of The Hummingbird Review, we’re building the Spring 2013 issue right now, with a distinct theme: the relationship of Hollywood and literature. We have great essays and poems from some familiar names, as well as distinct new voices. Will share a preview on all the goodies very soon in this blog.

• • •

376462_204666292995418_1130802602_nNow to switch gears for some very cool music-related news: Stevie Salas, who grew up surfing in my hometown of Carlsbad, Calif. and is considered a guitar legend in most parts of the world, recently received one of the greatest honors you can imagine. He was named the contemporary music advisor to the Smithsonian Institution. To give you some perspective, the poetry consultant is Billy Collins, who formerly served as the Poet Laureate of the United States – a position appointed by the President.

Years ago, Stevie played with This Kids, a great North San Diego County cover band. Then he moved to LA and, after some tough times, he made it – big-time. About 20 years ago, he played guitar on major world tours by Rod Stewart and Mick Jagger, among others. He has since recorded more than 20 albums, sessioned on countless others, created the Rockstar Solos mobile app that is selling off the charts, and created and served as executive producer for Arbor Live, which airs in prime time every Friday night in Canada.

Stevie Salas exhibit in the Smithsonian Institution

Stevie Salas exhibit in the Smithsonian Institution

I don’t know of many musicians with bigger contact lists, either. Stevie keeps talking about his “six degrees of separation” from every noteworthy musician of the last 30 years, but when he starts talking about it, you realize there are really only one or two degrees.

We’ll have another announcement concerning Stevie very soon. It’s going to be a good one, and it has to do with a book!

• • •

Cover Placed_Proofing6The technology/innovation/creative business magazine that I edit, The Legacy Series Magazine, made a huge splash at Macworld/iWorld in San Francisco last weekend. In addition to thousands of magazines being given away, the magazine booth was among the most crowded at the massive show.

What a labor of love, this magazine: to talk with the top innovators, movers and shakers on a variety of very current topics. Among many other topics, we focus a lot on social media and publishing, as well as the devices, apps and other technology that support it. One of my personal thrills was to interview former high school classmate David Warthen, who co-founded the AskJeeves search engine (which later became Ask.com) that revolutionized search.

But the best news of all concerns the magazine’s expansion. In 2013, The Legacy Series Magazine is moving to a quarterly digital format, with the final issue of the year, a larger-sized issue, releasing on newsstands nationally as a print magazine as well. Will keep you posted.

• • •

"Home Free Adventures" author Lynne Martin and her husband, novelist Tim Martin

“Home Free Adventures” author Lynne Martin and her husband, novelist Tim Martin

Finally, a very happy bon voyage to Lynne and Tim Martin as they sail on the Atlantic this week to begin Year 3 of their Home Free experience. During their three-month interlude in California, Lynne sold her travel narrative, Home Free Adventures, to Sourcebooks. She’s about halfway through the draft manuscript now. As her editor, I can assure you that this fun-filled book is loaded with incredible insight that takes more than simply being a tourist to acquire. The hook is that Lynne and Tim live in each area they stop (Buenos Aires, Paris, Istanbul, Italy, Ireland, etc.) for one to three months at a time, becoming residents, not tourists. The book zips along with plenty of spice, compliments of Lynne’s keen sense of humor, love of people, and love of food.

There is a backstory to this book. Five months ago, the idea didn’t even exist. A meeting in a Paris cafe with a Wall Street Journal contributor started an amazing ball rolling. Whereas some of us might have said, “Someone else probably already thought of this,” Lynne jumped on it and went from zero book writing experience to a deal — quickly. Goes to show what happens when you believe in your ideas so fully that you pour yourself into them. And then, put together an outline that can connect with large numbers of readers (and acquisition editors), and share a compelling story with plenty of personality and good information, to which readers can relate.

That will be the common mantra next week at the Southern California Writers Conference. Which is a good place to sign off, for now …

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Dropping into The Next Best Thing Blog Tour with Author August McLaughlin

THE NEXT BIG THING BLOG HOP

Welcome to TNBT blog hop!

What is a blog hop? Basically, it’s a way that readers can discover new authors, because with bookstores closing and publishers not promoting new authors as much, we need to find a way to introduce readers to authors they may not see in their local bookstore.

Here, you’ll have the chance to find many new authors. Here you’ll find information about August McLaughlin and her psychological thriller, IN HER SHADOW, David Freed, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of the Cordell Logan mystery series, calls: “A dark, crackingly good psychological thriller that grabs you by the throat on page one and never lets up.”

Also, see links below to five other authors you might like to check out.

I’d like to thank fellow author August McLaughlin for tagging me to participate.

Click the links below to find out about August’s novel.

Website: http://www.augustmclaughlin.com

Blog: http:augustmclaughlin.wordpress.com

GoodReads: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16138453-in-her-shadow

In this particular hop, I and my fellow authors, in their respective blogs, have answered 10 questions where you get to learn about our current work in progress as well as some insights into our process, from characters and inspirations to plotting and cover decisions. I hope you enjoy it!

Please feel free to comment and share your thoughts and questions.

1: What is the working title of your book? 

Voice Lessons

2: Where did the idea come from for the book?

I first got the idea while working with Rock & Roll Hall of Fame member, Jefferson Airplane/Starship lead vocalist Marty Balin, on his memoir, “Full Flight,” about 10 years ago. When Jefferson Airplane formed, he was known in San Francisco as “The Voice” because of his beautiful high tenor. Knowing his story, I imagined, ‘What would happen if a legendary band completely sat it out for 20 years — no recording, no performing — and came back to play one encore tour in today’s musical scene?’ I added some spice to that question, and here we are.

3: What genre does your book come under?

Commercial fiction, with a distinctly musical twist.

4: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Tom Timoreaux –   Jeff  Bridges or Kurt Russell

Megan Timoreaux – Joan Allen

Christine Timoreaux – Dakota Fanning or Evan Rachel Wood

Chester Craven – Sam Elliott

Analisa – Sonia Braga

5: What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A touring novel of music, superstardom, father-daughter relationship and redemption, about a music superstar who reluctantly leads his band on a one-off reunion tour after 20 years of retirement, only to watch his new backup singer, his daughter, emerge as a superstar in her own right as their strained relationship mends — and to receive his long-lost love child back into his life after he’d thought her dead or missing for over 40 years, and after she’d seen a webcast of his first reunion concert.

6: Is your book self-published, published by an independent publisher, or represented by an agency?

Currently in the process of being marketed through an agency.

7: How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

One year. One year of writing prose that weaves through the past 60 years of popular music in America, the roots that made it happen, and the cities and states where you will find the fans of great music.

8: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

“Never Mind Nirvana,” “Anything Goes”

9: Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I spent seven years writing album and concert reviews for newspapers and magazines, during which I interviewed many bands. I have also worked with several musicians on their books. Coupled with a lifelong love of rock, classical, folk and the blues, as well as a fascination of the history of American popular music, I thought it was time to write a really good, character-based story with music at its core. What is more exciting than touring with a big-time rock and roll band? Not much. I toured with the reformed Jefferson Starship for awhile in 2000, and it’s the best. Then I thought about how difficult, fluid and emotionally taxing — and enriching and deeply loving — relationships are between fathers and strong-minded daughters, and wanted to write about that. So I put the two together, put The Fever on the road … and the book wrote itself from there.

10: What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Rather than borrow from hits of other bands (and deal with the rights clearances and fees), I wrote 80 songs in the protagonists’ persona and voices — 40 for Tom Timoreaux, and 40 for Christine Timoreaux. These serve to create the band’s set list for its massive one-off tour; the lyrics are both in the book and the website that will soon go up, http://www.voicecentral.com. Also, I wove the recent history of American music into every bit of this book, so you will find more than 150 anecdotes and band or song references throughout … like a “Where’s Waldo?” for die-hard music fans. What a lot of people don’t realize about the older rock stars (especially Robert Plant, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Keith Richards and Paul McCartney) is that they all carry encyclopedic knowledge of and deep reverence towards the history of blues, folk and rock — not to mention making a few contributions of their own. I celebrate that, especially through the character of Chester Craven, the lead guitarist.

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