Talking with Joe Cummings (page 2)
Talking with Joe Cummings
page 1, page 2
What’s the worse mistake that you made as a travel writer?
  Once I got a letter from a reader praising some sumptuous mural paintings inside a temple in northeastern Thailand, one that I’d never been to. I took his word for it and recommended the temple in the next edition of my guide. Later when I finally visited the temple myself, the murals were terrible, like bad cartoons! I learned a valuable lesson from that experience, and I always check readers’ recommendations personally before writing them up.
  Do you read many travel writers? If so, who?
  My favorite travel writers are the novelists: Jean-Louis Ferdinand Celine; Joseph Conrad; Graham Greene; Paul Bowles; Alvaro Mutis. Of contemporary travel essayists my favorites are Bill Bryson, P.J. O’Rourke and Rolf Potts.
How do you gather material? Do you do all your research and then once you’re home, you write? Or do you keep a journal as you go?
  When I’m on the road, I do research, period. I know some travel writers do the writing on the road — to keep it fresh, I suppose. Me, I like to be out there getting more info for my readers rather than sitting in my hotel room writing. That’s for writers who are prose-heavy, data-light, i.e., most contemporary travel writers!
     However I can't say I necessarily write at “home” because home is usually a temporary spot where I rent a house or apartment for a month or three, and that’s where I write the material up. I do have a home, or rather two homes (one in Thailand, one in Mexico), where I do a fair amount of writing, but at least half of my work is done at temporary digs between homes.
What would you suggest to someone who wants to be a travel writer?
  Read a lot, write a lot. Take courses in travel writing — they can really help. The most successful travel writers are those who are driven to do it and who don’t give the money much thought. Which is just as well, since there really isn’t much money in it for 99% of most writers! Rolf Potts has some excellent tips for would-be travel writers on his website, Rolf is one of the best new talents out there, and may become the next Paul Theroux.
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