I spent the morning at the Glitzy Vodaphone Café (actual name: FUEL, but I won’t be using that name again), drinking too much of the best tea available in Strašnice and working on a project that I’ve been putting off. The story is an account of my adventure on Mt. Etna, with all the facts and figures to make it suitable for consumption by mainstream travel magazines. I’ve been looking forward to tackling this project, since on that climb I learned several things that weren’t in the travel books but really should have been. Here is my chance to be entertaining, published in a major market, and actually useful.
I wrote a draft of it this morning, and it came out all right for a draft, but it has a major flaw. My favorite parts of the article are not about how and why one would climb a volcano, it’s about why I climbed a volcano and my adventures along the way. The other parts of the article, while still in first person, are more devoted to the “useful” voice of travel magazines. At first I thought I had found a balance, giving all the necessary facts within a personal narrative, but on reading now I see that what I have is rather schizophrenic – passages of soaring prose invoking the mysteries of the world and the ancient gods, followed by workmanlike travelogue.
When I first reported on Etna in these pages, a friend told me, (something like) “This story has something that the stories in travel magazines lack.” That’s true, but the pity is that it’s something the travel magazines lack by design. Their stories lack a strong narrator, and for some reason that’s a good thing.
Ultimately, I suspect I’ll have to write two separate versions — the prosaic, useful one to sell to a travel magazine, and the other one. The gonzo one, that starts with beers with fuego the night before and ends twenty-four hours later as the fancy fish restaurant is closing around us and the crushing heat finally relaxes its grip on the city. It’s the version where I can include things I remember clearly, but maybe not what order they occurred in. I wasn’t taking notes. (In Sicily, the word ‘gonzo’ means ‘fool’. That works for me.)
The first of those two stories will be the more difficult to write. It still has to carry my identity with it; after all, travel is all about experience, and there can be no experience without an experiencee. It needs my unique voice or there’s no point in me writing it in the first place, but ultimately the reader has to relate personally to the story, putting themself in my rental hiking boots. In the end, it’s about the reader and the mountain, not me and the mountain. The people who pay for this stuff have made that point very clear.
As I ponder these two incarnations of the same story, it occurrs to me that above I have answered part of my own quandary. I can still sell the gonzo version, just not to travel magazines. I’m not sure right now just where I can sell it, but some of the literary rags still accept stories with narratives, as long as they’re nonfiction.
If I were to start a magazine, it would be a gonzo travel magazine. Not just about places, but people in places. Stories. Experiences. Cultural disconnects and lessons learned. Adventures. Life. Not necessarily the drug-addled craziness that the name’s association with Hunter S. Thompson implies, but journalism from a highly personal point of view. There must be a good supply of those stories, because every travel magazine goes out of their way to say that’s what they don’t want.
You just sit right there until I find out if GonzoTravel.com is taken. No, better yet, someone take that idea and make the magazine I was born to write for.