Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Fiction, the True Travel Writing of the Twenty-first Century

A successful story could be seen as a guided tour to a place not on any map, certainly not on a tourist map. The tourist guides would not direct you to places where you might shop for local treasures, nor would they warn you about pickpockets or tourist scams. Rather, they'd brief you on the life going on about you in such a way that you might consider coming back, even wanting to stay in this landscape for a year or two or forever.


If a successful story is not such a guided tour, you might well question the degree of success it has achieved or the memorable issues it has evoked through the ongoing clash of characters who are pursuing a path of interest. You might also compare it to guided tours of places you are tired of being guided to, which is to say it is a place on several maps, accessible with relentless ease.

It is safe for you to say your nomination for the worst possible tourist destination dates back to your early childhood, where Sunset Boulevard was littered with suspicious looking people, sitting under umbrellas or sunshades, selling maps to the homes of movie stars. 

Beyond the fact of knowing where most movie stars of the time lived and being singularly unimpressed with the knowledge, you were also pushed to the then limits of your understanding of the human condition with wondering why any adult would pay money for such maps, then drive about Beverly Hills or the outer reaches of the Hollywood Hills, looking for homes they could never hope to enter much less own.

You recall not only asking your parents about this enigma, you also recall this being one of the times they did not tell you you would understand when you grew older. True enough, this was not an insight you gained with age.

A close second to these destinations are to be found in full-page ads on the back cover of the AAA Auto Club magazine and the cruise advertisements in The New York Times. Somewhere among the thirty-two hundred fifty-odd postings for this blog, you stumbled across your awareness of the similarity between fiction writing and travel writing, including the high ends (rat tails of the bell curve) and low ends (also rat tails of the same bell curve) and the low.

Travel writing presents a place in a way that makes the traveler think, Yes, I've got to go there, to experience that place and those people and their culture.Fiction causes the reader to take the trip, perhaps unwillingly at first, then with a greater sense of this not having been a bad idea by any means. 

Good travel writing probably would not make you want to tour movie stars homes, but it has already given you an itch to explore Iceland, Greenland, Alaska, 'Denmark, and Norway, places known for many cultural features but also for the unrelenting cold.

Story has made you go to cold places in spite of your aversion, so why not entertain the thought of going in reality to places of top-notch travel writing. Travel writing has caused you to wish to return to Los Angeles, which for the most part has become a place you were eager to leave. 

Story, in similar fashion, has caused you to return to places you once visited and thought you'd had enough of. But something in the writer's voice or attitude, something int he characters and circumstances cause you to let down your guard, risking a return to a place that was, in your opinion, a tourist trap.

Only this evening, at Tuesday drinks, you spoke at length with someone who'd only yesterday returned from Denver. You've been to Denver on one or two occasions, not all that excited--a decent meal, a fine room at a fine hotel, another fine meal, but unless a writer of the stature of James Lee Burke or, say. Joyce Carol Oates, casts characters in Denver, forget it.

To your great surprise and pleasure, there was (still is) a feature in the Heard Museum of Anthropology in Phoenix that made a few ventures to that scabby and peeling city worthwhile. The joy there was the Barry Goldwater collection of Hopi kachina dolls. You would go back again to spend an afternoon in that glorious collection. Afterward is another matter.

The crux of travel writing is to cause you to visit a different kind of geography, the landscape of emotions, the terrain of the human heart in action. You have to be a good travel writer to get 
knowledgeable readers to sign on for such tours as those.

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