I guess it started with a little Nora Ephron movie that I watched on TV over Christmas in 2011.
Julie Powell is a New York writer who started writing a cooking blog on a now-closed website called Open Salon. She caught the attention of the New York Times and collected many followers until finally her story was made into a charming Hollywood confection called “Julie and Julia.” I was home by myself watching movies and cleaning my apartment and I thought, “Wow, I could do that, too.” I’ll write an Open Salon blog about being a Midwestern small town girl living in New York and see if anybody notices – and then I’ll buy a pied-a-terre in Paris with the money from my movie.
So, that both did and did not happen, well, yet. I started writing on Open Salon a few days later and knew so little about blogging at the time that I was stunned when someone “rated” my blog and posted a comforting, supportive comment. (You’re supposed to do that?) Well, yeah. That’s the point. I had become a member of an online community of writers who were reading and commenting, rating, ranting, and occasionally flouncing. That was our word for “leaving in a huff.” We had movie nights, drawing contests, and much love among us. I had never known anything quite like it. I had a few hundred new friends who learned something about me, my family in the Midwest, my New York City transit woes, and my love of all things travel. I learned about an illustrator living in Australia, a bookstore owner in Illinois, and a cool kid yoga teacher in DC. If it’s one thing writers like, it’s having many friends who write.
My first book was a collection of my blogs – “A Marshmallow on the Bus.” It celebrates the funky nuance of New York that a lot of folks take for granted. It’s the soundtrack I hear when I’m getting on the bus or walking into a drugstore. My fascination is rooted in the fact that I am still relatively new to living in a big city since I just moved here in 1979. Marshmallow was followed by two more collections of essays, poems, and short stories, and a collection of poems written on the train to work.
But the running thread here was clear – I was traveling around New York by myself and found that if I could describe what I was looking at well enough, the reader could say, “Why, it’s almost like I was there with you,” and I would have some company. It took the longest time for me to realize that I should be doing travel writing. Isn’t that all it is? Telling you what I see so you can see it, too?
When I first started traveling to Spain in 2003, I was on the Flamenco circuit with my daughter who studied in Sevilla and Madrid and I kept notes of everything I saw, ate, and everywhere we went because I knew we’d be back as a family. These notebooks would be essential to me in the moment, but collected in a box I’d never look at when I got home. But in the case of the Camino? I knew all those notes could help other pilgrims. And American pilgrims, in particular, given the questions I have been asked by members of my local chapter of the American Pilgrims on the Camino (APOC). So I went into the box and pulled out notes from each of the times I have been on the Camino, either walking or working – 2009, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 – and I wrote about it.
And just last week, my little book, “Buen Camino! Tips from an American Pilgrim,” became a Finalist in the Independent Author Network Book of the Year Awards for 2018 in Travel. It’s a book to read before you pack for your first Camino or your next Camino. It’s a book that will clue in your family, both in terms of knowing where you are going, but also in understanding the small wonders that keep bringing us back. I tell you what to expect in a day’s worth of walking and I also let you in on some cool insider tips – something anyone walking will use. It’s filled with little stories of the wonderful people I’ve met, both working as an hospitalero and walking with pilgrims.
I’m writing a new collection of poetry now, prompted by the psychics who advertise on the NYC subway, but I will go back writing about the Camino again. I’m already planning a Portuguese route next April. If you can’t walk with me, I’ll do my best to describe it to you. Then we both get to go!
“Buen Camino!” is available in paperback in the Camino Forum Store (Casa Ivar) in Santiago de Compostela and on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.
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And The Camino Letters Project