September 20, 2019 § 3 Comments
Excited to return to one of my favorite corners of the planet to embark on this new National Geographic program, my first in nearly a year.
In my capacity as featured expert I’ll be delivering a series of lectures on the long, colorful history of the Iberian peninsula, from the earliest clues about human life to the Romans and the Moors and the rise and fall of the Hapsburg dynasty—and possibly beyond that, if we have time, to Francisco de Goya and the Peninsular War.
If there’s enough interest, I’ll also be offering an ad hoc field-based creative writing workshop, and hopefully getting some of my own scribbling done too.
Also looking forward to visiting some of the fascinating sites we have on the itinerary, meeting everyone else on our river ship, the Scenic Azure, and of course sampling some delicious food, wine, and port!
May 2, 2019 § 2 Comments
Pleased to report the appearance of a new travel essay, “Cuba After Fidel,” out in Wanderlust: The Best of 2019 Anthology.
Here’s the opening paragraph:
“At dusk on the evening of November 29, 2016, three days after the announcement of Fidel Castro’s death, I set off on foot with a small group of friends to Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución for a memorial rally attended by perhaps half a million people. It was not good planning but simple dumb luck that I’d booked a flight to Havana a few days after the revolutionary leader’s death, just as the official mourning period was getting underway. I was determined to take advantage. As a frequent visitor to Cuba since the late nineties, and in light of the diametrically conflicting narratives surrounding the revolutionary leader’s life, I’ve struggled to come to a satisfactory conclusion about Fidel Castro. This trip seemed to present an excellent opportunity to find out how the Cubans themselves felt about him—not the exiles celebrating in the streets of Miami, whose feelings were clear enough, but those Cubans who’d spent most or all of their lives in the society he’d presided over and shaped.”
If you’re a fan of travel writing and/or want to read on, you can buy the anthology here.
November 4, 2018 § 3 Comments
On this key midterm election day in the USA, I’m so thrilled to be heading back (after voting, of course) to one of my favorite corners of planet Earth, an area of vast and stunning wilderness encompassing the islands, waters, and mountain ranges of the southernmost reaches of the South American continent.
We’ll be stopping over for a few days in Buenos Aires, but the real adventure begins in Ushuaia, the world’s southernmost city, as we board the Stella Australis, a small (150-200 passenger) Chilean-run cruise ship, and set off into the stark and storied landscapes and seascapes of Tierra del Fuego.
We’ll visit the legendary Cape Horn, making a landing if the weather allows, and then follow in the wake of Charles Darwin’s Beagle and use zodiacs to explore various fascinating features, including fjords, tidewater glaciers, a penguin colony, and pristine high latitude temperate rainforests of this spectacular convergence of land, sea and ice, we’ll be on the lookout for whales, sea lions, penguins, albatross and many other fascinating bird species.
Next, we’ll stay in the amazing Tierra Patagonia hotel at the foot of the dramatic granite spires and horns of Torres del Paine National Park. Here we’ll have several full days of hiking and/or horseback riding amidst one of the world’s most striking landscapes, in a part of Chile with some of the lowest human population densities on the planet.
This rich and diverse ecosystem is of particular interest to us because it includes an apex predator, the elusive puma, and its primary prey, the charming and highly entertaining guanaco. What a magnificent opportunity!
This will be my fifth time on this particular National Geographic itinerary, and I’m thrilled to be heading back. One of the advantages of being a writer is that it’s a multi-disciplinary pursuit—and a trip like this provides great material.
I’m a big fan of history, geography, ecology, and biography as disciplines that enrich any travel experience, and it will be my privilege to share some of those wide-ranging interests with the National Geographic group.
Talks will focus on the history and geography of the region and the lives of explorers and adventurers who went on to make important contributions to humanity and the planet—and whose early lives were shaped by their journeys to Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. My final talk will be more personal in nature, about my parallel careers as a novelist and travel guide, the links between travel, writing, and environmental awareness, and what I call the “geographic imagination.”
All in all, it promises to be an unforgettable experience. This is a really fantastic part of the world and I highly recommend you get there if you can. I could be convinced, by the way, to organize a custom trip or two if anyone’s interested . . .
October 16, 2018 § Leave a comment
What a pleasure it was to spend part of a recent afternoon having this wide-ranging conversation with Colorado novelist Mark Stevens on The Rocky Mountain Writer podcast.
We discussed many topics of interest to writers and readers, including A Field Guide to Murder & Fly Fishing, travel and fiction, Ecuadorian volcanoes, Venezuela’s Orinoco basin, Eastern Cuba, fiction vs autobiography, the importance of place in fiction, dropping acid and pushing the bounds of objective reality, interiority and loneliness, The Grateful Dead and the Eleusinian Mysteries, fly fishing as metaphor, Ursula K. LeGuin, William Golding’s The Inheritors, Newport MFA & the Cuba Writers Program, and a recap of a talk I gave on “The Essentials of Voice” at RMFW’s Colorado Gold conference in September, 2018.
Listen to the entire podcast here. Mark also did a wonderful followup print interview here, in which we talked about life experience as a point of departure for fiction, the deep sources of story ideas, more on why I think dreams and hallucinations shouldn’t be off-limits for fiction writers, place-based writing as a response to environmental crisis, the challenge of endings, some of my favorite writers, and more. Enjoy!
November 2, 2017 § 2 Comments
It’s been a few years, and I’m thrilled to be returning to one of my favorite regions on the planet with National Geographic Expeditions’ Exploring Patagonia program. This season I’m slated to accompany two trips: one in November, 2017 and a second in January, 2018. We’ll be cruising through Tierra del Fuego in a small, expertly crewed, Chilean-owned ship, the M.V. Stella Australis. We’ll embark from Ushuaia, the world’s southernmost city, round Cape Horn, and make our way up through the Magdalena Passage and the Agostini Sound, taking advantage of daily Zodiac landings to explore Hornos Island, Wulaia Bay, glaciers, and penguin colonies. Fantastic!
The Stella Australis will then drop us off in Punta Arenas, Chile, and we’ll head up to the stunning wilderness of Torres del Paine, where we’ll have daily opportunities to wander, both on foot and horseback. We can expect to see guanaco, rhea, Andean condor, many other bird species, and possibly even a puma or two. But it’s the vastness and sublime beauty of these wilderness landscapes that is the true highlight here. This part of the world is one of the least densely populated on earth, and it’s never short of inspiring!
I’m excited to be leading the educational aspects of the program in my role as National Geographic’s “featured expert.” Other than informal group interactions the main element of this task is to give a series of illustrated talks: an intro to the history and geography of the region; Charles Darwin and the Voyage of the Beagle; American artist and adventurer Rockwell Kent; Ivon Chounard, Douglas Tomkins and “los Fun Hogs.”
I’ll also be giving a brand new talk that I’m thrilled to debut in Patagonia, in which I’ll attempt to make sense of the links between travel, fiction, place-based writing, all in the context of this strange hybrid career of mine.
If you’re signed up for either of these trips, I look forward to traveling with you. If not, stay tuned: there are likely to be similar opportunities in the future!
June 2, 2017 § Leave a comment
“The blackout was a revelation. It happened at around eight PM, in Trinidad, Cuba, on one of those moonless tropical nights that fall so suddenly you barely notice the dusk. This was several years ago—before the loosening of travel regulations that occurred under President Obama—and the number of American tourists remained small . . . At the time of the occurrence described in this essay, I was traveling to the country with cultural tourism groups at least half a dozen times a year.”
Click here to read the full essay.
May 8, 2017 § Leave a comment
Really enjoyed this wide-ranging conversation with the perceptive Art Hutchinson at Fiction Writers Review. We discussed, among other things, extreme sports, the supernatural, foreign and historical settings, pushing the boundaries of conscious perception, and why the inner landscape is something fiction can do better than any other art. Read the whole interview here!
April 9, 2017 § Leave a comment
“As a species, we’re ruled and dominated by our over-developed hominid imaginations. Setting is what propels us into the dream of story, because its lucidity — its sensory concreteness — activates our imaginations on a subconscious level, irresistibly, without our knowledge or permission.” — from “Research Notes: A Field Guide to Murder & Fly Fishing,” an illustrated meditation on place and the writing process at Necessary Fiction
“We read novels and stories for distraction, for entertainment, yet the best fiction also gives us something life itself cannot: direct exposure to the internal life of another human being. It is this unique backstage access that makes good fiction more immersive and emotionally gripping than any other narrative medium.” — from “What Are Writers For? A Fiction Writer’s Perspective,” at GrubWrites.
April 7, 2017 § Leave a comment
“What I was trying to do was first of all just to tell a good story.”
Really enjoyed my recent conversation with Vermont Public Radio’s Mitch Wertlieb! We discussed writing, fly fishing, avalanches, the Grateful Dead, and other topics related to my newly released short fiction collection, A Field Guide to Murder & Fly Fishing.
Here’s a link to the podcast and transcript of the interview. Have a listen if you’re curious: the whole thing is just under seven minutes long. And here’s a link to the collection, which can be purchased at Amazon, B & N, or by request from your favorite local bookstore!
March 21, 2017 § Leave a comment
New essay up up at The Millions, in which I trace Hemingway’s 30 year love affair with Havana and try to get to the bottom of what his lingering influence says about both the writer and the city. Read the whole thing here. A brief excerpt:
In Havana, Ernest Hemingway’s restless ghost lingers more palpably than in any of the other places in the world that can legitimately claim him: Paris, Madrid, Sun Valley, Key West. Havana was his principal home for more than three decades, and its physical aspect has changed very little since he left it, for the last time, in the spring of 1960.
I’ve been traveling to the city with some regularity since 1999, when I directed one of the first officially sanctioned programs for U.S. students in Cuba since the triumph of Fidel Castro’s 1959 Revolution. As an aspiring novelist, I’ve long been interested in Hemingway’s work, but I had no idea how prominently Havana figured in the author’s life — nor how prominently the author figured in the city’s defining iconography — until I began spending time there.