Monday, June 05, 2006

My Beginning: David Farley

This month's interview features David Farley, author of Travelers' Tales Prague and the Czech Republic. Farley's work has appeared in Travel & Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler, Playboy, and the Chicago Tribune.

Name: David Farley

Favorite travel writer and why: I don’t really have a favorite “travel” writer, but some of the writers who have inspired me are Joan Didion, David Sedaris, Susan Orlean, Francine Prose, and Bill Bryson.

Favorite travel book and why: This isn’t a very popular thing to say for a travel writer, but I find that a lot travel books—especially the kind that have titles like Two months in Tuscany, A Summer in Sicily, etc.—have a hard time keeping my attention. I read a lot of nonfiction, but it’s not limited to travel. I also read a lot of magazines like The New Yorker.

How did you get started in travel writing: Thomas Swick, who edits the excellent travel section of the South Florida Sun Sentinel, tells budding travel writers that the best way to become a travel writer is to go live abroad. Which is what I’ve done. A few times, actually. I’ve lived in Prague and Rome and have really gotten a lot of great writing material.

Name and publication of first published piece: The very first story was something about being an expatriate in Prague for a website called, but the first print story—the first story I actually got paid for—was “Eloping, Italian Style,” about my wedding in Rome, in the Chicago Tribune.

# of published pieces your first year: I actually can’t remember. I wasn’t only writing “travel” stories my first year as a freelance writer. But I do remember that I didn’t eat a lot that year.

How long did it take to publish your first piece? For both pieces I mentioned above—the stories on being an expat in Prague and getting married in Rome—it didn’t actually take too long. Maybe a few months. But I worked on those stories—particularly the one for the Chicago Tribune—quite a long time before I sent it in for consideration.

What is your best/worse rejection? Not surprisingly, my most memorable rejections are the bad ones. I once sent my story about attending a pig killing the Czech hinterlands (which is in my book, Travelers’ Tales Prague and the Czech Republic) to a large newspaper travel section and the editor responded with this: “There is no way in the world that we could publish this—the PETA people, among others, would be down on us like a ton of bricks.” The fact is, raising a pig and then killing it for food, one could argue, is more morally sound than how most of us get our meat, by factory farming.

Most recently, I received a rejection from an editor at one of the big travel magazines that said something like “We like our stories to be newsy and have an angle, and from what I can see, your story proposal has neither.” Ouch!

When was the exact moment you wanted to become a travel writer? I have no idea.

When did you feel you were a travel writer? Also, I have no idea. Maybe when I started getting paid to do it.

Why travel writing? I love to research—both before a trip and while I’m there—how historical events have shaped the present state of a place and how larger forces that are out of the ordinary person’s control (economic factors, for instance) dictate life. My stories are always filled with a lot of exposition and back story, explaining how the past has affected the present.
But also, like many people who are lured to travel writing, I was at first attracted by the romantic notion of being sent somewhere to write. But I’ve intentionally tried to move away from that—I think a lot of people who gravitate to this genre have really fetishized the idea of getting things for free (either comped or being sent somewhere by the publication) and I think that puts one’s focus more on what you’re getting for free and not on the actual writing.

Your thoughts on non-paying markets: I think if that’s what you have to do to get some clips, then do it.

What do you feel is the state of travel writing, dead or alive? Framing it within the dichotomy of “dead or alive” seems a bit extreme. Commercial travel writing, especially in newspaper travel sections, has been challenged by budget cuts, which means most travel editors are buying less and less from freelance writers. Literary travel writing (i.e. books) has always been challenged by the large sector of the American population who lack a desire to travel. Travel books sell a lot better in places like England and Australia because those cultures have a much stronger (and longer) tradition of travel.

Finish this sentence: Why didn't someone tell me....that drive and tenacity are, in many ways, just as important as writing ability.

Advice for other beginning travel writers: My personal philosophy of travel writing is to entertain and educate. If someone can put down one of my articles having laughed a little and learned a little about the place, I feel I’ve succeeded. So, my advice to budding travel writers is just that: keep your writing interesting in both entertainment and enlightenment. Also, when you’re not writing, it’s most important to keep reading.

Learn more about Farley at

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