A Conversation with Rolf Potts

It was such a pleasure speaking with Rolf Potts, one of my favorite travel writers -- and all-around great guy -- about how I got started traveling and writing, and about my writing process. Rolf is not only a great writer, he's a fabulous interviewer, and this series is, in my opinion, one of the best around. It's a tremendous honor to be featured alongside such luminaries as Pico Iyer, Tim Cahill, Don George, Rick Steves, Amanda Jones, Andrew McCarthy, Jennifer Leo, Stephanie Elizondo Griest, Holly Morris, and -- oh God, there are just too many more to name. Thanks to Rolf for including me.

Writing travel stories forces you to pay closer attention, to lean more into your experience; it's a quest of sorts, one that requires you to meet locals and ask weird questions and open your mind.

How did you get started traveling?

The summer after I turned ten, my parents moved my family from New Hampshire to Arizona. We spent three weeks driving cross-country in a yellow 1965 school bus converted into a camper named "Gillie Rom," or "Song of the Road" in Romany, the Gypsy language. We stayed at KOAs, crashed at friends' homes, and got ourselves into all manner of family shenanigans. One night my father jimmied the lock on a rental paddleboat at a KOA, and we all floated along on a moonlit lake while he serenaded us with his classical guitar. That trip awakened in me a pivotal realization that the road was a mysterious place where anything could happen.

How did you get started writing?

From the time I was five, it was clear I'd either be a guitarist or a writer. I wrote in my journal constantly, and my idol was Harriet the Spy because she too scribbled in her diary nonstop. At the age of ten I started writing a novel called Lenny, Jenny, and Me, a tragicomedy about three siblings (Lenny, Jenny, and Penny), whose names rhymed because their parents—unlike my own—were not very bright. It was really terrible, but I wrote hundreds of pages. When I quit playing guitar at the age of thirteen, I knew from that point on that I'd be a writer; I never even considered another path.

What do you consider your first "break" as a writer?

My first break was having parents who supported my writing and never tried to convince me to pursue a more practical career. The value of this is incalculable. In terms of publishing, it was being hired by my sister and her business partner to write With a Measure of Grace, the cookbook for Hell's Backbone Grill, their restaurant in Boulder, Utah. I had published poems, stories, and articles before but never tackled anything so involved as writing a book—I spent months interviewing chefs, farmers, Mormon ranchers, and teenage dishwashers, researching everything from edible flowers to oppressive Utah liquor laws to the virtues of unrefined table salt. Writing the book was an incredible learning experience that led to a lot of wonderful opportunities, including regular assignments for Sunset Magazine and Yoga Journal.

  Read the rest on rolfpotts.com