Lena Katz & The People You Meet Writing Travel


My colleague Tina Dupuy recently introduced me to Orbitz travel blogger Lena Katz, who has just begun publishing a series of “Travel Temptation” guides: Snow California, Sun California, and Sip California. She started emailing me about some of the stories behind putting the books together, and I said, hey, how about you share this on my website? And here we are.

I pitched one travel book and got an offer to write five.

Don’t be jealous. The first advance the publisher offered was so piddly that, if I had accepted and written one book every six months, the money split over 30 months would have barely covered my car payment. Eventually, my agent negotiated a contract for a 3-book deal that would actually enable me to pay not only my car, but my rent too. Bonus!!

By the time I finished all my pre-existing contracts and began to write the first book, I was already a month behind, and my publishers had started to hate me. This would continue until the final edit of Book #3. For a writer, all that business of “exceeding expectations” and “delivering ahead of schedule’ ends when you sign your first book contract. Books invariably take on their own life, and you just follow them as best you can.

In the beginning, I knew I wanted to have a lot of “insider experts” in my books. This quickly evolved to an insane ongoing scavenger hunt, with me collecting interviews by the dozen, going after ever more elusive subjects, and refusing to stop even when my editor said, “Please! If you didn’t do another minute of research on this book, we would be just fine!!”

In LA, I crashed private dinner parties of famous French chefs, sweet-talked reality TV stars and feature film producers, showed up at an AVP volleyball tournament on zero notice in hot pursuit of Kerri Walsh, went to a stunt person beach party (stunt people are incredibly mellow when not working, BTW), and discovered that of all the self-involved, money-grubbing, shallow people in the city, the worst by far are… the Yoga Gurus. If you see “spiritual,” “mind-body” or “conscious healing” in a biography, you’re almost guaranteed that person will not give you 30 seconds of their time without being paid for it.

I found the Wine Country to be an emotional obstacle course, full of long-standing feuds and neighborhood gossip. So many millionaires in Napa Valley, so few acres. Then Sonoma, that sprawled-out, self-congratulatory home of basket-weavers and Russian River Pinot. And Mendo—rough, rugged, redwoods, wanting only to be left alone. I canvassed those counties. I heard the stories of Grgich and Gallo, Winiarski and Foppiano, Prohibition-era bootleggers and turn-of-the-century lynch mobs. And they are all in the book. God bless ’em.

Finally I went up into the mountains. I knew I was going deep when I stayed at little motor inn, and was the only guest who wasn’t a bear hunter.

(“Don’t let your dog run up in the hills” said the innkeeper. “There are creatures up there in the woods—you can’t see them, but they can see you.”)

After this encouraging welcome, my dog and I drove up into Lassen, where the gold miners blow through rock with dynamite; into the Eastern Sierras, where a famous scientist invited me to come into the mountains on his annual bighorn sheep tagging expedition; and into Truckee, where Mark Estee of Moody’s fed me four kinds of pig in one meal (go Mark!!). Finally, into Shasta. There, I hooked up with a 21-year-old boy right before my car engine blew out and landed me in a dope farm where I got threatened at gunpoint by a man with an AK-47.

Some of that is in the books. Some will have to wait for the next book.

That’s always the way it is for a writer, right? That’s the hell of it, of course—but that’s what keeps us going.

18 July 2009 | guest authors |