Today, Norm Goldman, Editor of Bookpleasures.com and Sketchandtravel.com is excited to have as our guest, Barbie Perkins-Cooper.
Barbie is a playwright, travel writer, author and an award winning screenwriter. Barbie lives in Charleston, South Carolina and is an expert on SC as well as North Carolina and other geographical areas. Barbie is also the author of a soon to be published Insides’ Guide to Asheville, NC
Good day Barbie and thank you for agreeing to participate in our interview.
Please tell our readers a little bit about your personal and professional background. When did your passion for travel writing begin and when did you start traveling? What keeps you going? How do you come up with ideas for what you write? What methods do you use to flesh out your idea to determine if it’s salable?
Thank you Norm. It is a pleasure to be here and to discuss travel writing. I have been a writer since the third grade of elementary school. My first science fiction story was published many, many years ago, all to the credit of my third grade teacher and father. Of course, like most kids, I failed to see the thrill and passion of writing until later in life. In the 1980’s I suffered from depression and started writing again. Looking back, I discovered I did have a flair for words, so I joined a writers group giving myself ten years to achieve something, or I’d only write for fun and family letters.
In 1994, after writing my first screenplay, I entered a few screenplay competitions, after suggestions from my agent, and I was selected as a finalist. My passion for travel writing started in 2003 after attending a travel writing workshop hosted by Sharon Spence Lieb. She inspired me so much that I had to put my credentials to the test. Within 24 hours, I had my first FAM trip. I have been working as a travel writer since October 2003. At first, it was a struggle, but with each decline, I persevered, determined to achieve my goals.
Since I write (and revise) my goals every January, my goal for 2005 was to target guidebook publishers. I developed a proposal, based on the Charleston, SC community. Because I was still working full-time at a college, like most writers, my desk was stacking high with e-mails and snail mail to read. I targeted the higher paying markets, at first.
In December 2004, I submitted a query to a travel guide site, pitching an idea about Charleston. The editor responded stating she had just finalized the Charleston guidebook but she liked my style and wanted me to keep in touch. Flash forward to May of 2005. The clock was ticking as my job was downsized and I had no clue what I would do after June 2 when my career in the Corporate World ended. I knew I wanted to write, so I reread my dusty goals, and those cluttered e-mails, finding the correspondence with the editor. Quickly, I sent her another e-mail, and within minutes (or so it seemed) she responded, wanting a proposal from me within three days. I wrote the shortest proposal in history and sent it to her.
After a few weeks of negotiations, we agreed on the contract and now I am working on my first guidebook, Insiders’ Guide to Asheville, NC, scheduled for publication in the spring of 2007. My father lived in Asheville for many years, and I have several friends there, so I felt comfortable writing about the city. After that doorway opened, a few magazines I had targeted previously responded to my queries and now, I am publishing travel stories on a regular basis.
The things that keep me going are the people, places, and things I discover while traveling. I love meeting the people and discovering the flavor of the area.
On a recent trip to one of the devastated areas from Hurricane Katrina, I met a displaced man from New Orleans. Although he had relocated, he still had a passion for life. He will be a character I use in a story. The stories I discover at each location inspire me to look deep within to discover the actions and characters revealed. Not only is there a character, there is adventure.
While traveling, you get to try new adventures you never anticipated before. On a trip to Alabama, we visited the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. My goal and dream as a teenager was to become a famous singer. Unfortunately, I never pursued that dream until I stepped into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, and there, I was able to record a song while the group cheered me on. My dream was now reality!
On a trip to Kentucky, I interviewed blue grass musicians, coal miners, male quilt makers, and singers. During each interview, I discovered that regardless who they were, despite all of the adversities in life, these people held a passion for life in their hearts, and a love for their town and artistry. Each time I meet and interview someone, I am inspired with new stories to tell. On another trip, I met a mother who was desperate to save her daughter’s school in Kentucky. The more we talked, the more I realized this was a story I needed to tell others, and I am still sending queries pertaining to her story and the educational plans of Kentucky.
The methods I use to determine if a story is marketable are to determine the angle I will use and I research the markets, answering the questions:
Who is the story targeting to and what angle?
What markets may I approach?
Who cares about this story?
Resources I use weekly are:
Writer’s Guidelines, 4th Edition by Brigitte M. Phillips, Susan D. Klassen, and Doris Hall
Fortunately, after many hurdles, I now have editors approaching me about story ideas. It’s taken me years to accomplish this, but it is exciting to finally have regular assignments. Nevertheless, I still have a goal of sending five query letters out weekly, and I have an idea spreadsheet that I update with new story ideas, almost on a weekly basis. I encourage all writers to write goals down. Build an ideas file, update on a regular basis, and never give up. Always remember, one editor’s rejection will be another editor’s acceptance. It has certainly happened to me, and each time, I’ve submitted that same query, or an updated version, to another market.
As you are very familiar with South Carolina, if you had to choose eight of the most romantic venues for a wedding celebration, honeymoon, or romantic getaway, which ones would you choose and why?
Eight romantic venues in the South Carolina area for weddings would be:
Any of the beautiful churches in the downtown area of Charleston are romantic and stunning for weddings. There are so many that it would be really hard to choose which one, although St. Michael’s Episcopal Church is the one that really stands out in my mind.
Grace Episcopal Church is another breathtaking beauty for a wedding. The architecture, statues, and ceilings are stunning.
Sullivan’s Island Beach I’ve seen several beach weddings along the shores of Sullivan’s Island. With the backdrop of the ocean, and the sand dunes along the shore, the view makes for a beautiful setting.
Alhambra Hall a garden wedding on the lawn, overlooking the harbor of Charleston and our new signature bridge the Arthur Ravenel, Jr. Bridge. Many of the weddings are held on the lawn, decorated with all white chairs draped in white bows, ribbons, and flowers, lining the walkway for the bride. One particular wedding had a red and white theme, a red carpet, white chairs and the bridal attendants dressed in red. This was an afternoon wedding and was gorgeous. At Alhambra Hall, the reception may be held either outside or in the fellowship hall area. This building was remodeled after Hurricane Hugo and it is a beautiful, romantic setting for receptions, weddings, and family reunions. Book it early it usually has a long waiting list!
Magnolia Gardens Magnolia Plantation and Gardens is another dramatic place to hold a wedding, especially during the spring time when the gardens are in full bloom. There is a beautiful white bridge serving as a backdrop that makes a gorgeous site, also, a gazebo. Since the trend in Charleston is to host a wedding outside near the gardens, Magnolia Plantation is definitely a romantic place to make the special, romantic times of a wedding spectacular.
Park locations including the Waterfront Park, located in downtown Charleston, White Point Gardens, Hampton Park, and Washington Park. Waterfront Park provides the scenery of the harbor, and deep in the horizon a view of the new bridge previously mentioned. The other parks have breathtaking views serving as a mesmerizing backdrop, so any of the parks in Charleston, especially during the spring time, can make a beautiful wedding. For additional information about park weddings visit HERE
The Citadel If you’ve never visited Charleston and driven by the Citadel, you are missing a great picturesque view. Summerall Chapel hosts a variety of weddings. The campus, complete with landscapes, interesting architecture and military history is beautiful. CLICK HERE
Boone Hall Plantation with the sweeping landscapes, plantation home, and the history attached to Boone Hall Plantation, this is the perfect location to have a traditional Southern wedding, full of charm, heritage, and romance that would make Scarlett and Rhett envious.
In the Charleston community, there are so many romantic and beautiful sites it is truly difficult to narrow the locations down to only eight. Since I love the ocean, I enjoy the beauty of the city at the Battery, and while walking along the beach. For additional sites to consider, CLICK HERE
What does travel mean to you? As a traveler and fact/story-gatherer, what is your biggest challenge on the road and how do you overcome these challenges.
If I had to define travel, I would define it as a thrilling adventure and exploration about life and people. I find people fascinating. I enjoy watching them, their body language, and their zest for life. Almost everyone has a story to tell and to share.
The biggest challenge I have while traveling is sometimes I am so rushed I don’t have enough time to get all the ideas completed. These ideas dance inside my head until I can get them down on paper. That is why I always ask for contact information because I know I’ll have additional questions when I transcribe the notes.
I practice the idea of following up by sending thank you letters within two weeks of my trips, and I try to point out something significant that happened during my trip. Another practice I strive for is to take photographs plenty of digital photographs! If I have an image as reference, my brain will usually retrieve the information.
Besides writing travel articles, what other writing gigs have you found profitable or rewarding? As a follow up, you have written in various genre, which ones do you prefer, i.e. travel writing, screen writing, etc
You’ll laugh when I share this information! Although I am a travel writer, many of my credentials are in construction. Since my husband was in construction for many years, I broke into the construction industry, writing stories about highway roadbeds, tilt wall construction, bridge construction, shopping center renovations, John Deere and Komatsu equipment, and a few stories about the construction workers.
Although the pay wasn’t well, it was a stepping stone for me to break into magazine and newspaper writing, and the stories were regular, dependable assignments. Other genres I’ve written for include health and beauty, elder care, business journals, hospitality, food, bedding (a recent story about the new Revive Marriott bed) military venues, and of course, travel.
In 2001, I published a non-fiction memoir titled A Condition of Limbo. I’ve also written seven screenplays, four plays, and I am presently writing a memoir titled, Chattahoochee Child. In October 2005, that story won second place at the South Carolina Writers Workshop writer’s conference held in Myrtle Beach, SC. Lately, most of my time is spent on my guidebook. The deadline for the final project is scheduled for June 2006, with the spring 2007 as the publication date. I am excited about this project and continue to schedule time to write travel stories.
What advice would you give to someone who is considering going into travel writing in order to achieve success?
My friends tease me constantly about writing so much, but as we know, life is a challenge. Life is much too short to look back with regret, so every day, I strive to make the most of that day. Writing is something I attempt to schedule on a daily basis, although as writers know, life does have a way of breaking into the demands of our busy lives. Writers must continue to work towards their goals and dreams and never give up. We must persevere with belief and pride for what we do.
The best advice I would give to a writer considering travel writing is to learn all that you can learn and to establish your goals every January. I am constantly adjusting my goals, but for 2005, my goal was to land a book contract. Following the guidelines I wrote, I achieved that goal this year by following up with editors. I have a notebook on my desk titled Follow up. I file all comments from editors, contacts, etc. in that booklet and refer to it at least once a month.
Networking is crucial. Last week while on a press trip I met an editor and now I have an assignment with her. Networking is the key.
If truly interested in travel writing, contact the Convention and Visitors Bureaus (CVB’s) introduce yourself along with your credentials and request consideration to be added to their press list. I have made many contacts by doing this. Most of them are most receptive to assisting with story ideas and they will make suggestions.
Another suggestion is to start out slow. I made the attempt to break into the bigger markets, only to discover the majority of them have staff writers they use. I write for trade and regional magazines, and now I’m writing a guidebook. The most important suggestion I would tell anyone wanting to break into travel writing is to never give up. A writer must keep marketing. Build a web site (or hire someone else to do this for you). I am not a web master, so I use resources that will assist me. Carry business cards everywhere, and introduce yourself as a writer. After all, if you don’t believe in yourself, how can others believe in you?
Is there anything else you wish to share with us that we have not covered?
Yes, I would like to end this interview by saying you must move forward and believe in yourself. Whenever a writer receives a rejection, move on to the next submission. Once, for a construction magazine, I sent a spec assignment, only to discover the editor did not like it. He phoned me stating that he was returning it because it did not meet his needs. I thanked him and moved on, looking for another market. Exactly 24 hours later, I received a phone call from the same publication, but a different editor. He stated he needed an invoice to pay me for the story. I was shocked, stating that only yesterday I was told it was being returned. He replied that he was the new editor and was publishing the story verbatim and he needed an invoice.
This is only one example of how we must persevere. What is one editor’s rejection could be another editor’s acceptance. Never give up! Find your stories while looking for the unique characters. Develop your voice and style. Listen to what your editors say, but believe in your talent, passion, and ability to communicate. Practice your goals, readjust when necessary, and make certain you follow up and practice what you preach to others.
Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors.