The RV Book Fair – Jeremiah Gilbert

Welcome to The RV Book Fair! Jeremiah, tell us about your latest book and what inspired you to write it.

For my latest book, On to Plan C, I wanted to document my return to travel after over two years sidelined by the pandemic. Along with the desire to get back on the road, I also wanted to see how things were different. With ever-changing testing and entry requirements, was it possible to get back to normal or was there now a new normal when it comes to travel? This is also my first book to also include my photography, which I have been using to document my travels far longer than I have been writing about them.

What’s the most surprising or unexpected place or situation where you’ve found inspiration for your writing?

As a travel writer, it’s the surprising or unexpected that readers tend to enjoy most. If a trip goes perfectly to plan, it may make for a good vacation but a boring story. My first book focused on these, including spending my fortieth birthday in Paris without money or identification after being pickpocketed on the metro, along with the time I was smuggled through a checkpoint in Bolivia because no one told me I needed my passport. Even the title of my current book, On to Plan C, comes from last summer’s travel plans being ever-changing. Sailing up West Africa (Plan A) became cruising in Northern Europe (Plan B) which then became my wife and I exploring Western Europe on our own (Plan C).

How do you choose the titles for your books, and how important do you think book titles are in attracting readers?

I believe titles and covers are very important for attracting readers as it’s often the first thing they read or see. For me, titles come during the writing process. For instance, my first collection, Can’t Get Here from There, didn’t get its title until I wrote the last travel tale for it and realized its title would make for a good book title. My most recent book, On to Plan C, went through many working titles while it was being written. As the focus for that book shifted and I changed what was included, so did the title until I settled on the one that I used.

Are there any specific authors or books that have influenced your writing style or storytelling?

One of the greatest travel books is Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard, which recounts his two-month search for the snow leopard in the Dolpo region on the Tibetan Plateau in the Himalaya. The writing is engaging and places you in the setting. It’s also hard to beat Paul Theroux’s early work, such as The Great Railway Bazaar or The Old Patagonian Express. He’s a master of description and incorporating dialogue into his writing.

Can you share some insights into your creative process? Do you outline your stories or let them unfold organically?

I either keep a journal when I travel or take notes, and these become the basis for my writing later on. I don’t write on a schedule but rather when I’m inspired, so I find it good to have these at hand as it may be months or even years until I’m using them. My most recent book was different in that it focused on current travels rather than past ones. While I still took notes, I was either writing about my travels right after returning or even while on the road.

How do you balance the need for commercial success with your artistic integrity as a writer?

My father was an artist and I saw how he struggled to find work. So, for me, I have a day job as a college professor that pays the bills and covers my travel expenses. This allows me to produce work I am proud of without having to chase jobs or trends. It’s a great approach for artistic integrity but not so much for commercial success as I just have enough time to produce the work and have to relegate promotion to a back burner.

Can you discuss the role of research in your writing? How do you ensure accuracy in your work?

Essential. A lot of my editing is looking up facts and figures to make sure I noted everything correctly when traveling. While I try not to include too many facts and figures in my writing, I do want to make sure what I state is accurate. I have several sources I use as references and try to check everything at least twice.

What advice do you have for aspiring authors who are looking to get their first book published?

Post your work on a blog or to social media for feedback and to build a following. Also begin submitting your work to publications. Publishers like to see a track record of appearing in magazines and anthologies. If you’re fortunate, you’ll also get some feedback from editors even if your work is rejected that can help you develop.

Do you have any upcoming projects or future writing plans that you’d like to share with your readers?

My next book is going to be more focused on my photography. The intent is to circumnavigate the globe through photos. My plan is to give some background into each location but also share some behind the scenes aspects into how I captured each photo. I’m hoping it will interest both readers interested in travel and looking to improve their photography.

How do you handle writer’s block or periods of low motivation?

I’ve always had multiple creative outlets and tend to shift from one to another when one isn’t flowing. During the pandemic, for instance, I couldn’t travel, which is my primary source of inspiration for my writing and photography. So, I picked up my guitar and started composing songs. I also engaged in a daily still life project, photographing something around the house in a creative way. I didn’t plan anything in advance. Instead, I’d just grab the camera and see what caught my eye each day. Even now if I am not feeling like writing, I edit photos.

How has your writing evolved or changed over the course of your career?

I began my writing life as a poet. In fact, it was the publisher of my latest poetry collection that I contacted to see if they might be interested in publishing my first travel book. As far as my travel writing is concerned, each book has been different both in their approach and execution. I’m most pleased with my current book as I felt it possessed all of the qualities I was after. That said, my next project will again be different. Keeps things interesting.

What are your thoughts on the future of publishing and the role of technology in storytelling?

With social media and on-demand publishing, it’s easier now than ever to get your work out there. It’s also harder than ever to stand out from the crowd. Many books can now start off as a series of blog posts, which can help build an audience. My second book, From Tibet to Egypt: Early Travels After a Late Start, was based on writing I did for my original website, which I maintained for over a decade. As that site is no longer online, I wanted to reshare it with the world, as it were. Ironically, that site went offline when it was no longer mobile compliant, and I had to find a new way to share my writing and photography online.

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