Peace Corps Writers
Talking with Karl Luntta (page 2)
 Talking with Karl Luntta
page 1
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See the Bibliography listing for Karl

 
How many travel books have you written?
I’ve written six guides and contributed chapters to another half-dozen. A great deal of my travel writing has concentrated on the islands of the Caribbean.
  How do you go about researching and writing a travel book?
  You’ve caught me in transition — I’m now employed and am not writing travel books full-time, which of course changes things. Normally, when approaching a destination new to me, I’d go there and spend weeks or months traveling. To me, much is learned by osmosis, by simply taking it in. I believe my years in the Peace Corps helped in that way — I learned to be aware of how much I had to discover and not be overwhelmed by it. So when I travel, I set goals, choose the places to visit, etc., but I spend time just being awake and listening. And taking many, many notes. I sometimes have traveled with a laptop, but found that it’s restrictive in many ways — I’m always worried about dropping it, having it stolen, etc. I still like pencil and paper.
     What I’ve always wanted to help readers to discover is a sense of the people of a place, without falling into the stereotyping that is rife in the travel industry. What, for instance, makes Jamaicans what they are? How did this tiny island the size of Connecticut manage to produce and export such worldwide cultural phenomena as reggae and Rastafarianism? To the extent I can answer that, I try to.
     Now that my ability to travel is restricted by other responsibilities, I’ll limit myself to updating the books I’ve already written and not take on new destinations.
Have you written any travel essays that might be complied into a book?
I was a columnist for Caribbean Travel and Life magazine. It was a humor column, mostly about the oddities of travel. The origins of the limbo dance was one column. Another concerned local herbal aphrodisiacs that tasted vile but, in my experience, worked like a charm — at least as I remember them. But I do remember that about nine months after returning from our first writing trip to Jamaica, my wife informed me, in-between a series of rather loud and colorful phrases that accompanied her labor contractions, that if I ever researched aphrodisiacs again I was to leave her out of it.
     I also wrote a humor column for the Cape Cod Times, mostly about men and women and why we can’t understand each other — a question for which of course there is no answer, which is why I was able to write the column for ten years.
     Each of these collections would be a candidate for a book.
Can someone, i.e., someone like yourself, make a living writing travel books?
Someone can indeed make a living writing travel books. Some do. But not me. The vagaries of the travel industry — the economy, bad weather, competition, threats of terrorism — make travel book sales sporadic and unreliable. And I have a family. Most travel writers have to do much more than simply write books to make it — a regular gig with a magazine or newspaper is a lifesaver, but freelancing also helps, and paid lectures can be a source of income. The fact remains that many travel writers have regular jobs or extremely understanding spouses to help keep up the cash flow.
Your co-Peace Corps Directors in Botswana were Norman and Elsa Rush. What were they like as CDs?
They were terrific. Each offered the Volunteer community, and the local Botswana community, something unique. They were never simply two halves of a marriage that made a whole director. One impressive aspect of their directorship was that they actually enjoyed being in Botswana. They embraced their jobs and thrived in the local culture, and it showed. Clearly the country made an impression on Norman, who has used Botswana as a backdrop, even a recurring character of sorts, for two novels and many of his short stories.
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