James Robinson moved to Boston to do a Masters in Journalism at Boston University at the end of 2010. There, he began, Voyages in America on Stuff.co.nz, which he is now looking to turn into a book, detailing the joys and frustrations of adapting to American life, now in San Francisco. The blog, which recently ended, was a big success, with an average audience of 45,000 each month and a community now of about 1,600 readers around it on Facebook.
James is now looking to publish his blog, albeit very well edited, into a book. He is looking for his readers’ help through donations at Kickstarter.com to do so. We thought we might find out why he thinks its all worth it, and find out a bit about him in the process.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself, James Robinson! What are your favourite things about your homeland and your newly adopted homeland?
I began working in journalism 12 years ago. Life as a gainfully employed freelance writer is good, if very hectic. In America, I’m a frequent contributor for the San Francisco Chronicle and have written for the Boston Globe. I’ve published long form nonfiction in both the Phoenix in New England and SF Weekly in San Francisco. On the other side of the Pacific, since moving to America, I’ve published features almost anywhere in New Zealand I can publish features, including the Dominion Post, Herald on Sunday, New Zealand Listener, Metro and Idealog.
As for my old and new homes…I love New Zealand for the little things. The coffee, the sheer and overwhelming amount of green space you never notice until you leave and come back, the way it feels like the world has been turned down a half-speed. The country clicks with me, effortlessly. It’s my first love.
America is a bit more of a wild beast. I love the sense of endless possibility, the knowledge that it’s a bottomless pool you’ll never tap, even if the place can frustrate me totally. Next month I’m off to Manhattan and Oklahoma City over the course of a week. I can’t believe the two places exist within the same country. But that’s America.
2. Who are your travel-writing heroes, and why?
I first read Bill Bryson’s Notes From a Big Country when I was a teenager and 15 years later it still makes me laugh out loud. Bill Bryson in travel mode has such a neat touch for the absurd in any country he visits. He’s an uproarious everyman narrator that brings places to life and whom you want to spend time with. John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley is a moving travelogue. It’s so gentle and wise, he and his dog on the open road, with America opening up in front of him. It effortlessly becomes about so much more than just the trip, about all the changes America was going through in 1960, but then read to today it’s so nostalgic. Because the America that America was becoming then is already gone.
I love the second part of David Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty One Day where he talks about moving to Paris, because as outsized as the writing is, it captures so perfectly what it feels like to be a fish out of water. I’m a big Hunter S. Thompson fan, even if you wouldn’t call Fear and Loathing travel writing per se, because he’s the sort of writer, so out there, so much of his heart just on his sleeve, that you’d follow anywhere. Which I think is a pre-requisite for travel writing.
3. How does putting together a book from a blog work?
It’s a multi-faceted process. Blogs are written to promote immediate discussion. The story about myself, and my journey, I’ve laid out on there has been told out of order and in fits and starts. Blogs are quick hits. Books are longer journeys the writer and reader take together. By proxy of writing three times a week for two years (300,000 words!), some material is better than other material. I will work and develop and strengthen the material that is already there. I envisage it alternating chapters between my own journey and emotional experience and more essay-esque observations of American life. I also want to add in new material. I don’t want it to be a mere retread. I imagine 70 percent of it being improved older materials and 30 percent being new and original writing.
From there, it’s about bringing in the right designers, proofreaders, editors and printers. Ostensibly what I’m raising money for. To make sure that “self-published” doesn’t equate to “shoddy and amateur looking”. I’d like eventually the book to have a retail presence and not just be something I sold online, so getting distribution or learning how to self-distribute, is the biggest challenge that lies in front of me.
4. Will you be publishing your book in New Zealand or the USA? Will it be available in both countries?
Yes. My plan is to do a 750 or so copy run, splitting that about 70-30 between a NZ and a US-run.
5. So you are using Kickstarter to fund your book Voyages in America. What has this book got that other travelogues don’t?
There’s a safety in travelogues. The writer goes out of his comfort zone and tests himself but can always return home. In fact, the pining and absence of home is an unspoken presence in all travel writing.
In my case, the story of Voyages in America, is that I’m out of my comfort zone but this is my new home. Travel books and travel writing always target people who’re going temporarily. My book is about leaving for good. I think there’s higher emotional stakes in that and it’s why I think my blog resonated with so many people, both those who were going or had gone through the same thing and those that had no experience of it.