Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Minnesota: Land of 10,000 Lakes

The Summer Great Book Giveaway continues today. During a college trip to Minnesota, I brought home a t-shirt that read,"Minnesota: spring, summer, fall, winter, winter, winter." Minnesota really is a cool state - and I don't just mean in the weather sense. Today, I have Amy Rea, author of "Minnesota: Land of 10,000 Lakes." Read what Amy has to say about travel writing vs. travel guide writing. Click on comments today before 5 p.m. CST (U.S.) and ask Amy a writing related question. If I randomly draw yours, Amy will answer it on Thursday - and you'll win a copy of her book - now how cool is that!

Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a nearly lifelong resident of Minnesota (other than a brief stint in Vermont). I was born and raised in northern Minnesota, in an itty-bitty town called Tenstrike (don’t know it? South of Blackduck? Does that help?). I ended up in the Twin Cities, attending the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, and pretty much have been in the Twin Cities, including St. Paul and suburbs, since then. I majored in English but knew I wasn’t cut out to be a teacher, so I wandered a bit, managing a maternity store and spending several years as a travel agent before finally putting that English degree to work as a freelance writer and editor. I went into full-time freelancing 10 years ago and love it. I’ve been able to write for a variety of publications and companies, with most of my work on the corporate side. Currently my biggest project is developing a curriculum for an afterschool health and wellness education program (www.sajaifoundation.org). I also write fiction. I had my first “professional” short story published last year (for pay!), and I’m currently working on my second novel. On a personal level, I’m your average married suburbanite, two kids (both boys, 15 and 12) and two very spoiled, overly pampered dogs.

Tell us about your new book, “Minnesota: Land of 10,000 Lakes.”
It sounds sappy, but I really do love this state. Having lived in both extremes—very rural and heart-of-the-city—I was ready and willing to look at all the different aspects of touring Minnesota. As the book editor explained to me once when I was having panic attacks about not being able to include Every Single Thing I could think of, this book is meant to help people with more money than time make choices about how to use that time. I guess you could say the book is designed to help travelers be the Decider. J I provide options, the traveler can choose among them and hopefully not feel too overwhelmed at all there is to do! I also had some latitude as far as tone went, and I worked hard to make it friendly (and occasionally a little sassy).

Do you think researching this book would have been more difficult if you weren’t a Minnesota native?
Absolutely. I went into the book knowing the geography of the state, some of its history, regional differences, what areas tend to attract the most visitors and why. And it’s a sizable state—it’s the biggest Midwestern state, and 12th largest of all the states. But there’s also an advantage in “knowing” the state as only a resident can. I read the local newspapers, the local blogs, I hear the “buzz.” I know what’s potentially hot, probably not, what’s causing controversy and consternation among the locals. The other helpful aspect of being a native and living here most of my life is knowing so many other people from here. As one friend said, he realized he was a full-blooded Minnesotan when I asked what some of his favorite spots were, because he could name so many and was so heartfelt in his response. You can do a ton of research via books, magazines, and the internet, but personal connections really make a difference. It was also helpful, from a cost perspective (since it was not an expenses-paid project, but a flat advance), that I live in the southern half of the state but have family in the northern half. I was able to keep hotel/meal costs pretty low. It’s much cheaper to take my parents out to dinner as a thank-you than to pay for several nights’ hotel!
That said, I put literally thousands of miles on my car last year, traveling for research. I’m thankful I’m not trying to log those miles this year, given the price of gas!

What did you find to be the most challenging aspect of writing this book? What did you find to be the easiest?
The most challenging: the overwhelming amount of things to do in this state! Frankly, it almost paralyzed me when I sat down to write. My office was buried in stacks and stacks of paper, newspapers, magazines, brochures, pamphlets, things I picked up on the road (LOTS of things I picked up on the road), things I downloaded. My camera’s memory card was bursting. There were times when I’d be sorting through hundreds of photos and stare at something and have no memory of ever having been there—but clearly I had, because I’d taken several pictures of it. It’s a big state, and there’s lots to do and see. Trying to condense it down into a book was difficult.
The easiest: The exact same thing—there’s so much to do and see. And while traveling the state doing that part of the research was tiring and demanding, it was also an extraordinary amount of fun.

How did you get involved in the Explorer’s Guide series?
I had done some writing about different areas of Minnesota for some travel websites (now sadly defunct). When I saw a market guide through Freelance Success that mentioned Countryman Press was looking for a writer for a Minnesota guidebook, I jumped at the chance to put together a proposal.

What were your motivations for creating a blog for the book?
Well, marketing, of course. But I also hope to start a conversation. My other blog, www.knitthink.typepad.com, has been running over three years, and it’s proven to be a great place to connect with people I might not otherwise meet or get to know. I’ve ended up learning a lot from the readers of that blog, making friends, finding resources I would never have heard of otherwise, and I hope the book blog (www.flyover-land.com) will grow and expand the same way. I’ll use the blog for updates (such as closed businesses or new businesses), for information that didn’t make it into the book, and to look at Minnesota and tourism in general.

You say you would like to publish a novel. I find it difficult to switch from reporting to fiction. How do you make the transition?
Very painfully. Two things that seem to help are: writing fiction first thing in the day, before I get to the paying work (which then takes over), or going somewhere else—coffee shop, library, etc.

Your first book faced many rejections. What was your motivation to keep trying?
The rejections were all personalized and encouraging, and they came from editors who had requested the entire book based on the synopsis and sample chapters. I know—pretty sad that simply not getting a form rejection made me happy! But throughout that process, I was continuing to write the novel I’m revising now, and I know this one is better. I’ve learned so much. That’s the best way to learn to write—sit your a$$ down and do it. I look at that first book as an apprenticeship. It may never be published, and that’s OK. I grew a lot as a writer while writing it. Currently that book is shelved. Maybe someday I’ll go back to it; now and then I have sparks of ideas that would improve it, but for the moment, I want to move forward.

How is writing a travel guide different from being a travel reporter writing shorter pieces?
It’s much more intensive. And it’s a much longer commitment. In some ways, it felt like writing a lot of shorter travel pieces, because the book is divided regionally, then subdivided within those regions. I had a different kind of reader in mind; instead of the Internet reader who’s trying to grab some quick info, a guidebook reader is going to be more invested in spending time in a location and wants more in-depth coverage. I’ve never done photography for any of my online work, but the book required me to provide photos, so that was quite a change. It forced me to change my Luddite ways and get a digital camera, which, of course, turned out to be wonderful. A final difference is that I didn’t think about marketing an online article; but with the book, I’m slowly becoming aware of the work involved in having a book in the marketplace, and what it takes to keep it there. It’s a whole new world for me.

Ok, Amy is awaiting your questions!


Blogger Kerry Dexter said...

I've always been impressed by the vibrant and varied music and arts scenes across Minnesota. How did you go about letting travelers know about that?

8:26 AM CDT  
Blogger Alchemy said...

Because of the enormous amount of material covered, did you feel this book was really finished? Or did you feel you just had to wrap up when you reached a deadline? PS - thanks for the yarn shop recommendations!

8:37 AM CDT  
Blogger Chris said...

I think you summed up the difference between what internet searchers and guidebook readers are looking for perfectly - I always get guidebooks for places I'm going. And one of my favorite things to do is to look at the place I live (Minneapolis/Minnesota) through a tourist's eyes, to get more out of it - your book sounds like it will be perfect for that!

8:43 AM CDT  
Blogger lisa waterman gray said...


Aside from a focus for people with more money than time, what other general focuses did you have? - i.e., eating your way through the state, what the natural environment offers, surprises in the cities?


8:45 AM CDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a multiple choice question: you can answer any or all of it. What was the best / worst / weirdest / funniest Minnesota attraction you uncovered during your research? Oh, and is there a chapter where you list and rate the yarn shops? :-)

9:21 AM CDT  
Blogger Bezzie said...

As a Alaska native (not to be confused with an Alaskan Native), I find myself always comparing states to AK. Sofar in my own personal travels, MT comes the closest to recreating what AK feels like.

So, my question for you is: If MN was swallowed up into the earth tomorrow (and everyone survived--of course!) what state would you find the most like MN?

9:27 AM CDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you an organized, outlined writer or a let it all out then sort it writer?

12:51 PM CDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you have particular routines or practices for practicing your craft as a writer? Some authors sit down to write at the same time each day, some write in longhand with fountain pens, and some work only when the mood is right. Do you do anything like that?

12:56 PM CDT  
Blogger Deb said...

Minnesotans are notorious for our strange foods (ludefisk, leftsa to name two). Did you find yourself parting in all the weird and wonderful Minnesota foods? Did you have a favorite? A "No thanks, I'll pass"? And lastly, with all that eating, how DID you maintain your figure??

1:40 PM CDT  
Blogger mrspao said...

How much material did you end up having to cut out of the book? How did you decide what to keep in/leave out?

1:42 PM CDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Would the book have been very different if you had written it with a more time than money perspective?

2:39 PM CDT  
Blogger Cursing Mama said...

How did you go about organizing the information as you gathered it? I imagine that keeping all that you learned in a reasonable system to be able to write from was very daunting.

3:33 PM CDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amy - How many things are served on a stick at the State Fair???? I spent a summer in St. Paul and fell in love with the area (and met a cute boy who always said Uffda!).

6:43 PM CDT  
Blogger debra said...

We used to travel to art shows, and traveled to Minnesota several times. We loved St Paul, and were amazed at the difference between Mpls and St Paul. We didn't have the opportunity to see much more that the Twin Cities, but the drive from Ohio was a beautiful one (once we got through Chicago :-)

9:24 AM CDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here are the rest of the answers, as best as I can answer them!
Kerry, I tried to include as much information about the music and arts scenes as possible. People think of Minnesota as an outdoor state, which it certainly is, but that's not the only aspect. I included descriptions of theaters, arts festivals, music venues, etc.

Lisa, my other focuses were trying to include as many independent companies as I could as opposed to chains; highlighting the many festivals; and as noted above, looking at the arts scene when possible.

KmKat, of course I covered yarn shop! What kind of knitter would I be if I didn't! Hmmm, best/worst/weirdest attraction. One thing I loved was all the small-town museums. Some of them are dull, but most are surprisingly interesting. One example would be the Bronko Nagurski museum in Int'l Falls. Not being a football fan, I thought it would be dull--far from it. It's as much a view of the culture and history of Nagurski's times as it is a view of the sport.

Bezzie, hmmm...Wisconsin??

Kate, organized? Me?? I wish. It would have been easier to write! I had an outline and template from the publisher, which helped, but otherwise, it was dive in and hope I'd swim.

Marsha, I'm way too ADD for that. I do get myself to my computer each weekday and make myself work, but I don't have a routine per se.

Deb, cheese curds of course! Girlish figure? Have you seen me lately?

MrsPao, that was really hard. I left in things I thought would interest general travelers, and I left out things that I worried would not be around by the end of the year (restaurants, etc) or many small resorts I just never had a chance to visit. Everything looks good on a website, but unless I could see it in person, it didn't get listed--there were too many that looked great online and were terrible in reality.

Carrie, it would have been a little different, particularly in the Twin Cities. I would have focused more on hotels outside the main metro area that were cheaper and spent less time on high-end restaurants. Outstate would probably not have changed much.

Cursing Mama, initially I sorted all the information by region and stored it in separate boxes. Towards the end, it all exploded in my office. Really. It had nothing to do with my general lack of organization and panic.

Kristi, there are countless things on a stick. Some better than others. Forget the spaghetti and meatballs on a stick. But oh, the pork chop...

Thanks, everyone!

11:07 AM CDT  

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