George Mason and his wife, Salli, are adventurous people who like to share what they learn, a trait that makes them at home on the Internet. They were bloggers before anyone invented the term. When they undertook a yearlong trip around the world with their two daughters in 1996, they documented the trip by posting stories and photos online at their website, worldhop.com. Their effort was so novel that it became the subject of stories in the New York Times and The Times of London.
Since the term “blog” had yet to be coined, what did they call what they were doing online? “We called it having fun,” said George.
Well, they’re having fun again—this time as full-time RVers traveling the United States to interview writers and post videos, photos and stories online.
George, 66, and Salli, 65, began the project they call “The Authors Road, a quest to learn from American writers” in October 2011. They were living in Portland, Oregon, and had raised two daughters, who were now grown and finished with college. Wondering what to do with the next stage of their lives, George and Salli merged their love of travel and reading to come up with the idea of buying an RV and touring the country with a literary purpose. They would interview writers about their work.
They had never been RVing when they made that decision. In fact, as tent campers who slept on the cold, hard ground, they had always looked upon RVers with disdain as people who pulled into camp, lounged with afternoon cocktails and lived life a little too comfortably. But now they have come to appreciate the advantages of RVing, and are on the road full time as dedicated RVers.
For their travels, they acquired a 27-foot fifth-wheel, which they named the Hardscribble Hacienda, and they are pulling it with a truck they christened Rocinante Tres, following in the footsteps of John Steinbeck, who named his camper in Travels with Charley after Don Quixote’s horse, Rocinante.
Writing has always been one of the couple’s interests. Salli graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in art, worked in a variety of jobs and became a writer and designer of websites and publications. George studied world literature at San Francisco State University, and he has taught writing and language arts in schools and colleges.
Their RVing experience did not begin well. As George explains it, he had to learn the expensive lesson that with an RV you have to be concerned with not only how wide and long your vehicle is, but also how tall. He drove his trailer under a tree that scraped the rubber roof, and had to spend $5,000 to fix it.
The interviews of authors did not start well, either. George said he was 30 minutes into his interview with Tom Robbins, author of Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, when he discovered that he had forgotten to turn on the microphone.
George and Salli began their RV travels by going from the Pacific Northwest to the Southwest and then east to Chicago. This year, they will travel from their daughter’s home in Portland to California, spend some time in the Four Corners area and then drive to the East Coast.
They are interviewing novelists, non-fiction writers and poets. They are also interviewing experts on the works of deceased authors, such as Steinbeck and Mark Twain. They have posted 30 interviews so far, each with a video of about 30 to 40 minutes, plus still photos and a written description of their encounter with the author. You can see the interviews at authorsroad.com.
The interviewed authors include Philip Caputo, who wrote A Rumor of War, widely regarded as one of the best books to come out of the Vietnam War; Michael Blake, who wrote the book and screenplay of Dancing with Wolves; Jim Harrison, author of Legends of the Fall, and Diana Gabaldon, whose Outlander series of books has been published in 26 countries.
In each interview, the authors are asked to discuss how they became writers, how they work and what they see as the future for writing.
The writers have interesting stories to tell. Blake says he had written the Dancing with Wolves book with meager results, was broke and had just been fired from a job washing dishes in Bisbee, Arizona, when Kevin Costner called to hire him to do the screenplay that would win an Academy Award. Caputo describes his career’s trajectory from a newspaperman to a writer of fiction and nonfiction and the nine years it took to write his first book. Gabaldon gives a fascinating description of the writing process, showing how she might take a simple object like a goblet, envision the polished wood it sits on and the winter light coming through a window, and put that into a sentence that she would write, rearrange and fiddle with until she was satisfied.
George and Salli said only a few writers have turned down their request for interviews. The trick has been to contact the authors directly and not go through their agents. In Patagonia, Arizona, not far from the Mexican border, they heard about a saloon where local authors gathered in the afternoon and that led to interviews with Caputo and Harrison.
The interviews are being conducted at an interesting time in the publishing business, with the growth of electronic books and transformation in the way books are sold. Salli said most of the authors they have talked with have done well financially, but are not sure how well they would do if they were just starting out in this changing environment.
It’s a fascinating project that George and Salli are undertaking, and anyone with an interest in literature will profit from time spent at their website, authorsroad.com.
Write to Mike Ward, editor at RV Life magazine, 18717 76th Avenue West, Suite B, Lynnwood, WA 98037 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Find First Glance online at rvlife.com.