Author Interview: Lisa Alpine

Lisa AlpineName:

Lisa Alpine

Book Title(s):

Wild Life: Travel Adventures of a Worldly Woman

Exotic Life: Travel Tales of an Adventurous Woman

Co-author:

Self-Publishing Boot Camp Workbook 

Wild Writing Women: Stories of World Travel

Website URL:

www.LisaAlpine.com

What is your latest book about?

The book review of Wild Life in the recent Foreword Reviews sums it up well:

“When you’re hitchhiking about in foreign lands, whether in France, Morocco, or perhaps New Zealand, it helps—as California-girl Lisa Alpine discovered—to be ‘young, blond, persistent, and female.’ And to get along, once you’ve reached an approximate destination in hardscrabble exotica, you should be friendly, fearless, and sometimes counter intuitively trusting.

There is daring, humor, and even a bit of Eros in the fourteen stories that span her life from the innocence of eighteen, when she was struck with wanderlust, into middle age. ‘I am a woman who wanders and wonders and writes,’ she explains.”

What inspired you to write your book?

Encouraging young women to write and travel and be adventurous.

Can you describe your writing process?

My “Note to an Aspiring Writer” at the end of Wild Life captures my process perfectly: 

I try to look normal, but I am a writer, and we are a convoluted breed. I liken my writing process to mud wrestling. I sweat, get ugly, and slump too long at the keyboard. I routinely ignore my family and friends. With my unkempt hair and fuzzy bathrobe the only props missing are an ashy cigarette dangling from the corner of my mouth and a highball glass with bourbon sloshing onto my manuscript.

Writing is like ballet. A ballerina looks like she’s levitating, but look at her feet and they’re bleeding.

— Barbara Kingsolver

When the words that spill out are finally wrestled into the storyline, I am ecstatic. Maybe those words are an absolutely accurate description of a blazing sunset. Maybe they’re telling of a moment of truth when I hear the river’s scream and yawl, and I point my kayak toward the hypnotic invitation of peaked rapids.

Mood-enhancing endorphins are released when a writer delves deep into an experience and returns with her verbal quarry—the perfectly constructed story where every word has auditioned for the page.

At least, it feels that way to me. And then I take a shower. 

How did you come to do what you’re doing today?

Thirty-two years ago, I started a community newspaper in Fairfax, CA.  I was craving a rag that focused on what I found interesting in our region: artists, characters, hikes, gardening, history, politics.

I had a baby when I was 29 and realized I had to stay home occasionally, so what work could I do when I finally put my backpack/suitcase down? I had just sold my import company, Dreamweaver Imports, in San Francisco. It was time to write about my travel adventures—not just live them—so I’d nurse Galen in front of the keyboard and work on my stories. It was a great challenge to discipline myself to construct well-written sentences that would weave into a story worthy of the printed page. As you know from Wild Life, I didn’t stop traveling when I had a baby; I just didn’t go for one-to-two-year vagabonding journeys. And I would take him with me. Galen’s first big adventure was when he was 8 months old and I hauled him off to a Berber betrothal faire in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. That story, “Two Mohameds,” is in Wild Life. 

Since you largely write about your travel adventures, how do you keep the memories of your trips fresh? Do you keep notes while you’re on the road?

Note-taking is sporadic, as I’m usually deep into some activity that requires my full focus like scuba diving, whitewater kayaking, hiking, dancing, hitchhiking, etc.

I do have a very successful technique I use to recall a place and experience. I recall the moment through every sense separately. This wakes up the memory. I call it “writing from the senses,” and teach workshops at The Writing Salon on this topic, as well as travel writing.

I also send emails to myself with notes and stories as I travel, and these get woven into my stories when I return home. 

Can you describe a typical day in your life?

I’ve always been an early riser, so after a luscious cup of Hawaiian coffee  at sunrise—a time I share with my partner on the couch as we discuss our upcoming day—I work for several hours researching a story, writing, or doing promotion for the many literary events I host.

Then I go to a yoga class or take a long hike, usually by myself. Several times a week I go to ecstatic dances, usually in the morning. I love to dance and have taught a myriad of dance workshops all over the world. Several of my workshops combine writing with dance.

In the early evening I garden, and then my partner and I have a delicious dinner. We love to cook. There is not a TV in our home—I find them invasive—so I usually read and take a bath before I go to bed.

What do you most enjoy about what you do?

Fortunately, I’ve always loved to work so I don’t have a separation between work, play, and downtime. I’ve also always worked for myself, so I have the freedom to work late into the night or take half a day off. I love my freedom. And that most everything I do is highly creative: dancing, writing, hiking, gardening, yoga, traveling, family.

Are there any people and/or books that have inspired you along your journey?

The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld. I’ve read it twice so far and it moved me so much that I’ve engaged Rene in an author evening at Book Passage this June. She will also be in the reading line-up for my “Titillating Adventure Tales—as Told by an All-Star Cast” at Book Passage on June 9th.

Green Mansions by William Henry Hudson awoke my longing to explore the Amazon, which led to a two-year trek through South America when I was 20 years old, and a six-month journey by canoe through the Amazon Basin. “Fish Trader Ray” in Wild Life is a story about one of my many adventures in the Amazon, as is “Amazon Mom” in Exotic Life.

Exodus by Leon Uris lured me to Israel in 1972. I hitchhiked by myself for three months and discovered the ancient, enchanting, Palestinian village of Jericho. My story “The Coptic Priest” in Exotic Life is about that journey.

We see that you have quite a few events coming up, including readings from your books. How do you pick which excerpts you will read for your audience?

I tailor my readings to the topic of the event and the type of audience.  I like to weave in talk-story with the reading, as it makes the story more personal. This enables me to enrich the story for the listener and add mystery, since many times I don’t read the ending.

Do you have any tips for how to prepare for or conduct speaking events, especially when the events include other authors?

Coach your readers ahead of time with tips, such as looking out to the audience in the far back of the room; do well-placed mini-pauses that catch the listener’s attention; articulate; don’t breathe heavily into the microphone, as this causes a hissing sound. Be relaxed and enjoy yourself. Read less than more. Leave the audience wanting more and if possible, make them laugh before you make them cry. 

Can you share something that people may be surprised to learn about you?

* I’m adopted.

* I didn’t go to college—I dropped out of the Sorbonne in Paris after just three months. Life was waiting for me outside the classroom where I was tired of the hard, wooden seats and wizened professors.

* I was highly dyslexic and anti-social until I turned 15, when I suddenly realized everyone was as shy as me. I started asking them questions about themselves, and this led to me being a journalist of sorts. I found people’s stories so interesting.

What’s next for you?

* I’m writing my next book, Dance Life. It will be a collection of wild stories about dancing around the globe, blended with the body-wisdom I’ve gleaned from twenty years teaching dance as an ecstatic and healing art form. 

* A trip to visit a dear friend in Egypt who lives on a small island on the Nile River south of Aswan. She is Dutch, but married to the Nubian chief of that region. I met her dancing on a boat on the Nile 17 years ago. We travel together every few years.

* I’m organizing a literary festival on the Big Island of Hawaii, where I spend four months a year in my writing shack on the edge of the Pacific Ocean.

* Starting an “In Conversation” author series at bookstores and libraries. Rene Denfeld is my first event and there will be more.

* Teaching dance classes with my son on the Big Island.

* Hitchhiking and backpacking this fall in the country of Georgia with my partner. We did this for a month last fall in Albania. Fantastic! No tourists, outstanding scenery, warm people, scrumptious food, super cheap.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Do what you love and love who you do it with.

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