In fall 2007, I had an essay published in the women’s travel anthology A WOMAN'S WORLD AGAIN titled “The Kind of Traveler I am.” For me, the question, “What kind of traveler are you?” cannot be separated from “What kind of writer are you?”
A traveler does not have to leave her yard to explore some kind of landscape. Many writers excavate their past and their memory of it for all the material they’ll ever need. I grew up in the professional suburbs of Fairfax Virginia, went to a public high school where 80% of us went on to college, and was profoundly miserable—for no reason except that I found the suburbs stifling. Yet my family was solid, without drama, and my stories of suburban angst don’t interest me right now as subject matter because I’ve read many novels and short stories where it’s been done well and been done to death. For the moment I don't feel I have anything new or especially illuminating to say about that world.
Each summer though we’d spend a week or two in the station wagon towing our pup tent camper up and down the east coast, exploring a new State, even making it one summer into Canada. I was thirty before I went to another country again, but shortly after that I moved to South Korea and lived there for twelve years, devoting three or four months a year to travel. It was living abroad and seeing how much of the world—a world much poorer than the States—lived that has influenced what I’m interested in writing about for now at least.
I made the transition in subject matter in a linked short story collection I wrote that chronicles that Virginia suburban angst for the first half, before taking my character to Asia. My novel THE LIFE PLAN (Casperian Book, 2009) mostly takes place in Thailand. The novel I’ve just finished editing takes place in DC and Williamsburg, but even that deals with travel—the main character must leave her DC city life and become a nanny in the suburbs. My next novels, though, will return to the theme I’m most interested in (they’ll take place in South Africa and South Korea)—the American (female) abroad.
So, those of you who are finding your voice, your subject matter—what kind of traveler are you? Are you a traveler of your soul, of memory? Are you an explorer of your backyard, your neighborhood, your town? Or do you hop in a car and drive, see where you’ll end up? Do you strap on a backpack, get on a plane, land in a country where you can’t read the language? All are valid and important ways of traveling. All may influence or reflect the heart of your writing, the world you want to explore.
Sybil Baker's novel, The Life Plan was published by Casperian Books in March 2009. Her short stories and essays have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies including "upstreet" and "The Writer’s Chronicle." Her linked short story collection THAT GIRL is forthcoming from C&R Press in late 2010. After living in South Korea for twelve years, she returned to the States in 2007. She is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Her blog is at http://sybilbaker.blogspot.com.