What’s that? You haven’t heard of Rolf Potts? Well, you will. Believe me, you will. As I’m writing this Rolf has already finished his fourth author event —ever. (and hopefully off having a few drinks with fellow adventurers Richard Sterling and Ken Vollmer in Berkeley).
On Monday I drove up to Seattle in the BootBus with Chris Heidrich, Editor and Co-founder of BootsnAll.com. We were going up to help kick off Rolf’s national tour for his first solo book, Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide To The Art of Long-Term World Travel. Coined “The Jack Kerouac of the Internet Age,” Rolf stands up tall to the title. 6ft and probably a half a foot more with a jaw to knock the socks off the ladies in the front, middle and back row — he has been traveling since he graduated college at George Fox University a decade ago. And his years and months abroad far outweigh his visits home to Witchita, Kansas.
Following an event newbie’s shaky head-in-his book reading of Chapter 1, (where he stumbled to remember the title) Rolf gave a whimsical and entertaining slide show and Travel Q & A to a buzzing standing room only crowd at Elliott Bay Books. The slides started off with Rolf’s high school mullet days and went on to college, his first long trip (8 months across the US in a VW with his buddies), teaching English in Korea, and a mix of his other trips abroad including Burma, where he fasted in a cave on the West Bank of Israel, Mongolia (the Uber Kansas), a $60/day freighter journey, and a river trip up the Mekong. The crowd was laughing, oohing and awwwwwing, and Rolf seemed like he’d done it before as he told sideline jokes off the cuff.
I’ve set up events for Travelers’ Tales for several years and my standards have been measured at 35 people (a good event) 50 (something to go home buzzing about) 100 (something to brag about!) — and Rolf had a few over 100 on my count.
What do I like about Rolf? He’s smart. His writing and his tales reflect his literary passion. He’s as comfortable with himself, his bestfriends, and strangers alike. He’s passionate about travel, dedicated to his writing, and he loves learning. Rolf Potts is adventurous. AND he’s funny. I know all this will be a part of him throughout his career, but what I hope he’ll hold onto the most is his humility. Does that come from a rising author on his first book event or is that Rolf? Time will tell. But his selfdefacing humour is engaging as it is attractive.
One of the women in the audience at Elliott Bay asked him how he got his start in writing.Rolf answered her in this way: He pitched his SEAsia travel stories on spec to Don George at Salon’s Wanderlust. (On spec means that the publication hasn’t assigned you the story, but that they will take a look at it and decide whether or not they want to publish your work after you’ve written it). He sold several pieces there and then went on to sell a piece to Islands magazine on spec back in the days when Joan Tapper was editor. From there Rolf’s “Storming the Beach” story about crashing The Beach set made it into The Best American Travel Writing 2000 and that was his big foot in the door.
DOWNLOAD OUR TRAVEL GUIDES
So, what was Rolf’s advice on how travel writers should get their start?
- Start on spec
- Use your own resources (don’t quit your day job)
- Write well
- Read travel
- Be obsessive about it
That’s great advice but my favorite question of the night was when a woman in the audience told Rolf that she’s been trying to sell her house so she could travel. The house wasn’t selling and she was tired of waiting. Ready to hit the road, she asked Rolf how he dealt with his sense of home. Rolf said, “Before I answer that, is there anyone here tonight that wants to buy her house?” The crowd ate it up and laughed till he moved on.
Get hooked on Rolf here:
RolfPotts.com for pics, newsletter sign up, interviews with travel writers, many of his stories, and the books he’s contributed to including Travelers’ Tales Turkey, Greece,and Not So Funny When It Happened
Vagabonding.net for details to his new book, events, reviews, and other stories from other vagabonders through his partnership with BootsnAll
Vagablogging.net a daily web log featuring his side to the book tour and launch, daily travel quotes, interviews with big name travel writers, links to travel articles and discussions, and more.
Rolf’s Events a listing of the rest of his tour