For our latest entry in the Reason To Write series, let me introduce Vera Marie Badertscher, a freelance writer who also blogs about travel-related books and movies. She is also the co-author of Quincy Tahoma: The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist, an art biography that will be released in April, 2011. Why do I love Vera’s story so much? It highlights the importance of writing about the things you want to know more about, rather than being limited by what you already know.
My father said my constant refrain as a little girl was, “Why, Daddy?”
That may explain why I wound up in a profession that asks questions. I’m curious about just about everything and everyone.
Freelance writers have to be curious. It may feel snoopy and prying, but we’re not satisfied until we’ve probed and picked away at the surface of things, and mined the real story lurking underneath.
The little secret of our trade? People like to talk about themselves.
They like to be recognized. They like someone to pay attention. And when you’re interested in learning about them and the things they care about, they’ll answer just about any question you ask.
I get to know the most interesting people.
My husband and I once spent a weekend in Ireland, at the home of a concert pianist and his wife. He gave concerts in his living room, and we got to see firsthand the life of a traveling pianist. Another time, I met a couple that backpacks around the world. When they aren’t doing that, they’re running their farmhouse inn in France… an inn decorated with his photography and enhanced by her gourmet cooking. And speaking of cooking, it was delightful learning the family history of the chef in Ireland who owned a bed and breakfast and also gave cooking lessons. She grew up in the farm cottage that is now her business. My husband and I also learned about the life of a teenager on a Greek island, when the daughter of our rental house’s caretaker trailed along with us and translated as we talked to potters.
When I wrote a book about a Navajo artist, my circle of friends grew to include several 80-year-olds who live in Rio Grand Pueblos. I interviewed them because they knew Quincy Tahoma, the subject of my book. But I was glad to learn more about their own fascinating lives. Several fought in World War II. Two demonstrated their art at the San Francisco Golden Gate Exposition in 1939. One is a noted expert on Pueblo Indian history. As I bubbled over with questions, I learned that, in some cultures, there are some questions that one does not ask.
I am also grateful to experts who make it their mission to educate me about, say, how a hotel develops loyalty in customers; what the difference is between a timeshare and a fractional ownership; and how a custom tour operator operates — not to mention how life was in a missile silo during the Cold War, or how to make a chronologically accurate sundial.
As for those who read my work, they want to know something no one has told them before. They want the inside story.
I never could understand writers who cannot come up with something to write about, because there is so much I do not know. And everything I do not know is a possible subject. Forget the advice to “write what you know.” I write what I want to find out about. And I am sure that if I am curious about it, then other people will be, too.