A writer’s blood, sweat and tears

I’m writing this blog post on an airplane as I fly from San Francisco to Puerto Vallarta for a four-day stay at Casa Aramara, a fabulous villa that just became available to the public. Well, the public that can afford its $15,000-$30,000 nightly rate. I’m not a one-percenter, but instead a freelance travel writer on a press junket with other journalists whom I will meet when I land.

Writers Kelly and Maureen at Obika in Rome, 2005

Kelly and Maureen at Obika Mozzarella Bar in Rome in 2005

For a change I’m awake on a flight, after my usual nap for takeoff. It’s something about walking onto an airplane that gives me a feeling of being at home. I’m relaxed and easily fall asleep before takeoff. I was born to fly, wanderlust embedded in me like the chewing gum that used to get tangled in my hair when, against the advice of my mother, I went to bed with pink bubblegum in my mouth as a kid. Impossible to pull out. Good thing I found my calling as a travel writer in 2003 when I moved to Italy, the country where I met Maureen Jenkins, the Francophile/Italophile behind UrbanTravelGirl.com and who invited me to blog hop with her.

I’m honored to join this relay team where I answer four questions about my writing process then pass the baton to three extraordinary writers, whose bios are below and who in turn will do the same as we keep it moving.

Now that Maureen, who writes about her process here, has handed off to me, let’s go inside my brain:

What am I working on/writing?

dlgt_lucy_bellini_verticalI’m doing double duty, promoting my new book, The Dog Lover’s Guide to Travel, which was released by National Geographic Books on April 1, and writing my third book, Bellini for One, a memoir about my two-year stay in Italy. Two very different books yet they tie together because my very-well traveled dog Lucy moved to Italy with me, allowing me to become even more knowledgeable about pet travel. With The Dog Lover’s Guide to Travel being evergreen, I hope to promote it for years to come, meaning I’ll always being doing double, if not triple, duty.

Promoting a book is a full-time gig and requires authors to exhaust every resource accumulated over the years. Part of the reason some journalists get book deals is because publishers know they can count on the authors to badger the heck out of their friends in the media who may be able to give the book media exposure. I’ve been torn on whether to take Bellini to a major publisher or self-publish. I have so much faith in Bellini being a bestseller that I hate to give the majority of the mega-profits to a publisher. Then again, having Nat Geo’s name, signature yellow border and tireless and dedicated marketing, public relations and editorial team work together on The Dog Lover’s Guide to Travel (yes, it really does take a village!) makes me realize how useful publishers can be — and just how daunting and overwhelming self-publishing is. For now, my focus is digging deep to write a manuscript that adds layers and emotion to the “postcards” I wrote when I lived in Italy and which serve as the basis of my memoir.

How does my work/writing differ from others of its genre?

While there are other dog travel guide books on the market, there is nothing like The Dog Lover’s Guide to Travel, which features 75 exciting destinations in the United States and Canada to vacation with a dog. The best pet-friendly hotels, dog parks, beaches, hiking trails, restaurants, tourist attractions, groomers, boutiques, doggie daycare facilities and events plus insider tips from locals and a detailed intro on the ins and outs of pet travel. Add colorful and adorable photos of dogs to National Geographic’s legendary design and you have a book that is so special that I predict it will become the bible for pawrents. Other dog travel books cover a region or if they are national then they don’t have nearly the depth or look of my book. On my website, TheJetSetPets.com, I pride myself on covering the hard news in pet travel, such as pet deaths on airlines, as well as letting readers know where their pooch can get a blueberry facial. I’m not just a lady with a dog who decided to blog. I’m a New York Times bestselling author and an award-winning journalist with 30 years of experience writing for major news organizations.

Bellini will be an equally unique memoir. Countless women have chronicled their lives of becoming ex-pats in mid-life, breathlessly writing about their encounters with foreign men, adapting to new cultures and expanding their boundaries. But only mine is the story of a burned out celebrity reporter, who, reeling from the death of her mother, flees Hollywood at the age of 40 with her tiny dog to get away from celebrities only to find out she still has to cover celebrities in order to make a living. It’s real-life stories of being a celebrity stalker, er reporter, following George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt and other A-listers that adds pizazz to a genre that literary agents tired of after being bombarded with so-called chick-lit manuscripts following the success of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love in 2006.

Why do I write what I do?

Kelly E Carter and Lucy Carter, dog, Chihuahua Paris

Photo by Maureen Jenkins

I spent 11 years as a sportswriter then transitioned to entertainment reporter. Traveling has been a passion since college but it wasn’t until later in life that I realized I could (almost) make a living as a luxury travel writer while enjoying the good life that few can afford, such as staying at Casa Aramara. Now that pets are the hottest thing going, I’ve been able to combine two of my loves and become a pet travel expert. Talk about reinvention! One of my goals in life is to help raise the stature of companion animals in this country. These creatures play such an important role in our health and well-being that it is unfair for them not to be allowed to accompany us when we travel. And the more people realize how easy it is to travel with household pets then the more people will want to do it, which in turn will lead to more businesses becoming pet friendly. (I do feel for those allergic to dogs because it seems like canines are everywhere these days.) I put a lot of time into TheJetSetPets.com with little to show for it financially but what keeps me going are the emails I receive from strangers who tell me how much the information has helped them travel with their furry friend. The website, which I officially launched in 2012, led to the tail-all book deal with Nat Geo so it didn’t take long for my hard work to pay off.

For Bellini, I quickly found out how motivating my “postcards” were for many of the recipients when I began receiving email replies from my friends who wrote of being inspired to take a leap and try something new in their lives or bringing back memories of their exciting travels. While in Italy, I wrote 29 “postcards,” totaling 106,788 words to be exact. I saved each and every reply and those responses encouraged me to continue writing my missives. I hope to include some of my favorite responses in the book, adding another unique aspect. Maureen learned of me through the “postcards” forwarded to her by a mutual journalist friend, Michelle McCalope, and she soon moved to Italy as well. I’m amazed when Maureen will quote a line from a “postcard” years later. She’s one of my biggest champions and always says if blogs had been as popular back then as they are now, I would have had a huge book and movie deal by now. And she’s right. Every writer needs a Maureen to keep them going.

How does my writing process work?


Illustration by Wendy MacNaughton

This summer I’m writing Bellini at the San Francisco Writer’s Grotto, subletting office space from Kimberley Lovato, my Evil Twin. I’m only in The Grotto twice a week but I’m able to create more in those 14 to 16 hours than I am in a month at home, where my creative juices don’t flow as well with my beau around. I don’t know how people write books at their local coffee shop or in a cafe either. There’s a writer in my neighborhood who carries his yellow legal pad around and writes, sometimes standing on a street corner, resting his pad on top of a garbage can, sometimes perched on the barstool at Via Veneto. I don’t get it. I like to write in solitude and on a computer. Because I’m easily distracted, I purposely don’t know the wi-fi code at The Grotto. And I don’t write any travel stories while there. I’m only there to work on Bellini. I shut the door to my windowless office and transport myself back in time using datebooks. I’ve saved every datebook going back to the early 80s so between those, my American Express Year-End Statements, oodles of photos taken over the years and journals kept from 2003 on, I pretty much know what I’ve done every day for the last couple of decades. Some of the writers at The Grotto have exterior offices where sunshine streams through or create prose in carrels. Regardless of the office space, we all come together for lunch in a conference room to exchange ideas as it relates to news of the day or our lives and share what we’re working on. I’ve received some terrific advice and tips at lunch and even if the women’s bathroom.

When I wrote The Dog Lover’s Guide to Travel, I spent 11 weeks at the home of a very generous couple (Charles Federico and Ginger Campos), who allowed me to be their writer-in-residence, free of charge. I had the top floor of their house in Old Monterey to myself and ensconced myself in my office, only coming downstairs to stretch my legs on occasion, eat quickly, make a salad for dinner and do the dishes. I still wasn’t finished writing when it came time for me to return home to San Francisco.

Come to WinTherefore, I was forced to write in the tiny apartment I share with my beau. I wrote the introduction last and I remember crawling into bed after writing for 23 straight hours. I was so exhausted I wanted to cry — but I was too tired. That’s the kind of energy and effort that goes into writing a manuscript. I still don’t know which was harder, writing The Dog Lover’s Guide to Travel, or my first book, Come to Win: Business Leaders, Artists, Doctors, and Other Visionaries on How Sports Can Help You Top Your Profession, a New York Times bestseller I co-authored with tennis phenom Venus Williams. Both were incredibly difficult but already seem like a breeze compared to Bellini.

Come to Win consists of 46 first-person stories, each with its own chapter that can stand on its own. Each destination featured in The Dog Lover’s Guide to Travel can stand on its own as well. So even though Bellini is my third book, it’s the most challenging. Before I landed my first book deal, I took a Media Bistro memoir writing class in New York. But that was several years ago. I felt the need to take another so I enrolled in one at The Grotto taught by Louise Nayer last month. The two-day class was just the kickstarter I needed as I began my sublet at The Grotto but I require more than six hours of guidance. I’m sure I’ll take another class in the fall as I have so much to learn about  theme, arc, character development and structure. Everyone tells me just to write for now. Get the words down and then figure it out. So that’s what I’m doing.

I also have a writing buddy, Carron Oswald, whom I met in Louise’s class. Our goal is to meet periodically and keep each other on track. The other night she had a reading of her first three chapters for several of her friends, which I thought was incredibly brave. And smart. I never would have thought of that.

With each book, I learn a bit more about writing and the business side of publishing. Eat, Pray, Love was Elizabeth’s third book and she hit the jackpot with it. I visualize that Bellini will do the same for me as Eat, Pray, Love did for her. As I like to say, Bellini for One will do for Bellinis what “Sex and the City” did for cosmopolitans. Get ready for the Bellini explosion!

Now let me introduce you to my fellow blog hoppers:

If there was a Citizen of the World passport, Maureen Jenkins would own it:
Maureen Jenkins Urban Travel GirlMaureen Jenkins is an award-winning writer, freelance Travel and Lifestyles journalist, and global Communications professional who’s visited nearly 35 countries and territories. This citizen of the world also has lived in Florence, Italy, and spent a year living in Samois-sur-Seine, a charming village near Paris. Maureen muses about all things travel-related—whether outside the United States or near her native Chicago—in “TCW Travel Connection,” a blog she writes for Today’s Chicago Woman magazine.  A passionate believer in the ability of travel to not only transform the way we see the world, but ourselves, she encourages black women to “live globally through international travel” in her personal blog, UrbanTravelGirl.com. During her career, Maureen’s work has appeared in online and print publications including CNN.com, About.com Luxury Travel, EBONY and Jet Magazines, Ebony.com, Black Enterprise, Working Mother, Chicago Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Crain’s Chicago Business, Today’s Chicago Woman, The Oregonian, Arizona Republic, and the Charlotte Observer.

Susan Portnoy can handle a camera as well as she does a pen:
Susan PortnoySusan Portnoy is a confessed safari addict, world explorer and photographer who blogs as The Insatiable Traveler. She’s traveled to over 35 countries and looks forward to each and every new experience, especially those that involve authentic cultures, wild animals or remnants of ancient civilizations. In short, Machu Picchu, Myanmar and Africa are high on her list of beloved destinations.

Her posts center on her photography and the people, places and adventures that inspire her images, whether at home in New York City or on the other side of the globe, with some travel and photography tips thrown in for good measure. She is a contributor to Yahoo! Travel and her work has been featured on the Huffington Post, Mashable, Jaunted, The Solo Traveler, Green Global Travel, One.org, and is one of only 34 Travel blogs featured in Tumblr’s “Spotlight” along with Condé Nast Traveler and National Geographic Found.

When she’s not traveling, Susan is a communications and public relations consultant with 15+ years working with companies in media, fashion, technology and entertainment. She was most recently at Condé Nast where, in addition to her responsibilities as vice-president of corporate communications, she led the press and social media for the international shopping initiative Fashion’s Night Out created by Vogue editor in chief, Anna Wintour. This fall she’ll oversee press for the return of Fashion Rocks and Movies Rock, two prime-time CBS specials that celebrate the relationship between fashion and music and movies and music respectively.

Molly Monahan’s blog asks the question: don’t you know who I am?
molly_moynahanMolly Moynahan is the author of Stone Garden (2003) a NYT Notable book that was translated into Japanese and German and was chosen as a top Teen Read by teenagers and librarians across the country. Her two other novels are Parting is All We Know of Heaven and Living in Arcadia. Her short stories and essays have been published in Mademoiselle, North American Review, and The Best Texas Stories, and on 848, a Chicago NPR Arts program. Her essay “How to Sleep with a Professor” was recently published on VIDA.com. After completing an undergraduate degree in English & History (Rutgers University BA, Trinity College Dublin) she received an MFA in Fiction Writing (Brooklyn College) and worked as an editor in NYC for Random House and Bantam-Doubleday-Dell. She has taught creative writing and English for 20 years, eleven years of college level creative writing and composition in Universities such as Rutgers, SMU, DePaul and the University of Texas and nine years of high school English instruction. Her book on writing college admission essays, PERFECT PITCH: Writing the College Admission Essay was published in the fall of 2012.

Feeling stuck? Let Lisa Kaplin free you:
Lisa KaplinLisa Kaplin is a psychologist, life coach, professional speaker, and blogger.  She is the owner of Smart Women Inspired Lives where she hears women’s stories, helps them understand why they are stuck, and helps them rewrite their futures into joyful lives that they hadn’t thought possible.  Lisa’s unique education and life experiences allow her to really understand the stress, overwhelm, and struggles that many women face.  She uses humor, empowerment, acceptance, and a healthy dose of pushing to guide her clients into life long changes.  Lisa is married and the mother of three teen-aged children.  In her free time she’s cuddled on the couch with her dog and a book.   You can find her at www.smartwomeninspiredlives.com or Lisa@smartwomeninspiredlives.com.


What about you? What’s your relationship with writing? Use the comment box below to share. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

About Kelly E. Carter

New York Times bestselling author Kelly E. Carter is the Director of Communications at Alpha Omega winery in the legendary Rutherford bench of the world famous Napa Valley. The bon vivant made a name for herself writing about sports, entertainment, lifestyles and pets. She founded The Jet Set Pets, the luxury travel site for pampered pets on the go. Her latest book, National Geographic's
The Dog Lover's Guide to Travel , was released April 1, 2014 and earned Kelly a Lowell Thomas Award. She teamed up with tennis phenom Venus Williams to co-author Come to Win: Business Leaders, Artists, Doctors, and Other Visionaries on How Sports Can Help You Top Your Profession, a New York Times bestseller in 2010.  

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