2019 February Featured Journalist of the Month: Clark Norton
Friday, February 01, 2019 06:00 AM

Clark Norton:

Clark Norton is a veteran freelance writer who has specialized in travel for 25 years – ever since realizing that his forays into newspaper work and Hollywood screenwriting, while more lucrative, didn’t get him out of the office enough. His work has appeared in many major national and regional publications including The Washington Post Magazine, Outside, Rolling Stone, Health, Family Fun, Parenting, Hemispheres, Reader’s Digest, EnCompass, and Porthole Cruise Magazine (where his theme cruise columns garnered two straight NATJA gold awards for best magazine travel series). Clark is also the author of 17 guidebooks to California, Alaska, the Dominican Republic, and Tucson, Arizona, where he now lives. Having chronicled the travels of baby boomers since his early days backpacking in Europe, he now blogs about baby boomer travel at clarknorton.com. And despite having traveled to 120 countries, 50 states, and seven continents, his bucket list just keeps getting longer.

Clark's Q&A:

What got you into travel writing?
I was working as an editor at a news service in San Francisco and was sent on a six-week political reporting trip to Africa. I quickly realized I was more interested in the travel aspects to the trip than the political aspects. So I looked for political angles to stories on Victoria Falls, Kenyan game parks, Zanzibar, riding the Tan-Zam Railway, etc., which is how I’d spent most of my time rather than digging into political issues. Those quasi-travel stories got published by lots of newspapers as well as by Outside and other magazines, and pretty soon I dropped the political pretense altogether. 

What's the most challenging part of travel writing for you?
I got spoiled early on by having editors call me for stories and always having lots of assignments lined up. So when dry spells come, as they inevitably do, I’m faced with the prospect of querying editors, which I hate, and put off for as long as possible. Fortunately by then I’ve usually had an editor or publisher contact me with an assignment or book contract and I never have to write the query letters at all. But my procrastination has probably cost me some good gigs over the years. I’ll never know.

What is the one thing [equipment or personal item] you can't go without on the road?
Aside from my laptop and phone, which are essential, I have to pack a hat, as I have very little hair.

What's your most unusual and/or memorable travel experience? 
It would have to be getting smuggled into a certain African country in the back of a Volkswagen Beetle. I won’t say the name of the country because I’d like to go back there. But I was having visa problems and a friend working in a neighboring country offered to drive me across the border. I was hidden in the wayback, behind the back seat, hunched over like a shelf and covered with a cloth with piles of stuff on top of it. It was very hot and uncomfortable and we had some unfortunate delays at the border crossing, but I made it through and when I was finally able to get out of the car, I felt this incredible sense of relief and sheer joy. But I was very careful to not so much as jaywalk while in that country, which had a reputation for not coddling visa offenders.

What is the best piece of advice you could give to a rookie travel journalist?
In terms of writing, avoid clichés and trite phrases like “quaint villages,” “spectacular sunsets,” and “azure seas.” Have I ever used these myself? Of course – I’m a travel writer.

 

Find Clark's work: www.ClarkNorton.com
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