Author Frank McMains discussed his career as a travel writer with Hill students at on Wednesday, April 8, and Thursday, April 9. The brother of Dan McMains ’98, Hill instructor of religious studies, Frank McMains is a Baton Rouge-based writer who owns the Red Star Bar in Louisiana. He has written pieces for publications ranging from the L.A. Times to Country Roads magazine.
McMains told the students and faculty members who packed the Memorial Room Wednesday evening that he had taken a walk around Pottstown and along the train tracks, taking photos along the way.
“Pottstown really is an architecturally spectacular little town,” he said.
Using colorful, sometimes quirky photos from his various travels as a backdrop to his presentation, McMains shared a number of pointers for potential travel writers, including:
- If you have unusual skills or interests – such as an interest in food, botany, history, or photography – try to bring these skills to your travel writing.
- Take pictures of people doing what it is that they naturally do. As an example, McMains shared a photo of a man who works in the mini-market near his home in Louisiana, and another of a woman weaving a rug in China. Try to be unobtrusive while taking the photos, he said, adding, “Often if people are comfortable having their pictures taken, then they’ll also be comfortable talking with you.”
- Don’t rush things; don’t try to see the obligatory 12 sites in one city in one day. “You’ll only really see a place if you walk it, when you’ll see things not necessarily seen by typical Western tourists,” he noted.
- Be willing to stop and experience the everyday culture of a place – and don’t give up on trying new things in favor of returning to a familiar and comfortable McDonald’s cheeseburger, he said. “If you give up, you will miss the real experiences of travel,” McMains continued. “You have to be open to truthful, crossover experiences. It is not a comfortable process; you will experience culture shock…. But remember that what makes travel kind of fun and interesting is when something atrocious but not life-threatening happens to you.”
- Document your trip. Use a little notebook or your camera, or both.
A student asked McMains if he ever felt unwanted or unwelcome during his travels to 30-some places. “Texas,” he quipped, then paused and added that Guatemala was a difficult place to be, largely because the people are so poor and so unhappy.
He said he doesn’t really have a “favorite place” – although Istanbul may well dwell at the top of his list. Ideally, travel writers will find they possess the ability to fall in love with many different places.
While he does some very basic research before setting off on a trip – making his first night’s lodging reservation, perhaps, and reading about local foods as well as checking for any U.S. State Department travel warnings – he prefers to plan the trip as he goes.
“I always buy the guidebooks before I go, but I never end up reading them until after I’ve returned,” McMains said.
Following this presentation, the students were given a writing assignment in which they were asked to share three to five brief, colorful anecdotes from their lives.
On Thursday morning, Mr. McMains visited one of The Hill classrooms and talked to students, ranging from third formers (freshmen) to fifth formers (juniors) in Humanities, Journalism, and Travel Writing classes. He and the students reviewed their responses to the assigned writing exercise and he provided them with feedback.
In conjunction with McMains’ visit to The Hill, Dr. Ann Marshall, Hill instructor of English, and her sixth form travel writers Kelsey Guldin ’09, Samantha Lurio ’09, Max Zhang ’09, Matt Savoca ’09, and Jon Rufe ’09 took a walking tour of downtown Pottstown visiting the Pottstown Farmer’s Market, Company Cakes, Gallery on High, and Huperoon Café. These students talked to McMains about the trip and also discussed future plans for a Pottstown travel guide, a project they will work on this spring in class.