Susan Van AllenSusan Van Allen, author of 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go, has written about Italian travel for National Public Radio, Town and Country, Tastes of Italia, CNN.com, and many other publications. She has also written for TV, on the staff of the Emmy-winning sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond. When Susan’s not traveling in Italy, she lives in Los Angeles with her husband.

Susan Van Allen talks about travel writing, the allure of Italy (especially for women!), and the publication process for 100 Places.

What inspired you to become a writer?

I’ve loved reading ever since I can remember, and surrounded myself with books from an early age, especially by women writers. Growing up, I read and reread Little Women and Gone With the Wind more times than I can count. I also loved learning the adventurous stories of writers’ lives, from Hemingway to Henry Miller, Anais Nin, Jack Kerouac, and Hunter Thompson. They were early inspirations to me.

Why did you write 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go?

I’ve been LOVING traveling to Italy for over 40 years—inspired by my maternal grandparents, who were born there. And meeting so many other travelers, I discovered that women are extra attracted to Italy—it’s a country that’s been adoring the feminine since the earth was cooling—from Venus, Goddess of Love and Beauty, to the Madonna, Mother of Compassion, and every native’s mamma. Women love Italy because Italy loves women.

The book was inspired by my passion to open the door for women (and their male traveling companions) to enjoy Italy to the max, discovering hidden and well-known places more deeply than what other guidebooks offer—everything from masterpieces to cooking classes to gardens, spas, beaches, shopping, etc.

100 places in italy every woman should goWhat was your favorite part of writing it? The greatest challenge?

It was fabulous to focus on the feminine aspect of Italy—in this country, with an overwhelming amount of attractions. Delving into the backstories of women rulers and women who flourished in Italy was fascinating, such as the story of Peggy Guggenheim, the bon vivant who made Venice her home and created the modern art museum there. And it was wonderful to get to know more Italian women, such as jewelry artisan Angela Caputi in Florence and Mamma Agata, an amazing chef who teaches classes at her villa in Ravello, on the Amalfi Coast.

The greatest challenge was limiting my choices to 100! To quote from my preface: “…obviously there are more treasures than one book can hold!”

How did you go about getting it published?

When I first began travel writing, I attended the Book Passage Travel Writer’s Conference in Corte Madera, Calfornia. There I met Larry Habegger, publisher at Travelers’ Tales, and subsequently, a few of my essays were published in their anthologies. Years later, I saw that Travelers’ Tales had published 100 Places Every Woman Should Go. I wrote them a brief proposal for 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go, and they came back with a yes. It was a combination of them liking my writing, appreciating that I had promoted their anthologies by setting up local readings at LA bookstores, and—since the first 100 Places in the series had sold well—them being willing to take the risk to continue the series.

What led to the 3rd edition?

More years of Italian travel inspired me to go in to refresh and embellish the entries. I’ve added more tips, such as learning to row Venetian-style, taking an Art Restoration Workshop in Puglia, a list of my favorite restaurants (since I’m always asked!), and thickened up entries in such sections as artisan shops and spas—what a joy they are to research!

Tips for people who want to break into travel writing?

Begin from right where you are. Readers are always looking for insiders’ info, and wherever you live has attractions you can write about in a personal blog or guest blog on a site that covers your area. You may have to write for no pay for a while; be patient with that, and stay open to researching online pubs for content. The Book Passage Travel Writers’ Conference in Corte Madera, California, is a great place to learn about the craft, and there are also courses online or at local universities that can help you learn about travel writing and selling your work.

Additional advice for writers?

As the late, great Nora Ephron said, “The hardest thing about writing is writing.” We’re all often challenged to simply sitting ourselves down and getting to the task, but once you do it, wonderful things begin to happen…

What do you know now that you wish you knew before you started writing?

Writing takes such patience! I’ve learned over the years to be gentler with myself through the challenges of first drafts, rewrites, and the seemingly never-ending job of book promotion. I’ve learned to reward myself through the step-by-step progress…which sometimes means a cookie after a 15-minute session is completed.

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