Write On! caught up with Joel Stratte-McClure for this week’s Author Q&A. An American journalist/adventurer who lived in France for more than three decades, Stratte-McClure has been writing about his global trekking and hiking adventures since the 1970s. His work has taken him to over 100 countries and his articles on a variety of subjects have appeared The International Herald Tribune, Time Magazine, The London Times, People Magazine, Who Weekly, Fast Thinking, and numerous other publications. His book The Idiot and the Odyssey: Walking the Mediterranean hit Australian bookshelves last November. The Australian edition is currently available. The Idiot and The Odyssey will be published in the US and other countries during the next year. (The US-Version is now available.)
When and how did you first catch the writing bug?
A professor of a boring western civilization course at Stanford University told me that I was the worst writer he’d ever seen. Ever! That encouraged me to abandon my premed and religious studies majors and enter the English/Creative Writing Program. Fortunately this occurred during a delightfully zany era (the late 1960s) when many of us got away with writing absolute nonsense under the influence of alcohol, drugs, Norman Mailer and Ken Kesey. It’s no coincidence that my first important front page newspaper story was coverage of the Woodstock rock festival.
Why did you write The Idiot and The Odyssey: Walking the Mediterranean?
After a 30-year career outside the United States as a journalist and foreign correspondent, I started my trek around the Mediterranean Sea hoping to be so Zenned out that I wouldn’t write a word—at least during the first few hundred miles. But a night at a Cistercian monastery and a few days at the world’s largest nudist colony lead to magazine stories within the first few weeks on the road.
And the exciting physical/spiritual/emotional/mental adventure—combined with my ruminations about Homer, Odysseus, western civilization, French women, Latin lovers, Buddhism, the environment, the art of walking, walking meditation, divorce, alcoholism and other juicy topics—resulted in a 165,000-word book that was compared to Eat Pray Love and Jack Kerouac when it first appeared in Australia in November 2008.
How did that title come about?
My wife woke up at four am one morning in the south of France and said, “I’ve got it—The Idiot and The Odyssey.” I owe her because it is, obviously, a brilliant title and has probably been responsible for selling more books than any other five words in the entire book.
The Idiot and The Odyssey doesn’t only mean that I’m an idiot on a misguided journey but is also a take off on Homer’s works, The Iliad and The Odyssey. However, when I was flying to Australia for the book tour last year a passenger asked, “Why would they publish a book combining The Idiot (by Dostoevsky) with Homer’s Odyssey?”
What was your favorite part of the process?
I’m currently walking/research/writing a sequel because I still thrive on the unpredictable and serendipitous nature of a long trek along the world’s largest inland sea (The Idiot covers the first 4,000 kilometers) that, of course, is also an extraordinary physical and spiritual journey. I get a constant kick out of observing different landscapes, people, and cultures while coming up with offbeat ruminations about virtually everything under the Mediterranean sun.
What was the greatest challenge in working on it?
Reducing all of the sights, sounds, thoughts and experiences of a 5,866,533-step MedTrek to a mere 165,000 words.
How is The Idiot and The Odyssey different from your other kinds of writing?
It’s completely different from the short, crisp anecdotal celebrity column I wrote about Hollywood (for the LA Daily News) for four years but is really a vastly expanded version of the type of profiles, stories and sections that I reported and wrote for the International Herald Tribune, Scientific American, Time, and many other publications during the past few decades. The fact that it is written both by me and for me—and my readers—makes it a very sweet endeavor.
Any advice for writers?
Enjoy glowing in the few seconds of adulation that occur during the book tour following publication—and be as enthusiastic about marketing/selling the book as you are about researching/writing it. As one bookstore owner in Tasmania told me when I was in his store pimping The Idiot, “Authors have got to realize that the real work begins once they write “The End.'”
What is the one thing you know now that you wish you knew when you first started writing?
I quickly learned to always explore every avenue of research and background material before interviewing a subject or visiting a place. There’s nothing worse than an ignorant journalist/writer. And to be more judicious in the use of the semi colon;
Tags: Author Q&A Debra Eckerling Joel Stratte-McClure Journalist The Idiot and The Odyssey The Odyssey Walking the Mediterranean Write On!