Jun 6, 2010

My Short Career as a Professional Writer

                                           Abandoned Mansion on Mekong 2001

A couple of months ago I was contacted by an online media specializing in news and info on East Asia. They wanted me to write somthing, AND THEY WERE WILLING TO PAY ME!!!!!!!

Ok, it wasn't much. $50 for around five or six hundred words. The idea is what grabbed me, Pico Iyer, Paul Theroux, and VS Naipaul, Somchai, writers.

They said they'd actually read my stuff! I should have known better. They did tactfully mention that they were prepared to edit for spelling and what not. They were starting a new website and needed someone to write about Laos. That should have been another tell. I, ahem, am hardly a very knowledgeable person about Laos, I just blog about it, one after all hardly needs to know about something to blog about it, the internet is replete with examples of clueless bloviaters.

I responded.

They wanted a few hundred words about Vientiane, like what are "must do" things, and sights to see during a typical one day stay, a short tour guide to the town. Might as well ask me to write about nightlife, I went to a nightclub for one drink fifteen years ago. Transportation, eating, tourist junk. Ok ok I'm a tourist too, and I freely admit it, postcards in pocket, camera, bermuda shorts and flowery shirt, but good grief I'm about the last person to ask where to go in Vientiane, took me ten years before I stopped by Tat Luang, and most people go there first day. I've stayed in a guest house which closed a dozen years ago and a hotel that most say is slightly dingy, otherwise know nothing about lodging. Have never eaten at any of the places mentioned in guides that I'm aware of.

So I wrote it. Not great, not horrid, but typical. You know, about how Vientiane is half about expats NGO workers and the other half is doing the obligatory one day in the capital city to tick the sights on the way to the plane. And I also mentioned the visa runners. If you've been to Vientiane since the changed rules in Thailand or driven past the Thai embassy you have to realize that 200 people a day cycle through Vientiane to renew visas. I did give a general layout of the town, old part near river, little China town, markets, and so on.

Spell checked it, made sure most sentences had a noun and at least the suggestion of a verb and pushed send.

My best line, "Vientiane, a town that rises late, sleeps early, and is lethargic in between". I made that up, really. They kept that line but I'm not sure how much else. They asked for a photo so I sent that one from years ago when I was like 50 years younger and ok looking, with a bolo tie no less, doesn't get much more western than that.

It took a long long time for someone to completely rewrite it. Starts out with something about the "mighty Mekong", ewh!. My mind immediately leaps to never ending dry sand stretching out away from those riverside restaurants. Photos of monks, description of Bhuda park where I've never been. I've done the same for a Chinese Government Tour company only without having someone else's writing as a beginning point. Just crack open a guidebook, read it, then write down all you can remember so it's in your own words of a place you haven't been.

Worst thing is it's posted under my real name. What if an old girlfriend googles my name or the alumni association from that boarding school I've tried to hide from for 35 some odd years reads it! I'm a bad enough writer, I certainly don't need someone adding cliches or describing places I'd never be caught dead in. I didn't save the original so I've no idea how much to blame on some poor fellow who re wrote.

I wrote a short, not snarky at all, email saying we probably weren't meant to be. Never did open a paypall account for them to send money too. I'm keeping my day job.


Chef Shane said...

Awesome. This 'article' gives more insight into Vientiane than an hour of poring aimlessly over a $4 Xeroxed 'lonely plant Laos' bought from a scruffy street urchin.
Love it.

Honuboy said...

Hi Cat! I love your writing in about Laos. Thanks for sharing your adventures away from the tourist strips.

Somchai said...

Thanks both for your kind words.

Chef Shane I hope you take a look at Lao Cook, that guy Vienne is a chef in Spain