Setting Goals: My First Publication

travel book cover

It’s taken me a while to write this post. My inclination was to turn it into a comedy routine, as is often my inclination. Older people, and I tend to believe more frequently older women, soft shoe their accomplishments. Age is a con artist, robbing us of confidence even as we grow in experience.

Ultimately, I decided this news meant too much to me to trivialize it, so please, indulge me this story.

Nearly two years ago, and two months after my retirement from IBM, I attended a month-long writing course in Paris. The class was expensive. Signing up and paying in advance were the only ways I could ensure I would show up. To make this more frightening, the head of the course was one of my heroes of travel writing, Rolf Potts. He also became my advisor.

That first day of class, he asked me about my writing goals, and I told him that I wanted to be published by Lavinia Spalding in The Best Women’s Travel Writing anthology. I had read this book each year; friends had brought me an earlier edition when they visited Pat and me in Budapest. Yet saying this out loud made me feel silly. Delusional. Embarrassed. And yes, old.

During that month in Paris, I wrote a piece about a pig killing in Hungary. The timeline covered my entire three and a half years in Central Europe–from the early days in Slovakia when I learned pig killings were ‘a thing’, until I ultimately attended one just before my assignment ended with a work colleague who had become a very good friend.

I finished the first draft in Paris and continued to work on it for eighteen months. The early feedback was brutal. “Your ending is such bullshit!” “This needs a lot of work.” But I needed that feedback, and as a consequence, the piece improved over time. When Lavinia put out the call for submissions, I decided it was ready and sent it in. Months later, I had forgotten about it.

Then this happened.

Five days before Christmas, I received an email from Lavinia stating that she was interested in my story, but ‘it needs work and my timeline is insane.’

I set aside two days, at least 20 hours, and fretted over every word, addressed each of her questions and comments. If this piece perished, lack of effort would not cause its demise. On the third morning, I read it over and over and over before hitting send. Then we left to drive to Charlottesville to spend Christmas with our family.

During the car ride, I received an email back from Lavinia. BEAUTIFUL. That one word. IN CAPS. (Good news, I learned, feels better IN CAPS!) The pig killing piece took me 18 months to complete. By my best estimate, I made two cents an hour on it, but that doesn’t matter. This singular event is so much more fulfilling than anything I accomplished during my whatever-an-hour career at IBM. Happiness, it turns out, can’t be sold to the highest bidder.

One reason I have waited to write this post (or to tell my friends for that matter) is that I was convinced that through some cosmic mess-up my essay would dribble out into cyberspace, a 3600-word puff of diaphanous cloud. Or that a vegan publisher would pull it at the last minute. Or…. Or…. (Doubts, doubts, doubts)

I wanted to see it on my Kindle. To confirm its existence.

I did, and it’s there!

On May 15th, there will be a book launch in San Francisco, but I will miss it. I hope to make an east coast reading. And it looks like there will be a reading here, this fall, in Paris!


back of book

The cover is pretty, but I prefer the back


Categories: Ruminations

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

54 replies

  1. BEAUTIFUL!!!!!

  2. Congratulations. I can barely wait to read your article, particularly given my Hungarian background. xx

  3. Congrats Julie!!! Will look for the book!!! Can’t wait to read!!

  4. Congratulations… we are so happy and excited for you.. We will pass this to all our family and friends…. Take care, we leave Portugal tomorrow… 😒 Have had an amazing 21 days… xxx

    Sent from my iPhone


  5. Congratulations! What a thrill!

  6. Brilliant, a wonderful story and congratulations, a word that sounds a bit inadequate right now. You are an inspiration. I must tell you that I grew up with the yearly “pig killing” on the small rural farm in Wales. My memories were revived in great detail by your post this morning. I can just see the hams and flitches (sides) hanging in our living room and can taste the salt cured bacon like it was yesterday and not 60 years ago. Thanks for the memories. Hope to see you soon.

  7. Many, many congratulations to you! I’ve been a fan of that series for years, and there’s no doubt you deserve to be included. And Paris is the perfect place to celebrate that kind of news!

  8. That is awesome! CONGRATULATIONS in caps

  9. Congratulations! I am so excited for you!!!!! Enjoy every second of it…

  10. Wow! Congratulations!

  11. BRAVO, JULIE! CONGRATULATIONS, this is HUGE! Thank you so much for sharing your story and expressing your deepest sentiments so beautifully. You absolutely should be included in Lavinia’s book. I’m so glad that she recognized your talent as a writer and honored you in her publication. Can’t wait to get my hands on one…….

  12. How wonderful!!!! Congratulations!!!

  13. Congratulations — this is awesome!!

  14. Congratulations! What an accomplishment! It’s a dream come true for every travel writer and you did it! I came across your blog when I was doing research for the Côte d’Azure and have been a faithful reader since. Thanks for sharing your stories!

  15. You are amazing – in so many ways! Congratulations, Julie. I am thrilled for you.

  16. CONGRATULATIONS! I am not surprised though…your commitment, creativity and diligence are evident in all of your posts and your determination is inspirational. Enjoy these moments and revel in your success. Can’t wait to see your words in print.
    A long time admirer,

  17. Brava! I know how wonderful that must feel, and you deserve it. We’ll buy a copy and track you down in Paris or some remote corner of the earth to collect an autograph. Cheers to you & your sidekick photographer.

  18. Congratulations!! Just ordered the book so can’t wait…

  19. Congratulations!!! Awesome to see your name in print isn’t it?😜. We can say we knew her when.. I remember that story and am glad that all your hard work paid off.

  20. So excited for you! Congratulations!

  21. I’ve been waiting for this day! & I have a feeling it’s just the beginning. First step, short story. Next, the Great American Novel! Congrats!

  22. very happy for you congratulations

  23. Wow, that’s fantastic Julie!! So excited for you.

    I had a similar (kind of) experience. I met a food photographer about 5 or 6 years ago (who’s counting)? She was amazing and I said to myself, I want to do THAT. Well, I had no idea how to do THAT and I barely knew one end of a camera from another. But like you, I just kept working and working. At first it took me 2 to 3 days to make one crappy photo of food (luckily it’s still life! but it has to be revived.) I haven’t mentioned it on my sadly neglected blog, but last week a box of cookbooks arrived.. I wrote all the recipes and made all but a few scenery photos! Now I have two more cookbooks lined up to write and photograph for 2018 and 2019! (and p.s., there will be no stock photos–that was a dirty publisher’s trick)

    All I can say, is brava! to you and to all of us ‘older women’ who just keep putting ourselves out there. I can’t wait to read your piece! Good for you!


  24. Julie, what a great thing! Can’t help but think of an actor acquaintance who on earning some great reviews commented, “Yes, and it only took me 20 years to be an overnight sensation.”
    You are indeed an inspiration.

  25. Loved your story! I need you to autograph the book when I see you! Zabijacka reminded me of visiting the Samaritans in northern Israel in the mid-seventies. I was living in Jerusalem and getting my master’s degree in journalism. The Samaritans strictly follow the Old Testament and slaughter sheep in a Passover ritual before cooking them. They put the blood on their foreheads. One of those experiences I only need to do once!!

    I really should be a vegetarian but I love meat. Reminds me of traveling in Bhutan last fall. It is a completely Buddhist country and when I asked why they ate all kinds of meat, our guide replied: “We are devout Buddhists and would never harm any animals. So, we buy all our meat from India.”

  26. Belated congrats Julie; I’m so very happy for you with this accomplishment.


  1. Decisions, Goals, and Morocco – The World In Between

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