Inside Travel Writing: An interview with John Zada

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John Zada is a travel writer who loves adventures off the beaten track. In this interview he discusses his work and interest in the Sasquatch, the creature sometimes known as the Bigfoot.

Disclosure: Some of the links below — marked with (£) — are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

What kind of travel related niche do you specialise in?

My biggest interests are adventure travel and journeys to far-flung places. I like to venture as far off the beaten track – away from the familiar – as possible.

There’s a deep allure to stories about obscure places. The novelty factor is high.

The people you meet tend to be deeply genuine and interesting. Because I’m a nature and landscapes enthusiast, isolated places draw me for their uncluttered environments and relative quietness. It makes for a deeper, more intimate travel experience, which translates into more engaging and unique stories.

A misty morning on a lake in Canada

Which piece of writing are you most proud of and why?

I have a book coming out in a few weeks, a travel memoir, entitled In the Valleys of the Noble Beyond: In Search of the Sasquatch (£):

The work chronicles my wanderings through the small communities of British Columbias Great Bear Rainforest to gather eyewitness accounts of Sasquatches. Though Bigfoot is the focus, the book is about a lot more than that. 

What prompted you to write it?

I have a longstanding interest in Bigfoot going back to childhood. That fascination was rekindled as an adult when I began to hear from people – including a few acquaintances — who claimed to have seen these creatures.

I came up with the idea for the book after hearing more Sasquatch stories while on a trip to British Columbia’s Central Coast. I fell in love with the area and its people, and decided to return to pursue the subject in the form of a travelogue.

How long did it take you to write the book?

Six years from conception to publication. A few years were spent writing, a few years editing, and there were a couple of years of dead time between stages in the process. The book publishing world can move incredibly slowly.

What can readers expect to find in there?

It’s a multi-layered book with many different overlapping threads. It’s about Sasquatch, but it’s also about the Great Bear Rainforest, nature and the environment, indigenous culture, oil politics, hunting culture, human psychology, perception and the nature of reality, with loads of characters to boot. 

What do you enjoy most about travel writing?

Leaving my comfort zone and learning about other cultures, which in turn helps me to see and understand my own.

There is a writer and anthropologist named Edward T. Hall (£), whose books about culture should be read by everyone (£):

He wrote that in addition to the obvious things we refer to as culture – like food, language, clothing, laws and certain behaviours — there is a whole separate set of cultural tendencies that occur below awareness and are largely invisible to us. They include, but are not limited to, our spatial and temporal habits, including the way we physically move. Hall claims that by travelling and encountering these tendencies in other cultures, we see our own versions and learn more about ourselves in the process. I couldn’t agree more with him.

Do you have a favourite destination?

A few regions really inspire me for their quiet, beauty and energizing tendencies. The Coast Mountain temperate rainforests on Canada’s west coast is one. Most islands in the Mediterranean, particularly the Greek Islands, also draw me. 

What would be a typical working day for you, if there is such a thing?

Starting early in the morning, when I have a relatively clear mind, works well for me. I write for about 5-6 hours, with a few breaks in between, and cap it off with a late lunch.

Wetland and woodland habitat in Canada.

Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?

I sometimes struggle with banging out the first few paragraphs of a piece of writing – often because I try too hard (I actually think chronic writer’s block is a deeper version of that dynamic).

If that’s the case I’ll just walk away from it, relax, and come back to it later. By comparison, once the writing momentum is going, it can be hard to stop. 

What tip or tips would you offer to anyone entering the industry?

Be versatile in your writing — don’t try to focus just on travel. It’s nearly impossible to make a living that way, and there’s no reason why anyone should pigeon-hole themselves into one writing category. Write about anything. 

Also, travel writers should occasionally self-fund trips they really want to do on their own terms, rather than constantly relying on press trips to generate stories. You do your best work when you are completely inspired and free to do as, and go where, you please — without a set plan. Doing those kinds of trips, even if you don’t have a work commission beforehand, is hugely rewarding.

Which writers inspire you and why?

Ryszard Kapuściński (£) was a cold-war era Polish journalist who fused reportage, travel writing and narrative non-fiction in a way that was both engaging and hugely entertaining (£):

The fiction of Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges (£) are masterworks that play with time and space (£):

The late Anglo-Afghan writer Idries Shah (£) compiled and published books of traditional Middle Eastern and Central Asian tales that have a certain beneficial impact on the mind (£):

I highly recommend all three authors.

What do you aspire to achieve as a writer?

I enjoy collecting and conveying unique experiences. I hope to write a few more books of travel in that regard. I also would like to try my hand at fiction.

It’s a tough industry, what do you see as its biggest challenges?

One is generating an income because of the limited amount of work and the increasing number of new writers. Another is the tendency by many publications to go shorter, shallower and more sensational in their articles.

Sunrise in Canada.

What about its opportunities?

Travel itself — and the benefits that can derive from it. 

Is there a destination you are particularly keen to visit and write about?

I’d like to see the Kamchatka Peninsula on the Pacific coast of Russia. It’s a wild, remote and beautiful place that is also difficult to get to – and travel through. My idea of paradise.

Do you have a website where people can find out more about you?

My writing can be found at www.johnzada.com

My travel photography is at www.johnzadaphotography.com.

If you weren’t a travel writer what would you like to be?

Maybe a wilderness guide. Or a psychotherapist. Or both.

I recently wrote a feature for Explore magazine in Canada, called A Tale of Two Border Towns about a pair of small, quirky gold rush era communities on either side of the Alaska-British Columbia border. Half a border crossing separates the two.

The American town is physically cut off from the rest of Alaska, and so it exists in an administrative vacuum and is partially reliant upon Canada. Both towns, home to some really interesting characters, live in a tight and somewhat awkward embrace.

If you enjoyed this interview why not read some of the other interviews in MannedUp’s Inside Travel Writing Series? You can find interviews with Lea Lane, Rebecca Hall, Solange Hando plus several other writers elsewhere on MannedUp.com.

Photos illustrating this post were supplied by Why Eye Photography.

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