Archive for November, 2003

Interview with Joe Kurmaskie

Friday, November 7th, 2003
Joe Kurmaskie¬†contributes two columns to Bicycling Magazine and is the author of the book, “Metal Cowboy, Tales from the Road Less Pedaled”. Joe’s book is a collection of stories from his bicycle touring adventures. I won’t go too far into the details of his bike trips for now. I’ll save that for the book. Instead I’d like to find out a little more about how Joe has managed to combine his love of cycling with his skill as a writer to become the success that he is today. ¬†
BF Joe, you are about to embark on a book tour to promote your new book, “Metal Cowboy, Tales from the Road Less Pedaled”. You must know that you are the envy of everyone who’s ever swung a leg over a touring bike. With so few financially viable means of becoming a professional bicycle tourist, the option of writing a book about one’s travels is a goal often considered but rarely attained. At what point in your touring history did you decide to take a shot at writing about it?
JK I’ve been lucky in this respect… I came to my love for writing at a rather young age, not long after I learned to ride a bicycle. I wrote serials and detective stories as far back as grade school and a teacher cultivated my love and helped get some of them published in Scholastic Magazine.And then I was really hooked.¬†So keeping journals and retelling my adventures through letters was a natural during my travels (sometimes I’d just xerox a page or two from my journal and send copies to my friends and family.) I sold a story or two about my cycling adventures now and then but It wasn’t until I was working for a newspaper as a daily reporter and entertainment writer few years ago that everything fell into place. I was struggling on an “epic” book about my travels that wasn’t going anywhere. Then the paper offered me a weekly slot to write my stories… sort of a running serial. I wrote about half the stories in the book that way. Several of the columns won press association awards and publishers came knocking and I was afforded the time to really expand the pieces and write the rest of them.
BF What other kinds of writing have you done outside your work for the paper and everything you are doing now?
JK I’ve been writing professionally since I was a teen. I’ve written over 5000 newspaper articles, been syndicated in AP stories around the globe, I’ve written ad copy, really bad promotional material, I’ve written speeches for university presidents and politicians (you’d think they could write their own) I’ve penned travel magazines, brochures, I’ve written for web sites, e-zines, you name it, I’ve done it in the wordsmith game. And on my worst day of writing I’m having a better time than working a time clock job or doing something I don’t enjoy.
BF What did you do before you became a writer?
JK Before you get a name in writing, it’s sort of like being an aspiring actor… you do whatever you must to make ends meet… when the writing jobs, even the less than enjoyable ones, didn’t make the rent, I worked all sorts of jobs… but for much of my twenties I directed summer camps and year round retreat centers and outdoor education programs. This is also how I managed to fund my extended bicycling adventures.
BF It must have been a relief when your book was finally published, but in the grand scheme of things there is still a lot of work that comes after that. Do you see your current book tour as a necessary evil or more like a reward for the work that is already done?
JK As it turns out I’m a real extrovert so it’s actually a lot of fun… people think that just because a book gets published it automatically becomes bestseller… you’ve got to get out their and get people interested, do interviews… it’s like after a farmer grows a really wonderful pumpkin or cucumber or batch of potatoes ( look, I’m comparing my work to potatoes now ;-)) you have to take it to market or it will rot in the field! The biggest drawback is that these book tours are three weeks or more straight and I’m a husband and a father now and I really loath time away from my family… they will be joining me for part of one of the tours but it’s still hard.
BF Do you have any other book plans for the future?
JK Are you kidding? I’ve got more projects spinning in the air than you’d want to hazard a guess about. The great thing about landing the Breakaway Books deal is that Metal Cowboy is getting good reviews and agents and publishing houses want to see my other work now. People want to talk to me that a few years ago wouldn’t have taken notice if I set myself on fire in their offices! My next project, which is being worked on as a proposal, is called “Surfing With Buddha”… it’s about a group of aging sun-bleached West Coast surfers who are practicing Tibetan Buddhists… surfing monks if you will… I’m gonna blend in the history of surfing with a season of hanging out learning to surf and seeing how they straddle these different worlds and find a balance in life between complete motion and total silence and meditation… It’s going to point out the extraordinary in everyday things and have plenty of wit and humor in it as well. I have two screenplays shopping around Hollywood, a book on bike race teams called “Pack Mentality”, which I’d like to write someday and I’ve… oh heck the list is too long… as you can see writing is more than a job for me… it’s something I love almost as much as pedaling and my family.
BF Could you write another book based on your touring adventures or will you need to go out on some more trips first?
JK I could write three more books… but the short answer is yes… and my publisher is interested in the sequel… Metal Cowboy – Back In the Saddle Again (you heard it here first!)
BF While writing must be an exciting and often fun way to earn a living, does it grate at your nerves not to be earning a regular salary?
JK I’m a gambler and I always have day work writing projects so I don’t sweat it. We aren’t high rollers and we don’t have these big debts or lots of toys we have to pay for so things are pretty good. I like to spend time with my family rather than spending lots of cash in the fast lane… and I just have this confidence (misplaced or not) that I can and will keep making a decent living with my writing. And steady jobs like writing for Bicycling Magazine help.

Thanks Joe. For more on Joe’s book, check out www.metalcowboy.com.

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