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 Islands Information

Place: Virginia

Today.  Norm Goldman, Editor of and is pleased to have as our guests, Mary & Bill Burnham.

Mary and Bill specialize in outdoor travel and adventure, and they are the authors of Hiking Virginia, as well as Small Towns of Virginia & Maryland.

They have contributed to many periodicals: ASU Travel Guide, National Geographic Adventure, The Washingtonian, Backpacker, Blue Ridge Outdoors, MetroSports, American Heritage, Hampton Roads Monthly, and The Virginian-Pilot.

Good day Mary and Bill and thank you for agreeing to participate in our interview.

When did your passion for adventure travel begin? What kept you going?


Mary & Bill:

It was an evolution that started with weekend backpacking trips with friends and family. Since we were both newspaper reporters, it occurred to us we could turn our love of outdoor recreation into a career. It took several years and lots of persistence until we were both making a living solely by freelancing. What kept us going? The thrill of planning the next adventure and the freedom of being self-employed.Norm:I notice your expertise pertains to hiking in Virginia, as well as small towns of Virginia and Maryland. When did your passion begin in writing about these geographical areas? What kept you going? Mary & Bill:

We moved to Virginia from the northeast in the mid-1990s and began exploring the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Shenandoah. There are higher mountains elsewhere (we both grew up near the Adirondacks), but the special character of Virginia's topography, from mountains to ocean, combined with the rich history dating back 400 years, the wineries, small towns and historic lodgings have made it home.Norm:Many of our readers are always interested in unique romantic and wedding destinations. Could you name and describe six unique romantic destinations in Virginia and Maryland?

Mary & Bill:

  • Number one for us would have to be: A tent anywhere in the woods. Our most recent favorite spot is on a small ridge in James River Face Wilderness, VA, where you can watch the sun set on one side, and the sunrise on the other.

  • The Homestead in Hot Springs, Virginia is the ultimate in historic, mountain resort, with natural hot springs to soak in after hiking their private waterfall trail.

  • The Freemason Inn, Norfolk, Virginia, is a new B&B in an historic row house just steps away from all the action on this city's revitalized Granby Street.
  • Assateague Island, Maryland, backcountry camping. Wild ponies on shore, dolphins offshore, and pelican armadas overhead. Full moon is a great time to camp in the dunes and take a night stroll on the beach.
  • Either the Tides Inn or The Hope & Glory Inn, in tiny Irvington, VA on the Northern Neck. This adorable town has just a handful of shops and a lot of whimsy  the Trick Dog cafe has a dog bone on the roof; the dentist's office has giant toothbrushes for pillars. The elegant Hope & Glory is a converted schoolhouse with an outdoor garden bathtub, and the Tides is a full-fledged waterfront resort (though small and intimate), with golf courses and a new spa.
  • Barboursville Vineyard (VA) is located on the site of an old estate, complete with ruins, an 1804 inn, guest cottage and Palladio Italian restaurant.
Norm:Would you recommend adventure trips, such as kayaking for romantic getaways or honeymoon couples, and if so, which other kinds would you suggest?  Mary & BillAbsolutely. In fact, if we were to do it again, we'd have an adventure wedding. Waterfalls are nice; a ski slope, or an island come to mind. A friend of ours puts together adventure weddings and even officiates. Her name is Frankee Love. Norm:I understand you will very shortly be coming out with a book concerning the Florida Keys Paddling Atlas. Could you tell our readers something about this publication? Mary & Bill:

For the past year and a half, we've been living in the Keys, working as kayak guides, and doing field research for the book.

It's a brand new style of guidebook: 100 four-color charts illustrating the entire 100-mile chain of islands in detail specifically for paddlers. Rather than a go-here, turn-there guidebook, that lends itself to hiking, this book will allow paddlers to plan their own routes via navigational cues and GPS coordinates for put-ins, campsites, shipwrecks, bird rookeries, and hidden mangrove creeks. All the things paddlers love to discover on their own.The book is scheduled for a fall release by Globe-Pequot. Pre-orders are already being taken at Amazon.comNorm:

How have you used the Internet to boost your writing career?

 Mary & BillFirst, having our own Website - it's both an online resume and a way to keep in touch with our readers.Second, email for marketing, communicating with editors, submitting articles and photos, and querying. We haven't sent a query by snail mail in years. It's enabled us to take our business on the road. We can be anywhere.Third, research. We often ask ourselves, what did we do before Google? I guess we went to the library! Norm:

Do you recommend other writers find a niche or specialty? What have been the rewards for you?

 Mary & BillYes and no. Niche writing is a way to pursue your passion, but you can't rely on just one type of specialty. Three is a good number. Travel writers should consider specializing in:

 1. Where you live (what you know);
 2. Where you love (to go on vacation); 
 3.  A type of travel: cruising, adventure, women's travel, family travel, etc.The reward for us is obvious: We get to make a living doing what we love. Plus, ALL our travel and outdoor gear is tax-deductible!A more intagible, but higher reward is turning people on to the outdoors, particularly kids and teenagers - not just as consumers of an outdoor experience, but as stewards of the environment.
We always mention- Leave No Trace practices and highlight the natural wonder around us, whether it's how that mountain was formed, or how that jellyfish gets its food.  There's no greater thrill than having someone write that they took our book hiking with them, or tell us they want to get their own kayak at the end of trip.Norm:

Do you have any unique ways you market your books that are different from how others authors market their books?

 Mary & Bill

It's not unique to us, but we believe hands-on promotion is vital: signing onto events for slide shows and book-signings, making connections, not relying on the publisher's publicist to get the word out. Since we're also professional outdoor guides, we promote our books when we take people out kayaking or hiking. It can be formal, such as a Hike with the Authors event, or informal, by handing them a business card at the end of a kayak tour. We don't sell a ton of books this way, but hopefully we've made a connection that we can continue through our e-newsletter and Website.Norm:

As there does not seem to be any authoritative standards that exist for guidebook authors or publishers, how do you know that a guidebook is up to par? How do you check out the authorial competence?

 Mary & Bill
There is the Society of American Travel Writers, of which we are members. There are high standards to get in, a code of ethics, and an annual Guidebook Writing Institute (open to nonmembers as well). Accuracy really counts in guidebook writing. Sending someone down the wrong dirt road really hurts your credibility. Beyond that, do you get a sense that the person was actually there, or did they do all the research on the Internet?The publishing house itself sets a standard as well. There are big-name guidebook publishers and university presses that have a reputation for careful editing, and others that will print whatever the author hands in. Norm:Is there anything else you wish to say that we have not covered?Please tip your guides!Mary & BillThanks again Mary and Bill and good luck with all of your future endeavours.

Norm and Lily Goldman are a unique husband and wife team, writer and water colorist, who write and paint about romantic destinations. You can see more of Norm and Lily's work at their website