Tuesday, March 20 , 2018, 1:41 am | Fair 49º


Noozhawk Talks: Joan Tapper Writes Her Own Future by Traveling Back in Time

Author of The Wild West on 5 Bits a Day opens new chapter in history

What’s the final frontier for a travel writer? In her latest tome, Joan Tapper tackles time travel through the Wild, Wild West of the 1880s. Here she sits down with Noozhawk to talk about her eclectic life and career.

Leslie Dinaberg: First tell me about The Wild West on 5 Bits a Day? It is such an unusual travel/history book. How did you decide to do it?

JT: I had done a coffee table craft book named Shear Spirit with Gale Zucker, a photographer in Connecticut, and we’re working on a second craft book. My books are very eclectic.

LD: Are you a knitter?

In the course of her research for
In the course of her research for The Wild West on 5 Bits a Day, Joan Tapper discovered that many of the better descriptions from the period came from people who essentially were “blogging” about their experiences. (Elite Henenson / Noozhawk photo)

JT: I am a knitter. But it’s funny; it came about because a friend of a friend knew this photographer and she approached him to do a book about people who raise animals for knitting, for fiber. He couldn’t do it so he gave her my name thinking I might know other writers. But I was interested myself because of the craft aspects and the people — the artisans interest me. That book was really fun, so then we came up with another idea for the same publisher, Potter Craft. It has to do with the movement of crafts and activism; it’s about the people who use knitting to make a statement or make quilts for a political purpose or do yarn bombing. Do you know what yarn bombing is?

LD: Yes, like public art, graffiti-type projects with yarn.

JT: This deals with them. It’s a profile of how these people got to do what they do and what they do. Then I do book doctoring so I have other people’s manuscripts I’m working on, too. I always have a lot of projects. And I still write for and edit magazines.

LD: Sounds like you’re busy.

JT: These days busy is good.

LD: But your start was as a travel writer?

JT: No, I really started as book editor. For most of my career I’ve considered myself an editor. The books I worked on were a wide variety of nonfiction projects. I eventually went to work for National Geographic in books. I became involved with many more illustrated books and then when they started National Geographic Traveler — which is many, many, many years ago — they tapped me to be the first editor and that kicked me into travel editing.

I was at Geographic for nine years. I came out here to become editor of Islands Magazine then I became a freelancer in 2002. Because of the Islands connection I got a contract to do the first book, which was about the Caribbean, and from there I then went on to do books for Thames & Hudson.

LD: It seems like these days everybody does a lot of different things.

JT: The Wild West on 5 Bits a Day is nominally travel but it really goes back to the broader nonfiction kind of world.

LD: I would almost describe this as a history book and not a travel book.

JT: It is. ... You need the history to get a sense of what was really going on. Thank God there are a lot of primary historians working in the West because I couldn’t have done that book without the material that they have. And we have a great library; the UCSB library is fabulous.

LD: Do you like the research aspect of it?

JT: For this it was really fun. It’s amazing when you think of what’s available from that time period where people essentially blogged about their experiences. They traveled and then they wanted to write about it for all of their friends, which they did, and we have all those memoirs and the magazines and correspondence.

LD: Was this a concept the publisher had already done with other writers?

JT: They’ve done a whole series: Ancient Athens on 5 Drachmas a Day and Ancient Rome on 5 Denariis a Day. And they thought, gee, this is fun and they did one on Shakespeare’s London on 5 Groats a Day. Then they asked me.

I was very surprised because I’m not a scholar and they had scholars involved in some of these other books. But because of the most beautiful villages series— The Most Beautiful Villages and Towns of the Pacific Northwest, The Most Beautiful Villages and Towns of California, The Most Beautiful Villages and Towns of the Southwest — I had actually traveled to some of the towns.

Some of the towns were beautiful because they were kind of frozen in time ...

LD: Have you gotten any feedback?

JT: I hope I haven’t stepped into too many Wild West controversies. You talk about people like Billy the Kid or Jesse James or Wyatt Earp, there’s plenty of people arguing.

... Hopefully, it will push people to say this is actually really interesting, I’d like to see the place.

LD: I enjoyed it. Do you travel a lot?

JT: For the travel books, you need to travel. The first one I did was the Caribbean — I worked with Nik Wheeler, who is a photographer in Montecito — and I remember saying to my husband I can do this in four trips. We’ll book these islands here and we’ll book these islands there. Four trips. (Laughs) So I made 13 trips in 15 months. Those are Joan’s famous last words.

Of course, then we did California next and I thought California was big, and then we did the Southwest and that was even bigger. I traveled a lot for those books.

LD: Do you like that part of it?

JT: It’s fascinating. And that series has places to stay and places to eat and all that, but they’re not primarily guidebooks. What they are is primarily what is this place like and how did it get that way.

LD: What are your top three favorite places?

JT: One of my favorite places in California is Mendocino; that was really fun. In the Southwest, I really enjoy Taos; it’s such a rich town. In the Northwest book that is coming out one of my favorite places was Ashland, Ore.

LD: What’s your favorite part of The Wild West on 5 Bits a Day?

JT: In Leadville, Colo., they had this whole book of day-to-day things from the newspaper. People used to write to the newspaper asking about job openings and there is a section called “some help wanted” that reads: “The salaries paid writers for the daily papers range from $25 to $40 per week. There is no demand for special articles, which are paid for, and novelists find no work to do. Reality here reads like wild romance to the outside world. There are scores of journalists in the city waiting anxiously for the time when they will be needed, and we can advise none to come with the idea of engaging in journalism.” (Laughs)

Nothing has changed!

Vital Stats: Joan Tapper

Born: Chicago

Family: Husband Steven Siegel

Civic Involvement: Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic, Camerata Pacifica, Girls Inc.

Professional Accomplishments: Founding editor of National Geographic Traveler, longtime editor in chief of Islands Magazine, author of nine books, edited the book, Under the Sabers: The Unwritten Code of Army Wives by Tanya Biank, which the Lifetime TV show Army Wives is based on.

Best Book You’ve Read Recently: Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann is really an interesting, interesting book. I also read Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel, which is very literary and fascinating about the Tudors, Henry the VIII and the politics of his court.”

Favorite Local Spot: “Any walk along any beach is lovely. We walk to Shoreline a lot, we also walk on Hendry’s. How can you not enjoy it? Any place along the beach. We are so lucky. And I’ve been to a lot of beautiful towns.”

Noozhawk contributor Leslie Dinaberg can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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