In July 1983, we got married, quit our jobs and took a trip to Chile and Ecuador after finding cheap tickets on a new airline. When we returned, we had about $5,000 and hoped it was enough for us to write full time until our stuff started selling. We ran out of money four months later and took part-time jobs. Rob worked as a reporter for a weekly newspaper and Trish taught Spanish in adult ed. In our free time, we sent out queries to magazines.
This was in the days before the Internet and email, so our goal was to submit one query a day. Out of 30 queries a month, we usually got a couple of assignments. We discovered that writing for magazines as freelancers was financially precarious. Many magazines paid on publication. Some ended up not paying at all. But we found a home at OMNI with an editor who gave us regular assignments and paid promptly and even paid 100% kill fees when they didn't use the article. We also wrote travel articles and later wrote for the South American editions of Birnbaum's Travel Guides.
In between, we were both working on novels, our real passions. In September 1984, Trish's first novel, In Shadow, sold to Ballantine Books, for $7,500. About a month later, Rob got a ghostwriting project for the CEO of a Washington, D.C. company, which paid around $12,500. We were thrilled with these sales...and quit our part-time jobs. But it was apparent we were going to have to be as versatile as possible in order to make a living as writers. Even though the cost of living was less in the 80s, we couldn't live on $20,000 for long. We started looking around for other things to write about, other ways to supplement our income.
Once we had some travel writing credits, we were invited on several travel fam trips - where your airfare and lodging are paid by the sponsors of the trip and in exchange, you try to sell a travel article for that location.
On a flight to Nashville, we ended up sitting with a next to a Colombian travel agent, German Morales. The three of us hit it off. At that time, Columbia was suffering from a bad image as a drug country and German wanted to improve that image somehow. His family owned a chain of hotels in Columbia, he knew the head of Avianca Airlines, so we met with him, Camilo Rodriguez, and presented our idea. We would lead trips to Columbia, Peru and the Amazon for travel writers, Avianca would provide the tickets, and German would accommodate the writers at his family's various hotels. In addition, we would be paid $100 a day for each day of the trip.
We led a number of these trips - to the Amazon, the Andes, Cartagena, Santa Marta and the Lost City. It was a fantastic adventure for us - and fodder for future novels. None of it would have happened if we had been wedded to the idea that we were going to make a living only as novelists. Circumstances forced us to be versatile, which is one of the most necessary skills any writer can develop.
Stay tuned for part 2!