Franz Wisner is a reformed cubicle worker and the author of Honeymoon With My Brother, the true story of how Franz was left at the altar, then decided to take a two-year, 53-country honeymoon with his younger brother, Kurt. The best-selling memoir is currently being made into a movie by Sony Pictures. In addition, Franz has penned numerous articles and opinion pieces for The San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, Redbook Magazine, and Coast Magazine, among others. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Tracy Middendorf Wisner, and their children/future backpackers, Calvin and Oscar.
How did you get started traveling?
In 1999, I got dumped at the altar, just days before my scheduled wedding. The guests were en-route, the food and wine were on location, and the whole party was pre-paid. So I chose to have a weekend wedding bash anyway…just without a bride.
I then decided to go on my planned two-week honeymoon to Costa Rica, substituting my brother Kurt for my Runaway Bride. We had such a good time exploring the country and reconnecting as siblings that we opted to extend the festivities for two years and fifty-three countries in Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, South America and Africa.
How did you get started writing?
Throughout the “honeymoon,” I penned a series of e-mails to family and friends about the quirks and oddities of travel. Until then I’d written for others — PR clients or politicians — but never for me. Some of my essays made their way into newspapers and magazines thanks to a few encouraging friends in the media.
Then I wrote a piece called “Honeymoon with My Brother” that explained why I was traveling. In it I said, “I’m on a honeymoon, and I haven’t had one complaint about my spooning technique or set foot into one expensive shopping boutique. That’s because I’m on a honeymoon with my brother. You see, a funny thing happened to me on the way to the altar.” That article sparked a lot of interest in our story.
What do you consider your first “break” as a writer?
My brother and I had a dreadful/hilarious meeting with a famous Hollywood producer after the two-year honeymoon ended. We decided we needed help. So we convinced an agent at ICM to adopt our vagabond tale and attempt to sell the story first as a book. Somehow she managed to convince St. Martin’s Press to buy it, which made me immediately question their business acumen. They then sold the movie adaptation rights to Sony Pictures.
As a traveler and fact/story gatherer, what is your biggest challenge on the road?
My biggest problem these days is finding the time to get on the road.
My wife (yes, I actually had a wedding go through) and I just had a baby boy earlier this year. I’m trying to get him jazzed about the vagabond lifestyle, but cries each time I put him in the car seat. First we conquer the car seat, then the world!
What is your biggest challenge in the research and writing process?
Patience, and staying focused throughout a long journey. Some of my best story ideas or interviews came late in the day, or late in the trip.
What is your biggest challenge from a business standpoint?
The book publishing industry (33% lemmings, 33% zombies, 33% zombie-like lemmings, 1% any of my editors who might read this) is geared solely toward the mega-sellers. The battle for space and TLC among the J.K. Rowlings and Stephen Kings is an enormous, noble fight that must be waged every single day.
Have you ever done other work to make ends meet?
I worked as a press secretary to Governor Pete Wilson, a public relations flack, and a lobbyist before my two-year honeymoon. Now I’m a professional brother/vagabond.
The paperback version of Honeymoon with My Brother comes out this month. Kurt and I are working on another book, also with St. Martin’s. We’re also consultants on the movie, though I still haven’t figured out what that means. Nice meetings, though.
What travel authors or books might you recommend and/or have influenced you?
Jodi Picoult, S.L. Price, Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge, Simon Winchester, Nick Hornby, Cervantes, Borges, Rolf Potts!
What advice and/or warnings would you give to someone who is considering going into travel writing?
Let qualified strangers read your work. Your family and friends will say your vacations to the Grand Canyon or Branson, Missouri are amazing and that you should write a book them. A pro will tell you how to sharpen your skills.
What is the biggest reward of life as a travel writer?
The focus on getting enriched, rather than getting rich (though I wouldn’t gripe about finding both).