Torre DeRoche is the author of Love with a Chance of Drowning, a travel memoir that recounts her two year sailing voyage across the Pacific Ocean with her new lover and her morbid fear of deep water. Shortly after its release as a self-published book in 2011, Torre’s memoir was discovered on Twitter by a Hollywood movie producer, and on Facebook by a UK publisher. With two offers already on the table, Torre quickly landed a literary agent, who sold the book to five publishers around the world. The film adaptation is currently underway. When she’s not at home in Melbourne, Australia, DeRoche is at large in the world, making art, pursing adventures, and blogging at fearfuladventurer.com.
How did you get started traveling?
People often think that those who travel are running away from something. They’re right. At age 24, I decided to run away from a lackluster relationship, a dull job, and a life that had grown stagnant. I set out to find something more, though I had no idea what ‘something more’ looked like.
Thanks to a serendipitous encounter, I met a man in a bar who had a humble sailboat and a dream of exploring the world. Against my better judgement, I fell for him despite the fact that I’ve always had a morbid fear of deep water. I wondered if ‘something more’ could be found aboard a leaky 32′ sailboat in the realm of my deepest fears, so I jumped aboard for a two year journey across the Pacific.
That voyage changed the course of my life. It turned me into an adventurer, an optimist, and a travel writer. I’ve most certainly discovered what I set out to find.
How did you get started writing?
At age twelve, I found my voice as a confessional memoirist when I wrote a wry, erratic ‘poem’ that read a little something like this:
I’ve never played Monopoly without stealing money from the bank.
People say I take after my dad. He went bald and grey in his twenties. Great.
My mother stuck it on the fridge, people laughed, and so began my passion for entertaining people with words.
What do you consider your first “break” as a writer?
When Elizabeth Evans from Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency in NYC emailed me to say, “I’d like to offer you representation.” It was literally a break — I broke down into tears.
As a traveler and fact/story gatherer, what is your biggest challenge on the road?
My greatest passion in life is napping in hammocks, but people don’t want to read stories about midday snoozes. So in order to source good stories, I end up doing things that most people avoid due to the high risk of death. That can be challenging.
What is your biggest challenge in the research and writing process?
I constantly battle self-doubt over whether or not my work is any good. A well-written memoir is engaging and relatable. A poorly written memoir is narcissistic drivel, especially a self-published one. I had no way of truly knowing which kind of memoir I was working on.
When you’re penning your life story, it can seem like you’re a crazy person who sits at home all day in a robe, stroking your own engorged ego. “She’s supposedly writing a memm-whaaa, but she hasn’t bothered to brush her hair in weeks!” my family said, in whispered hushes behind my back. (Or they did in my imagination, at least.)
What is your biggest challenge from a business standpoint?
Promotion. Marketing. Networking. There is always more that you should be doing. Twitter, Pinterest, Goodreads, Zola Books. What’s Zola books, you ask? Exactly!
Writers of today are faced with the challenge of being aggressive self-promoters and stellar creatives. Fluent English is not enough — you have to also have a firm grasp of HTML, widgets, and edgy-but-innoffensive Twitter updates. You may be sitting on a masterpiece that you labored over after completing your creative writing MFA at Cornell, but if your book trailer hasn’t gone viral, you’re shit out of luck, pal.
I’m still not 100% sure on whether or not it’s possible to balance self-promotion with sanity. When I self-published my book, I was working seventeen hour days to get my book out there, yet I’d go to bed feeling like I hadn’t done enough. People were worried. My hair became more and more disheveled. Somebody should’ve phoned in the men in the white van. Wish me luck as I head into launch time again—
Have you ever done other work to make ends meet?
I’ve done everything from packing chocolates in a factory, to flipping beef patties in a fast food joint. Nowadays, I’m a designer and illustrator by profession. I do this on a freelance basis while I’m on the road.
What travel authors or books might you recommend and/or have influenced you?
Like every travel writer, I’m obsessed with Bill Bryson. I could crawl up inside the pages of his books and die a happy death. Give me some Suzanne Morrison, Paul Theroux, or Elizabeth Gilbert any day. I love Douglas Kennedy, Wally Lamb and Sara Gruen for their masterful abilities to pull their readers into a roller coaster plot. Funny people, like Augusten Burroughs, David Sedaris, Tina Fey, and Danny Katz, give my humor muscles a workout.
Strangely, though, I learn more from reading bad books than I do from reading good ones. Let’s not name names.
What advice and/or warnings would you give to someone who is considering going into travel writing?
Always assume that your travel experiences are only going to be interesting to your grandma. Attention spans are slim, and there has to be more on offer than you recounting your adventures.
Thanks to social media, our daily lives have become saturated with people Facebragging about their travels, or posting National Geographic-style images set against Mark Twain quotes: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” (Though I beg to differ, Mark Twain, because in twenty years, I’m pretty sure we’re all going to be disappointed in ourselves for posting inspirational memes on our Facebook walls like a pack of internet-obsessed sheep.)
Anyway, my point: Nowadays, you have to work harder than ever to keep your readers engaged. How can you give universal appeal to your story? How can you make it a page turner? Can you make your readers laugh? Cry? Think of your travels like the backdrop to a greater story that grips the reader, not the story itself. After all, you’re trying to grab the attention of internet-obsessed sheep, which means you’re essentially screwed. (Thanks a lot, Zuckerberg.)
What is the biggest reward of life as a travel writer?
Writing teaches you to experience life as an observer. No matter what situation you’re in, there’s always that tiny author sitting in the back of your head, narrating the events around you, twisting your tongue as it speaks its silent sentences. Bad encounters make good stories, and they’re cathartic to write about. Did some horrible person screw you over? Not to worry — put him in your next story, name unchanged. Channeling real life into art is deeply rewarding. Writers have incredible power.