National Geographic Live! events: Don George interviews Frances Mayes and Andrew McCarthy

30 06 2011

On April 12 Michael and I attended one of two travel writing lectures, part of the National Geographic Live! series. At the reception prior to the lecture, we feasted on Italian appetizers (an unexpected surprise, and welcomed since we hadn’t eaten dinner first!).

Frances Mayes was the guest author that evening. Mayes is the best-selling author of Under the Tuscan Sun and Bella Tuscany. Her recent book is Every Day in Tuscany, which chronicles her latest renovation project—a 13th-century house in the mountains above Cortona.

National Geographic Traveler editor Don George hosted the interview. George is a legendary travel writer who has worked as a travel editor at the San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle and was the Global Travel Editor of Lonely Planet Publications. His books include The Lonely Planet Guide to Travel Writing, The Kindness of Strangers, Tales from Nowhere, By the Seat of My Pants, and his latest book, A Moveable Feast. He also writes the “Bookshelf” column in National Geographic Traveler magazine.

We thoroughly enjoyed the interview. Frances Mayes weaves a verbal tale as well as she writes one and Don George asked a wide range of questions about her life in Italy and her writing process. I learned that Mayes was born and raised in Georgia, where many of the relatives on my mother’s side live. During the book signing, I got a chance to chat with her about Swan, the town she lived in. I told her that as a child I spent a few weeks every summer in Georgia with my maternal grandmother and various aunts, uncles and favorite cousins. Mayes and her husband now divide their time between their homes in Cortona and North Carolina. We bought several of her books and she signed them for Michael while I got the record shot. Check out her website and journal here.

On May 12 we attended the second lecture in the series. Don George conducted the interview with actor/director (and now award-winning travel writer) Andrew McCarthy (what girl didn’t crush on him in his younger days…hello?). While I was able to get some shots during the Mayes lecture, the McCarthy lecture was being filmed and the audience was specifically told “no photos.” Bummer. I had my gear with me, of course, and was all set with my ISO at 2000 or something like that, but I didn’t want to risk getting thrown out. So, no photos of the older (but still as handsome) McCarthy.

McCarthy is a two-time Lowell Thomas Award winner and was named the 2010 Travel Journalist of the Year. He discussed his acting and directing career at length, but then the conversation (finally!) shifted to how he got involved in travel writing. At the end, the mic was opened for the audience to ask questions, and brave little me had the perfect question ready (after working up much-needed courage)—“Are you a published photographer, too? Do you take a camera with you on your travels?”

One of the National Geo employees saw me raise my hand and came down to kneel by me while McCarthy answered a question from the other side of the room. Before I could ask the question, another attendee stole the question right out from under me. Bummer. McCarthy’s (paraphrased) answer: “No, not really.” (This would have been a very short interaction with him!) Apparently National Geo either has someone travel separately or must use existing stock to illustrate some of the places he writes about. While he has had photographers travel with him, he said he much prefers traveling solo.

Learn more about his acting career (St. Elmo’s Fire, Pretty in Pink, Weekend at Bernie’s, and Mannequin, to name a few) and directing career (Gossip Girl and several theater productions) and read some of his writing on his site here.

Read his profoundly moving essay, “Going Back In,” which he wrote for the August/September 2009 issue of National Geographic Adventure. You’ll find that article by clicking here, then click on the Adventure magazine cover in the second row.