Margie Miklas is winding down her career as a critical-care nurse by focusing on writing about her passion, Italy. Her blog evolved into two books based on her experiences throughout the country of her ancestors. Her latest book, My Love Affair with Sicily, takes you along with her as she explores the country she loves.
Time to chat with Margie!
Welcome to my writers’ chateau, Margie. I’ve had writers travel from all corners of the world to visit me, but you’re my first travel writer. You have quite a love affair with Italy; how did it begin?
Thank you Lisette, for inviting me. I fell in love with Italy the first time I visited. Although I knew very little Italian, I had a sense of feeling at home there, and I knew I wanted to return. I was in awe of almost everything there, but I think going to the village of my grandparents really meant a lot to me.
I hear you have some very exciting news! Can you share it with us?
Yes, I recently received news that Memoirs of a Solo Traveler – My Love Affair with Italy is a finalist in the 2014 Florida Writers Association Awards. I am surprised, humbled, and excited! For me this means more than selling books, because it is a validation of my writing by experienced authors, editors, and publishers. The awards are not announced until the end October, during the Writers Conference, which I plan to attend.
Traveling solo can be worlds apart from traveling with others. What is the most important advice that you give to people traveling alone?
I think it would be to immerse yourself into the culture. While a certain sense of independence exists to wander about on your own, you gain much more by engaging the local people, as well as other travelers. It’s easy in Italy because, for example, outdoor tables are placed close to one another; sometimes you may sit at a table with other diners. I am a people person, so I would begin a conversation, either in Italian or English, and found that I enjoyed the entire experience.
I also would recommend joining a small group excursion for day trips. When I was in Siena, I asked the concierge at the hotel about tours to the wine country, and he was more than happy to arrange one. The next morning a van was there and I had the most incredible day with travelers from New Zealand and Boston.
What are some of the biggest mistakes people make when traveling, especially for the first time?
I think it would be overpacking. I did this myself, until I learned how much work it is to lug a huge suitcase on and off trains. Packing light is not that difficult, and since I stayed for several weeks at a minimum, I did a little laundry in my hotel room sink.
I would imagine that you keep a notebook with you at all times. Do you always know what you’re going to write about, or are there surprises along the way?
Since my books are non-fiction, I knew I wanted to write about all of my experiences. So yes, a notebook was always in my bag, and more recently, I carried a small digital recorder, so I could verbally record what I saw and smelled and heard as I was walking. That way, later, I could transcribe my notes, and along with my photographs, I could reconstruct my adventures.
Many people get confused about money issues when they travel. Do I use traveler’s checks? Where is the best place to get the most for my money? Where is the worst place? Will I get a fair conversion if I use my credit card? What advice can you offer?
I can understand and I did a lot of research about the best ways to access money while traveling overseas. Very few places accept traveler’s checks today. The most popular way to obtain cash in euros is the ATM. Most banks charge fees up to $3 – $5 each time in addition to a percent, but a few banks issue cards that only charge 1 percent fee. I have a card from the online bank, Everbank, and have had no problems with it. It is important to remember though, that when you are withdrawing €250, it is actually around $335, depending on the conversion rate. Once, I tried to withdraw money, and was denied. When I checked my account, I had used up the funds, and hadn’t realized it. In that case, it is always a good idea, to have a second bank card, with funds available. That is what I did, until I could transfer funds to my card of choice.
For purchases, it is the same. Many banks charge 3 percent. I use Capital One and there is only a 1 percent extra charge. I know other banks offer this as well. You just have to check around. I would also recommend contacting your bank before traveling and advising them of the dates that you will be out of town and making purchases.
What is your latest book?
My Love Affair with Sicily was released at the end of April. It is written in the same style as my first book, so readers feel as though they are traveling alongside me in Italy. This book covers five separate trips to Sicily, and only during the last trip was I aware that I planned on writing a book about Sicily.
Authors, especially Indies, are constantly trying to understand why some authors sell very while their talented fellow authors have a hard time of it. It’s an ongoing conundrum. What do you make of it all?
I do think that an author must market his or her book. Social media seems to be one of the best ways to do so, and Twitter, in particular, is a great venue for networking and promoting books. I find the community of writers on Twitter to be extremely supportive, no matter the genre. Of course, when I published my first book in September of 2012, I didn’t have a clue. I took an online course on marketing for authors, and it helped me tremendously. It’s not a guarantee to sell millions of books, but if you don’t market, you can pretty much guarantee that you won’t sell many books.
Please, tell us about your experiences with social media. What are your favorite and least-favorite parts of it?
As I stated, Twitter is my favorite place to talk about books, but I believe you have to engage others and have diverse interests. Writers are people who like other things besides writing. I enjoy engaging with others on Twitter, talking about photography, music, travel, editing, grandchildren, and other topics. I use Facebook too, especially the pages, and I think that Pinterest is a great place to market as well, especially because of the visual power of photos.
The least favorite experiences with social media are having to block someone who is just too annoying. I hate doing it buy have had to occasionally. The occasional DM by someone looking for a date is also not my favorite part of social media.
Were you “born to write” or did you discover your passion for writing later in life?
I really didn’t start writing until 3 or 4 years ago, when I began writing for some online sites and then started my blog. I always liked writing though, and wrote limericks as a child. In high school I wrote letters to the editor and was the headline editor of my school newspaper. Years later I wrote a creative satirical newsletter for my ICU colleagues at a hospital in Tampa.
If you were to write a novel, what might it be about?
As a matter of fact, Lisette, I am currently writing my first novel, a psychological thriller based in a hospital. I don’t expect it to be completed 2015.
Many authors do giveaways; have you found them a successful way to promote your book?
I think giveaways are a great way to thank readers as well as to promote a book. I did one when My Love Affair with Sicily launched, and my blog hits rose tremendously as a result. I think we all like to get something for free, so everyone wins. My blog is approaching 100,000 hits, so I plan on doing another giveaway soon.
What are the most important traits you look for in a friend?
For me, honesty is number one. I value the truth and a friend will tell you the truth, even if it isn’t what you want to hear. The other important trait I value in a friend is the ability to listen and understand without telling me what I need to do. If I want advice I’ll ask. I appreciate being heard, and I try to do the same for my friends.
What makes you angry?
I rarely get really angry, but when I do it’s with someone who feels entitled to something, or for someone who acts like a victim. If you want something better for yourself, you have to make it happen. I particularly respect anyone who has been faced with great challenges, maybe lost everything, and persevered to make a better life. I was raised with the knowledge that my Italian grandparents came here with nothing, yet they made a life for themselves and their families by working hard. I value that work ethic and don’t think much of laziness and the “poor me” attitude.
What music soothes your soul?
I love music and find it very evocative and mood altering. I grew up listening to classical music that my dad played on a hi-fi system he built from a kit, so I appreciate that music today. But I have a wide range of musical interests from Bruce Springsteen, to Billy Joel, to Motown, to Andrea Bocelli, to hip-hop.
Do you have any guilty pleasures?
Unfortunately I do and it is overindulging in sweets and carbs, like chocolate, cannoli, cookies, and bread. I am paying for it now as I am trying to lose weight and get in shape for my next trip to Italy. It is embarrassing to be huffing and puffing walking up all those steep inclines.
What simple pleasure makes you smile?
Seeing the energy of my darling twin granddaughters always makes me smile. Soon to be ten years old, they are the light of my life! I am fortunate to live close by and be able to see them often. They are one of the main reasons I could never live in Italy because I would miss them too much.
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