I had to admit to myself that I was a bit nervous about interviewing Laurie McAndish King. As the accomplished writer of An Elephant Ate My Arm: More True Stories from a Curious Traveler, published last year, she’s seen a rise in popularity. This book has won first place in the Paris Book Festival, with individual stories in the collection winning multiple other awards. Her writing voice is clearly her own, a daunting task most writers struggle with on a daily basis. So, yeah, I was clearly nervous that my questions wouldn’t grab her attention. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
From the starting conversation about our video backgrounds, there was a curiosity radiating from the image on the computer. Three minutes in, she’d asked more questions than me. When it naturally came around to a starting point, I launched in with the biggest question first: did you start this collection of stories during the primary part of the pandemic?
“I wanted to travel, I couldn’t be traveling, and I thought, ‘You know, I’ve got all these stories, really from past travels, that I haven’t written.”, she said. Taking a pause, she continued, “Some of them I hadn’t written because they were difficult. And this gave me the impetus to kind of jump in and look more closely at the stories.”
Laurie went on to say that this level of difficulty helped her write better, “A little challenging to figure out why it’s important to me.” A sentiment shared by a majority of writers out there. But, despite this hurdle, Laurie has put out the third collection of stories in a three-part series (so far). The first, Lost, Kidnapped, Eaten Alive! True Stories from a Curious Traveler, which includes a story of almost being kidnapped in Tunisia and much more. The second, Your Crocodile has Arrived: More True Stories from a Curious Traveler, includes the story of Laurie making a pilgrimage to see a 2,500-year-old tooth with many more. And, the third is An Elephant Ate My Arm: More True Stories from a Curious Traveler, featuring a story where the star of the show is a dish containing octopus flakes that wave after cooked—giving it the appearance of live seafood—on a slice pizza.
The moving octopus experience, a culture shock moment for many in the western world, piqued my interest into how Laurie ends up in situations like this. “I don’t do a lot of pre-trip research… when you have a particular attitude, things come up.”
I found this a clear view of how perspective changes our experience when traveling, and how each traveler sees their own paradise—a view that travel agents/advisors share, and even cultivate.
Laurie continued, “I love it that there are travel professionals who will do the planning for me. They reduce the stress of traveling, and often have the ‘inside track’ on locations. Sometimes they even offer special access that I would not be able to arrange on my own.”
The flip side of the mortality coin is the joy of appreciating connection, beauty, and being in theFrom the introduction to An Elephant Ate My Arm: More True Stories From a Curious Traveler, by Laurie McAndish King
present moment—celebrated in stories like “Okonomiyaki,” in which Japanese pizza reminds me
why I love my husband, and “My Little Red Coquette,” in which I experience the magic of sitting
still. And sometimes expanding one’s awareness to include context is crucial, as I learned while
wandering in Moscow’s Park of Fallen Heroes and as a dogged voyeur in Libya.
Listing off the current awards for An Elephant Ate My Arm: More True Stories from a Curious Traveler took a bit of work to get out, quite a list. The book itself won first place in the Paris Book Festival, 2021 Shelf Unbound Notable Indie, 2022 Independent Press Award Distinguished Favorite, and the 2022 IPPY (Independent Publisher Book Awards) bronze award for travel essays. As well, five of the individual stories just earned Travelers’ Tales’ SOLAS awards (including two golds).
But one can see why these awards have been earned in the stories. In the story Domesticating Janet, an orphaned elephant’s fate is questioned—as well as the history of elephant treatment in parts of the world. This brought me to bring up how Laurie writes about the moral issues involved with travel. “That’s kind of what I do in my writing, what I try to do is bring forth ideas that I think are important that may or may not have occurred to other people… maybe they occurred but, like me, they just weren’t top of mind.”
The reviews on her new book are shining, “I think reviews on Amazon are probably very helpful… that’s the best thing I know that readers can do to support writers.” But, Laurie is also a huge supporter of local book shops. Even having her books launched at a local book shop nearby, Book Passage.
Speaking of new works, Laurie is currently featured in, and editing, an anthology called Wandering in Japan. This collection will have stories from 21 travelers about Japan, including the story about the waving pizza. “It’s a really fun one. I can not wait until it comes out.”
Though Laurie is obviously passionate about writing, opportunities have been presented to be on podcasts. “I sometimes record podcasts for Journeys of Discovery, which is a travel podcast… an NPR affiliate.”, she said.
As with most travel books, all three collections share the magic of traveling and discovering new cultures. Some more alien to the eye than others. While this magic comes in different forms for different travelers, Laurie captures the scene specifically from her point of view—and Laurie’s alone—creating tales of the world that can be shared across the board. Laurie’s writing lights the spark of inspiration we so often find in our own adventures and has the potential to ignite the same into the travelers in your life.
*The editor would like to note that every mention of Laurie King was changed to Laurie McAndish King, post-publishing of the article. Also, the mention of live octopus was changed due to a misunderstanding in the interview process.