I'm a freelance journalist, and have been freelancing for pretty much my entire professional life. Here's my M.O.: I find a subject that fascinates me, and then I set out to find magazine, newspaper or book editors who will pay me cash money to learn everything I can about this subject. It's weird, but this actually works.
Some subjects of interest have included the plight of vintage motels in Florida, the history of cocktails (especially those involving rum), the evolution of the hippie tribes in the Highlands of Guatemala, what happens when an automobile hits a moose at high velocity, why monorails failed to catch on, and how iceberg vodka makers in Newfoundland get those huge icebergs into those little bottles. Done right, freelance writing is like going to graduate school your whole life except with a slightly better stipend and fewer annoying phone calls from parents asking when you'll get a job.
Freelance writing works for me because I have a form of vocational attention deficit disorder. I can get really excited about a subject for a time, and then one day I'll grow distracted by another subject passing by, and I'll run off in pursuit. In this regard, I'm like a golden retriever plagued by neighborhood kids with multiple tennis balls. I greatly admire academics who spend their whole lives studying a single subject, but, seriously, I don't know how they do it.
I've written about travel more than any other subject. This is enjoyable, not the least because my friends and neighbors think I have the best job. The downside is that it's not the best job, and I can never complain about it. (In fact, there is much to complain about: the new style of "Do Not Disturb" sign that you insert horizontally into a key card slot and so looks like a tongue sticking out of your door; gossamer-like hotel trash can liners so insubstantial that they slip wholly into the can when you toss in an apple core; and insufficiently minty pillow mints, among many other indignities.)
I have been writing a lot about architecture, history, and historic preservation the past few years. This has been something of a challenge, because researching the past often leads to treasure troves of wonderfully useless information, where I can get lost for days. Also, I live in constant fear that I'll become known as the "Did you know...?" guy. A few years ago, I researched and wrote a book about the long and pleasingly ignoble history of rum, which was published in 2006 by Crown Publishing. It reached about 350 on the Amazon list before being exiled to the backlands of five- and six-digits. (By the way, did you know that the first drink Patty Hearst ordered after her release from prison was a mai tai?)
I've written hundreds of articles for dozens of magazines and newspapers, and I'm currently a contributing editor at The Atlantic, where I write a regular column about cocktail history and culture. Among the others I've written for are the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Bon Apetit, Men's Journal, American Archeology, American Heritage, American Scholar, Canadian Geographic, Islands, AARP The Magazine, Travel+Leisure, Down East, Preservation, and Yankee. I've also contributed to the radio show This American Life. I've posted links to some of these stories on my archive page.
For about five years I wrote guidebooks for Frommer's and Globe-Pequot, but I haven't done that much recently because – if I may speak confidentially here – the work sort of sucks. So if you've tracked me down to complain that a chowder house I wrote up in 2001 is no longer open until 8 p.m., I'm afraid I don't really care.
A few boasts: in 2002 the Society of American Travel Writers named me the Lowell Thomas Travel Journalist of the Year. In 2007 I won a gold Lowell Thomas award for best magazine story on the U.S. or Canada. (It was for this Atlantic Monthly story.) I've had stories selected to appear in the Best Business Stories of the Year, 2003 (Vintage Books) and in A Certain Somewhere: Writers on Places They Remember, edited by Robert Wilson (Random House, 2002). And I've been shortlisted three times for the Best American Travel Writing anthology, although nothing I've written has actually made the final cut.
Some deep background for those wondering if I'm the same Wayne Curtis they found so annoying in class years ago. I went to Harding Township Elementary and Pingry high schools in New Jersey, then Vassar College in upstate New York. I got my masters at the University of Pennsylvania. I lived in Washington, DC, for several years until I moved to Maine in 1987.
After nearly twenty winters in Maine, my wife and I moved to New Orleans in 2006, because, really, first of all: winters in Maine? And, second, if your interests revolved around history, architecture, preservation, and drinking, where the hell else would you move? Also, it bothered us how the whole city had been left twisting in the wind after Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. So we bought a house about a half dozen blocks from the Mississippi River and moved everything we owned off an island we were living on in Maine. Doing this was the best thing I've done. Ever. I love living in New Orleans.
If you have more questions, feel free to contact me here.