Here is a guest post from Dave Prine, a regular commenter on Written Road and one of five people that told me they were at the conference because they found out about it here on this blog. I’m thrilled to have a been a connector. Good luck to all who attended! Now Dave….

I was extremely fortunate to attend the conference this year, making a last-minute decision based on Don George’s Travel Writing book (or, rather, on the interview responses in the book touting the conference) and Jen’s post offering motivating advice on how to approach the conference. In order to make the contest and consultation deadlines, I spent the better portion of a week getting 20 pages ready to be ripped to shreds during a consultation, although I didn’t make the contest deadline. Next year, for sure.

From the moment I arrived, the conference was a whirlwind of activity. I was seeing some old friends as well as meeting the faculty, attendees, and Book Passage Staff. The days were long, but the time flew. While I could wax romantic on every aspect, I figure it’s best to cover a few of the innumerable highlights.

Tim Cahill—He was one of the big draws of the conference. I was marginally familiar with his work, but I knew he had a sharp wit. Still, I figured he’d be a thick-skinned, well-weathered, perhaps even crotchety man with an intolerance for nonsense. Nonsense was my minor in college, so I figured Tim and I would clash if we were in the same space for extended periods of time. Nothing could be further from the truth. Tim was more down-to-earth than I expected. He was a gracious speaker with an incredible sense of humor, and he was generous with his time. Very affable, extremely accommodating. I was actually surprised someone with his status stuck around for so long, but he hung around for the whole conference. At the closing event, I told Tim what I’m sure everyone was thinking about him: “Tim, you’re as friendly in real life as you are in person.” You truly can’t say that about just anyone, but you can about Tim…

The Opening Dinner
—Where else can you go and sit with the travel writer of your choice over dinner? Seating was limited to about 6 attendee seats per table, but even those who didn’t get their first choice of dinner companion told me that they enjoyed where they ended up. I made a beeline to Jen’s table to see what she’s been up to (yes, I read her blog, but still…), and before long, the table filled up quickly. So quickly, in fact, that we had to squeeze in an extra seat for Jen when she finally showed. Kimberly Cameron, a CA agent was the other faculty member at our table, and the attendees at the table squeezed as much info from her as they could. My hope is that they do this for more than one meal next year so the attendees can rotate for more opportunities for one-on-one time with the faculty, although there’s plenty of time throughout the conference to do that. Still, how often doe! s one get to ask, “Hey, Don George, pass the salad, will ya?”

The Consultations—Fearing “Don’t quit your day job” and hoping for “This is perfect. You’re hired!” my consultation with Larry Habegger actually came closer to the latter. I submitted three stories, and Larry offered positive—and more importantly, constructive—feedback. Two were a bit clumsy and needed revisions, but Larry showed great interest in the third, a story I had frantically put together five days before it was due. It goes to show you that you can’t always tell where your best work will come from. This will be the story I submit this week for, say, a coed humor book. Other students had set up several consultations with various faculty members, an idea I never considered but will most likely try next year. Several attendees lamented that they wish they had requested a consultation. Seriously, for $90, you can have someone big in the industry look at your work. How can you beat that? (! Well, OK, for $80, but that’s not the point.) Definitely money well spent.

The Faculty—This was not only a diverse group, but also friendly and willing to help us neophytes in any way possible. Elliott Hester offered some great outside-the-box freelancing advice (“just ask people for money”), Isabel Allende captivated the audience with her hilarious and, at times, disturbing stories, Don George led several humorous sessions with the faculty (apparently, everyone on the faculty has in some way or another been involved with Islands Magazine), and a large number of faculty offered personal emails so we could submit our ideas directly to them. Attending the conference definitely gives us attendees an “in” with the faculty, but I’m not allowed to show any outsiders the secret handshake. Sorry.

The Attendees—I met some wonderful people who I’m planning on staying in touch with, visiting, or meeting in India next year. Really, there was not one person I didn’t like. Although to paraphrase an adage about suckers at the blackjack tables, there’s one jerk in every bunch, and if you look around and don’t see him, it’s probably you. Well, there was not one jerk at this place, at least not one I saw…

Of course, this barely does the conference justice, but time, space, and lack of functioning brain cells keep me from a full-force listing of every great aspect of the whole event.

After several sleepless nights and intense days filled with official classes and informal chat sessions, I came back drained but refreshed, motivated to get my butt in gear after a hiatus from serious writing. While the classes are the “official” reason for attending, the informal evening chat sessions were equally valuable. Hey, how often can you say you thumb-wrestled with Tim Cahill while chatting over a few drinks? And, after all, isn’t that what travel writing is all about?

The bottom line: if you missed it this year, you missed out. Big time. Redeem yourself by planning to go next year. Sign up before 8/30 and get a discount. This offer will not be repeated. I repeat, this offer will not be repeated. But in any case, go!

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