Book Passage Conference

Book Passage Travel Writers & Photographers Conference 2013

My homework (a book proposal) was finished at 11 pm, the last item to go in my pack on Tuesday night before an early morning Wednesday flight. The goal: to take my travel-writing hobby to the next level. After four days at Book Passage Travel Writers Conference, with writing gurus, agents, editors, publishers and about 100 attendees, I would know if I had travel writing moxy.

It was like attending a writers’ boot camp! The equivalent to a drill sergeant yelling at me to drop and give him 10 push-ups, was much like hearing the faculty say, “I want 500 words in 15 minutes!” And, so I wrote. I consumed information. I happily took notes. I took pages of notes. I learned I could become a better writer and as a bonus, a better person!

I was a first-timer at the conference in its 22nd year and I discovered first hand why it has such a great reputation in the genre of travel. I was not the best writer by a long pencil-stroke. Instead, I was humbled to be around a group of such amazing writers, whose very words seemed to travel off the page and carry me directly to the destination.

I thought, Georgia Hesse, the esteemed editor of the San Francisco Examiner, said it best about what it means to travel and why we are compelled to write about it. She said, “Travel is not sitting on a tour bus, but sitting in one place (like a church) and wondering…who worshipped here, how was it built, who created the paintings, the stained glass? and more…”

There was an array of experienced faculty, aka talented prose doctors that had me hoping, by sheer osmosis, I could soak up their wisdom into my very pores and funnel it through the tip of my pen. Someday, I hoped, I too would be able to use the verb, festoon, in a story.

I chose David Farley’s workshop on book length memoir writing, for my morning session. He wrote a book called, An Irreverent Curiosity, exploring the story of a relic in a small Italian church, north of Rome. The relic was the foreskin of Jesus Christ! Farley writes about its curious history and its ensuing romp and misadventures. I was intrigued with the topic, but more impressed Farley had the gumption to tackle the subject in the first place. He may have been writing about foreskin, but Farley had marbles. I decided, without a doubt, I would learn something from this man.

Each day was packed with energetic conversations, panels and workshops. Book Passage played host and facilitated a literary chemistry experiment: the faculty, staff and attendees engaged and morphed into a creative micro-organism intent on multiplying and assimilating at a rapid rate. We drank the Kool-Aid (it was actually iced tea and lemonade) and we became believers and members of a new tribe.

Does travel and seeing the world and its people make you a better person? Can it change you or inspire you? The answer was clear as I listened to my workshop classmates read their stories aloud. The exercise was simple: Describe an incident or an unexpected turn in your travels and how it affected you, in a fifteen-minute free write. Pen to paper or fingers to keyboard was instant, cementing that the topic captured an endless stream of ideas for each of us. During that time, it was quiet, we were pensive and our words turned to sentences, then paragraphs. I listened to classmates (and now friends) read their work. My admiration grew and I marveled at their talents and emotive styles: Tim, Allison, GiGi, Eileen, Carole, Laurie, Lauren, Mark, Jenna, Lynn, Candace and Tom. I was enriched by the time spent together and it was a pleasure to spend several over-caffeinated mornings discussing book projects (and life) aspirations. If anyone from this group needs a blurb for their book, I’m on it!

As I reflect on my time at Book Passage, I am committed to writing a second book and applying what I learned. I will continue to travel and take copious notes while wondering about people and places. I hope to live this travel parable: It is about seeing and feeling the moment, not just looking at it… and then becoming part of it. To solidify that thought, Jeff Greenwald’s panel on ethical travel was strategically slated last on Sunday, the final day of conference. He explained, travel makes a difference and as writers, we have the privilege and duty to travel and break through the stereotypes and misperceptions that exist in the world.

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