Saturday, July 21, 2012

Behind the Scenes at the 2011 Book Passage Travel Writers & Photographers Conference - Register for 2012

by Lavina Spalding
visit Lavina's Blog at

Around midnight on Saturday, I sat in a piazza under a perfectly full moon listening to my new friend Pam Mandel strum a ukulele. On my left, legendary travel writer Don George crooned "I Will Survive," while across the table, San Francisco Chronicle travel editor Spud Hilton plucked at his own ukulele. On my right, award-winning photographer Liza Gershmann used my iphone to search for lyrics to an Indigo Girls' tune, and World Hum's Jim Benning sang a Death Cab for Cutie song. Together, we belted out "Rocket Man," "The Rainbow Connection," and "It Had to Be You." Our coda was "Summertime"--the perfect song to end the perfect evening.

You really should've been there.
Let me rephrase that: you really could have been there.

This was no private party for the travel-writing elite or some secret society of travelerati. It was the annual Book Passage Travel and Food Writing & Photography Conference in Corte Madera, California--open to anyone and hands down the most exciting writing event I've ever attended. Consider this: there's no application process, no previous publishing credits required. No judgment, ego, or cliques, and absolutely no limit to the connections you can make.

I spent four days in Corte Madera. During that time, I discussed the origin of my name with Andrew McCarthy over lunch; sipped absinthe with the hilariously irreverent David Farley; laughed in the afternoon sun with travel-writing God Tim Cahill; discussed travel journaling books with Phil Cousineau; drank wine with Dame Georgia Hess; hung around with Travelers' Tales co-founder Larry Habegger; bonded with veteran conference attendees Abbie Kozolchyk, Jill Robinson, and Marcy Gordon, spilled lemonade on Jeff Greenwald before he released seven live snakes into the audience; overshared about my personal life with AFAR executive editor Julia Cosgrove; and debated the literary merits of the words "slut" and "whore" with Spud Hilton. And in the process, I made friends. So many wonderful new friends.

And next year you can do the same.

On day one, novelist/poet/travel writer Linda Watanabe McFerrin addressed the conference attendees. "Park your shrinking violet at the door," she instructed. This was it--the best chance you might ever get to network with people whose words you may have only read in the pages of National Geographic Adventure; your opportunity to clink glasses with Lowell Thomas award winners, to make an impression on someone who could literally change your life.

Janice Cooke Newman also spoke, introducing herself as "the poster girl" for the BP conference; once an unpublished attendee, she was now on faculty and the author of two award-winning books, as well as numerous articles published in The LA Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, and Backpacker.

The conference isn't free (or even cheap, for that matter), but for what you get, it's an uncommonly good deal. Moreover, I'm here to tell you it's worth it. Even at twice the cost, it would be worth it.

Admittedly, I'm not a fledgling writer. I've written two books and edited one, I contribute regularly to Yoga Journal, and I've published in a number of magazines and online. I'll confess that my main objective in attending the conference wasn't to learn, but to put faces to the online names I knew by heart. I wanted to meet some of my travel-writing heroes, and I did. In fact, I did more than meet them.

I sang karaoke with them.
But guess what: it turns out I did learn. A lot.

In four days, I learned everything I ever wanted to know about writing for newspapers, pitching stories, and structuring a travel story. I learned how to get a foot in at magazines like AFAR and Sunset. I learned what editors appreciate (gratitude, honesty, focus) and what they detest (press trips, plagiarism, staycations). I even learned how to improve my website. As you can tell from my photos, I did not attend any of the photography classes. I wish I had, so I could have learned to take a picture that did justice to this extraordinary conference.

Next year.

On Sunday afternoon, Don George and I were talking for a few minutes in the parking lot, discussing the previous night--the full moon, karaoke, wine, camaraderie, and finally, that amazing ukulele singalong.

"It was magic," Don said. "Wasn't it?"

Yes, I agreed. It was.

And this is mostly what I learned--that when you take the leap and invest in your passion; when you trust that it'll be worth it, it will be more than worth it.

It will be magic.


Register for the 2012 Conference >>

August 9-12, 2012
51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera, CA 94925
(San Francisco Bay Area)

This year's participants will spend four event-filled days in beautiful Northern California writing, workshopping, networking, and perfecting their craft with an internationally acclaimed faculty featuring prize-winning journalists, authors and photographers including Susan Orlean (staff writer at The New Yorker and author of The Orchid Thief, Rin Tin Tin); Andrew McCarthy (Actor, director, and Lowell Thomas Award-winning travel writer); Spud Hilton (Travel Editor at the San Francisco Chronicle); Pauline Frommer (internationally syndicated travel expert and host of The Travel Show with her father Arthur Frommer).

View the complete faculty list >>

Conference Coordinator: Kathryn Petrocelli
(800) 999-7909, ext. 239
Email the coordinator

Register >>

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