Lonely Planet author workshop, San Francisco

Did I mention that I was being flown from Paris to San Francisco to attend a Lonely Planet author workshop where I’d indulge in free food and wine and be fawned over by colleagues and groupies? 

Well, obviously I’ve mentioned it, but have I mention it recently?

So yeah, after two weeks of ill-considered, sleepless, brain damaging travel, I staggered out to Charles de Gaulle airport and boarded a flight to SF, via Washington Dulles – a hellhole of under-staffed, stagnant, security disorganization, if you haven’t had the pleasure lately.  First class, champagne, caviar, foot rubs and lap dances all the way, or so it seemed after six Dramamine.

Actually, while the Paris-Dulles leg was fine, the Dulles-SFO leg sucked infinite ass, as I was introduced to the new cheap-skate US airline trend where they don’t hand out food on domestic flights that are less than five hours long – flight time from Dulles to SFO, by sheer coincidence I’m sure, is four hours and fifty-seven minutes. 

In an effort to keep the Travel Misery Factor above minimum Geneva Convention standards, for a paltry five dollars they offer a week-old sandwich with mystery meat and a curiously moist bun.  Do you know how many large pizzas five dollars buys in Romania?  One and a half, that’s how many. 

That’s the new standard I use when considering a purchase, how many Romanian pizzas I could get for the same price, e.g. “You want how much for an iced coffee and a muffin???  Dude, that’d buy three large pizzas in Romania!!” [uttered to no one in particular in Denver airport last week]

After the marginally nourishing meal and light breakfast on the Paris-Dulles flight and then inching 100 yards through Dulles’ security over the course of 2 and ½ hours to my connecting flight, the news that all we’d be served on the flight to SFO was a two ounce bag of salted whatsits was a smidge demoralizing.  After appraising the state of the $5 sandwich on offer, I chose to go without, meaning I eventually survived about 10 hours on nothing but a cup of orange juice, water and two mouthfuls of lighter-than-air snack shrapnel.

Not that I’m bitter.  Cheap sonsofbitches.

Moving on…  The LP workshop was actually a giant morale boost all around.  The Media Darling cape and scepter that I was expecting was apparently lost in the warehouse, which was fine by me.  I chose to stick to my Norwegian roots, sitting humbly, but nobly in the back, fighting off sleep deprivation and jetlag.  My poor shattered brain spent the better part of the first day alternately threatening me with a sudden loss of consciousness or, failing that, a lively puke.  I’m happy to report that I succumbed to neither, though the distraction did keep me from contributing or absorbing much of anything.

The following two days were fractionally more alert and productive on my part.  We met a ton of in-house people (editors, cartographers, media people, publishing), who were all lovely even though I was too stupefied to keep track of their names or jobs or in what capacity they could provide me with money. 

We took tours and discussed every aspect of authoring during the day and ate and drank free stuff at night.  I fielded the predictable same-sex romance offer, which after a summer alone in my efficiency apartment, I actually seriously considered for a few drunken moments.

Without a doubt, the best part was meeting and getting to know my fellow authors.  As I’ve moaned repeatedly on this blog, guidebook writing can be an intensely solitary, maddening job, so having a room full of people in the same predicament was hugely encouraging.  Even more encouraging was the realization that I am not in fact the most neurotic author in the known universe.  Not even close.  I’m positively stable compared to some of those whack-jobs!  Yowza!  And the stories I heard…  Even when we’re sober we’re a bunch of cookies that you’d be well advised to avoid in dark alleys and hostel dorm rooms.

Some unwelcome realizations included the fact that my grasp on English grammar is even more tenuous than I had previously suspected and that I give birth to editor pet peeves faster than gerbils in heat.  There was one point where people were rattling off their least favorite things to see in a manuscript and I’m pretty sure I committed each and every one of those doosies in my ‘Romania and Moldova’ manuscript, squillions of times in some cases. 

For the next ten minutes I was lost in a reverie, imagining my manuscript being passed around the Melbourne editor pool, being cursed at, thrown, crumpled, chomped on with bare teeth, fired out of a cannon, and finally roasted on a spit with sacrificial music thundering in the background.

Those editors can be a bit excitable.  Good thing us authors are a cool, calm and collected bunch, without so much as a hint of aberration or there’d be blood on the cubicle walls.

Seriously, virtually everyone turned out to be smart, competent and reassuringly cognizant of the trials and hardships that everyone else goes through in order to get a guidebook published.  I came away convinced that Lonely Planet is the best guidebook publisher on the planet and that everyone else (except Rough Guide) sucks.  Especially Frommer’s.  You guys suck diddly-uck.  You can quote me on that.

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