No Fixed Destination: Eleven Stories of Life, Love, Travel
By Townsend 11, Volume 1
Edited by Larry Habegger
Townsend 11: Writers Telling Stories of Life, Love, Travel
By Larry Habegger
One truth about people is we all love stories. Hearing about the experiences of others, whether from their travels or daily lives or reflections on their past, can enlighten and delight us. We seek these interactions every day in our encounters with friends, the mail carrier, the people we see as we make our usual rounds.
Stories can be the simplest things. For instance, in August 2004 I was heading into the Book Passage Travel Writers and Photographers Conference a little frazzled because I was late. Halfway across the parking lot, I had the thought that I’d forgotten to turn off my headlights after driving through the morning fog. I retreated far enough to see that my taillights appeared to be off, then turned to head into the bookstore when a wave caught my eye. A woman making her way through the lot approached and said, “Do you know your lights are on?”
I thanked her, hurried back to my car, shut off the lights, and knew I’d been saved from an enormous hassle at the end of the long day. The woman had disappeared, but I soon saw her again in my morning session on writing the personal essay. And, of course, that wasn’t the end of the story.
Barbara Robertson impressed me with her quick grasp of concepts, her easy participation in discussions, and her writing talent. Little did I know that I’d be discussing her writing with her year after year, and now seven years later, we’d still be at it.
This is Townsend 11: eleven writers (including one who’s been living in Barcelona for several years) who meet monthly in a converted brick warehouse on Townsend Street in San Francisco and are committed to sharing stories that enlighten, entertain, and inspire. Our work is eclectic, we have been widely published in major magazines and newspapers and books, we have won numerous awards, and now in this age of e-books we’re launching a series of works to engage you. In No Fixed Destination you’ll take a trip down the Nile, peek behind the curtains of the airline industry, suffer through the chill of the Ethiopian rainy season, find summer love and learn that it comes with a price; you’ll try to train a chicken, pass yourself off as your mother, race a motorcycle on the world’s most demanding endurance course in China’s Taklamakan Desert, and much more.
Later in the same conference, I met Bonnie Smetts and Jennifer Baljko. Bonnie was in my small group session on editing and impressed me with her artful commentary. Jennifer participated in my personal essay sessions and sparkled, not just with enthusiasm but also intelligence and ideas. The year before, I’d met Bill Zarchy when he queried me on some pieces, one of which I later published as an Editors’ Choice on the Travelers’ Tales website. Seeing that we were both Dartmouth grads, I asked if he’d like to meet for coffee sometime; we did, and soon after, he joined my original writers group. His writing was always fluid, insightful, and entertaining.
As these people came into my life, I began to pick them out as writers I’d love to bring into the writers groups that I was starting each year after the conference. I didn’t actively recruit them but was pleased when they signed up, and I got tremendous satisfaction from helping them hone their craft.
John Dalton came at the recommendation of Barbara and Bonnie. He had a large portfolio of photo work and many stories of adventures in the outdoors that he began to share with enthusiasm and skill. Jacqueline Yau gravitated to the group from the corporate world where her creativity was channeled into marketing. I knew from publishing one of her stories at Travelers’ Tales that she could be very funny and I soon learned that she had a superb capacity to write from the heart. Jacqueline Collins attended one of my one-day seminars and responded to an email I sent announcing a new advanced class. To it she brought soulful tales of England and elsewhere, and a young-readers novel that still has me on the edge of my seat.
Dana Hill attended my morning session at a later Book Passage conference, and one day, long after, when I was extraordinarily busy, sent me an email asking if I’d give her some feedback on a story. My impulse at the time was to ignore the message until later, but for some reason I didn’t. I took a deep breath, thought about my sessions at the conference, and decided to read her story and send her a few thoughts. I found her piece entertaining and wistful, and the experience created a friendship that continues to this day.
Carol Beddo snagged me a few years ago with her taut, evocative, and poignant writing about her time in the Peace Corps in Ethiopia in the 1960s. Her work began to appear in Travelers’ Tales books, and one day she asked if she could join my writers group. Of course I was delighted to bring her aboard.
Y.J. Zhu signed up for one of my workshops a few years ago. A Beijing native who immigrated to the U.S. in her teens, she had never taken any sort of writing class and her first piece was rough in its language but compelling in its ideas. Quickly I began to see that she had an agile, curious, and intellectual mind, and mostly what she needed was help cleaning up her English. Soon her ideas and experiences began to flow brilliantly onto the page.
Seven years now the core members of this group and I have been meeting to share and discuss our work. We started with straight travel essays and over time explored many genres, from memoir to humor to young-adult fiction to literary fiction. And we are exploring them still.
In my almost 20 years as executive editor at the award-winning publishing company Travelers’ Tales, I’ve read thousands of essays and published many hundreds. We always seek out the best stories to publish, and this collection fits the pattern. I take pride in presenting this inaugural volume of work from Townsend 11, a collection of fresh, engaging stories filled with heart and wisdom.
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