About Forward/Story (a.k.a. How I Spent My Costa Rica Vacation)

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I’ve had one hell of a great summer. I just spent four weeks on the road, including Comic-Con, a week at our family cabin, Gen Con (my favorite professional event of the year) and Forbeck-O-Rama (a family reunion, my favorite personal event of the year). Soon the kids will be back in school, and we’ll all settle back into that post-summer groove, but before that happens, I want to glance back at an event that launched off the entire season for me back in May in a spectacular way: Forward/Story.

As it says on their website: “Forward/Story is an invite-only residential lab taking place in Costa Rica. It is a special lab for writers and designers who work in uncharted territories to share their journey, techniques, socialize, collaborate, and solve problems. Five core challenges that storytellers face will be explored in a collaborative environment. On-site expenses are covered for those who attend.”

I didn’t know any of this year’s attendees, nor any of the people who ran the event, but my pal Richard Dansky was one of the attendees the inaugural year, back in 2014. In fact, it was Rich who brought Forward/Story to my attention when he posted on Facebook about the upcoming deadline for applying to attend this year. Upon his recommendation, I decided to throw my hat in the ring, and I was absolutely thrilled when I got the email from hosts Lance Weiler and Christy Dena that they’d accepted me for this year.

To be honest, I was thrilled to be able to spend a long weekend in Costa Rica more than anything else, but I was game for whatever Forward/Story involved. I booked my flight and dreamed of heading south right up until the big day of departure came. When I got there, though, I realized I was in for much more than just a fun trip to a gorgeous part of the world.

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The event took place in (and around) Nosara, Costa Rica, a sleepy surfers’ paradise on the Pacific coast. Several years back, my wife and I had actually spent a week Tambor, Costa Rica, about a hundred miles to the southeast on the Nicoya Peninsula, and we’d loved every moment of it. I was eager to get back.

We stayed at the Sunset Shack Hotel in Nosara, with two or three of us to a room, but we didn’t spend much time in our quarters. Instead, every morning we boarded a bus that took up into the mountains to a stunning private villa with amazing views of the ocean and—best of all—a large pool to which we escaped a number of times each day. There was a curious family of howler monkeys that lived right next to the pool, and they came out to peer down at us from the trees every day.

During the workshop’s three days, we spent a lot of time getting to know each other. There were nineteen of us, plus a returning alumni from the previous year (Trevor Haldenby, who took most of the pictures in this post), as well as a Columbia University fellow (Louise Rosen), and our two excellent hosts: Lance Weiler and Christy Dena. That’s a lot of introductions, and wow, every one of them was worthwhile.

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We also ran through some intriguing exercises that showed us a lot more about each other and how we might work with each other (or others) in the future, but that’s part of Forward/Story’s special sauce. I don’t want to post any spoilers, so if you want to find out all about it, you’re going to need to go check it out yourself.

The evenings, it turned out, were just as good for bonding as the days. We spent most of the time in the hotel’s bar (Al Chile), staying up way past the point at which the friendly staff had all gone home to bed. Besides enjoying their amazing drinks and a steady supply of the local beer (Imperial), I taught some of my fellow attendees how to play Secret Hitler, and I learned a few new games too, like Ninja. This photo pretty much sums up the nights there.

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In the end, I had a fantastic time meeting, working, and playing with a phenomenal group of people. We included college professors, game developers (both for video and tabletop), VR creators, playwrights, reporters, photographers, artists, cosplayers, novelists, and just damn amazing creators. People who didn’t care so much about the media that we worked in as how we could take whatever tools at hand—no matter how old or new—and use them to fashion amazing things. By which I mean things designed to amaze. 

In just a few short days, we created some incredible memories and friendships that will last lifetimes. I don’t know if or when I’ll ever get to see any of my Forward/Story pals again, but I know I’d love to have the opportunity, either personally or professionally. They one and all rocked.

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In the end, that’s what Forward/Story was all about. Creating opportunities.

Not just for us to meet each other and do cool things together. Sure that’s a clear chance now for all of us to maybe manage.

But it also opened our eyes to the possibility that we could do the kinds of things a well-fed, utterly relaxed, and incredibly intrigued and intriguing group of people could concoct with each other on the spot. If we could accomplish that much in just three days, imagine what we could pull off once we were loosed back into the world?

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So, if you get the chance to go to Forward/Story, do it! You won’t regret an instant of it.