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Frank Deford and the other magical writers at Sports Illustrated inspired me to be a sportswriter.

By college, I had switched to news, but Deford's talk Saturday at the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference took me back to my first love. Deford said he never set out to be a sportswriter, but was attracted to SI for its literary qualities.

He was as funny and charming and insightful in person as he is during his weekly NPR commentary. He has a way of cutting through the sports hyperbole and going straight to the guts of an issue.

A few words of wisdom from Deford:

-- Interviewing is a high school date taken to a somewhat higher power. You're both flirting in an artificial situation.

-- Let's face it. People talking about themselves are going to give themselves the benefit of the doubt.

-- On writing: If you love what you're doing, it isn't discipline. It's submission. "Take me, I'm yours."

The crowd stood and applauded at the end of Deford's talk. Deservedly so.

Sunday, we get to hear the Washington Post's Gene Weingarten, two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing. His story, "The Great Zucchini," ranks among the finest feature writing I've ever read.

I don't know how I ended up on this high-powered speakers' schedule, but many thanks to conference director George Getschow for inviting a small-town editor. I'm glad I spoke early Saturday while most people were still asleep. After that, I was free to enjoy the other sessions.

Before I could breathe a huge sigh of relief after my speech, the Mayborn team had me sit down for a brief interview. You may view it on the Mayborn conference website.