|East Beach, Santa Barbara, California|
There are no fat people in Santa Barbara, California. Everyone rollerblading, trotting, biking, skateboarding, pushing strollers and walking Fido is skinny. On this first day of the Santa Barbara Writers Conference, I wait for the opening ceremonies by watching people parade down Cabrillo Boulevard. Gentle swells from the Pacific Ocean frame each individual as they pass. There is no cottage cheese on these people. It is June 8th, and the high for the day is 65 degrees. In mid-afternoon. That’s right, Tallahassee – welcome to summer in Southern California, where writers like me spend six days learning to perfect our craft and trim the fat off our novel until the writing is as lean, strong, and beautiful as the folks sashaying down the Boulevard.
Begun in 1964 by Barnaby Conrad, the SBWC, Santa Barbara Writers Conference, oozes history. You can feel the ghosts of Conrad, Ray Bradbury, and Charles Schultz swirling around, and know they must be proud of the extensive work done by the conference committee. “We used to sleep on the floor back at the Cate School, when this thing first started,” Sid Stibel, a workshop leader, said. Stibel has attended every SBWC since arriving with Ray Bradbury at the first one.
|Saturday morning - June Gloom|
Daylight in Santa Barbara begins shortly after 5 a.m. with the sound of finches reminding me to put out the day’s offering of crumbs on the balcony’s rails. Salt scented breezes laugh through long palm fronds sharing the joke with cawing Ravens that the majority of tall graceful palms throughout California are not native, and are kept alive thanks to water which is also imported to this semi-arid state. Morning is the most peaceful time of day . . . until 9 a.m., and then, the race is on. Each day provides options for illumination – there are twelve morning and afternoon workshops – twenty-four different classes. I’ve chosen the Travel Writing and Interviewing Boot Camp, hosted by Jerry Camarillo Dunn, Jr. for the morning sessions. Dunn writes for National Geographic Traveler, among other publications.
In the afternoon, like many others, I switch it up among workshops, trying to learn as much as possible in the time allotted. If you can think of a topic or genre, the SBWC is more than likely offering a class on it. An attendee said, “I feel like I’m in a one of a kind candy store. Every day I have to choose which sweet to eat.” Precisely.
Four in the afternoon brings on the panels. Agent panel, first time author panel, editor panel, muckety-muck panel . . . I can’t stay away. Patricia Bracewell, author of “Shadow on the Crown,” and Karen Keskinen, author of “Blood Orange,” gave encouragement to authors who waited until later in life to write. Though different genres, a glimpse in their books has me anticipating a glass of wine and a bit of time to spend reading them.
At 5 p.m. we break for supper, then drag tired feet and minds to hear the evening speaker. Stephen Chbosky, author of “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” began the speaker series. Someone from the audience asked him if he remembered the name of the first person he kissed. Chbosky answered, “My wife’s in the audience, and she’s from New Jersey. NEW JERSEY,” he spelled out each letter, “you know about New Jersey people. There was no one before her. No one.” He slashes a tanned hand across his throat. “Ever.”
|Note the Zoo sign points to over 200 writers.|
It is said that confession is good for the soul, so here goes: My name is Peggy, and I’m a Pirate. Pirate sessions are for the masochists, idiots who don’t know when to go to bed, or when to stop and smell the Jacaranda trees that are blooming in mounds of purple prose. There are two Pirate Sessions that start at nine and go until—. I made it to midnight one night, and when I finally slogged heavy-eyed to my room, there were stalwart individuals still reading their work and critiquing each other. Lorelai Armstrong and John Reed lead these critique workouts. The sessions are an addiction, and like other addictions, even though you know that the next day you will fight to keep eyes open and brain alert, the next opportunity you have to partake of the heady stuff, your trembling hand will reach out, and there you’ll be, parking yourself at the table with the other addicts, hauling papers out to read, and tuning eager ears to listen.
This is the halfway point of the conference. I look forward to the rest of this feast with anticipation and dread. Anticipation because I know I’ll learn so much that will help me with whatever I choose to put to pen, and dread, because I’ll miss the people I met here, miss Santa Barbara, and miss the different world that is Southern California.
Over the top of my computer, a pod of dolphins cartwheel a few feet off shore. There must be sixty or more of the creatures, joyful in their dance across the smooth water. The mammals are sleek and lean, like the people of Santa Barbara. They are examples of what the conference attendees are learning to do with our writing, use action verbs, make each word count, limit the ‘ly’s. In other words, getting rid of the cottage cheese.
Imagining the possibilities,