Santa Barbara Writers Conference aftermath

Posted by on Jun 13, 2014 in Catherine's Blog, Writing Tips


Santa Barbara Writers Conference

is an annual six-day writers conference, now in its 42nd year. The ghost of sci-fi author Ray Bradbury seemed hovering as though his recent death would not deter his presence as he had come every year for so many years.

A few years ago, the Conference was about to go under when it was rescued by Monte Schulz, son of Charles Schulz who created the famed comic strip, Peanuts. Monte (or our Admiral as we call him) purchased the Conference and it’s been running strong ever since. His partner, Nicole  Starczak, does an invaluable job as co-leader of the conference as does Grace Rachow and a host of enthusiastic volunteers who make sure the literary ship runs smoothly.

Pulitzer Prize winning author Jane Smiley presented an impromptu keynote talk opening night as 300 hopeful participants listened and hoped. As in the last few years, I was invited to teach two workshops in the conference.

This year I taught Finding Your Voice in Memoir and The Way of Story: the craft & soul of writing (for all forms of narrative writing). A large and very responsive group  reminded me of the saying that there are two kinds of writers:

one who writes well and the other who has a story to tell.  Once in a while, the two combine and it is exciting. There were new fresh voices in the group and there were many important and exciting tales which must be told. One man is writing a memoir/novel about investigating his brother’s murder. He tracks down and visits the prison where his brother’s murderer is serving. Talk about conflict between two main characters!

One woman deals with her adopted daughter and the discovery of the blood mother and how this forms a mix. A poignant family drama involving multi-family components.

The Conference began at 9:30am with several workshops happening at the same time so something for everyone and every genre. There are agent and editor panels, historical writing,  and marketing panels. Nightly a different keynote speaker, usually a known novelists such as Maile Meloy, Caitlin Rother, Mark Childress, and Laura Moriarty. There are also mixers as the pool wine and cheese party where agents and editors mingle with writing hopefuls. In past years, new published authors have emerged from this gathering.

Then when most writers conferences would end at a reasonable hour, the Pirates Workshop begins late night and sometimes goes until 3 A.M. for those not of faint heart. Moderated by two novelists such as Lorelei Armstrong and John Reed, participants can share their writing and receive focus in-depth critiques. Though I have never stayed up for this, I admire the stalwarts who do!

The last evening is the second banquet of the week, followed by the announcement of winners in both fiction and non-fiction categories. The workshop leaders submit noteworthy pieces to be considered. Then the top off is a talent show ranging from comics to music to dancers. It is a conference of learning and fun – not a bad combination.

Here’s one personal experience which was rather special. After teaching my first workshop, 2/3 of the group returned for my second workshop in the afternoon. One woman, a housewife and mother and gifted writer, responded strongly and I gave her several notes on what she wrote in my class. The next day I was a participant in Bruce Hale’s workshop: Writing for Children, a new genre for me and one I’ve always been interested in. So I read a story I had written the day before the class. And this woman – my student from the day before – who had written several children’s stories critiqued my story and gave useful notes. So full circle where the teacher is taught by the student. I rather like the spirit of this, a spirit typical of the Santa Barbara Writers Conference. Goya once remarked at the age of 91, “I am always learning!”

This writers conference is a smooth blend of technique, inspiration, and the business of being a writer.

Writing, like life, is an ongoing process. Why not join us June 2015 for the 43rd annual Santa Barbara Writers Conference?

Catherine Ann Jones

Catherine Ann Jones