Monthly Archives: June 2013

Santa Barbara Writers Conference

            “Why would you want to?” my agent said.

            “You don’t think I need to?”

            “You’re a published author,” she said, giving me that look, the look that says I picked you out and we worked our keyboards off and you got published by a real publisher and that means something look.

            “Well,” I say, “that was your doing.”


            “But I’ve gone for years,” I said though she’s still looking at me.

            “You don’t need to go to writers conferences now,” she said, “unless they invite you to be on a panel.”

            So we went on our ways and about three or four days later I called her.

            “They invited me to be on a panel! The First Book Panel!”

            “That’s good. Who invited you?”

            “Santa Barbara Writers Conference.”

            “Good,” she said as though that settled it.

            So I went and I had a grand time even though I’m still learning this public presentation and speaking thing. But I learned something that even my agent didn’t know.  Something that I didn’t know. I used to tell my husband and my non-writing friends that I went to meet up with other writers because the Santa Barbara Writers Conference was easy for me to get to and because the connections and the chance to shop for an agent and the practice in giving and taking crit were all so valuable. No. That’s not it.

            I go because I have friends, old and new ones I haven’t met yet, who’ll be there. I go because the top of my head gets lifted gently off and inspiration blown in. I go to hang out and eat pancakes with some of the most original and funny minds I’ve ever met, and I have surely met a lot. I go to sit up too late and get up too early to hear more wild and wonderful minds and hearts at work. I learn new ways of seeing work, new ways of crafting and finishing. It can never be too much, you can never get too many tools for your personal toolbox.  Maybe a fragment of a comment overheard  will spin your mind into a whole new direction or solve a gnarly problem in one of your plots. Maybe someone responding to your new novel with that crushing phrase “Well, I just can’t believe…” will push you the needed extra ten degrees onto a new course. You simply never know.

            So it’s settled. I go because it’s fun, and yeah, you bet; God willing and the creek don’t rise, I’ll be back….





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Have a look

I’m delighted to tell you all that I’m a guest this week on author John Daniel’s Blog:

Please go and have a look. John is author of many novels, Behind the Redwood Door, The Poet’s Funeral, Vanity Fire and more, with an impressive line-up of stories and articles. I love his character Guy Mallon, a delightfully imperfect man caught up in a medley of distractions and dilemmas. Guy doesn’t seek out trouble but murder pops up in his life, as embarrassing as an old drunken college buddy who unfortunately never forgot his telephone number.




I first met John at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference in one of the late night Pirate sessions. He was our Pirate leader, his eyes twinkling under ferocious brows. I’d never before read my own work aloud to a group, I shook in my shoes and the pages rustled with tension and panic, but the comments were kind and insightful. My husband and I made John a wooden sword to keep the hearties in line. That critique and the ones that followed in the Pirate sessions over the years, set me on the road to publication.

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Time Travel

A few weeks ago I traveled in time, but not quite the way my characters do in my novel Future Past. I took a jet to Fort Collins Colorado to meet with a group of about twenty faculty and family members from an all-but-forgotten program that Colorado State University ran during the 1960’s.

The last time I’d seen these people was in 1967, in the month of May. I was ten years old when war came to Nigeria. The warning came at three AM for expatriate women and children to have one bag each and be on the van for a 6 AM departure from our quiet bungalows, headed for the city of Port Harcourt and evacuation back to the States.

After the declaration that Biafra was seceding from Nigeria, after all the negotiations, the little scares, the bloodshed that occasionally touched our servants’ families, or in our case, stained my father’s floor mat when he smuggled refugees, our turn to run had arrived. The men were told to remain, so there would be enough room for the women and children in the first wave of evacuation. Some weeks later they finally received orders to get themselves to safety.

Our time-travel crew met at a retirement home in Fort Collins, in a bright room with tables and chairs. Wonderful to see so many of the people who shared the compounds at Umudike and Enugu in 1967. Some faces I recognized – many of the faculty and graduate students who had gone to Nigeria to teach. I did a double-take on meeting Danny, for I remember him as a little mischievous boy of five years of age with yellow dandelion hair, and now he’s in his fifties, with glasses and long hair held in order with a brow-band. He’s a lot taller, too.

Joe M came over. He was using a walker for he’s now 94 years old, and he wanted to park it against the wall so he could move about freely. He immediately told daughter and myself that my father had saved his life twice during the evacuation from Biafra.

It seems that when the expatriate men received the order to evacuate, Joe tried to get his Volkswagen out of Biafra stuffed to the windows with all the goods he and his wife Enid imagined might be useful to their daughter Lynn in her new married life in Northern Nigeria. A run-away marriage, I guess, to a Scandanavian whose family lived far from Biafra in the North of Nigeria, who spoke Hausa fluently.

Joe told us that when my father Fred and he travelled together in the Volkswagen van to cross the borders into Nigeria from Biafra, Federal soldiers grew suspicious and started to act like they were going to shoot him at one station, because they found a compass in his glove compartment. Things heated up, then a junior officer came into the room, saw Fred and greeted him with delight, asked what the trouble was and gave Joe and Fred a pass written in Hausa to get them through the next few roadblocks.

A day or so later, on the road, the Volkwagen got stuck in a huge line of traffic at another checkpoint. Some hours into this, during which the line moved perhaps three car lengths, an army vehicle came along and pulled them out of line for special interrogation. Again, things went sour, progressing to very sour and Joe said that he honestly thought he’d never be released. Then a similar thing happened but this time it was a colonel who came in, recognized Fred and embraced him with delight, took Joe and Fred out of the interrogators’ hands and whisked them off to lunch at the officers’ mess. Joe’s head was reeling.

Joe summed up his story by saying that he thinks even to this day that without Fred, he’d still be in Nigeria, either in a hidden prison camp or in a grave under a palm tree. Fred never told us these stories of the evacuation. I remember how my father always liked spending time with the Nigerian servants and students, and how my mother scolded him to come in and eat supper instead of chatting. I guess Fred got the last laugh.

I am writing too long so I’d better stop. On the flight back home daughter expressed delight to have met these people out of the past. She said they stood larger than life, as though the experience of being caught up in the transformations of a foreign nation had marked them all for life, made them face the fact that there would never again be an ordinary life for them. That none of them could ever claim that they didn’t matter, that their lives held no significance, because they had been in one of the myriad tides of history and left some kind of mark.


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