Category Archives: experiences

Santa Barbara Writers Conference 2018

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Feel like speed dating? The agents above will be at next week’s conference.

Here it comes again, ’round the corner of summer, and I’m wading through stories on my computer I hope my friends might like, or help me make better, pulling excerpts from a mystery novel that I want to test on critical minds, feeling nervous and definitely behind. Didn’t do my homework in time. Happens every year that I attend.

Last year was possibly the hardest, because I’d not been for nearly ten years, and I felt really out of step. Would anyone even remember me enough to share a drink? But it didn’t matter, I’ve written before, that at an event like this you go through a few days and it all slides back into place, the personal anxiety changes to pride that you are part of this larger effort, and you feel a joy in every person who has dared to come and share their work, expose their weaknesses as writers as well as their strengths. It’s never about me. It is always about us.

We come to learn and also to teach. If you attend, your job isn’t merely to have your stuff read so you can gain ideas about how to hone your own craft. You need to step up and offer your  ideas and insights about your fellow writers’ work. What worked for you, what didn’t and how might it be tweaked to communicate better, more powerfully, more clearly.

Sometimes the critique session is so crowded that the best gift you can give other writers is to listen carefully and jot down notes to hand over afterwards, because if you try to hold forth and explain all your reactions to their work out loud, you’ll hold up the process. An advantage of notes is also that if you write your critique, the writer gets to keep your commentary and think it over at leisure, maybe even when at home. When I’ve just read a piece of my own, my ears and nerves are jangling after, and it’s hard to hear every word offered in critique, however kind. And yes, writers and instructors, at least at this conference, are kind. The very definition of constructive criticism starts and ends with thoughtful honesty.

So, I’m planning to engage in a transforming experience, yet again, and my hopes are high. Six days of reading writing, talking, critique, jokes bad and good, laughter and tears. But not much sleep. I told you before about the pirate sessions…not much sleep.

Starts on Sunday in Santa Barbara. See you there?

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Another time

seven chanterelles

I grew up in a time when I could roam the woods by myself. I could grab a hat, and walk out our back door, not letting the screen slam or else my mother might remember that I should possibly be doing something else, like weeding, or picking beans. I hated picking string beans because of the squashy prickly bean beetle larvae that crawled over leaf stems and beans. They gave me the creeps because they looked as though they had neither tail nor head, just a translucent blob, the naked juiciness of them studded with a pattern of black spines. They would break against my fingers and I loathed the sap of their deaths on my hands.

Quickly walk along the tractor path that traced the base of the hill, so I’d be out of earshot of anyone remembering that I should be tutoring my younger sister, or perhaps vacuuming the living room. Or dusting— the job that never ended. Then, with a deep breath of freedom, across the mown slope barely in view of the house. Don’t look behind, or I might see someone waving me back home for any of those chores I was convinced could wait. Over the rise, almost running, with the sweat prickling down between my shoulder blades, and down past the brushy edge of woods that bordered corn fields green with eager breeze blown blades, taller than my head, the overcast glow of sky hot on my hat.

I always looked for other people. Looked for farmworkers, for wanderers, for the adolescent boy checking out possible hunting ground before the fall, despite the “No Hunting” signs my cousin had posted on this old Gowen land. Then I’d duck down a path into the woods, this path wide enough for a truck. Trucks had come this way, keeping it open. The farmworkers often parked down here where the slope of land deepened, seeking shade for lunch time.

six chanterelles

I knew that if I came across anyone else there, I should not let them know of my presence.. Soft footing around, I prided myself I’d always spot any intruder first, and never would they see me. Every so often, I’d take a pause, breathing through my mouth to listen. What did I fear? Nothing so clear; I simply knew I was safest alone, unknown, unnamed.

Now how many children have such freedom? To lose themselves in the woods and orchards of infinite mystery and promise, discovering animals, spying on insects, picking up a shed hawk feather or collecting a cluster of fresh chanterelles from the duff under the hemlocks? I took part of my education there in the shadows of trees, naming red oak and sugar maple, white pine and the startling silver and black of paper birch. What has replaced this for our children now?

single chanterelle

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Next, in Southern Coastal California

https://www.independent.com/news/2018/jan/09/mudslides-engulf-montecito-carpinteria-shut-down-f/

Last night I came awake to the sound of violent lashing rain coming in strong brief pulses. I lay and listened and considered all the work we had done last afternoon to put gullies into the orchard so that the runoff from up the road would settle deep into our heavy soil. Wondering if we had done enough.

The ground has felt like concrete, despite our continual adding of organics, our thick mulching and deep watering, so we are thirsty for rain in a way that feels more acute than it has ever been before. Consider this– we had none of our usual fall rains– even in a bad drought year we’ve always had a few inches in the fall. This year, we felt a sprinkling of drops but nothing measurable. The reservoirs were frighteningly bare, and the native vegetation, crisp.

Then, as the news has tracked, we had the Thomas Fire with all its tragic losses, and the heroic labors of firefighters. Such a dry land, that the fire often persisted in burning against the wind. How do you fight that? By hand, by shoveling dirt on every kindling patch, by the brutal courageous personal labor of good women and men on the front lines and extraordinary canny planning by the planners and strategists. We had a war here and our people rose to every call.

Now the rains came, late. Now they enact another price. The stripped land cannot hold when waterlogged on these steep slopes and in the canyons, and that’s why you read in today’s news of our massive landslides taking out yet more homes, killing people, and destroying roadways. I hear helicopters pulsing overhead as stranded, sometimes injured folk are air-lifted to safety, a few at a time.

The county sent out warnings, issued mandatory evacuation orders and voluntary evacuation warnings in different threatened zones. Many citizens last night chose to stay in place. Understandably sick of the disruption to their lives after weeks of fire evacuations, they didn’t want to leave yet again, especially if they lived in areas where a mere evacuation  warning had been issued, not an evacuation order. As I understand at this  time, these evacuation warning areas are where some fatalities took place last night.

For the record, I’m a chicken. Give me a voluntary evacuation warning, and I plan to be out of here. I think it’s fair saying that the county officials are no prophets, they can only estimate and guess how the natural disaster potential may be expressed, so I will err on the side of caution. Hey, even when we weren’t in the voluntary evacuation warning area for the Thomas Fire and it was still eight miles away from our place, I was packed to leave, the cat carriers were down, water bottles filled.

It’s worth thinking over what your personal limits and triggers are before the issue arrives. How would you feel?

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When the winds blow

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December 24, 2017 · 6:26 am

Thomas Fire, a week and counting

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 Nikolas_Abele_SBCo_hand_crew_2017 https://www.independent.com/news/2017/dec/11/fire-crews-fight-by-land-air-to-hold-thomas-fire/

We try to work inside these days, and our feet leave swirls in ash when we go out for the mail, while our protective masks set our spectacles askew. But we can stay home, so far, pat the cats, and feel better.

For those dark figures who stand against the fires when I would flee, I send my gratitude, nearly as deep as my fear. I could not do what you do. Thank you is a flimsy sentiment against what you put on the line by an act of will.

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Smoke

We are in heavy smoke on the South Coast, the sun left us before noon to disappear behind a great blanket of ruddy gray from the Thomas Fire. White falls like snowflakes, except we’re breathing the ashes of other people’s dreams. We aren’t in  danger but I can do nothing without turning on the lights and the occasional sky light is rosy orange. Surreal. Weirdly cold. I should be writing an apocalyptic novel but it’s hard to concentrate, so I am doing massive Christmas cookie baking for my neighbors.

Ray Ford Noozhawk photo Dec 5 Faria Beach
So we are lying low and waiting. I think we are in fine shape but because I am a paranoid person, I have all our cat carriers out and all the valuable documents packed up in bins! My husband kind of smiled at me, but I pointed out that if another closer fire broke out, the firefighters are already over-extended.
Grateful that the winds have quieted!
Time for some super chocolate three-way fudge cookies.

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Nanowrimo!

Nanowrimo is here!

What?‘ you say– ‘how is that pronounced and is it something really really small… and give me a definition, please.

No, this nano doesn’t mean something tiny. Quite the opposite. It’s national novel writing month, during which people who sign on, aspire to produce anything over 50,000 words of a narrative between a minute after midnight on November 1 and midnight of November 30th. That comes out to approximately 1,667 words a day.

Now you notice I wrote “a narrative”. That can be complicated. I started on the novel I thought I’d write on the first day and made about 980 words. Guess what? Wrong novel. That wasn’t the one I was ready to write. So on day two, I erased my word count and began again, hitting something over 3,000 words on that second day. It’s a good sign I could start running like that, but as all nanowrimo folk know, it’s no guarantee. Yesterday I had other things to do, but still managed over 3,000 words in the roughly four hours I had for writing. Today it’s 10:50AM and I’ve only created 228 words. Aaargh!

Wish me luck, please. My working title is Living with the Enemy and here’s the synopsis and my patch cover.

What does a twelve year old girl in So Cal want? To belong to the right group, have a safe home, feel accepted. Wynn has one of these taken from her when her parents split, and the other two threatened when she’s farmed out part-time to the wrong people. Staying week-nights at Juniper’s house isn’t on her list of reasonable choices. That family eats weird food, reads too many books, plus, they don’t have cable.

 You have to avoid differences in sixth grade, you need to have the right sandwich bread in your lunch, the correct brand of sneakers, watch the popular shows. Wynn knows that, even if Juniper’s parents don’t. Then the TV screen at school on a Tuesday morning shows smoke pluming from two towers in New York on September eleventh. The United States of America has been invaded, our tolerance for differences will never be the same.

Behind the warm cookies and fat black cat at Juniper’s house lie secrets. Hidden visitors move in the hallway, doors and windows open and close to conceal something… or someone? Why does Juniper’s mother work late on a computer whose screen displays elaborate non-American words– and why does she change that screen every time Wynn happens to come in? Is Wynn living with terrorists planning the next attack? For the kids at school there are sides to choose and dramas to feed, with consequences they cannot even imagine. For the girl who can’t go home, there’s no way out of this dark puzzle, except through. One step at a time.

our gate 893

 

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