Tag Archives: Santa Barbara Writers Conference

2017 Santa Barbara Writers’ Conference

I’m going. It’s been eleven years since I last had the free time to attend the conference in full, because when your husband is the dean of a little college inside a university, you have a lot of responsibilities that come due at the end of the year, and the indulgence of immersing yourself in a seethe of writers just isn’t possible.


Well this is 2017. I am looking forward to this. I want to meet writers full of that wild joy of wanting to share their creations, wanting to hone their craft, wanting to spend time in critique and experiencing new adventures in other creators’ writings. I will probably never forget the late night pirate session I attended at my first writers’ conference when an older gentleman rose from his seat with his musical to give us roles. Anne Boleyn was one character, stepping forth with her head tucked under one elbow…that didn’t impair her singing, you may be sure.

Those late night sessions hold some of my best memories of writing. I laughed so hard tears came down inside my nose when one woman read us her story of a skunk with its head trapped in  Peach Yoplait container, and how at the end of a sequence of risible but heart-twisting efforts, she succeeded in freeing it to live a peach-free life. After it sprayed her from purple bathrobe to fluffy pink slippers, that is.

Oh yes, Sunday night imagine me among these wonderful people, drawing a deep breath in anticipation at the table of the first pirate session. Starts at nine, goes to whenever. (Some years I’be managed to stay at it until four AM. I kid you not.) See you there?


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First Book Panel

This was a discussion panel at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference — I’m here in purple answering our wonderful moderator Lorelei Armstrong, author of In the Face (http://www.amazon.com/In-Face-Lorelei-Armstrong/dp/0979372054/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1378014170&sr=8-1&keywords=lorelei+armstrong


September 1, 2013 · 5:43 am

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: http://johnmdaniel.blogspot.com/

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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I had barely two days at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference because of all the other commitments that came due in my life at this time in the year. I met up with old friends, made new friends, had all kinds of lovely and provocative interactions. Heard some fine writing, and many times said to myself — wish I’d written that!

I wrote in my previous post that I found this conference a delight and I’ll try to say why. You might think that since I have an agent, and I have a contract for my first novel (planned for publication this coming September) I have no need to be haunting the halls of the Hyatt-on-the-beach and staying up until the wee hours in the company of a lot of odd characters.

First of all I’d argue that a good writer will never stop studying the craft. Just as no novel is ever so honed that it that couldn’t be better for another tweak or another jostle, so too,  no writer ever hits a static perfection until death.

Hearing excellent work humbles me, makes me try harder. How wonderful and varied the work of all these other writers! Critiquing makes me think hard about where I’ve made similar errors in my own work, or where I may have stumbled on other wonders as they have, and I realize anew that of all sins, I cannot afford to be lazy. I return to self-editing with new violence.

Yesterday I hesitated in the science fiction/horror class over whether I wanted to read my own piece aloud, a rough draft of a chapter around page 80 in my new horror manuscript I Haven’t Seen Him. Fortunately I opted to have another student read it. He read it superbly, made it sound better than it was, but what I heard convinced me of where I needed to cut, and where I needed to shift the focus. You simply can’t hear your own work the same way if you are trying to juggle your voice and intonation, project, and not stumble….  So one opportunity in a conference is the chance to hear your own words in someone else’s voice, in the company of strangers.

In the critique, various other students and the teacher all gave me advice that I’m going to take far beyond that short chapter. The principles apply. They saw things I didn’t, both strong and weak. Living people have more of an impact on a writer than do all the fine books about writing. We’re still animals, mammals, warm blooded furry creatures that care about our community, so this community of learning from other breathing beings remains important through all our lives. I have favorite books on writing, Browne and King, Stein, Wheat, and Thomas McCormack. They are necessary, not simply valuable, but there is this different thing that happens when you are nervous and excited, (think adrenaline and pulse racing,) when you’re in the company of writers you respect and they are all focused on the product of your labor, all intent on making it even more of what you want it to be. It’s a rush, it’s sometimes acutely embarassing, mortifying, humbling, painful, but nothing else will fast forward you as effectively on the way to become a better writer.

More than this, you will make friends who know what you are talking about when you agonize over issues of violating point of view. On-line writers groups can be arranged. Your best supporters can be discovered, and then they fan back across the world like ambassadors. In the end even writing books comes back to the personal, the relationships we make.

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June 15, 2012 · 8:07 pm

writers writers everywhere!

Spent today at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference having a splendid time listening to some wonderful work and insightful critiques, and meeting up with old friends. I swear I learn more from hearing other peoples’ work than hearing crits of my own pieces. It is about the craft, and if you don’t personally own the material under discussion, you learn without all the emotional baggage of attachment.

The Agents’ Panel was a hoot, the mood lively and the air full of jokes, but educational jokes of course. I have another large dinner party to prep for Wednesday so alas, I don’t think I’ll make it back to the conference until Thursday with luck. But look to your calendars, people, and sign up for next year.

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