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What a week that was; Santa Barbara Writers Conference 2018.

In the mornings I tried to reach the room of Matt Pallamary’s Phantastic Fiction before it started. In that session, I knew I’d hear marvels from  writers, each reading about five pages of a work. Novels, flash fiction, short stories, all welcome. Winged creatures and monsters, science and magic, humans in new worlds, with challenges ranging from apocalypse to love. Wonderful material, in so many different voices. I’d half-close my eyes to be transported to another place and time. After each one read would come the entirely different exercise of hearing a critique offered by the group . As I’ve said before, I try to write my comments so that I don’t hold up the process of storytelling, and also because it can be a good thing to put thoughts onto paper and let the author have them to take home and consider at a more relaxed time.

In the afternoons I went to a couple of different sessions, but ended up repeatedly where I was last year, in Monte Schulz’s exploration of voice and style. He has a love of reading which infects, (if you’re not already a hopeless case.) Eclectic, creative reading, not the passive act they drummed into you in public school. Listening to how, considering why and which– leaning in close, to better understand how to hone techniques into a perfect set of tools for powerful individual expression. Moving from craft to art.

Tucked in every day were talks by authors, agents and publishers, a rich array to choose from so long as you could stay awake, because none of us got enough sleep! Friends thronged in all the hallways and out on the steps of the conference center. The main cantina room had transformed into a book store with the registration desk at one side. Imagine clusters of people debating, and happy voices, with exclamations and laughter.

At nine thirty, after the evening talk, I had a choice of pirate sessions. I say a choice, but it was the hardest thing of all, deciding where to be. I wanted to be in both. In fact I had happy fantasies about creating clones of myself who could allow me to attend everything through each day and night and not have to make a choice. Do you suppose though, that the sleep debt would be multiplied as well? Some mornings we didn’t leave the rooms until after two.

You never know what you’ll hear in a pirate session. I had a friend read for me. (You sometimes hear errors and problems in pacing you’d never pick up any other way when someone else reads your work.) One of my short stories entitled Orphans,  told in close third person point of view of a beetle from a very special tribe of Coleoptera, received keen valuable critique. Then we heard a play, showing Shakespearean lovers in a nursing home. Towards the end, a mass murderer revealed secrets.

The first time you attend a conference like this you often feel exposed, concerned that you will not satisfy the requirements, or if you are another type, you will expect people to fall down and worship when they hear the superb prose that you and only you can create. Both are delusional. What a group like this is doing, is trying to make each and every writer better, and to that purpose and labor there is no end.

Listening to fragments of stories, searching for useful input to share, trying to articulate cogently, still have my brain thrumming. Being in such company, with generosity the wine of our shared time, has me yet inebriated.  Now you understand why I picked the photo of my little cat to head this blog post.



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Post SBWC 2017

2017-06-24 17.24.50

The above photo represents what I came home to, and with, after the writers conference.

After six days of intense interaction, and staying up late after rising early, I’m back at home feeling rather odd. What happens when you put a collection of mainly introverted writers in small rooms and invite them to help each other? Wonders, that’s what.

Yes, I went through strangely lonely and dark periods during the writers conference. I panicked I’d lost my touch, that I couldn’t see well enough to put one word after another in a worthy fashion. I heard marvelous, apparently perfect works by my fellow writers, and I doubted. I felt out of step, not so much with others, although that happened sometimes, but with my self. I was afraid I’d mislaid or damaged my writing voice. I felt like that person at a party who has no one to talk with, standing not quite part of any group, but trying to pretend he is, who keeps a smile on his lips because to do otherwise is to be pitiful, and to fall that low, is too far.

Terrifying the silence when you finish reading and you hear not a single response. You rearrange the sheets of your paper and all you can hear is them sliding on the polished wood of the conference table. Was I clear, did I commit cliches, or is even the action in my short story so obscure that no one dares begin a critique– oh hell, was I even speaking English? It’s two AM and what do I imagine I’m doing here? That man over there is yawning.

It’s terrifying to feel that other creators are trying to be kind–but they see you haven’t kept and nurtured the gift. It’s horrid to feel they lean over and speak the encouraging word because they are reflecting their own hearts, not any quality of yours.

I have been trying to create my whole life. That’s nice; we all know it’s a long apprenticeship. But what some part of my monkey brain forgot was this– a writer’s conference is never about you. Nor your work. It’s about the community of writers. I didn’t go in to win anything– I did at least understand that, long before the conference began,  but I did go in to regain my footing. That was my error– the wrong goal.

The goal? It’s to engage in the purpose of helping everyone regain his or her footing. I rediscovered that at last. By helping others, I began to see my own way. I started then to really hear what was said and made and shared. There is a rhythm to creation and sharing, and since creativity is meant for communication, there is a need to step deep into that shifting tide. No dabbling at the edge in the froth. For writers and artists there is an infinity ahead of making, and what that takes is humility and hard work together. This is not the time for selfish doubts, for in-turning.

Introverts or not, now, we break barriers. We swim, far out of our depth.

I am swamped with sensations of loneliness and encouragement, with a gratitude to all my fellow travelers that thickens my voice, with a sense of loss, because I now sit alone. But that may be the biggest mistake. I don’t sit alone.

Now to work, while the remembered voices of friends sound in my brain, while their kindness and engagement glow in my mind. Enough light at last, to let me see my way.


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Chapter Three: Proving

two terrible old men

The next chapter of A Stranger’s Blood is up on http://www.robinwinter.net/category/blog/


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A serial novel: A Stranger’s Blood


Here at last you can begin the novel I will be posting as a serial on my other blog page:   http://www.robinwinter.net/a-serial-story-a-strangers-blood/

Have fun reading!

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you are invited– April 28


watch cmyk S

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Don’t Wait

I am so afraid of my own procrastination that I work fast, in a fury of action. I break brushes. No, not the hairs, the handles.


I learned early on as a painter that the point is never THE painting, that when a painting is done, you continue on with the accreted abilities, and passionate insights gained, each piece building on that base, no end, thank God, in sight. My mother said once when I raged at the failure of a day spent painting, “Your time is never wasted. If the painting is bad today, your hand and eye learned from your mistakes. You will never lose that learning.”

My gallery owner likened me to a volcano, spouting forth upon the horizon, painting after painting, surprise after surprise, and he never, ever– let me praise him– tried to influence me to compress myself to a single style or limit myself to a predictable palette.

He made the comment that the price upon a given work didn’t matter, keep it low, even if you have the fleeting thought it may be your best ever. Each piece has to leave its maker, go out and make a difference somewhere not restricted to a little studio. In those days my studio was little indeed; I painted in a four foot by four breakfast nook, my easel set diagonal to fit.

Then I realized this applied to writing as well.

“You have a lot more than one novel in you,” my husband said when I completed the first draft of Night Must Wait.

Yes, I remember the surge of power that went through my hands and shoulders at that remark. It’s just like the painting, his words reminded me. You don’t make just one and hoard it forever. You don’t have that liberty.

No painter has only one painting in him or her. To think so is to let the maker perish. One work? Well, that’s a different matter. I’ll get to that.

But don’t fall in love with the one story, the one character-love-of-your-life, the one landscape, the one painting, photograph, song, play or sculpture. It would be as false as keeping all your passion focused on one day in your life; however rich that one day, you have cheated yourself of all the others, and in particular, the future. There are so many, many more days to come.

And that’s my message for the day, the week, and forever. The work is not, never will be, one singular bit. It is a stream, an ongoing ouevre as the days of your life are only fragments of your life. Jim Svejda said in his radio essay on Beethoven, that the Beethoven was the work; not any single symphony to pick out as ‘best’ or ‘core’, but all Beethoven’s enormous outpouring of his evolving creation. In Beethoven’s case– written in a medium that could rage and sing and triumph across ages. That is what any artist, writer, composer, scientist–we makers, do. Work builds on work, experience, technique, concentration and insight mixed with inspiration–the work is never over, it goes rolling on through time and rushing through different lives, translated through languages and the personal filters of experience. Each piece a new part of the greater work that is the maker.

So my advice to you, unpublished writer, artist, scientist, is this, don’t wait for the perfect contract, for the biggest bid. Publish, and write then create again. Let us have your work outpoured, ongoing, to read to share and criticize. You were formed to do this, making, creating — and you will do it, if the drive is there. You will do it in the silence of your room or the busy chaos of McDonald’s, you will make the things you were born to make, and you will and must share them because nothing is done until it has been shared. The cast pebbles of our works make ripples, and no one knows how far they will expand or how they will collide with others and make yet more patterns. Influence is immortal, and the rings of expanding impact, infinite.

Don’t love your products, don’t keep them at home. Move them on. Make more. If you are a real writer, a real painter, a real composer, a real scientist, there is a lot more than one piece in you. Each is a mere fragment of the Work.

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Two novels and an invitation

            Night Must Wait, a literary thriller set in the 1960’s of Nigeria, and Future Past, a dystopian science fiction novel complete with viral warfare, musketeers and swordplay.


I’m honored to have you read my blog, delighted and impressed by how many people the ‘Fresh-Pressed’ award brought me. But, looking at this page, I realized I haven’t any note set up here about my two novels, both published by small presses in the past year (Imajin Books and Eternal Press.)

            So perhaps you might like my stories. I grew up in Nigeria until the year part of the country declared independence as Biafra, and we Americans received midnight orders to evacuate. Night Must Wait follows the adventures of four American women caught up in this war, balancing in the roles forced by the fact that they do not belong and have no right to interfere with internal affairs of a sovereign nation. Of course, they cannot keep from falling.

            Future Past is a more difficult novel in many ways, and I want to warn anyone who’s read Night Must Wait, that Future Past begins with our Free World losing a war that has straggled on over decades of inconclusive strife. My narrator, Ash, has a solution for saving his nation, and engineers a virus to take out the tide of passionate reactionaries rising to victory. He launches genocide, but things don’t go exactly as he planned — the consequences reach after him for the rest of his days. Future Past is a novel of human redemption, of the powers of even casual friendship, and the changes that we all make in each other.  Is the end a happy one? Maybe you’ll tell me.


            I’m presently working on three other manuscripts, one literary fiction, two science fiction/horror. Writing and rewriting, answering my agent’s challenges and corrections, pacing around the house and pausing sometimes to pat a cat.


            I want to make one more comment on this business of books. No one who writes, sells books. We offer characters, love and memory, possibility, the past and the future. We hand over hope. Should these things be matters of trade? Maybe, maybe not. All of my life I have made things, stories, paintings, and more stories, and I have come to see my own life as a complicated story with strong themes that shape what I do and how I do it.  I want to share, I want to change your mind by what I share, even if only by some increment, so that you see a color, a foggy street, or a beetle creeping about its business– in a new way.

Every time I write or paint, I learn. Every reader or viewer who tells me something about what I made can surprise me, inspire me. Let’s travel together a little while and talk.

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