When I noticed that my talented, radiant friend/author Marie Abanga sent me “flames of love” via her fragrant candles, I was blown away. Marie’s act of love set the stage for my first writing conference to be one of the most exciting, challenging and fulfilling experiences of my life. I feel in my gut that it’s going to continue to be incredible.
I’m at my desk at the end of the second day at the Catamaran Writers Conference, utterly exhausted but proud of myself. I faced one of my biggest fears this morning, which was reciting my writing to a group of talented writers and our teacher/memoirist Frances Lefkowitz. My voice shook like the leaves of a quaking aspen, but at least I didn’t pass out. I’m not thrilled about my nervous delivery, especially because I know I could do much better, but what matters is that I did it. I got encouraging feedback from Frances and that was better than chocolate, I kid you not.
I was astounded by the high quality of my classmates’ writing and when my pesky insecurity welled up I reminded myself that I was there to learn from each of them. It’s not a competition has become my mantra.
The rest of the day felt like I was at a writing-themed party. I had several spontaneous, inspiring conversations with other attendees. Each chat gave me the chance to practice my spiel about my book.
Lunch was delicious – it’s a luxury to choose from delicious entrees and sides at every meal. I had a turkey burger, housemade salsa, fresh raspberries, fresh pineapple and guava juice. (I forgot to mention that breakfast was amazeballs: Peets coffee – woo hoo!, scrambled eggs, and blueberry muffins. There were a ton of other options but if I indulged then I would’ve rolled out the door. One example is the giant vat of Nutella which beckoned to me, but I walked away from it knowing that it would still be there for us over the next few days.)
After lunch between 2:00-4:30 there were lots of things going on: four lectures and a field trip to John Steinbeck’s residence in Pacific Grove with a reading by Wallace J. Nichols at the historically preserved Ricketts Lab on Cannery Row where Ed Ricketts and Steinbeck met to create The Log of the Sea of Cortez. The lab isn’t open to the public. While that excursion sounded really cool (especially because over twenty years ago I took an entire UC Santa Cruz course on Steinbeck by the renowned Steinbeck scholar Louis Owens), I was drawn to two campus lectures. Those were Sarah Michas-Martin’s The Lyric Lab: How to Mean More Than You Say, and journalist Peggy Townsend’s The Art of the Interview. Both speakers were fascinating . I was familiar with Peggy Townsend as she wrote for the Santa Cruz Sentinel, my local newspaper, for thirty-five years. It turns out that she interviewed Craig about his book at our very messy home when I was out of the house! How mortifying! Small world. I loved her talk and I took notes that might be of interest to some of you, so I’ll share those later when I’m not so wiped out.
There were two other lectures I could’ve attended (Environmental Writing and Speculative Fiction) but I wanted to work out. I opted for a walk around the campus since it was a gorgeous warm day for a stroll. My walk bordered the world-famous Pebble Beach Golf Course and the air smelled so good; it even cleared up my overstimulated brain a little.
After changing clothes and feasting on a finger-licking dinner (carnitas – I know they aren’t very healthy and I’m trying to eat less meat, but I caved…plus there was homemade guacamole!) it was time for a reception and Karen Joy Fowler, the keynote speaker of the evening.
A New York Times bestselling author, she has won a ton of ginormous book awards. She wrote The Jane Austen Book Club and five other novels, so I wasn’t sure if we were going to meet someone with a big ego. Luckily, she was hilarious, witty and offered great advice. She reminded me a bit of Anne Lamott, another memorable author whose talk I attended years ago in San Francisco.
At the end of Fowler’s talk it was time for a few questions. I thought of one to ask and I forced myself to do it so I could practice more speaking in front of a group of writers. My question was a two-parter. I knew she lived in Santa Cruz and belonged to a local writer’s group because I briefly checked out her blog. I told her (and I’m paraphrasing) “I live in the Santa Cruz area and I noticed on your blog you mentioned you’re in a writer’s group. Does there happen to be a space in it? (Nudge nudge, wink wink!) I’m curious what you get out of a writer’s group since you’re an established writer?” I said all that without a shaky voice and I had to project well because I sat at the back of the chapel. I was able to belt out my question and I was thrilled to elicit a wonderful answer from Fowler that made the audience laugh quite a bit.
Fowler went OFF about how awesome writers groups are, and mentioned she was in a Davis, CA group that met for 35 years, but she added they can be terrible. She said her group is full but there might be a space opening, so she suggested that I leave my contact info. with her. (I wasn’t sure if she was joking, but it turns out she was serious.)
I bought one of her books for my Mom (surprise, Mom!) and had her sign it. As my Vistaprint business card order didn’t arrive in time for the conference, I gave Fowler a hastily mocked-up business card with this photo of me and Miss Lucy on it! 😉
After meeting Fowler, there was one more activity to consider: the Nightly Spoken Word Workshop and Poetry Slam Discussion that meets nightly. Not my usual cup of tea AT ALL, but my classmate and I wound up going after hearing a testimonial by someone who participated last night.
It was a blast! I’d love to provide some information and links for you, and I will do that when I’m not a zombie. I think some of you would really get a kick out of these extraordinary three-minute-long slam performances we watched in the classroom.
For our discussion we moved outside to sit around an open fire under the stars. It was my ideal classroom. One of my fellow classmates was the gifted poet/conference instructor/professor Jericho Brown who is co-teaching a class with Ellen Bass. (Mom, he said he’d be happy to sign one of his books for you. He’ll be in L.A. next year at the AWP Conference, so maybe you could go meet him!)
Thanks so much for reading this – words don’t do any of this experience justice and I wish you could all be here with me for a blogger’s conference! How cool would that be? If any of you know any rich people who would want to sponsor a mental health blogger/advocacy conference, tell him/her to call me, okay? I’d love to organize that and I have experience in special event production so I could pull it off with some of your help.
take care, my friends!
p.s. Marie, I’m sending extra hugs and blissful dreams-come-true to you, my friend
If wishes were horses, I’ll gallop all the way to my Lady Dyane’s Catamaran Retreat just to stay by her side for 3 days.
Now that I can’t be there, I have lit 3 candles for her and I hope the scent from the Strawberry Flavoured one, or even the Vanilla stud, warm her mind throughout those days.
My fair Lady Dyane, you know how much loads of us root for you, all plus Lucy right? You can and you’ll do just fantastic. Loads of Love all the way from Cameroon 🙂