Good morning everyone!
Yesterday it was another fog-free, gorgeous day at the Catamaran Writers Conference in Pebble Beach where I learned a ton and had some major writing breakthroughs. Plus I had a blast.
Yours truly, who usually goes to bed around 8:00 p.m., morphed into a poetry slam party animal and I didn’t return to my dorm room until 11:00 p.m. I wasn’t even this freaky when I attended U.C. Santa Cruz over twenty-five years ago.
Last night I was too exhausted to write, hence this morning post.
Here’s what I did yesterday:
7:00 a.m. Inhale gallons of Peets Coffee and stare at this Nutella jar:
8:00 a.m. Chatted with the friendly Food Services Director who told me that during the school year, the boys chow down hard on that Nutella. Ate breakfast of scrambled eggs, salsa, a slice of banana bread, fresh raspberries. Drank lots of Peets coffee. Yum yum yum. I love food.
9:30 – 12:30 p.m. Creative Nonfiction class with our teacher, the acclaimed author Frances Lefkowitz. She gave us writing prompts and our class wrote up a storm. (My writing was all bipolar-related, & I’ll share in a future post.) Next, each student silently re-read one brief section of our writing (in my case, it was Chapter Two of Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder). We then wrote three sentences explaining:
1) The plot arc of the chapter (Sounds easy, but it was HARD!)
2) What is the driving question found within the chapter?
3) How would that question be answered; in other words, what is the change that occurs from start to finish in Chapter Two?
We discussed each writer’s sentences, and before I knew it, it was time to skedaddle for lunch. I was too nervous to eat because I signed up for a thirty-minute, one-on-one consultation with the renowned Michael Larsen. Larsen is a literary agent who co-founded Michael-Larsen-Elizabeth Pomada Literary Agents in 1972. (I was two-years-old back then.) He and his wife Elizabeth Pomada also co-founded The San Francisco Writers Conference. (These two have “found” a lot!) I wanted to meet Michael to get to know him and pick his highly experienced brain about book promotion.
It was an absolute joy talking with Michael, dapper in his white linen suit. He was encouraging, insightful, and hilarious. Michael put me at ease by telling writing-related jokes, but his advice wasn’t a joke whatsoever. He listened to me closely, and that thirty-minute session was worth its weight in gold…or chocolate. When it was time for me to go, Michael invited me to email him with any questions.
3:00 p.m. It was time for Heather Lazare‘s presentation “How A Book Editor Works”, which was uber-cool – I learned quite a bit from the former New York editor, who now lives in Pacific Grove, California (a few minutes away from this conference) working as a developmental editor. For those of you writers out there, Heather recommended joining the online, subscription-only Publishers Marketplace ($25/month, you can sign up even for just one month) which offers all kinds of groovy benefits such as see each deal what book deals are made, agent profiles, etc.
4:00 p.m. Nina Amir, a Bay Area writer/writing coach, spoke about her book The Author Training Manual. Nina is also quite pro-blogging – so much so that she wrote How to Blog A Book.
4:45 p.m. Michael Larsen gave his presentation Thriving in the Golden Age for Writers, telling us that he truly believed that this is the best time to be a writer and explaining why. He’s a natural entertainer so it was like watching a gifted comedian from another time, like Jack Benny. Before I knew it, it was time to inhale more food at dinner.
I was bummed I didn’t get a chance to go for a walk, especially since this is such a stunning setting, but I didn’t want to miss anything. These conferences have so much going on that if you’re a newbie like me, you need to learn how to pace yourself.
At least I wasn’t the only one feeling overwhelmed and tired – I kept hearing that other attendees felt the same way. What would have helped me get through the day less pooped-out was having better sleep the previous night (you all know the sleep hygiene rules) and forcing myself to skip an afternoon lecture for a nap.
After dinner (stir-fried shrimp, green beans, sauteed mushrooms and of course chocolate; in this case a chocolate-dipped vanilla cookie) there was a reception. I schmoozed my little heart out with more total strangers – it was fun!
An author named Thomas Christensen spoke to us about how book publishing and printing works – he’s the Catamaran nonfiction editor and has thirty years of experience in publishing.
Christenson also led the evening’s Publishing Panel that included Michael Larsen, Heather Lazare, Joe Shoemaker of Counterpoint Press and Mark Allen Cunningham of Atelier 26 Books. Each person explained his/her job and we had a general discussion + Q&A.
That’s a lot for one day. And there was more.
I should follow one of my favorite musician’s advice. The one & only Howard Jones advises us to “don’t try to live your life in one day” and he’s right.
Make sure to check out his 80’s hair-do’s! (Hair-don’t, really!)
I was ready for bed but couldn’t resist stopping by the fire pit to learn more about poetry slamming taught the AWESOME, enigmatic Kevin Delaney, owner of the Art Bar & Cafe in Santa Cruz.
This is no ordinary bar/cafe – they host Santa Cruz’s only weekly Open Mic Poetry and have this noble mission:
The Art Bar & Cafe is meant to empower artists to create sustainable arts communities, education and arts practice, and outreach, specifically in the fields of youth outreach, community-building and arts administration.
Each of us was given a selection of poems to choose from and had to perform it in front of the group following Kevin’s 4 rules:
- Pause. Take one three-second (at least 3 secs) pause between words.
- Eye: contact: Memorize one line and don’t look at the paper; make eye contact with someone instead as you say the line.
- Diction/volume: Increase your voice’s volume to be over 80 decibels for at least one word.
- Choreography: at some point raise one of your arms higher than your shoulder in some way!
Although I was completely freaked out, I decided to participate in the evening’s poetry exercise. Kevin is the kind of teacher (like Frances) who genuinely wants to help you face your fear and do it anyway, whether it be improving your writing or getting up in front of a group of strangers in the starlight to not merely read a poem, but perform it! I chose Rainier Maria Rilke’s The Panther and I incorporated all four requirements, but there was plenty of room for improvement!
It was scary and embarrassing, but super-fun! I admired the other students who took part, especially the ones who chose long poems.
You can imagine how my experience at Catamaran contrasts with the years I spent devastated (sometimes bedridden) with bipolar depression. If you told me I’d have as much fun as this by meeting incredible writers, making new friends who I’d like to keep in my life (!) and chatting with talented strangers without feeling like a bipolar mess, I would have been VERY skeptical.
I love having my expectations kicked to the curb and replaced with thoughts such as, “I’m so, so glad I came here!” and “I feel like my old self again, but with the added wisdom that comes through getting through Bipolar Hell University”. (Note I didn’t write overcoming bipolar; I’ll always feel like relapse could occur, but that’s being pragmatic, right?)
Now it’s Saturday morning, pre-coffee, and there’s another full day before us. I’ll take it easier than yesterday, and let you know how it goes tomorrow.
have a wonderful day, my friends!
p.s. guess who’s having a jolly good time in Lake Tahoe?
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