Catamaran Writers Conference Friday: Amazeballs!

 

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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:

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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.

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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!)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C7Eo1IHajGQ

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:

  1. Pause.  Take one three-second (at least 3 secs) pause between words.
  2. Eye: contact: Memorize one line and don’t look at the paper; make eye contact with someone instead as you say the line.
  3. Diction/volume: Increase your voice’s volume to be over 80 decibels for at least one word.
  4. 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!

Dyane

p.s. guess who’s having a jolly good time in Lake Tahoe?IMG_20150814_133839125

 

 

 

 

Sending Flames of Love for a Great Catamaran Getway for Dyane

 

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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!) 

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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!
love, Dy

p.s. Marie, I’m sending extra hugs and blissful dreams-come-true to you, my friend

MAG's Blog

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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 🙂

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