Tuesday, January 31, 2012

When My Tribe Gathers

The most common representation of the writer in popular culture is a solitary and miserable misanthrope locked in an airless upper room, facing a concrete wall, pounding on a keyboard in frustrated anguish.  That image probably has some grounding in fact, but it doesn’t bear much resemblance to any of the writers I know.   Especially not when I consider the writers who visit San Diego in February when my tribe gathers during the Southern California Writers’ Conference.   

The SCWC is first and foremost a joyous celebration of writers.  Whether the conferees arrive from nearby cities in California, winter-weary regions of the United States, or other continents around the globe, there is no doubt that when they step up to the registration desk at the Crowne Plaza San Diego they’ve entered a special world.  At this particular professional conference, words matter and imagination is prized.  For those of us who occasionally feel adrift in a Jersey Shore/American Idol-dominated pop culture, the long-weekend immersion into an enthusiastically biblio-centered community is heady stuff. 

And while there are agents, editors, and representatives of publishing to pitch to throughout the conference, the most personally enjoyable aspect to me is connecting with other working writers.  Hearing a young unpublished writer eagerly talk about a work-in-progress in a workshop or having a New York Times bestselling novelist (thank you, Gene Riehl)  invite me to lunch so I can talk with him about the motivation of one of my characters is not just priceless, but also part of the foundational DNA of the SCWC. 

This year’s Southern California Writers’ Conference takes place over the Presidents’ Day Weekend, February 17 – 20.  If you’re thinking about writing, if you’ve written something you’d like to publish, but aren’t sure what to do next, or if you’re looking for a chance to improve your craft and refine your manuscript, I urge you to consider this conference.  And if you join us this year, I look forward to offering a personal welcome.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Snow Day in San Diego

My best friend and I took a snow day in San Diego.  Not that there was any actual snow; in fact the weather for this late January day would have been perfect in July or August.  But since our weekend calendars are full of important tasks and necessary chores for the next six or seven weeks, we decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather to be outside and do nothing.  Except read.

On the sundeck of the Hotel Del Coronado, I reached the halfway point of And So It Goes, the biography of Kurt Vonnegut by Charles J. Shields.  The book is well written and thoroughly engaging.  As a Vonnegut fan since the early 1980s it was a treat to get a life at home context for the writing and publication of his novels.  Shields gave new insight into the Vonnegut reaction to critics and fans as each new work was published.  

Even though I've read Slaughterhouse-Five more than a dozen times and Cat's Cradle at least a half-dozen, Shields presented new material around the creation and publication of these masterworks.  He also deepened my understanding of the import of Player Piano and Mother Night to both Vonnegut's career and American fiction of the 20th Century.  

As the anniversary of the firebombing of Dresden in February 1945 approaches, the diligent research Shields put into his book helps readers grasp the role of that event in shaping Vonnegut as a writer and as a man.  I would recommend this biography to anyone interested in reading about Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., or curious about the role of science fiction in critiquing culture.