Friday, May 20, 2016

Some Write Funny: The Santa Barbara Writers Conference

Melinda Palacio
The Santa Barbara Writers Conference, June 5-10, 2016

It's that time of year again, the 44th annual Santa Barbara Writers Conference. Funny man, Ernie Witham, celebrates ten years as the conference's humor writing workshop leader, and even longer, 25 years, as a member of the SBWC community, where he began his writing career. Ernie's story is one of persistence and success. Ever since winning the humor writing award his second year attending the conference, he pestered the Santa Barbara News-Press to publish his award-winning piece. Next, he set his eyes on the Los Angeles Times. He now writes a regular humor column for the Montecito Journal and is the author of three books: Ernie's WorldAYear in the Life of a "Working" Writer, and his recent, WhereAre Pat and Ernie Now, a humorist travel memoir of his adventures around the globe with his wife, Pat Sheppard, a docent at Lotusland in Santa Barbara.

Ernie Witham's new book.

Ernie realized he had the funny gene the first year he attended the writers conference. I asked him if he could teach someone to be funny. Ernie is prepared to work with anyone, as long as they have a sense of humor. "I teach how to find that humor," he said. "There are techniques, such as the rule of three, for fleshing out a piece."

With over 25 writing workshops, including Fiction, Poetry, Mystery, and Memoir Writing, to name a few, Ernie hopes writers who consider themselves serious novelists will also take time to hone their humor writing skills. An ideal student is someone who has something to read every day. Often someone with one funny story will attend the workshop with a single story or will hold back on reading something with much promise in order to listen Ernie's humorous words of wisdom.

Regardless of whether someone is successful in discovering their inner funny bone, the experience of attending the week-long conference will change the person. Founder of the conference, the late Barnaby Conrad, always guaranteed this magic would happen and a student would not be the same after spending a week among writers. "You can't really explain it to people," Ernie said. "The Excitement! It's not like going to a class, you're constantly learning new stuff." As a workshop leader, Ernie said he learns new things all the time at the conference.
Ernie Witham

In fact, only weeks after last year's SBSWC, he was approached by a Dahlynn and Ken McKowen of Publishing Syndicate who wanted to know if he had enough humorous travel pieces for a book, without blinking, he said yes. It took him a few months to fill in the missing pieces. But this is one of Ernie's secrets, he never says 'No' to a publisher and is willing to produce to the piece, whether he has to write it on the fly on retool something he already has. These are skills he learned from his days trying to sell pieces to the Los Angeles Times. A Thanksgiving story about preparing to eat all that holiday food didn't make the deadline. However, the editor asked if the piece could be used for Christmas.  Ernie often sends emails of his latest column to a wide network of friends; this is how the publisher realized he might have a new book in him.

If you think you've got some funny stories in you, join Ernie Witham at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference, June5-10, 2016.

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