Friday, June 01, 2018

Is this Your Year to Join the Santa Barbara Writers Conference?

Melinda Palacio

Melinda Palacio and conference director Grace Rachow circa 2003

Today is the first day in June and that means it's time for the Santa Barbara Writers Conference. This year mark's the SBWC's 46th anniversary. I've been attending the conference in some form, either as participant or volunteer (this year as a workshop leader), for the past sixteen years. Where I once was a frightened newbie, intimidated by all the writers and instructors, I am now an old-timer who has learned all about the business of being a published author.

My first year, I sat in on Barnaby Conrad's class. Barnaby, along with Mary Conrad, founded the conference. He was an excellent teacher who talked about the most important ingredients of being a writer: writing and transformation. He made sure everyone remembered that writers write; it's as simple as that. He also told everyone that he guaranteed they would not leave the same after a week at the conference. The latter required a leap of faith, but it was true: a week at the conference changed me and gave me the confidence I needed to declare myself a writer and go on to become an award-winning, published author, poet, speaker and teacher.

SBWC founders Barnaby and Mary Conrad

When I arrived at the conference, I had an idea for a novel, but no clue as to how to go about writing an entire book. I wrote short lifestyle pieces for newspapers and magazines, not books. I can laugh now at how long it took me to figure out how to navigate a conference that offered so much in one week. There are classes on every genre every day, evening and day speakers, special workshops, and after-hours workshops, known as pirate workshops. One year a woman showed up in full pirate regalia, she was sure changed and perhaps a little embarrassed when she found out there would be no swashbuckling or speech beginning with ARG.

By my third year, I figured out how to absorb all of the offerings at the conference. I became a volunteer. I loved returning to the community each summer. I won first prize in poetry and an honorable mention in fiction and have been on the new book panel. I've published a novel, Ocotillo Dreams, about immigration in Arizona, a chapbook Folsom Lockdown, and two poetry collections: How Fire Is a Story, Waiting and Bird Forgiveness, my new poetry which will be available next week. This year, I will present my new book at the conference and participate in a mixed-genre panel, as well as co-teach a workshop with Lida Sideris, Writing Through the Fear, a subject I'm quite knowledgeable in since I started off as a fearful writer.

Thank you Santa Barbara Writers Conference for a rich career in writing, inspiring aspiring writers to persist with their dreams. There's still time to sign up for the Santa Barbara Writers Conference, make an appointment with an agent or editor, or choose a day to attend. Barnaby Conrad, Ray Bradbury, and some of the regulars who started the conference may no longer be with us, but their generous spirits continue to grace the conference. Take a week off, hone your craft and be forever changed for the best. This year's conference is June 17-22.

The cover of my new poetry book, Bird Forgiveness, has original artwork by Sylvia Santamaria.

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