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An excerpt from the Santa Barbara Writers Conference Scrapbook by Armando Nieto, Mary Conrad, and Matt Pallamary:

William Styron was back, overheard at the Conrad’s party to say, “I love California in a perverse and unique way. It always seems both non-American and more American than America.”

Though the star-studded parties were in full swing, the real action remained at the Miramar Hotel. 1980 was the year William Styron told the conference how he came to write Sophie’s Choice which held the number one spot on the best-seller list for 47 weeks.

“In the early ‘70s I fell into that moment of creative impotence in which something goes haywire with the creative process, and one struggles and struggles with the obdurate word, with the intransigent paragraphs, with the hopelessly unyielding sentence, word, comma — and one wants to give it all up and go to Peru and fish sardines or something like that — anything but write.”

Questions from the assembled writers poked into those places most personal to any writer, such as, “You talk a lot about loneliness.” Styron said he didn’t think there was any way out of it — “Its self-flagellation.” and “was ‘Nathan’ (a principle in Sophie’s Choice) based on someone you knew?” Nathan was based on a composite of people he knew.

Students at the SBWC wanted to know everything about writing, and the smorgasbord of authors at the conference provided many opportunities to learn from masters in many fields.


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Flyer for Santa Barbara Writers Conference

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An excerpt from the Santa Barbara Writers Conference Scrapbook by Armando Nieto, Mary Conrad, and Matt Pallamary:

The 1979 conference was dedicated to Erskine Caldwell, the shy and low-profile writer of Tobacco Road and God’s Little Acre whose 50 books had been translated into 43 languages with a circulation of an estimated 80,000,000 copies in print.

Earlier in his career Mr. Caldwell was anything but shy when the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice instigated legal action against him, bringing about his arrest when he attended a book-signing for God’s Little Acre in New York. With his exoneration at trial, the novel The Bastard was deemed “not obscene” by Magistrate Greenspan. Caldwell promptly counter-sued for false arrest and malicious prosecution.

Barnaby met Erskine Caldwell when they both resided in San Francisco, joining with one another in the fecund hotbed of writers who comprised the Bay Area writing community, and who also frequented Barnaby’s El Matador Bar. When the Conrads moved to Carpinteria, Caldwell made his way to Paradise Valley, Arizona, where he lived until his death on April 11, 1987.

Deemed so by James Michener, the SBWC was “now known as the best [conference] in the nation,” and the Santa Barbara and Montecito society circles took notice.

Friends of Mary and Barnaby Conrad held parties in conjunction with the SBWC, including Mrs. Leinie Schilling of the Schilling Spice fortune. Attendees to Leinie’s legendary Mexican Buffet supper included workshop leaders, speakers, and visiting writers who met permanent and part time local residents including Jane Russell, Robert Mitchum, John Ireland, Dame Judith Anderson, and Priscilla Presley, but, as with Mary Conrad’s fabled cocktail party for friends of the SBWC in their Rincon home, the Leinie Schilling and every other SBWC associated party had a sharp curfew of 7:30 pm when party attendees were encouraged to “drink up and eat up” because the evening speaker started the lecture at 8:00 pm. Setting a good example, by that point Mary herself was absent from the festivities, ensconced at a table in the entrance to the Miramar Conference Center, checking name badges or collecting admission fees.

1979 marked the seventh year in a row that the Conrads convened the SBWC which had grown from 36 students and 7 workshop leaders and speakers, to 175 students and 31 speakers and workshop leaders.

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An excerpt from the Santa Barbara Writers Conference Scrapbook by Armando Nieto, Mary Conrad, and Matt Pallamary:

A newcomer to the SBWC in 1978, Colleen McCullough was riding a wave of publicity for The Thorn Birds which included a $1.9 million price tag for the paperback rights. “I worked on it for five years,” McCullough said of The Thorn Birds. “I rewrote the whole thing 10 times. Whole chapters were added and dropped, new characters were created and others were ‘unborn.’ I stayed up for four or five days in a row sometimes without sleeping at all.”

Like Colleen, for some, it wasn’t about the money and glamour. In fact she shocked conference attendees and guests by saying, “I hate the book. I’m not just saying that — I hate it [The Thorn Birds] with a passion.

“I think it’s flat, dull, uninteresting, ghastly, and a complete embarrassment to me. I can’t see any virtue in it at all.”

As incredible as that may sound, it is exactly those kind of insights into the life and craft of writing that many conferees came back to glean from the conference workshop leaders, speakers, and published authors.

For many, there was something deeply moving about such raw honesty delivered succinctly, and although Ms. McCullough was featured speaker on the first full day of the conference, the audience felt her pain as if they’d already spent a week baring their own souls, scars, and open sores to the creative process. In truth, all writers share that toll that writing takes — some just wear their experiences more gently.



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Congrats!!! SBWC Scholarship Contest Results

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Dear Writers,

Thank you to those of you who entered our annual writing contest.

After reviewing a massive stack of entries from all over the United States and Canada, we’d like to congratulate our 3 winners and 3 runners-up.

There were many excellent entries…but there could only be so many winners.

Winners: Full scholarships to SBWC 2017

Mikko K. Cook
Kim Cromwell
Jeff Wing

Runners-up: Partial scholarships to SBWC 2017

Joy Allen
Lorie Brallier
Ann Doyle

Finalists: Entitled to a free agent appointment if they desire, and if they are able to attend SBWC 2017.

Claire Hsu Accomando
Sharon Brown
Suzanne Cardinal
Christina Gessler
Cherie Kephart
Nancy Klann

We appreciate every writer who took a chance and submitted writing to be considered. We know that is an act of bravery.

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”
             — Ernest Hemingway

There were many excellent entries, but the above writers were the ones who, this time, around rose to the top with this year’s judges.

Congratulations, all.
Grace Rachow

SBWC Director

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An excerpt from the Santa Barbara Writers Conference Scrapbook by Armando Nieto, Mary Conrad, and Matt Pallamary:

By the fifth year of the Santa Barbara Writers conference the cadre of workshop leaders continued to evolve. Gwen Davis (Kingdome Come, The Motherland, and others), Don Freeman (Corduroy, Inspector Peckit, and others), Herb Harker (Dragon Hunter, Goldenrod, and others). Paul Lazarus, former Vice President of Columbia Pictures joined the ranks of Barnaby Conrad, Niels Mortensen, John Leggett, Jerry Hannah, Bill Downey, and Sid Stebel. Jerry Hannah brought in poet Charles Edwards who gained conference fame for a wildly successful poetry workshop at the beach house of Rosabel Cowper.

 Perennial speakers now included Charles “Sparky” Schulz, Clifton Fadiman, Ross MacDonald, James Sheldon, Eudora Welty, and Don Congdon in addition to the inimitable Ray Bradbury. William Styron (Lie Down in Darkness, The Confessions of Nat Turner, Sophie’s Choice, and others) was on hand in 1977 along with Clive Cussler and Barnaby’s friend, William F. Buckley, Jr. (Saving the Queen, Airborne, and others), who Barnaby had met through Buckley’s younger brother when they had been friends at Yale.

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Eric Myers will be at SBWC 2017, June 20

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As an agent, Eric Myers has a strong affinity for young adult and middle grade fiction, as well as adult nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, biography, psychology, health and wellness, true crime, performing arts, and pop culture. He also represents thrillers, urban fantasy and historical fiction. He’s open to memoir from writers who already have a strong platform.

He does not represent poetry, literary fiction, plays, screenplays, short-story collections or children’s picture books.

Eric Myers founded Myers Literary Management in 2017, following two years with Dystel, Goderich, & Bourret LLC and thirteen with The Spieler Agency. A graduate of UCLA and the Sorbonne, Eric entered publishing as a journalist and author.

He is proud to be a member of both the Authors’ Guild and the Association of Authors’ Representatives. His own books include Screen Deco: A Celebration of High Style in Hollywood, Forties Screen Style: A Celebration of High Pastiche in Hollywood, and Uncle Mame: The Life of Patrick Dennis, all published by  St. Martin’s Press.

His writing has also appeared in The New York Times Magazine and Arts and Leisure sections, Time Out New York, Opera News, Art and Auction, Variety, and Quest. 

Among his authors are Chris Grabenstein (Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library), Lydia Kang (Controland Catalyst), MAD MEN cast member Bryan Batt (She Ain’t Heavy, She’s My Mother), David Neilsen (Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom), Bridget Hodder (The Rat Prince), Simon Gervais (The Thin Black Line), Tracey Goessel (The First King of Hollywood: The Life of Douglas Fairbanks), financial advisor Erin Lowry (Broke Millennial), former Soviet spy Jack Barsky (Deep Undercover), and World War II Resistance fighter Justus Rosenberg, whose autobiography will be published by William Morrow in 2018.


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BJ Robbins will join us at SBWC 2017 on June 20

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BJ Robbins Literary Agency represents quality fiction, both literary and commercial and general nonfiction — mystery, suspense/thriller, biography, history, health, travel, sports, African-American, science, pop culture and memoir.

She currently represents more nonfiction than fiction, but is open to any project that is fresh, original and well written. However, genres that her agency does NOT represent are: sci-fi, westerns, romance, horror, poetry, or screenplays.

She has much experience in many aspects of the publishing industry and is able to offer this range expertise to her clients. She opened her Los Angeles-based agency in 1992 after a multifaceted career in book publishing in NYC. She began in publicity at Simon & Schuster and then marketing director and later senior editor at Harcourt.

Her clients include NY Times bestselling authors and award-winning writers such as J. Maarten Troost, James Donovan, Deanne Stillman, Chris Erskin, John Hough, Jr., Max Byrd, Nafisa Haji, Renee Swindle, Stephen Graham Jones, and the late James D. Houston.

Ms. Robbins has led workshops at UCLA Extension, UC Irvine Extension, the Writers Pad, and at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers Fiction Workshop. She is a member of AAR and Pen USA West. She has been a guest speaker in numerous cities in the West as part of PEN’s Writers Toolbox programs.

She works with both established and first-time authors and is looking for projects with strong literary merit. Her advice to potential clients is to learn how to write an effective query letter, because no matter how fantastic your manuscript is, it is unlikely to be considered without a great query to introduce your project.In her opinion, a good emailed query letter and follow-up sticks with the agency’s guideline for submission. The query should be addressed individually to the agent and should not feel general or generic.





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