An excerpt from the Santa Barbara Writers Conference Scrapbook by Armando Nieto, Mary Conrad, and Matt Pallamary:
1982 was a time of remembering, the “old timers,” reflecting on the ten years that made the SBWC arguably the best writers conference in the country.
Alex Haley returned to discuss life before and after Roots. Paul Lazarus told the story of how Haley got an agent for his book. Louis Blau was Barnaby’s agent at the time and agreed to give Haley fifteen minutes. After listening to the story of Roots for three hours, Blau told Haley, “If you can write the story you just told me you will change the world.”
Lazarus brought Danielle Steele to the podium to introduce the Roots author.
“Well, earlier today I came to speak to you as Danielle Steel. Now I’m back as the real me, a lady named Danielle Traina, and I’m here to talk about one of my very favorite people, my very best friend. You all know who he is, and what he does. Very rarely in a lifetime you meet someone, that a big piece of your soul goes out to them and stays there forever, and Alex Haley is that kind of person to me. He’s my dearest fiend, he’s one of the most special people in the world. You’re very lucky that he’s here tonight. Thank you.”
Alex Haley took the stage and wrapped author Danielle Steele in his arms. “I am sure glad,” he said in his booming voice, “that John Traina is so understanding. He just looks at us hugging each other and smiles, and that’s great.”
Haley began his remarks saying that as he walked into the Conference center he was thinking that he still found it odd to be standing at a podium or on a dais to address a room full of writers. “For so long, I used to dog-ear the Writers Digest and other magazines, to find a writers conference that I could get to.
“And, sitting somewhere near the back of the room, and feel a kind of vicarious something, but never ever did, seriously think about it happening as such, to me. I guess I thought that if I kept plugging, at something to which I was very very devoted, I would be able to write magazine articles such as that, but I never thought that in terms of books, and that it kind of came as a surprise.
“Some of the things, and I have no notes or anything, whatever I say will be off the top of my head. Trying to communicate, share with others as colleague writers.
“So much that Danielle said this afternoon, from my own experience, is absolutely right on target. Just plucking some of them from the air, I know she was saying that being a writer doesn’t mean that you necessarily have sold, or you’re a best-seller, or this and that. The fact that you are writing, and I would add only one word to that, that you are ‘seriously’ writing, that is what makes you a writer.”