Marla Miller Blogs - SBWC 2011: Full Circle

The year was 1972. Literary luminary Barnaby Conrad and his wife Mary had this notion for a writer’s conference. Barny got on the phone to friends Ray Bradbury and Alex Haley while Mary searched the area looking for just the right location. Though he loved the idea of a writer’s conference, Haley told Barny his schedule wouldn’t permit one more engagement. When Barny called Ray Bradbury, he essentially said the same. That’s when Barny dropped Haley’s name into their conversation. It would be years before Barny admitted that he might have given his friend the impression that Alex Haley had agreed to attend when in fact he hadn’t. Whatever the reason, once Bradbury heard that Haley was attending, he promised Barny he’d be there, too. Barny hung up from Bradbury, redialed Haley and intimated Bradbury would attend. “Then so will I,” said Alex Haley. With a solid lineup of literary stars to attract students, Mary found the perfect home at the Cate School in Carpinteria. SBWC enjoyed several years on that hill until we outgrew the campus. Mary went looking again and found SBWC’s new home just down the road in Montecito. The blue tiled Miramar Hotel would host SBWC for the next 28 years. If walls could talk, the stories they’d tell. Ray Bradbury, always dressed for tennis, almost daily could be spotted strolling along the multicolored flower lined pathways with tennis bag in hand. Barny’s morning workshop was standing room only. The Conrad’s Monday night cocktail party was the invitation to snag. Santa Barbara notables Robert Mitchum, Sander Vanocer and Eva Marie Saint mingled with workshop leaders and the ‘chosen few’ students lucky enough to be invited. Jonathan Winters doing stand-up in the Conrad’s living room added to our good time.

Change is inevitable and over the years, SBWC has gone through some. When the Miramar sold, we lost our home and moved back up the hill, this time to Westmont College. Another change took place that resulted in one more move; back down the hill to the Fess Parker DoubleTree Hotel & Resort. Not long after that move, the conference hit hard times and went on hiatus. For a while we didn’t know if the ‘granddaddy’ of writers conferences would ever be revived. Enter Monte Schulz, son of Charles Schulz who was as much a fixture at SBWC as Ray Bradbury. Like so many writers, Monte found his ‘tribe’ at SBWC, first as a writer on the road to publication and then a published author teaching SBWC workshops.

My path, like that of many SBWC workshop leaders, parallels Monte’s. In 1989, I attended my first SBWC, nervous and intimidated but not for long. With the support of SBWC, I became a published author during these years. In 2003, Mary Conrad said YES to my Marketing the Muse proposal. I’ve been teaching MarketingtheMuse Workshops ever since.

SBWC is back to our roots. Though Alex Haley and Charles Schulz won’t be there in person, in spirit they sure will. Ray Bradbury will do what he’s done since conference #1, deliver the opening night keynote. If you’re a new SBWC writer, brace yourself for a transformative experience and to all SBWC veteran writers, welcome home.

Marla Miller’s MarketingtheMuse curriculum offers writers FREE quick query critiques, noted author interviews & more through her website,