A Family Reunion

by Matt Pallamary – Phantastic Fiction workshop leader

I attended my first Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference back in nineteen-eighty-eight and after a rocky start, became immersed in a family that quickly made me one of their own.  I don’t think my personality had anything to do with the kindness that I received.  I think it was the fact that I was a dedicated and obsessed writer – just like my brothers and sisters of the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference who adopted me.

(Editors note: click on the photos below to see them full size with identifications.)

Back then the SBWC was held at the now legendary Miramar Hotel.  I went up as a nobody, and on one of my first mornings there I had the joy and honor of having breakfast with Charles “Sparky” Schulz and his charming wife Jeannie.  What struck me back then on that magical day, was that here I was having breakfast with one of the greatest if not THE greatest comic strip artists of all time who I had followed all of my life, and we spent two or three hours talking about ME!  Here was Sparky with all of his accomplishments and he was most interested in me!  He was not only interested, but encouraging and supportive and I was completely blown away.

I went to Shelley Lowenkopf’s infamous pirate workshops and met and connected with Sparky’s son Monte, who now owns the conference, as well as Catherine Ryan Hyde, Jane St. Clair, and a number of other dedicated writers.  This is where I started to get into trouble because, I went to the pirates and did all the other day workshops as well as listen to all the keynoters, so by mid-week I was a physical and emotional wreck.  On top of that I got turned down by a seemingly promising agent, and I was a basket case for the rest of the week.

First hard lesson learned – pace your self!

By the end of the conference San Diego based workshop leader Joan Oppenheimer, took me under her wing and invited me to join her writing group.  I met John Ritter and a few other cool writers that first week at SBWC and he and they were already members of Joan’s group, so I joined her weekly workshops and got my skills sharpened.

I did not intend to go to the SBWC my second year because I could not afford it, but Joan and a great friend Lynne Ford sponsored me because they said that they believed in me.  In my second year Sid Stebel took me under his wing and mentored me and his mentorship soon turned into friendship.  When my first published work, The Small Dark Room of the Soul came out, Sid in his generous and supportive spirit went to bat for me and asked Ray Bradbury for a blurb for my book.  Ray came through, adding to my list of wonderful friends and mentors.  What an honor to be with these folks.  I also connected with Abe Polsky, who mentored me and has become a great and supportive friend, and I connected with Laura Taylor in Phyllis Gebauer’s workshop, starting an enduring friendship.

I was a regular in Shelley Lowenkopf’s pirate workshop with Monte and Catherine and read an opening to a horror novel one night and watched Shelley out of the corner of my eye scribbling away.  I thought it was going pretty good, but I felt a bit apprehensive until Shelley stopped me, stood up and read off all the adverbs I had used.

Second hard lesson learned – kill them adverbs!

To top off that magical year, which I had not planned on, I won a fiction award for a short horror story I had written.

There was not much for horror, fantasy and science fiction people back in those days, so a couple of Science fiction/ Fantasy writers asked me to lead an unofficial workshop that was sanctioned by the conference and to our delight it was a hit.

When then directors Paul Lazarus, Mary, and Barnaby Conrad heard it was well attended they asked me if I would lead one officially the next year and I was ecstatic.  Mother Superior, Mary Conrad welcomed and treated me with the best love and attention anyone could ever ask for and I indeed felt like family.

Chuck Champlin, the class act that he is, had his own workshop back then.  After teaching his, he came and checked out my workshop and we became fast friends.  I miss the time I spent talking with him about film, literature and all things literary.

I know I was the youngest workshop leader for something like fifteen years.  It’s been twenty three years now and I am graying so I have no doubt that I have lost my youngest status,  but something else wonderful happened as a result of this.  My mentors who I looked up to, respected, and admired had suddenly become my colleagues.  What great company to be in.  This was my writing family who made me one of their own.

I know I have helped the conference, especially Barnaby Conrad because he would get manuscripts in and see them as weird and say, “This is weird, give it to Matt Pallamary, he’s the weirdo.” -- And I rose to the occasion.

My workshop has been going on for over twenty years now and I have a number of regulars who add to its energy and success.  My longest standing attendee is Lorelei Armstrong, who I call my “Princess of Darkness”.  I don’t think Lorelei has missed any of my workshops and I can count on her to zero in – in fact, more often than not, I have my critique made up in my mind, then Lorelei opens her mouth and my critique comes out!

I am happy that Monte, who goes back to the roots of the conference, has brought it back to life and I am very much looking forward to the family reunion that is coming this June.