An excerpt from the upcoming book by Armando Nieto, Mary Conrad, and Matt Pallamary: The Santa Barbara Writers Conference Scrapbook — Words of Wisdom from Thirty Years of Literary Excellence 1973 – 2003
In 1988 Michael Dell launched the Dell Computer company and Microsoft released Windows 2.1. and the SBWC had some great speakers, among them, Fannie Flagg.
In his introduction Barnaby Conrad recalled some of the SBWC alumns, including Spencer Johnson, The One Minute Manager, and Kitty Kelley, His Way, but said he was most proud of Fannie Flagg. Already a household name as a writer and co-host of Alan Funt’s television show Candid Camera and other television appearances, she came to the SBWC a novice in writing outside of television.
“I’m absolutely thrilled to be here,” Fanny said of her first speaking appearance at the conference.
“I came here twelve years ago and heard Ray Bradbury and was inspired as I assume you were.” Flagg came to believe she could write, and eventually came to write Coming Attractions: Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man. It started as the short story Daisy Fay that won a competition at the SBWC in 1978.
“Barnaby Conrad came up to me and said, “Don’t you think you ought to do something with that?” She sent it off to a publisher and they said it was a nice story, but they wanted a novel.
“So I went out and bought 400 sheets of paper, and started writing. When I finished those 400 pages it weighed four pounds and seven ounces, and the novel ended.”
Between the first and second novel Flagg lost her parents. She returned to her home town, searching for something. Maybe her childhood. She needed an idea for another book because Barny had told her, “One book does not an author make!”
Her lecture was very much a homecoming, and she began to tell the story of her journey along the way in a soft voice, as if in confidence to a dear friend. By the time she began reading from Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café she’d transitioned seamlessly into a narrator’s voice, still imparting a confidence, but also through the dialogue recreating characters from her hometown of Irondale that you just wanted to meet and learn more about. The narrator, Ninny Threadgoode was a talker, and Flagg had to invent Evelyn Couch so Threadgoode had someone to talk to.
“So I had Evelyn walk down the hall with a candy bar in her hand so she’d have something to do while she listened,” Teri Sforza captured Fanny’s words in a Santa Barbara News-Press interview. “And Evelyn went berserk on me! She decided to have a life of her own.”
Once she got going it seemed Fanny hardly stopped to breathe. The audience stared at the little redhead who kept glancing up to make sure you were paying attention, blue eyes darting back and forth between her notes and attendees, a little confab between close friends.
1988 was also the first year that veteran Phantastic Fiction Workshop leader Matt Pallamary attended the SBWC as a student and had the good fortune to find himself in Sid Stebel's workshop and subsequently on a televised writing workshop with him. The videos of this television show can be viewed on YouTube beginning here:
Another historic SBWC moment came that year when Margaret Millar, one of the best known mystery writers of the 20th century and widow of Ken Millar aka the legendary Ross Macdonald received a lifetime achievement award.