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

The 18th Annual Santa Barbara Writers Conference welcomed new speakers including author, composer, musician, comedian, television and radio personality Steve Allen; new book panelist Monte Shultz for Down by the River, Ella Leffland Looking for Goring, Joan Quigley, President and Mrs. Reagan’s astrologer, and Amy Tan The Joy Luck Club. The conference also featured two tributes; one for Gore Vidal and another for John Hersey.

Plans for the SBWC took a few detours because of the infamous Painted Cave Fire which was later renamed the Painted Fire which raged throughout the week of the conference, endangering homes and closing highways. Barnaby Conrad went missing in action on his errand to pick up Gore Vidal from the Santa Barbara Airport due to road closures. Gore and Barnaby had to drive north, spending the night and dining in Buellton, to the surprise and pleasure of North County residents. Although one fan introduced himself saying, “How do you do, Mr. Asimov? I’ve read all your books,” mistaking Vidal for science fiction writer Isaac Asimov.  Thankfully, word of their North County exploits calmed Santa Barbara Conference attendee’s fear of the worst while flames from the fire continued to light the night sky and smoke filled the daylight hours.

When the durable duo finally returned to the Miramar hotel, at the opening of the Gore Vidal Tribute the author began with an amusing, low-key imitation of Ronald Reagan, followed by the comment, “I’m here because I would say Barnaby is the world’s greatest blackmailer!”

Before leaving the stage he also announced, “I go from here to what is left of the left—Berkeley!”

Regarding his recent sojourn in Mississippi where he was shooting a five-day documentary about his family, most of whom he’d never met, “I’ve never seen so many variations of my nose!”

It seemed as if every sentence of his ended with an exclamation point.

Artie Shaw returned as a speaker and was in fine fettle, imparting his own brand of wisdom. Said the former Abraham Isaac Arshawsky, who was raised in poverty on New York’s lower East Side:

“What’s so hard about divorce? You just pack a bag and call a cab.”

On marriage to Ava Gardner, Lana Turner, and his eight marriages: “All those were, were legalized love affairs. You should have seen the women I didn’t marry!”

On talent and fame: “Talent is a form of obsession. Talented people are not pleasant.”

And his four rules of life: “Show up, get along, have fun, and don’t get caught.”

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