For years, attending the Santa Barbara Writers Conference was a must on my agenda, and I had three main reasons for that: Meeting masters such as Ray Bradbury and Anne Lamott, learning the art of writing, and a chance to find a literary agent. But even when Lamott classes became but a dream, and years after I had found an agent, I continued to show up at the conference. It didn’t take long to realize that my main reason for going was to hear Ray Bradbury. The attraction was strange as I seldom read science fiction, can’t understand most of those I attempt to read, and of the twenty–seven Bradbury books, I’ve only read Fahrenheit 451. But like the sun, one didn’t need to know this icon to enjoy the warmth and light he emitted.
As Bradbury neared ninety, some of his words on the opening night became harder to understand – with the exception of what he chose to repeat – but I heard every word with new enthusiasm and never forgot his advice on merits of reading. Now years later, his voice still echoes in my head, “I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library . . .”
The first year without him, I attended the conference unprepared for such a huge loss. I listened to emotional speeches in his honor, admired the beautiful booklet Marty Schultz had assembled, and tried to ignore the worn spirit of the gathering. Great as the conferences continue to be, I never went back.
Following my readers’ enthusiastic reception of Sky of Red Poppies and The Moon Daughter, I began working on my third novel, but somehow found it hard to finish it. I refuse to call that a “writers’ block,” because my head could explode with all the stories that are screaming to be told and there is never a shortage of subjects to write about. Yet I couldn’t deny my lowered enthusiasm while working on The Basement. Once again, I turned to the two powers that had once motivated me and felt their joined forces coming to my aid. Ray Bradbury led me to the library where Anne Lamott shed light on my path with these words; “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”
So for the past few months, I unplugged myself, allowed ideas to float around, and watched them find their own order. Yesterday, as I once again woke at dawn and sat at my desk, I felt the urge to show my appreciation of these great teachers.
I know Ray Bradbury hears me in Heaven and will forgive this clumsy attempt at expressing my gratitude. He alone knows the true value of his advice, the profound impression he made on lesser writers like me, and the awe in everyone who was fortunate enough to hear him.
As for Anne Lamott, she put the pen in my hand at 3:00 a.m. and said, “How do you begin? The answer is simple: You decide to.”
And to that, all I can say is, “Thank you!”
*For a list of all the events celebrating the tenth anniversary of One Book One San Diego, please go to kpbs.org/onebook. Hope to see you at one of our presentations.