I had heard about the San Miguel de Allende Writer’s Conference for years. Lucky for me, good sport writer friend, Kerry Hubbard, agreed it would be fun to go. We signed up late, so were obligated to go for the Whole Enchilada Package—the most expensive, but the most all-inclusive.
I met 10 year old, budding artist, Marycielo in the Art Park in San Miguel. She was a tough negotiator, but I ended up with the best souvenir of the week, her drawing in pastels entitled: The Party Parrots. It’s my favorite because that’s what we were in SMA (San Miguel de Allende), Party Animals! (Kevin’s the one on the left, I’m on the right.)
There were great headliners at the conference:
Gloria Steinem, a pioneer in modern feminism
Scott Turow, of Presumed Innocent fame
Alice Walker, the author of The Color Purple (She was quite controversial at the conference based on some comments she made about anti-Semitism.)
Richard Blanco, the poet tapped for Obama’s last inauguration
Tracy Chevalier, who wrote The Girl With The Pearl Earring
Angeles Mastratta, one of Mexico’s most celebrated authors
We attended 17 ½ hours of workshops covering a variety of meaty topics:
Tense and Voice
Writing and Selling Short Stories
Evoking and Organizing Stories
Bringing Characters to Life
Plotting and Arc.
Great stuff for those of us learning the craft of writing.
The Executive Director, Susan Page, ran an incredibly tight ship. But, I’m thinking this conference may have reached its capacity. Everything seemed overly crowded…but that did make for great excitement, too.
Beatriz Badikian-Gartler (sounds as weird as Struble-Deery) gave a terrific workshop on travel writing. Hopefully, her wisdom will shine in my future postings.
David Corbett is a crime writer. His workshops were all the rage. After hearing him, I got the brainstorm that my voracious reader retired FBI agent/SWAT team member husband, Kevin, just might be able to help crime writers with accuracy. David agreed, so there’s a new project in the works at our house.
Dinty Moore (not the canned stew) was a HUGE hit! He gave wonderful instruction on memoir writing. In our workshop he also masterfully handled the reading of a very (as in VERY) x-rated piece by one participant.
The faculty had a chance to share their work. Unfortunately, with everything going on, these session weren’t well attended. But we did go to hear our own Charlotte native, poet Irene Honeycutt.
Irene taught a workshop on poetry. One of her students gave her the ultimate compliment by saying her instruction was like water in the desert.
We partied and met a slew of very interesting people.
One of our favorites was Abigale Soto, who hails from Salamanca, a Mexican city South of SMA. She handles the website for Salamanca’s Chamber of Commerce and is a total sweetheart. She’s the one on the far left in this picture.
We met Nicole from Sarasota. She’s on the far right in this shot.
And then there was Nancy, sweet Nancy. She and Kevin were look alikes at the Salsa Party.
After waiting in line to talk to her, I got to brag to Gloria Steinem that my daughter, Cailin, dined with the famous academic feminist, Judith Butler, the week prior in London. I told Gloria I wanted to show off that I was with Ms. Ground Zero of Modern Feminism at the conference, so Gloria agreed to a photo with me. (OK, I didn’t exactly say that, but I think she knew what I meant.)
In fact, after the conference, I dug out the ERA button I wore 35 years ago to a rally in Springfield, Illinois. I returned from that rally to a condo with smoke and water damage from a burned out unit across the hall from ours. Message of some sort? We’re still waiting for the ERA to pass three and a half decades later.
Adriane and Scott
We had dinner with Scott Turow and his girlfriend, Adriane, at the rooftop restaurant located in the luxurious Rosewood hotel. When Scott was in the Chicago US Attorney’s office, Kevin was the investigator on several cases handled by Scott. His kids were about the same ages as ours and grew up side-by-side in Wilmette, Illinois.
That night, it ended up being cold and so breezy at the restaurant that they couldn’t keep the gas heaters on. A glass of Paradiso beer tipped, broke and ran all over the table. Then the replacement bottle the waiter brought flipped off the tray and smashed. There would be no Paradiso that night. Later, I learned there was a restaurant downstairs, but then we wouldn’t have had the splendid view or such an adventure.
A big disappointment for me was that I got stuck with a fellow named Ed Metzger for the small group round-table discussion that was part of the Whole Enchilada package. He is an actor and also claims to be an author. He does write, but I don’t think the folks running the conference ever read any of his stuff. What was glorious about him was his ego. Scott Turow’s round table was next to mine and Gloria Steinem’s was just behind. Their tables were full; we started out with four…but one gal jumped up and left (which I should have done.)
Ed performed a one-man show as Ernest Hemingway. It was not only lame (we left at intermission) but it was dishonest. A fellow I met who is in the Hemingway Society (yes, there is such a thing) complained that Ed made up things about Hemingway and even stole quotes from other famous people.
Here is a photo of the wonderful poet, Kathy Fisher, and me lamenting our bad fortune for having been placed with Ed. Our Enchilada wasn’t exactly Whole–it was more like Three-Quarters.
There was nothing they could do about the weather. “It never rains in SMA in February.” Yea, right!
It rained for the huge Fiesta Party and even sprinkled at the closing Salsa Dance Party. But that didn’t stop most folks from having a total blast!
It poured buckets the night we had to walk to the storytelling event in the center of town–try finding a cab while rain is coming down in sheets.
The storytelling event was the second most disappointing event. One good story, one coarse story, and a dystopian one (I think) that was unintelligible. We couldn’t wait to leave.
I signed up for the open mic session at the conference to read one of my short pieces. There were lots of people there–all the other folks who signed up for open mic. When she introduced me, the MC announced that I’d written some Flash Fiction. Funny that folks weren’t familiar with this short form. Even Scott Turow hadn’t heard of it. They did seem to like the piece I’d written. Wanna read it? Email me and I’ll send it to you.
Not only was it a bit rainy. It was downright chilly. I finally resorted to hauling one of the extra blankets from our room to workshops which took place outside in large tents. It was in the 70’s and sunny the week before we arrived and 70’s and sunny after we left. Oh well.
Always accompanying me was my ubiquitous brown stool. As in a real stool that happens to be brown. Thank you Cheryl Boyer for letting me in on a tool that helps those of us with short legs survive hours of sitting in chairs too tall for us.
I met Minerva Neiditz at lunch. Stroke of luck, it was. She is scholarly with a PhD in English, emphasis Shakespeare, and has a twinkle in her eye. She appealed to me instantly. Her latest accomplishment is a book entitled: Romance After 60
She interviewed around 140 men for the book. The 72nd man she talked to is her current boyfriend, Jack Calkins. He’ll be 90 in May. Her’s is the kind of chutzpa I aim for.
We got to have dinner with them the last night in SMA. Jack is a member of The Bohemian Grove. Very secret and very exclusive: the Bohemian Club’s all-male membership and guest list includes artists, particularly musicians, as well as many prominent business leaders, government officials (including U.S. presidents), senior media executives, and people of power. It took Jack 22 years to be able to become a member.
When would we ever get a chance to meet anyone of his ilk? Never, would be my guess.
Minerva asked me if I heard her question at Gloria Steinem’s presentation? What question? She had asked #1 how Gloria looked so good at almost 81 and #2 that she suspected the reason Gloria had become a feminist was because of Minerva’s male chauvinist pig brother. Gloria responded that he WAS a very good dancer. It turns out Gloria was engaged to Minerva’s brother in her younger years.
We had lunch with author John Warley, a part-time resident of SMA. He wrote the novel A Southern Girl. After meeting John at Bibliofeast in Charlotte last fall, I suggested a rendezvous in SMA. He and my husband, Kevin, had a great deal in common, so it wasn’t easy getting a word in edgewise.
One of John’s roommates at the Citadel was the current best-selling author, Pat Conroy, and they’re still good friends. John is in Pat’s book The Lords of Discipline. Pat’s high school basketball experience is referenced in his book My Losing Season. That school, Gonzaga, is the same one Kevin attended.
The Hotel Real de Minas was well-located and lovely. Here are photos of the lobby, pool and dining areas.
The only problem was they were remodeling the entryway, so the conference space near the lobby got quite noisy with pounding and jackhammering. It’s always something.
The conference was terrific. San Miguel (in another posting on this blog) was very interesting. But if you have issues getting around, the cobblestone-iness of the city might not suit. The best part was the people we met–so many wonderfully weird, swirling connections.