The kickoff to the Central California Writers’ Conference was held at Willow Bridge Books in Oakhurst where Mary Benton and I had an opportunity to chat with many of the people who would be conducting workshops the next day on April 28th. It was also a good chance to choose a couple of books to buy. Not that I don’t already have more books at home than I’ll ever be able to read. Still, I couldn’t resist.
The two-day conference itself was held at Sierra Sky Ranch, a rustic 100-year-old converted ranch house just 10 miles from Yosemite's southern entrance. Set in a wooded area with a sloping lawn and a long veranda, the resort lends itself to relaxing. Among the lesser-known charming features of the ranch are the pet cats: John Wayne, Mo and a calico, who is an avid hunter. John Wayne, a fluffy, black and white fellow, is seriously overweight, so evidently he is on good terms with the cook.
Ghosts occasionally prowl the ranch house. I didn’t see any, but last year one of the attendees swore she caught a glimpse of one on the veranda. Over the years, the kitchen and the bunk house have had numerous visitations. I wonder if the owners have a high employee turnover rate because of it. Nothing like having a ghost peek over your shoulder to check on dinner.
The conference organizers limit attendance to 100, and that means the workshops are small enough for everyone to get acquainted, exchange ideas and e-mail addresses. I recognized several people I’d seen last year. As I listened to people talk about their projects, I was impressed with the many great stories that will soon become books that I want to read. In one of the sessions, a man talked about a real life work situation that he wanted to turn into fiction. The group brainstormed and gave him some great ideas of how to structure it to make his story come alive without getting sued.
Although all of the workshops were excellent, I gleaned the most from two. The first was Bonnie Hearn-Hill’s Focus on Character: Who’s Driving Your Story. Even though I’d heard much on the subject before, there was one particular point she drove home that gave me much to think about. And that is the “hole in the gut” that our protagonist must have to drive him or her to action in the story. She stressed that it should be the result of something that happened in the character’s childhood. And that the antagonist must have a “hole” of equal proportions to drive his or her action.
The second was Steve Mettee’s presentation was on The Hero’s Journey: Making Your StoryResonate with Readers at a Primal Level. Steve’s workshops are always relaxed and fun. He used The Hunger games and The Lord of the Rings to illustrate his points. At the end he reminded us that in essence all of us are on a hero’s journey in our own lives. There is much to overcome in a writer’s life.
The banquet Saturday evening was chance to relax and make new friends. The highlight was the short story awards. Best of all, my friend and fellow Sister in Crime, Mary Benton, won first place, including a check for $100, for Bernetta, The Not So Good Witch. It’s the first chapter of a book that will soon be in the hands of an agent as a result of the conference. Congratulations Mary!