S.B. Writers Conference Up for Grabs

Peanuts Creator’s Son Monte Schulz to Bid in Auction for Annual Event

$27,000 BID: Monte Schulz, son of the late Peanuts cartoonist Charles Schulz, is bidding to take over the now-defunct Santa Barbara Writers Conference.

The Independent has learned that Monte — who is a novelist and longtime workshop leader at the conference where his father was an annual speaker — has made a $27,000 bid to be considered at an auction scheduled for 10:30 a.m. at the federal bankruptcy court in Santa Barbara on March 30. Since bidding must be in $3,000 increments, it would take a $30,000 bid to beat Monte’s current offer.

Marcia Meier

There was no conference last year due to financial problems incurred by former director Marcia Meier, who bought the 38-year-old conference from founders Mary and Barnaby Conrad five years ago for $75,000. Barring a miracle, the annual June confab won’t take place this year either. The Conrads are still owed $20,000 and Fess Parker’s Doubletree is reportedly owed $52,839. On top of that, many who sent reservation money to Meier in 2009 were not repaid. Whether any of the creditors will see money remains to be seen.

In a letter made public today, Meier said, “When I bought the conference from Mary and Barnaby Conrad, I believed I could not only make a living with it, but help it grow and expand so that more writers could benefit from its amazing workshops. I did not take into consideration that the Conrads are independently wealthy, and while they made money with it, it was not substantial, and certainly not enough to live on. For five years I struggled to put on an excellent conference, but lost money every year. I essentially financed my income by taking money out of my house and — ultimately, and foolishly — using personal credit cards to cover conference expenses.”

Barnaby and Mary Conrad

Barnaby Conrad, however, told The Independent, “I didn’t know I was ‘independently wealthy.’ We made about $60,000 a year and she lost money every year.” Conrad said he’s behind Monte 100 percent. “He’s very dedicated to it. We’ll have a hell of a conference next year,” said Conrad, ticking off names of well-known authors he would seek to enlist. Monte is believed to have deep pockets and be well able to get the event back on its feet. Monte reportedly offered to buy the 37-year-old conference from Meier last year for a higher sum but was turned down when negotiations failed.

“I am sorry for the mystery about (the future of) the writers conference, and sorry, too, that both the conferences I had planned for this year will not happen,” Meier said in her letter. “I have felt deep sadness and grief over what has transpired, but was prevented from saying anything. When the economy tanked in late 2008, I realized I could not go forward with the conference in 2009.

“As I said, this has been a painful and grief- filled time for me, and I am mindful — ever so mindful — of those who had been promised the opportunity to come after having registered for the 2009 conference, which didn’t happen. I have done everything in my power to try to make good on my promises. But I never expected that I would lose the conference in this bankruptcy.

“So there it is. I am grateful to those of you who have been supportive and encouraging. And I wish Schulz and the conference all the best in coming years. I am sorry for the trouble this has caused some of you, and wish it had turned out differently.”

Barney Brantingham can be reached at barney@independent.com or (805) 965-5205, Ext. 230. He writes online columns and a print column on Thursdays.