Santa Barbara has long been a stomping ground for writers — Ross Macdonald, T.C. Boyle, Sue Grafton, Margaret Millar, and Pico Iyer, to name a few, have found literary fame while living in our seaside hamlet. The city is also host to the annual Santa Barbara Writers Conference (SBWC), which allows aspiring and seasoned scribes to comingle. Founded in 1972 by Barnaby Conrad, the six-day conference includes workshops, panels, speakers, and manuscript consultation. This year’s event kicks off June 16 by honoring author Lisa See with the Ross Macdonald Literary Award, which is bestowed on “a California writer whose work raises the standard of literary excellence,” according to the SBWC.
The author of 11 books, See is no stranger to the conference; she began attending while working as a West Coast correspondent for Publishers Weekly between 1983 and 1996. “One of the great things about this particular conference,” See said in a recent interview with the Independent, “is that people come to learn to write and to share their writing, but [there are also] agents and editors and people like me back then who were actually in the business.”
See became a published author with the release of her 1995 memoir, On Gold Mountain: The One-Hundred-Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family. Since then, she has penned three mysteries and seven novels, including her latest, The Island of Sea Women, released this year. One key to writing a book, See said, is enthusiasm for your topic. “You have to be really passionate about what you’re doing. I think sometimes, people think, ‘If I write this, I’m going to make a bazillion dollars.’ … That can happen, but it’s really the wrong way in. You should really be writing what you’re absolutely passionate about and not worry about who’s going to read it or who’s going to buy it. … And the reason is this: It’s not an easy job. It comes with a lot of ups and downs.” See also advised not “waiting for the muse to arrive before you write,” she said. “When I’m writing, I write 1,000 words a day. … That’s not much [but] at the end of a week, I have a chapter. It’s about actually sitting down and doing the work.”