Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Mendocino on My Mind
I love small towns.
I grew up in a small town in the middle of dairy farming country of central Pennsylvania. Not exactly a haven for tourists and nowhere near a body of water other than Muncy Creek (pronounced “Crick”).
I spent last weekend in Mendocino on the rugged coast of California, about 100 miles north of San Francisco. It’s the site of the annual Mendocino Writers Conference where published and aspiring authors gather to talk, eat, and drink ample quantities of wine.
With its Victorian homes dating from the 19th Century when lumber was king, Mendocino is a gem of a small town. High cliffs. Raging surf. Morning mist. Wineries tucked among strands of redwood trees. Wildflowers exploding along the P.C.H. And a ton of Bed & Breakfasts. We stayed at theAgate Cove Inn, high above the water. Each cottage has its own fireplace, and you need it in the chilly evenings. Here’s here’s the view from the sprawling front yard.
Artists and writers (and marijuana growers and ex-hippies) have long made their way to the scenic little towns of Mendocino County. It’s not hard to figure why. The coastline is inspiration enough.
Many thanks to Charlotte Gullick and all the kind folks at the College of the Redwoods in Fort Bragg for inviting me to speak at the event. Thanks, too, to Christie Olson Day at Gallery Books in Mendocino and Linda at Cheshire Books in Fort Bragg. They’re the first two bookstores in the nation to stock KILL ALL THE LAWYERS, my newest SOLOMON vs. LORD novel. (Publication date is September 1).
So are writers conferences worthwhile? Do you get your money’s worth? I think the answer depends on your goals. If you aim to be the next Tom Clancy or Danielle Steele, if you’re hoping for a seven-figure advance for that manuscript or a Hollywood bidding war for the script you’ve banged out at Starbucks, well maybe you’ll be disappointed. But if the goal is to see your work in print, the Mendocino Conference, like many others, boasts success stories every year. Short stories published, plays performed, an occasional contract for a novel or memoir.
I spoke on two topics, mystery writing and working in network television. As always, I focused on the three-act structure of the novel (Exposition, Complication, Resolution) that comes to us from Aristotle (Protasis, Epitasis, Catastrophe). I recommended Brian Garfield’s concise article,“Ten Rules for Suspense Fiction," posted on the International Thriller Writers website. Tongue in cheek, I quoted Raymond Chandler: “When things slow down, bring in a man with a gun.” And, when discussing screenwriting, I quoted David Mamet: “Hollywood is collaborative. Now, bend over.”
But enough shop talk. One of the pleasures of traveling is the discovery of new restaurants. Our new favorite is Nit’s Café in Fort Bragg. You won’t find “Nit’s” in Zagat. There’s no website. There’s no advertising. It’s a tiny place with nine tables and one cook, the owner Nitaya Holmes, a native of Thailand.
My wife Renée (“She Who Must Be Fed”) went for the wild Pacific salmon over Pad Thai while I feasted on an unusual dish: a hollowed out pineapple filled with fried rice, sauteed crab, and steaming chunks of pineapple. We dined with David Skibbins, author of EIGHT OF SWORDS, and an expert on the north coast. David had the salmon over polenta cakes. We shared an appetizer of dungeness crab cakes over organic greens and for dessert, had homemade vanilla ice cream with a strawberry and blueberry compote. Fabulous.
In summary, a weekend of good companionship with fellow writers working on their craft...and a weekend of enjoying fine food and fine wine on the cliffs above the Pacific. And what could be better than that?