Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Mendocino on My Mind

By Paul

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?



  1. The food definitely sounds good. Stuffed pineapple, eh? I'm game.

  2. Hi Paul,
    What a wonderful place! And what a wonderful way to see it and create within its atmosphere. I could see myself there with my notebook or laptop, staring off into space and imagining things, while my husband painted the coast. :-D
    After some of the SF and Fantasy conventions we've been too, this sounds like bliss - with real conversation!

  3. Paul and Renee were great company. But the funniest thing is to watch them at dinner. Just like Solomon and Lord! Paul definitely follows the dictum "write what you know." Thanks for the great time, and the excellent workshops!

  4. What could be better?

    Well, it would have been one heckuva lot better had my wife and I been there!

    I Enjoy your work.


  5. Paul,
    I'm hungry already.

    Thanks also for those 10 rules. I'm embarking on a new series (in addition to my current one) and these will help me keep on track.


  6. Great to have you up here, Paul. Nice to see former Miamians in exile on the other coast, and former Miamians who know my ex. We're tickled you enjoyed the Conference. We try to give writers instruction and enjoyment in a great setting. Dan Koslov (another presenter at the Conference) said about Renee, "She lights up the room."
    Come back to see us.
    Norma Watkins

  7. Mendocino is one of my FAVORITE places I've been on the planet. Sniff.... I just went looking for the place I stayed so many years ago with the hand-carved headboards. Can't recall the name,
    I always fantasized about living there, then realized "oh my god, i'd go insane" because it's too small, and I don't know that as a city kid I'd ever be able to adjust. I had images of the weekly helicopter book-drop, where I'd clear a space in the back yard of the house with the wrap-around porch (where I'd bet the millions to buy it, well it's a fantasy, innit?) where I would have my enormous herb garden (this was how i'd make a living see). Sweet, isn't it?

    The best thing about the search I just did? There's a local realtor named "Art Love". now I ask you....