I think it only apt that on the occasion of my 30th Southern California Writers’ Conference *San Diego I should lose my voice. In the screenwriting world we like to explain that, good dialogue is the verbiage you wake up in the morning wishing you’d said at the party the night before. Bereft of voice, and totally shocked by Saturday’s surprise evening roast/tribute paid me at SD32, here is what I would have been unprepared to say, but now can, and am sufficiently prepared to express: My gratitude.
As was time and again brought up Saturday evening, I’ve been with the SCWC “for decades”–my first being in 1988. The third SCWC. Three decades ago. When founder Betty Abell Jurus, Jean Jenkins, Nancy Painter and Barbara Hartner Sack were running the show. And a fine show it was. It won me over. It earned my loyalty.
Why? Because then, as now, the SCWC was first and foremost about the writers in the room, not merely those behind the podium.
A lot has happened over the three decades. Cherished friends, many instrumental in building our SCWC community, have come and gone. Some have passed, others simply moved along. But all remain fresh in my memory, vibrant and full of hope and encouragement that what writers we’ve been fortunate to bring under wing find their way, attain the validation they were seeking.
The things I remember the most, of course, are the personal disappointments I’ve inflicted on such writers over the years. Unintentional, but so often unknown until too late. At least in my estimates. Writers can sometimes be a sensitive lot. I understand. I’m one of them. Just never planned or expected to be a charge of them. But such is the way of our SCWC.
It’s true, I built the conference, focused emphasis, expanded its presence and frequency, but despite what vision I had, its success has only been had as a result of the unwavering commitment and efforts of Chrissie Barnett and Wes Albers–Wes, who jumped in as my partner back in the early Oughts, when Writer’s Digest bailed on us, yet I remained determined to run an L.A. version of the conference, as well one in Palm Springs.
Oh, the stories that can, and have, been told about our 51 conferences spanning all these many years. And the so-many stories we’ve been forced to sit on until they can be told. (Some actually on video.)
The only story I can think of for this evening is this: When I started out as a writer, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. The magnitude of what I didn’t know was off-the-charts. Every conceivable mistake, every utterly stupid move or decision… I made it. Thing is, I managed somehow to get better at being a writer, being a wiser writer, being a better, commercial storyteller, here at the SCWC. It is here, at the SCWC, that I’ve made life-long, true friends. It is here that I’ve somehow earned the trust of writing partners that I value above almost everybody in my life. Even those I no longer acquaint with, they’re in my DNA. The SCWC is all I have that is in any demonstrable way anything remotely resembling what I understand to be a family. And I mean a fully functional, happy family.
If I’m the crusty uncle who gets a fork stuck in his chest on Thanksgiving Day, so be it. I’m still going to regard you as family.
While I’m genuinely moved by the sneaky machinations of Shevock, Chrissie, Laura, Lacey, Jeremy, Claudia and Wes in staging this roast/tribute, at the end of the day my decades-long effort means little compared to your aspirations as writers. Whether dreaming big or aiming intimately an audience, you have a duty as a storyteller: Inform the world. Change a perspective. Fight. Write.
Thank you. Good night.
Highlights from the roast, conducted at SD32
Special appearance by Lacey