San Francisco Writers Conference Delivers Inspiration

It can be tough to remain inspired to put word to page when you live at the end of the road, off-the-grid, with only six dogs and an illiterate Mexican caretaker to keep you company. Two years ago, I attended the San Francisco Writers Conference and was inspired beyond expectation. For the past two years, I’ve vowed to return for another injection.

Each time, however, as I gazed longingly at that year’s offerings, it became obvious I couldn’t afford it. After a couple of months during which my brain was fogged with fantasies of unexpected windfall, I recalled meeting someone at the 2010 conference who worked as a volunteer.  I didn’t know what was involved, but figured it was worth exploring the possibilities.  I quickly ascertained that I was eligible and filled out the application form. And that was it. I was in like Flynn.

And I was not disappointed. Organizers of the conference this year once again succeeded in putting on an event that managed to inspire, educate and excite me. The three days were jam-packed with keynote speeches and break-away sessions covering everything from refining your craft to the specifics of how to find an agent, an editor, to getting published, the ins and outs of self-publishing, self-editing, and much more. Additional workshops open to the public were offered by the San Francisco Writers University all day Monday. Outside of active conference hours and volunteer duties there were opportunities to mix it up with some of the country’s (if not the world’s) best writers, agents, editors and publishers.

For those who were ready, there was the opportunity to pitch projects to agents representing big name authors like Sara Gruen, Garth Stein, David Guterson and Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil. Despite not actively seeking them out, at social gatherings a few agents I stumbled across asked me what I was working on, giving me a chance to try out the pitch I’d hurriedly penned hours earlier in the back of my notebook on them. Their feedback, on both the pitch and the project itself, were invaluable.

I booked a session to have professional headshots made by Mark Bennington of Bennington Headshots. I approached Mark’s booth feeling timid and unsure of myself, but Mark quickly put me at ease. Furthermore, the quality of his work on display convinced me that I was in good hands. His enthusiasm and positivity during the actual shooting helped me relax and feel confident, all of which translated to the results, which I believe speak for themselves.

There were ample opportunities to make contacts and for one-on-one interaction with agents and publishers. Each night a no-host dinner was held at one of the excellent local restaurants within walking distance of the venue to which presenters and attendees were invited. On Saturday night an open mic session that was part poetry slam, part literary reading was held at the conference venue. Poets were accompanied by musicians on drums, guitar and saxophone giving the event a Beat/ Gingsbergesque aura. Published authors and neophytes alike were welcome to present. The quality of the offerings was, to understate it, awe-inspiring. By that I mean that every time someone got up and presented my mouth literally hung agape in amazement at the beauty of the work presented.

Inspired? [using my best John Wayne voice] You bet your sweet caboose I am. I’m already planning to volunteer again next year. Will you join me?

Traveling Surfus: How to package your surfboard for safe arrival at its destination.

On November 23rd, travel to the beautiful island of Maui was undertaken. Travel to the Hawaiian islands for this blogger requires transporting equipment to surf. This includes boards, leashes, bathing suits, board shorts, rash guards, sunscreen and surf wax – most of which is very small and portable. All, except the most important piece of equipment, the boards.

Getting a surfboard from point A to point B, several thousand miles and three plane flights away can be a snap in the most positive sense of the word, provided you have the know-how to package your boards for arrival safely on the other side.

Surfboards are constructed of fiberglass over a foam core with a “stringer” made from wood that runs down the center. The stringer gives the board added strength along its longitudinal axis, however, the rest of the board is FRAGILE and susceptible to being damaged or “dinged.” Let’s put it this way, it’s called “fiberGLASS” for a reason. Remember the Samsonite luggage commercial? With this in mind, traveling long distances with a board requires something extra, something special to protect them from the “gorillas” working at the luggage department of your local airport.

I recalled my very first surf trip to the wilds of Sayulita, Mexico, where I was schooled in the method by a real So Cal Old Timer.

“The first step is to remove the fins from the board.”

It used to be that fins were fixed, glassed right into the board and I guess some shapers still do this, but it’s increasingly uncommon. Both the boards to be prepared in this case have removable fins. I packaged each set into Ziplock bags with their respective screws and fin key (two different systems for connecting the fins to the board).

Step 1. Remove fins.

“Pipe insulation is the key,” he reported. “Use it to protect the rails and you’re more than half-way there.”

Step 2: Protect the rails with 1 inch pipe insulation.

“Wrap the whole thing with bubble wrap taking special care to cushion the nose and tail.”

Step 3. Wrap it all up with bubble wrap – the big bubble kind.

“I like to protect the whole thing with cardboard too. I just cut out a big piece of cardboard the size of the board and duct tape it over the bubble wrap.”

Step 4. Cover the deck and the bottom with cardboard to protect them from projectiles.

With both boards’ rails protected with pipe insulation, wrapped completely in large-bubble bubble wrap and the cardboard protecting the deck and bottom of each board, the last step was to get both boards into a single board bag. This avoids paying additional handling charges for more than one board at the airport. At anywhere from $50 to $200 per board bag, this is an important consideration. [I’ve even heard that some airlines are asking how many boards are in each bag and charging accordingly!]

Ideally one would have a travel bag that is designed to hold more than one board. It is also ideal to have a board bag that is only about six inches longer than your longest board. In this case I have to make due. Fortunately, the “man” has a 10 foot long board that is at least 30 inches wide. His board bag should be an adequate travel bag for a couple of my shorter boards, albeit a good two feet too long. First the 7’6” is placed on the bottom, cushioned by its board bag, then the 6’10” on top of the longer board and its bag is placed on top of that for added cushioning. The noses and tails are wrapped in beach towels and my wet suit. Then the whole thing is zipped…not quite shut.


Remember in the 80s when those tight tight skinny jeans were in style (I think they recently tried to make a come back)? They were so tight that it was necessary to lie on the bed to get them zippered and often a metal clothes hanger was necessary to draw the zipper closed. Well, that’s the memory conjured by the first attempt to close that board bag. The two zippers stopped short of the closed position and the bag lay there still open in an open-mouthed Rolling Stones-esque taunt.

I try adjusting the boards’ position in the bag so that their widest point is aligned with the widest section of the bag. I remove the board bags added for extra cushioning. Still too tight.

And then I remembered Lady. When I was a kid, my Aunt Lillian had a horse named Lady. Like any red-blooded Canadian girl, I loved horses and loved to ride, but sadly Lady hated to be ridden. She would do everything in her considerable power to avoid being ridden or to stop the rider short. She would refuse to walk or she would get you to the far end of the field and then start to buck like a rodeo bronc. But her favorite and most common move was to fill herself with air as we saddled her up and then as we’d walk through the field she’d slowly empty herself with very smelly and saddle-loosening results. If the rider wasn’t careful, she could end up sliding South with the saddle and dumped on the ground under the horse.

The extra air between the boards in the form of multiple layers of bubble wrap was acting just like Lady’s air-filled stomach and would have to go. So, “pop!” they went as I squeezed them like so many pimples on an acne-faced teenager. Gradually the space between the two boards shrank and, low and behold, the board bag closed. No wire clothes hanger required.

The final result.