LJWC & My Favorite Class

I delayed writing about my experience at the November 2009 La Jolla Writers Conference until audio of one of my classes/lectures was available (see below). The annual conference is held at the Paradise Point Resort & Spa, just north of San Diego in a weirdly Pacific Island-ish location you’d never guess was there.

Conference teachers and speakers donate their time and expertise. To be honest, when I discovered this I was a bit put off — everybody wants something for nothing, and everybody thinks you should be delighted to freely lend the time and talent that pay your rent in exchange for some nebulous and unsubstantiated notion of “exposure” (see 3/4 of the services ads on craigslist, for example).  My usual response to this sort of thing is to say, Tell you what, you come to my house and mow my lawn for free, and I’ll tell everyone how good you are. Feel free to bring busines cards. But I had a novel coming out and was in PR mode, and it had been a while since I had taught and I wanted to jump back in.

I’m delighted to report that I had a terrific time at the LJWC. It was well-organized and offered a curriculum beyond the usual “how do I break in?” fare. Teachers were working professionals who seemed to know their stuff, and were quite dedicated to the tasks at hand. Conference staff were wonderfully accommodating, even redirecting a scheduled class to another room when a class I was teaching (audio below) went over time but wanted to keep going. I have grown skeptical of events and publications purporting to help beginners but whose stock in trade is really a kind of carrot-dangling before a hungry constituency.  Such was clearly not the case at LJWC; it was apparent that revenue taken in for the conference went straight into the conference itself, and into organizing the next conference.

But I was most impressed by the students themselves.  These weren’t people who thought it would be cool to be a writer, or who treated it as a hobby.  These people were dedicated to career and craft.  They knew their stuff, and they were demanding and challenging. As a teacher and lecturer I was in heaven; it meant I didn’t have to keep everything basic , that I could run with ideas and build high from a solid foundation.

So I can heartily recommend the La Jolla Writers Conference to all. What they do is a Good Thing, and they are amazingly devoted to it and professional in their delivery (though they better have coffee available to teachers in the morning next year or I will initiate a friggin coup). LJWC will remain the only conference to which I will donate my time as a teacher. Homey gotta eat, ya know.

Besides teaching classes on craft and technique, I was the New Media maven at the conference. For years now I have been steeped in podcasting, and the digital media revolution in which we are now well immersed has reshaped my thinking about everything from intellectual property to business models to the form of the book itself, and I have been on something of a crusade to make writers aware of what’s coming — what is, in fact, now here. My delight in discovering, only a few years ago, that there was an entire movement and literature already devoted to these subjects (collectively called, for purposes of conversation, “copyleft”), and that it was remarkably congruent with my own thinking and presentations, was pretty dang intense. Forward-thinking individuals such as Cory Doctorow, Lawrence Lessig, Chris Anderson, Clay Shirky, and others, have been tirelessly working not just to describe the emerging landscape, but to shape it.

What astonishes me about the class lecture below, ostensibly on “New Media Alternatives to Traditional Publishing,” was the degree to which the publishing landscape has shifted toward what I describe since I taught this session only last November. Throughout the talk I keep insisting on the fundamental level of change that writers, readers, and publishers are going to see within the next two years at most. Reviewing the audio before putting it online, it was a little freaky to realize that a great deal of what I insisted is coming showed up on the horizon in only three months.

Though I have spoken extensively about these topics in recent years — at Barcamps, podcasting conventions, science fiction conventions, writing workshops, and the like — I have actually written very little about them. I’m not really sure why that is. Maybe because people who ask me to come talk somewhere are listening even if they disagree, whereas lengthy blog posts (such as this one!) are just another squawking bird on the digital beach. I dunno.

In any case, below is the 98-minute session. It covers a lot of ground, and it becomes one of the best sessions I’ve ever conducted.  Many thanks to Jared Kuritz of LJWC for making this available.

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Download “New Media Alternatives to Traditional Publishing”

Back in the Saddle

Well, the move went smoothly, and friends in L.A. and here in the East SF Bay worked like mules to get us loaded and unloaded. I feel lousy that I don’t have pix to post. My friend Ken Mitchroney posted a ton on Facebook, and as I am not a Facebook member I don’t have links and such. But to everyone who helped, my deepest gratitude.

Maureen drove up with the birds a day ahead of me. My friend Adrian and I slept in the empty L.A. house and took the truck up early next morning. The drive up the 5 is usually one long snore through the San Joaquin Valley, an unvarying straightaway bordered by bland brown hills. But the entire west coast had been deluged throughout the previous week, and the hills were emerald green all the way up.

View from my office
View from my new office

Maureen and I lived in a fairly small place in L.A., with literally half our stuff in the garage waiting for when we lived in a bigger & better joint. The old house must have been some kind of clown car, because we not only filled the biggest U-Haul truck available, I had to rent a trailer at the last minute to accommodate what wouldn’t fit in. The new house had seemed unfillably huge before we moved in, and yet we’ve filled it up to a surprising extent. I can’t believe we’ve had this much in storage. And now I get to open boxes and actually use things I haven’t even seen in two years. O Bliss.

My first order of business whenever I move is to set up my office. I’m sure there’s some pissing-in-corners territorial monkey emotional security aspect to this, but it’s also a matter of practicality: If I wanna stay in the house, I better get to working in it asap. So the new writing desk is set up and the audio desk is set up on the other side of the room, and I’m going through the lengthy process of dialing in the room acoustics (my first mix here was a friggin joke; thank god no one will ever hear it) and then sorting piles of files and gear and crap.

Collaborating again at last

I’ve already turned in new Groovelectric and Podrunner mixes, and am cranking away at the stories that are due in (ulp) two weeks.

Our third night here I was awakened by a weird noise. I realized it was an owl in the back yard. The next night it was the same owl (he’s here every night) and coyotes in the hills behind us. And it brought home what a big change this move really is for us. A week before that what woke me up was, I am not kidding, six helicopters hovering over our house, aiming tv cameras and police spotlights about a block over, and a voice on a chopper PA saying Put down your weapons and come out with your hands up. You have one minute. So it ain’t like I’m gonna complain about being awakened by hooty owls.

I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to Making Stuff in a place that is conducive to it, and I can’t wait to see what kind of effect it has on my work.

Tonight's sunset from the back deck

I Leave L.A.

Sunset Boulevard?  We leave it! Santa Monica Boulevard?  We leave it! (apologies to Randy Newman)

So I’m here in my new office in the East San Francisco Bay on a rainy gray morning surrounded by stuff that needs to be put away. I am using my wife’s Veriszon wireless card because, a week after we moved in, ATT still lacks the technical ability to turn on my new DSL line despite the fact that I was able to tap into the outgoing resident’s line for two days when we arrived here. Since it is clear that ATT could not pour piss out of a boot if the instructions were written on the heel, I am terminating all my service with them and going with, god help me, Comcast.

The move went amazingly smoothly, with crews of friends and neighbors on both ends who worked like pack mules and got us packed up and unloaded in record time. I can’t thank everybody enough.

We’re still setting up here (we will be for months), and I haven’t gotten back into the swing of writing and DJing. But I will on Monday, because I’m fond of little luxuries such as eating and electricity.

I’ll be back to proper posting soon as well. Meantime, here’s a parting image from Moving Day that says why I left Los Angeles better than anything I could write (compliments of Adrian Smith).