This space is customarily devoted to helpful words about writing, excerpts from my personal learning curve. Today I write about another writer. I feel justified in this because this writer is, in fact, part of my learning curve.
This past week was spent at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference. An aged institution, with fine old traditions built by luminaries such as Ray Bradbury and Barnaby Conrad, it moves on in this new century guided by its new owner, Monte Shultz. To his credit, he has maintained the experience of workshops and guest panels and long “Pirate” nights and guest authors and the opportunity for new and not-so-new writers to exchange thoughts, ideas, and business cards. And always the looming opportunity to meet agents and publishers with the hope of becoming the one of the few to walk away with an offer, or at least a promise.
But for me all of the above was eclipsed by the opportunity to see, hear, and experience a writer whose work first intrigued and then challenged me with his latest book, Riding on the Rim, two years ago. Thomas McGuane was just who I thought he was.
No lecturer, he. No “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” type monologue or “be yourself, write yourself” advice or “My first six novels were never published” simpatico refrain. Rather, Thomas sat down in front of us and invited us to ask questions, any questions, and then his wife reminded him to zip his fly. I knew at once I would like him.
This relaxed un-presumptious man could tell personal stories about Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson, speak honestly and selflessly about his own writing goals and on-going aspirations, tell jokes and amusing anecdotes, and speak about new authors he is currently reading with undisguised admiration. No out-of-control ego here! Without appearing to extend himself, Mr. McGuane presented a rare inside glimpse of the world of a consummate, successful writer and his love for the land where he lives and the people with whom he shares it.
His words prompted thought, too much to share in this short piece. But the insight he presented, not with long narrative but with seemingly off-hand dialogue and imagery, suggested a writer who moves beyond skill with pen and paper to an addictive curiosity about the lives treading their own paths near his and a never-fading passion for the brilliant sunsets and the fields of waving grass of his life. Without that, after all,what is there to write?