Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Gold Rush Writers Conference in Mokolumne Hill

View from my window at the Hotel Leger

Earlier this month, I attended the Gold Rush Writers Conference, founded nine years ago by Antoinette May, author of Pilate's Wife and The Sacred Well. I was there to teach a workshop on how to outline your novel and to moderate a historical fiction panel.

The conference was incredible--I told Antoinette afterwards that she had built an event that had a wonderful vibe of supportiveness and mutual interest. It involved an interesting collection of people presenting and attending.

Main Street. Hotel Leger on the left.

I do have to take a few moments to talk about Mokolumne Hill itself. I'm still not sure of its pronunciation; I believe I've heard Mok-a-LUM-knee and Ma-KOL-um-nee...perhaps best to use the abbreviation: Mok Hill.

This is a Gold Rush town that still exudes history. It's not tourism-driven, just a small town with many original facades and structures. The walking-tour brochures lists dozens of extant structures. As I first drove down the main street, my breath was taken away. Checking into the Hotel Leger, built in 1871 on the footprint of the original 1851 structure that burned, I was so excited I was literally giggling as I keyed into my room on the second floor. Decorated in the style of the day with antique furnishings, the rooms (I popped my head into as many as I could as the cleaning staff vacated them on the day we all left) look as they would have to miners and their families. Some rooms do have their own bathrooms and fireplaces, but others require you to step down the hallway to a shared bath. I appreciated the historical accuracy; I found myself wishing there was a basin and pitcher in my room to wash my face.

Rocking chair reflected in simple mirror. I'm in the 1800s!

I took a run one morning and explored more of Mok Hill. Built into otherwise undisturbed hillsides, the homes have incredible vistas with nary a sign of civilization in sight. I'd always wondered if there were still areas of California that hadn't been touched by citification: this is one. I strongly considered telling my husband we should relocate here. I even had a bit of a race uphill with two chortling turkeys; they were faster.

Yes, two swans were making out on my bed when I arrived. The nerve.

Back to the conference. The whole weekend began with a lovely picnic in Antoinette's back garden with wine and a chance to meet everyone. It set the tone for the conference.

The keynote speaker was Christian Kiefer, who gave a wonderful, funny speech, delayed by his rapturous consumption of sherbert. He also gave a great seminar on setting in novels, referencing several classic novels and teasing out a great description of a barometer's pride of place in a Flaubert scene. The brunch headliner Lucy Sanna gave a great account of path to publication: like most of us, it wasn't an immediate slam-dunk but took a lot of work and persistence (congratulations!)

Christian Kiefer's sherbet-fueled keynote

The historical fiction panelists were Antoinette May, Bob Yeager (best.shoes.ever) and Brent Barker. We had a good session looking at some of the joys and challenges of our particular genre. I attended a poetry open mic and liked a lot of the poetry I heard; I didn't catch all the names but remember Kevin Arnold, Sally Ashton, and Kathie Isaac-Luke. I had some great conversations with people and don't want to start naming names in case I forget someone, but I thank Ann for the G&T, Kathy B-F for the birdseed giveaway with a book purchase, Pam for a great workshop and handout, and of course Ms. Luce for the fortifications.

Boarded-up IOOF and yes that does say Blacksmith Shop!

I didn't write at this conference, which is always one of my anticipated sidebars: being so inspired by being around other artists and hearing all the craft talk ordinarily sends me to my hotel room at some point to write. Ah well. Can't have it all!

Thank you, Antoinette and Charles, for a wonderful experience.

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