A month ago today, the adventurer, Barnaby Conrad, left us behind.
You may have known Barnaby as a bullfighter in Mexico, Spain, and Peru. Or you may have known him as a portrait painter. Or you may have known him as personal secretary to Nobel laureate Sinclair Lewis. Or you may have known him as author of 35 books. Maybe you knew him as owner of the El Matador nightclub in San Francisco. Or perhaps, like me, you knew him as the co-founder of the Santa Barbara Writers Conference.
I was living in Paris cut off from other English speakers and writing whenever I could find the time. I decided I wanted to go to a writer’s conference to learn something about novel writing. But which one? I researched the biggies and the more personal. I researched the closest ones in NY and London. I researched those more directed at selling like the Maui Writers Conference, but I finally decided I wanted one focused on craft. That led me down the path to the Santa Barbara Writers Conference. Not at all close to France.
With my application, I was allowed to send in 15 pages for a critique, which I eagerly submitted. No one had ever read anything I’d written and I was a little nervous about what someone might think.
Two months later I received my critique back and it was by Barnaby. I won’t tell you what he said, but I will tell you his phrases didn’t lay there, written words on the white paper. Those words bounced, somersaulted, exploded off the page. I finally understood the expression “words leaped off the page.”
I read his comments over and over and each time was amazed at the energy projected in a few simple phrases. It was as if he was in the room shouting those words at me.
That was when I learned the power of the written word. I already knew words could tell stories and weave magic, but Barnaby taught me that words carried their own energy and emotions.
When I finally met Barnaby in one of his many lectures that I attended, I admit I was terrified of him. If he could make written words jump off the page, how much power could his voice hold? Despite those booming written words, his was a gentle and insightful teacher. My favorite lecture on his was about writing great beginnings. I still return often to 2 of his earlier books, Writing Fiction from the Masters and The Complete Guide to Writing Fiction.
Thanks Barnaby for sharing your knowledge and your stories with me and countless others. Enjoy those bullrings in the sky.