Nathan Bransford, Author

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Recapping the San Miguel Writer's Conference

San Miguel de Allende is an interesting city that never fails to surprise. It's at once colonial and modern, with old walls and narrow cobblestoned streets hiding hip restaurants and beautiful courtyards. It's both Mexican and international, with a huge community of expats mingling comfortably with locals. And you'll find everyone hanging out in the central Jardin at all hours of the day and night, where you might see tourists with maps, expats sipping coffee, and locals singing along late at night with a mariachi band.

All in all it's a perfect setting for a writer's conference - both exotic and comfortable, with a close-knit expat community comprised of very interesting individuals who have lived varied and colorful lives. I don't think it's a coincidence that memoir was by far the most popular genre here.

I heard many interesting keynotes - Chuck Adams from Algonquin talked about the publishing philosophy that has delivered hits like WATER FOR ELEPHANTS and 6 bestsellers out of the 20 books they published last year. They focus only on the titles they know they can publish well, and they throw all of their energy into them.

Memoirist and poet Judith Barrington talked about the memoir as map - sometimes memories are lost in the folds, creases, and tears, and it's up to the memoirist to reconstruct the events. Memoir isn't autobiography but rather based on memory, which both science and experience tells us is faulty, swayed by emotion, and ever-evolving. (If you're interested in a how-to on memoir, check out her very popular WRITING THE MEMOIR.)

Agent Rosemary Stimola (who represents Suzanne Collins, among others) talked about the history of language and storytelling, and shared some terrific quotes by Socrates and Martin Luther, who feared the alphabet and printing press, respectively. People have always feared change, but the state of literature is no worse for wear.

My own speech was about why I'm optimistic about the future of books, which boils down to: yes, we're going through a time of some tumultuous change, but books didn't go away when movies came along, they didn't go away when TV came along, and they're not going away just because we have the Internet. As long as we still have books there will be authors to write them, agents to represent them, and publishers to publish them, even if how we obtain and read them changes.

And beloved author Barbara Kingsolver talked about the origins of her novel THE LACUNA, ten years in the making, which arose alternately out of a long-ago trip to Mexico, notes she thought she'd leave behind for a future historian, and the post-9/11 political climate of America. She had answered the question to the press before, but never felt as if she could tell the whole story without time to delve into the different points of origin.

The conference was punctuated by some seriously incredible fiestas - one in an estate up on the hill above the city, where we were serenaded by a mariachi band, ate fabulous food from many different stations, hit a pinata, and watched a fireworks display dedicated to THE LACUNA. The next night we were shuttled to a speakeasy-themed party, where Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera lookalikes were on hand to make us feel as if we were back in time.

What an incredible introduction to Mexico, and thanks so much to the organizers for putting on such a fabulous conference, and to the Oasis for their fantastic accommodations.


Rita said...

Nathan, Thanks for the 'being there' report. Will you share your view of the objective or take-away for writers, please?

Rita Ashley

Ink said...

I'm pretty sure that tops my weekend of the Zombie Plague.

Marilyn Peake said...

The conference sounds absolutely mesmerizing. I wasn't aware of the San Miguel Writers' Conference until you wrote about in on your Blog. I definitely hope to attend in the future. San Miguel de Allende sounds magical, Barbara Kingsolver is one of my favorite authors, and your talk sounds upbeat and interesting. Sounds like you’re having an awesome time!

lynnrush said...

Wow. Looks fantastic. Thanks for sharing!!

therese said...

Thanks for this. Judith's book was handed to me by a friend in 2006 when I knew it was time to write my memoir of my parents and childhood. Her book really did soothe my angst at this unknown style.

My heart still belongs to fiction but as I am now polishing my memoir into something of value to readers, I will use this voice and style in future writing. This post gave me lots of ideas to research for markets.

It also reaffirmed a recent lament that, I'd have more interest and support from the publishing world of other countries. :)

Christi Goddard said...

That sounds awesome. It's been snowing here all day. IN CENTRAL TEXAS.

Priya Parmar said...

That sounds wonderful! I love the 're-understanding of personal history through the filter of easily swayed, subjective memory' aspect of memoir. Thank you!

Grimmster24 said...


Thanks! Too bad I missed BOTH you and Barbara Kingsolver. I read "The Poisonwood Bible" and REALLY liked it, so I'll have to check out THE LACUNA. :-)

Tamara said...

Thanks for recapping...however I'm curious what you final Enchilada consumption count was? :)

SB said...

sounds like a true mental high -- and great fun, too! Interesting topics!!!
not too serious i hope


There is a great little place called the Ten Ten Cafe. Sit outside across the street, watch the sunset by the fountain, where at dusk the burros stroll by, and stop to take a sip.

Order the 'big hot pot' to share.

30GreatBooks said...

It's great to hear a little bit about San someone else said, I wasn't aware of the writer's conference, but will be going there by chance over Easter! So thanks for the preview.

I was excited to read The Lacuna because of a fantastic trip to Mexico City at the end of 2008. I meant to post this the other day when you mentioned it, but I created a little photo tour of the book sites on my blog, for anyone who wants to see The Lacuna in (more) color:

Can you talk more about what Barbara Kingsolver said?

Susan Kelley said...

It's so nice to hear something nice about our southern neighbors. My stepson and his wife had a wonderful time in San Miguel not long ago. Wish I'd been there instead of here with my 2 feet of snow and more on the way.

Mira said...

Wow - it sounds like an incredible conference, I'm sure you savored every moment of it - sounds like great fun. :)

But how impressive to be invited to speak at such a conference! I hope you post your speech, Nathan, it sounds inspirational and thought provoking.

I was invited to speak there, too, you know. Yep, I sure was. It was a special invitation, done through a combination of telepathy and soft whispers in the night. I'm glad they were able to get along without me - I was pretty worried that since I couldn't go, the whole thing would fold. Thank goodness you and Barbara could step in and smooth things over.

But back to reality - safe journey home, Nathan! Don't get LOST. (Ha! I'll never tire of that joke.)

wendy said...

Wow - thanks for that interesting report of this exotic city and the writing conference - and the photos. I'll prob never leave Australia, I hate plane travel, so to see some of the world through your erudite perspective is fun.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Claire Dawn said...

Waaaaa!!! Poor me! I wish I could have gone. Love all things Latin American and Hispanophone!

Oh well :(

Glad you had fun. What was the final enchilada count? I missed it.

Olleymae said...

I love it that Water for Elephants was a NaNoWriMo novel. An exception to the rule, but it's still encouraging for authors awaiting their debut!
Sounds like a great trip.

Chuck H. said...

My total Mexican experience was a trip to Ciudad Juarez several decades ago. Your trip doesn't sound anything like mine. Why is that?

ryan field said...

I have friends who moved there during a mid-life change and they love it.

Anonymous said...

I checked out that hotel. Wow were all the rooms that expensive? (They only showed suite prices.)

Anonymous said...

Beautiful and inspiring. Sounds like somewhere magical to go away to.

word verif: spell-yi

Anonymous said...

Dear Nathan,
How many authors have you worked with?


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