IN NOVEMBER OF 2005 I reserved a space at the San Francisco Writers Conference. I was nervous and edgy when I boarded the plane. My pitch proposal, pitch suit, and pitch necklace, were tucked inside my suitcase. The pitch convinces an agent or publisher, that you know your subject well enough to feel one hundred percent confident.  It may sound irrational that a writer could work five years on a book and not know what it is about. As an emerging writer I view my work through a kaleidoscope lens. I see multiple themes, subplots, and messages, and they change with each reading. Then there are loose knots of personal misery, lost versions and rejections ringing in my ears. My pitch has to convince an agent, that at least 5,000 people will buy my book. The pitch suit is the outfit you wear for an interview; only for writers, the guidelines are very loose. Some writers wear their narrative. I brought my tailored, looking successful, pants suit. My pitch necklace is a gold Buddha medallion that my father had designed for my mother. I wear it for good luck and because I know the necklace has survived all the family tragedies. The conference is at the St. Francis Hotel at Union Square. From experience, I have learned that choosing a conference because of its alluring location is meaningless; I never pay attention to past experience.


It was pouring when I arrived. The staff at the front desk greeted me with musical familiarity. Every time I swished by they called out, “Hello, Ms. Smiley.” I imagined them as a chorus singing my name. I arrived one day early to pace the galleries, cafes, museums and Saks. After the first night, I had to switch rooms. I was directly above the street dumpsters, where for hours the chugging of trash kept me awake. I moved frantically, to scoop everything up and not miss a moment of San Francisco. After switching rooms, I dashed over to the Espresso Bar. It faces the corner of Powell and Sutter. Outside, the streetcars clanged by, passengers dangling from the bars like vines on a tree. In between the tracks, workers both blue and white-collar, and some without any collar at all, jammed the sidewalks on foot, bicycle, moped and skateboard. With phones and iPods attached, eyes alert, they buzzed on the vibe of Saturday, moving like musical notes in a symphony.


In the café an elderly woman wearing a SFWC name tag was seated next to me. I noticed she positioned her book on the corner of her table. She looked overwhelmed and frightened. As I introduced myself she smiled courteously, and said she was a neurotic housewife all her life and didn’t have much to write about, so she wrote about her husband’s war stories. I told her she should write about the neurotic housewife. Just as I was leaving, she stopped me and thanked me for speaking to her. “There’s always a guardian angel around.” Her voice lingered in my thoughts all weekend.
At six o’clock that evening, I was gliding around my room dressing for the gala. I reached for my jewelry bag. It was gone. The weekend was ruined! I would never get published, I’m too wired, too reckless, too distracted. I called the front desk. Heather said she would call me back. Bang, bang, bang, went my shoe against the bed frame. Then the phone rang.
“Hello, Ms. Smiley. I’m sending the bellman up with your jewelry.”
I answered the door recoiling with pained joy. The bellman listened attentively. I rushed upstairs to Harry Denton’s Starlight Room. There I began wine tasting with Maggie, Peg and George; three new comrades in a room of hundreds.
I spent the next day among more comrades, writers with unpublished stories, books, and works-in-progress. I listened to panels of writers; agents and editors discussed the fateful downward spin of publishing and upward battle towards reward.  We sat in our chairs looking overly anxious, taking copious notes, and waiting for answers to our questions. At the end of the panel discussion we all lined up to meet the agents and editors. While we stood in line we met each other.
“What’s your story about?” the woman behind me asked.
“Growing up with gangsters,” I replied.
“ Oh well! That will get you an agent.”
“ I hope so.”

During the conference, I experienced a lucky throw of the dice. I met one of my mentors; Joyce Maynard. Her book, “At Home in the World,” is on my beside table. Joyce was published in the New York Times when she was sixteen years old. JD Salinger read the piece and invited her to live with him. Joyce’s story will send you back to reading Nine Stories.
As I progressed through the circle holding my pitch stick, the fear and apprehension subsided just a tiny bit. Three agents responded; ‘send me your manuscript.’ Naturally when I returned home, my hands were tied to editing. I rushed through, did not employ someone to copy-edit, and then ran about announcing my almost to be signed contract. Three months later I recovered from the rejections and began another rewrite and another until today, when I am on my fifth manuscript. This one feels right because I am not rushing through it expectant of publication; this time I know it will be published.



I‘am stalked by a sensation of revolution; the upheaval of a crusted and molded foundation erupts and the contents spill into chaos. The spillage of this eruption is sparing political leaders. Everyday they appear more childish and temperamental.Your referee whistle is blowing, and spinning your diatribe into tongue twisting hollow promises.

The annoyance of conflicting orders robs me of my Aladdin (magic moments), and the mental sweep to clear out my conscience.  I feel like time is stained with stop signs, alerts, and too many laws. What happens is subtle, but when so much time is placed in soulless activities, life looses it’s Aladdin.  Even if you’re sitting at the local bistro and dining al fresco with perfectly agreeable friends, and chanting; our souls ache for reprieve.

Imagephoto by Dick Spas.



GALLERY LOULOU 20th Century Photography
The Royals & the Rebels
343 E. Palace Avenue Santa Fe NM 87501

The Santa Fe travel narrative I was going to write appeared in the New York Times the same week.  Sunday Travel Section, “ Is Santa Fe Ready For a Makeover.?”   If you read it, then you know, that mod is flowing through the alleys and walkways of Santa Fe, more so than adobe mud.  My answer is yes, Santa Fe is already under the mask of revival.  My perspective comes from the duality of being a tourist and a resident. I have not lived here long enough to shed the distinctive air of a gambler whose just won the jackpot.  It feels like a home I left years ago.   I still walk through the Plaza in summer once a day to see the groove of live bands on the stage. I snap internal photographs of the conversations, expressions, and festivities surrounding Spanish and Indian Market month. Maudlin hippies slack on park benches strumming on  untuned guitars. Children scatter between the adults, and third generation families sit under trees, sipping cool aid from a thermos, and eating home made tamales.

As you cross over to  San Francisco Street past Starbucks,  you will step over the hillbilly from Arkansas, whose sidewalk show includes, a dog, cat, and several  mice playing nicely. His message is; animals get along why can’t people?  You will never read this sort of description in the travel narrative.  Just before dusk, the city streets empty for an hour, and the shinning light spreads evenly over the adobe walls and rooftops. That is if it is not raining.  When showers greet us they pound the tricky brick walkways, and the lighting and thunder shake the windows, and everything not pinned down blows away.

I stood on the porch and watched, mostly because summer rain is the most romantic of all weather moods. That comes from a distant memory under raps.  If you have a balcony, or find your way to the Rooftop of La Fonda, or Coyote Café, take a seat. Just watch and listen to the operatic electrical storm. They do not last too long.

The best time to walk is early morning. There are several roads to hike just beyond Canyon Road that lead to the Audubon Society. From there, you can choose from a dozen rated hikes from beginners to Aztec Indian strength.   When in Santa Fe walk as much as possible, bring a pocket umbrella, and keep your eyes on the road. There are dazzling surprises everywhere you look.




Soaring Crow and Gavin

Smiley’s Dice
The Surfer and Bill.

It begins in San Francisco, in the late fifties, in the section of San Francisco known as outer mission. A pencil thin surfer wandered the streets visiting surfer pals; like Tambi, Minor Lo, and Da Fly.
One day his friend George suggested they go to Hawaii, and being of surfer consciousness, they left that afternoon. During this trip, the surfer went out seeking work, and discovered he didn’t have much to offer. The epiphany broadened into an apprenticeship as a carpenter on the mainland. After a few months of instruction, he was ready for the Contractors State Board exam. He passed the test, and returned to San Francisco to pick up the license.
About this time, he met Bill, a man who owned a home in Sea Cliff. Bill was often seen puttering about his house, attempting to fix things that he didn’t know how to fix. Bill and the surfer became friends. Bill was happy to hear that the young man was carving another wave in his life. Bill was a sort of western style renaissance man, who chose people because of character, leaving behind details like, age, occupation, and all the other things that divide us.
He invited the surfer into his home and asked him if he could make some alterations to the fireplace. The surfer complied and began his first job in the trade of carpentry. Bill and his family liked the surfer, and it was a mutual friendship. After the fireplace was finished, the surfer began another job and another and soon, if you wanted to find the surfer, you had to ask Bill.
The surfer lingered around San Francisco, and the years ripened the friendship between the surfer and Bill, his wife Martha, his three sons, Carl, Gavin, and Walter, and his daughter Wendy. Now the surfer was of the age that falls between peer and pupil, and all of his friends belonged to the surfing colony. Bill once told me that the surfer told the most astonishing stories, and that he was loved like a part of the family.
One day, the surfer decided to leave San Francisco, and follow his girlfriend to Santa Barbara, where she was studying at the University. This didn’t work out the way the surfer thought it would, and so he returned to San Francisco. He went back to the old neighborhood where Bill lived. It happened that Bill decided to move to San Diego, and so the surfer was waving goodbye. A few more years pass while the surfer hung around his surfer friends down at Kelly’s Cove, and watched the city of San Francisco from the lap of the pacific. When he needed money, he worked for Tambi, carrying his ladder, or stirring cement, and then returned to the stillness of floating with the ocean.
One day the surfer received a phone call from Bill, asking for the surfers help. Bill bought a home and business in La Jolla and both needed renovating. The surfer knew the area as he had surfed the Pacific from San Francisco to Ensenada. Bill asked the surfer if he would move down to La Jolla for a while. Naturally, the surfer accepted this offer, and so Bill flew the surfer down to La Jolla. He paid his expenses and gave him a key to an ocean front hotel room at Capri By the Sea. The surfer hung over the terrace of his new post, watching the Board Walk and thought he was the luckiest man in the world. Bill introduced the surfer around La Jolla, and he began working and meeting Bill’s friends. The time fell into one long sunrise to sunset, of work, companionship, and surfing.
Now, we take a giant leap forward to the summer of 2007 and to Colorado Springs. It would be the first time that I would meet Gavin, one of Bill’s sons. It had been many years since the surfer, whom you may have guessed by now, is my best friend, who goes by the name of Soaring Crow, had seen Gavin. I had heard about him for so many years, from Bill and Martha, and from Soaring Crow. Gavin was the travel writer; he covered ski resorts, ranches and rodeos.
We drove up a tree-lined street and parked in front of an unpretentious Victorian house. A man galloped down the walkway, he was tall and broad, with an easy grin, and mercurial eyes. Gavin brought us into his home and placed our luggage in his bedroom.
“You guys sleep here, the sheets are clean.”
“Where will you sleep?” I asked.
“I’ll sleep outside, I do all the time.”
The welcome was expansive, as if I was about to go on a Ferris wheel, or ski lift. SC and Gavin had seen one another at a family wedding years ago, but this was the first get together. I adore these inevitable reunions tied to our past, and so I sat on the edge and mused their fellowship. We filed into the den, where Gavin picked up a pair of electric guitars and the two strummed away the years inside surf tunes. I poured wine, and took photographs. After dinner, the room was familiar and quiet. Gavin showed us a picture of Bill dressed in western gear next to a horse.”
“I never knew he was a cowboy?” I said.
“Well, he was. He grew up around horses.”
“And you’re a cowboy too?”
“Used to be a cowboy, not anymore. Once a cowboy stops riding, he stops being a cowboy.”
“You sound just like Bill.” I said.
“Everyone says that.”
We lingered around the table until late in the night, and stories rolled out from the heart. Gavin’s rooms had exploded with his story telling tools, piles of black and white photography were stacked on the ground, books, and records and sporting equipment. He raked through a stack and handed me a photograph of a rodeo rider.
“ I love that photograph, it’s wonderful.” I said.
“ Take it, take any of them you want.”
The next morning, we had breakfast at the Broadmore Hotel, surrounded by gardens and river walks. I exuded small bites of Gavin’s adventures, as a freelance journalist, columnist for the Rocky Mountain News, and traveling with the Rodeo. He was the sparkling image of Bill, authentic and understated.
After breakfast, we drove to the Valley of the Gods.
Gavin jumped out of the car and trotted ( he does not ever walk) to a spot overlooking the rugged insubordinate Valley.
“ This is where part of Bill rests, the other part is in the ocean, isn’t that neat.”
“ You can visit him all the time.”
“ Yep, I do.”