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Don Rogers: Great reasons to join Sierra Writers Conference

The best writing conference for the buck, our own Sierra Writers, had to retreat again this year to remote.

I wish we could hit remote and just skip to the future or alter the future, something un-COVID, like a certain number of our neighbors want to pretend is true anyway.

Ah, but this is our reality, as is this inky corner of the paper or website where you find me, perhaps creative but still entirely a nonfiction zone.



I can pine, but I can’t really speculate in that way the sci fi laureates take us to red, red Mars, or bring in a man from Mars, some stranger to our land, or to 2001 or 1984, or any number of dystopias beyond time, near our time, in alternate time, some alternate universe, all these times and places and circumstances that shift us out of our here and now. Boldly going and all that. For the length of an episode or a chapter.

For awhile, anyway, with these storytellers there is no pandemic, no daily grind, no bills to pay. Only this space that no other literature can reach.



There’s the space opera: “Star Wars,” “The Foundation,” “Dune,” those endless comic book superheroes.

The profound: “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “The Time Machine,” “The Left Hand of Darkness.”

The weird, always the weird: “Frankenstein,” “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe,” “Ubik,” maybe. Most definitely “Children of Time.”

It goes on. Realistic, modern, classic — “Fahrenheit 451” “20,000 Leagues,” everything Star trek, “The Martian,” “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Ah, “The Three Body Problem.”

And my favorites: The literary novel by a friend, “The Great Glass Sea.” “The Sparrow.” “Seveneves.”

And “2312,” by Kim Stanley Robinson, the keynote speaker for the upcoming Sierra Writers Conference at Sierra College on Feb. 10-12. One of the greats. Coming here! Well, sort of.

THE CONFERENCE

My daughter and I bought tickets right away. We went to the last live Sierra Writers Conference at Sierra College’s Grass Valley campus and had the best time. That was in 2019, just before all this … reality.

My memory is not so much about what exactly we learned, though we learned a ton. The writers and teachers at these conferences also teach at conferences and in programs people happily spend fortunes on, or win scholarships to, because there’s a better than fair chance those chosen might become the next laureates.

Mere mortals like us can pick up a thing or two at this conference for a tiny fraction of that cost.

But all this compressed scholarship at Sierra Writers in 2019 and what do I remember most? Being festooned in balloons, nylons, TP rolls as part of a class about creativity. I remember laughing, those deep belly laughs. I’m sure the lesson had to do with letting go, about the priceless value of absurdity. But my enduring memory is of my daughter and I, together, laughing our you know what’s off.

The thematic focus of this year’s conference feels more sober, or maybe it’s just that I’m still resigning myself to attending by Zoom, which does have its advantages, true.

Robinson joins other writers who use sci fi in their work — Ellen Szabo, Nisi Shawl, Shirley Dickard — along with a small host of others, some familiar from previous conferences, and all extremely interesting, at least to me. Search “Sierra Writers Conference 2022” for the full lineup.

It won’t all be sci fi, fantasy and speculative. I see poetry, nuts-and-bolts, a sub theme of writing for social change in there, as well. And for those looking for some high quality feedback from pros, there are online critiques for memoir, poetry and fiction with Sands Hall, Kirsten Casey, Devi Laskar and Kim Culbertson.

Oh, let me add that this conference is not just great for writers, but also readers. Especially if you’ve read any of these authors.

CLI FI

Robinson’s style is considered literary, and he hews to hard science. No time machines or wormholes for him, only what’s real today. I put him in a personal pantheon with Neal Stephenson and Richard Powers, two other realist and literary storytellers also in their 60s who work with sci fi to greater and lesser degrees.

The newest novels for all three focus on climate change in the near future — a first for Stephenson, the most overt one yet for Powers, and the latest in a line for Robinson.

Cli fi continues to burgeon, hardly a surprise as global warming grips us with ever more existential dread.

This dread also forms a good argument for science fiction as our most important storytelling. Which makes our speculative authors so valuable, not so much for their prescience, but for the worlds of possibility they open.

So here’s another reason to Zoom in for the speakers and the craft presentations, then. I’m already a believer. See if you might agree.

Editor’s note: Their newest: “Termination Shock,” by Neal Stephenson; “Bewilderment,” by Richard Powers; and “The Ministry for the Future,” by Kim Stanley Robinson.

Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at drogers@sierrasun.com or 530-477-4299


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