Rancho Mirage Writers Fest authors delve into storytelling at Sunnylands roundtable

Monday, January 26, 2015

Not far from the three locales where hundreds of book-lovers gathered to hear and meet authors at the wildly successful Rancho Mirage Writers Festival, a small group of authors convened at Sunnylands to speak to one another.

“What we all really like is to sit down at a table and have a real conversation, and for that you need a small group. You need a lot of actually magical factors for that to happen and they made it all work here,” novelist Mona Simpson said of the second annual Sunnylands Writers Roundtable.

Bob Colacello, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair who, in April 2012, penned “A Return to Sunnylands,” said it was interesting to compare “when different writers got their best ideas. Some were swimming, driving – I said running.” The writers were delving into the specifics of how they got into their “flow state,” he said.

Conversely, they also discussed what distracted them. For one, looking at Twitter for 10 minutes ruined the whole writing day. Colacello said he would be thrown off by hearing too many interesting stories, even gossip, at social events. “I had to cut myself off from a social life,” he said.

Historical novelist Katy Simpson Smith called the roundtable a “cross-pollination” of the ways scientists and artists approach storytelling. “It’s a perfect opportunity to bring people together who had different skill sets,” she said. “It’s been completely a dream so far.”

Geoffrey Cowan, then-president of the Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands, and trustee Liz Sorensen also attended the event. Cowan noted that Walter and Leonore Annenberg dedicated their estate to high-level meetings of heads of state but also to “cultural functions,” such as the writers roundtable.

“We’re thrilled to have you here,” he told the writers. “We hope it makes the writers festival truly special.”

Nearly a dozen authors broke away from the four-day festival and enjoyed breakfast, lunch and hours of discussion at the sun-soaked Retreat Pavilion, where University of Southern California film school professor Mary Sweeney orchestrated the day’s dialogue around storytelling. She brought two USC colleagues with her – Dr. Jonas Kaplan of the Brain and Creativity Institute and Richard Lemarchand, a game designer at the School of Cinematic Arts – to spark ideas for discussion.