The annual Literary Luncheon had a humorous flavor this year.
All four authors — two of them Laguna residents — who spoke at the luncheon told the story of their trials as writers with wit and grace.
Cara Black, Joyce Weatherford, Judy Flynn and Lisa See were the guest speakers at the annual Festival of Women Authors presented by the American Associations of University Women’s Laguna Beach Foundation on Saturday at the Surf & Sand.
The authors’ books were for sale at the luncheon, but the real treat was hearing the women talk about how they came to write them.
Weatherford was of special interest to the local group. Not only does she live in Laguna with her husband, Dr. Jim Cushing, and their two children, Carson, 7, and Juliet, 4, but she was the recipient of an AAUW scholarship.
Born on a ranch settled by her family the late 1800s in what she called the “armpit” of Oregon, Weatherford jumped at the opportunity to attend Stanford University.
“I knew I wanted to be a writer, but I couldn’t think of thing to write about,” Weatherford said.
She discarded the notion of writing about the family ranch, her colorful aunt — a countess in a mental institution — her horse and even her 6-foot-tall sister, Alice, who runs the ranch."Then I thought about writing about my brother, Scotty, who had died, and that shut me up for 20 years,” Weatherford said.
She turned to acting, a career she enjoyed until she met and married Cushing and moved with him to Laguna, where the writing bug bit again. Eventually she came full circle and wrote “Heart of the Beast,” a book set on a ranch inherited by a 28-year-old woman.
Flynn, also a Laguna resident, was born and raised in San Francisco. She gave up a 30-year business career to teach abroad.
“Gumboots, Lesson Plans and Hot Rugby Nights — New Beginnings in New Zealand” recounts her experiences with her students, newfound friends, maintaining a bi-continental marriage and how to reinvent oneself.
The book tells about her sojourn in New Zealand, but it is really about her personal renaissance.
Flynn’s book is a must-read for anyone making a career transition or interested in an overseas adventure, according to the luncheon program notes.
See made her second appearance as an honored author on Saturday. She was born in Paris and grew up in Los Angeles, mostly in Chinatown. She is the descendant of one of the Chinese men who came to the United States to work on the railroads. However, he became an entrepreneur — selling crotchless underwear to brothels.
“He had four wives and 12 children, the last born when he was in his 90s — and that was before Viagra,” See said.
See is the author of five books, including Edgar Award nominee, “Flower Net” and “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.”
“I bought the hard cover of “Snow Flower” because I was so moved by it when I read it in paperback,” School Board President Betsy Jenkins said.
The Organization of Chinese American Women named See the 2001 National Woman of the Year.
A secret writing system used by Chinese women in a small village for more than 4,000 years seems more the stuff mythology than history, but it is fact.
See tripped over Nu Shu — the secret writing — while researching another aspect of Chinese history. The secret language was a way for women, isolated and uneducated by custom, to reach out to other women.
“I became obsessed,” See said. “I finally said to my husband there is only one thing I can do — I have to go there.”
The upside of her trip was the pristine countryside.
“The downside was you have to eat what they serve,” she said. “And if it’s pig penis, just buck up. It’s not so bad. It tastes just like chicken.”
Black lives in San Francisco, but the half-American/half-French female sleuth in her seven books lives in Paris.
That, of course, necessitates trips to Paris.
“I first went to Paris at 18 with a backpack and jeans, and I actually slept under a bridge — something I wouldn’t do now or let my son do,” Black said.
She wrote her first mystery 10 years later, after interviewing three French female detectives.
“I asked one of them if she ever used disguises,” Black said. “She said, ‘I am overweight, plain and with short hair — do I look like a detective?’
“When I go to Paris, I pick up these little nuggets — that’s why I say to my husband I have to go there.”
Her latest book is “Murder on Ile Saint Louis,” the section of Paris where her sleuth, Aimee Leduc, lives, because that is where Francophile Black would like to live — even if she can’t tie a scarf like a Parisian.
Black, who is a writer with the gift of gab, made the trip to Laguna at her own expense.
“We do not give honoraria to the authors,” said Diane Reed, event co-chair with Karen Dennis and Miriam Kranser.
The luncheons, which also include silent auctions, are held to raise money for the nonprofit foundation, which funds scholarships, fellowships and grants for girls and women, and trips for two Thurston Middle School students to Tech Trek science camps.
Committee members included branch co-Presidents Barbara Antonacci and Peggie Thomas, Jean Brotherton, Pam Berkson, Marilyn Byron, Laurie Dickerson, Janet Eichel, Hani Feller, Barbara Garrett, Rosa Goldfind, Valerie Gorrell, Anita Halton, Barbara Hamkalo, Katie Haven, Phyllis Hewitt, Bana Hilal, Gloria Jalichandra, Vicki Kajola, Nancy Lawrence, Elaine Lawson, Janie Lodge, Deana Pink, Cindy Prewitt, Vera Martinez, Bev McComb, Madeleine Peterson, Carol Reynolds and Alice Totaro. Mary Jane Barnett provided the floral centerpieces and the bouquets presented to the authors.