June 24, 2013 by kristin
I’ve just returned from one of the most rewarding weekends of my life, at the Historical Novel Society’s annual conference. This was my first writer’s conference of any kind, and until now, I had only a sprinkling of fiction writer friends to talk with about keeping characters consistent, crafting a compelling first chapter, querying agents, etc.
My non-writer friends and relatives were generous enough to listen patiently when I used them as sounding boards on these topics, but, bless them, nobody really wants to talk about writing except writers.
The last time I was part of a writer community was five years ago at my previous job at a magazine. We journalism folks could jaw about AP Style and ledes and the current state of journalism all day long – and it’s still safer not to get me talking on any of those subjects.
But fiction requires a different leap of faith. You don’t have quotes and facts to rely on; what issues forth from your keyboard is entirely your creation, and only you will be judged for it. Fiction writers need commiseration of a sort that only other fiction writers can give.
So imagine my delight when I arrived in Tampa and found three other writers on the airport shuttle with me, right out the gate! The first writer I met was Susan McDuffie, an absolute gem of a woman who pens historical mysteries set in 14th century Scotland.
Susan, like all the writers I met subsequently, was easy to talk to and listen to. Meeting her immediately eased some of the fears I’d been harboring about flying alone down to a conference alone, and did I mention alone?
That’s not to say I was completely cured of my fears. I’m about 50/50 extrovert/introvert, so the two halves of my personality warred throughout the conference, but especially that first night, when I had to walk into a room full of 300 strangers and make friends.
My anxiety leading up to the conference was similar to what I felt when I was 15 years old and starting at a new high school. I’d been the new kid many times before, but it never got easier. What if no one talked to me? What if I had no one to sit with at lunch? I was shyer and more self-conscious then, so the odds of ME approaching someone were slim.
Fortunately, I’m all grown up now and flat refuse to be a wallflower anymore. When I went into the first night’s cocktail reception, I was perhaps just as scared as when I was 15, but I told myself, “Look. You can’t stand here by yourself. CAN’T. Talk to somebody.”
So I did. And it was okay. No one sneered at me, or said, “Cain’t sit heah,” like on the school bus in Forrest Gump. Prior to the conference, I followed anyone on twitter who’d made even the vaguest mention of #HNS2013, and it helped immensely as a conversation opener. “Hey, I follow you on twitter!” Slightly stalkerish, but no one seemed to mind.
I met such lovely writers as Jessica Brockmole, author of LETTERS FROM SKYE; Alison Atlee, author of TYPEWRITER GIRL; historical and inspirational romance author Jennifer Delamere; journalist and all-around chill-givingly awesome writer Denise DiFulco; Stephanie Lehmann, author of ASTOR PLACE VINTAGE; travel writer and extremely fun individual Alison J. Stein; Jane Steen, historical fiction reviewer and author of THE HOUSE OF CLOSED DOORS; and so so so so so many more. I also met the delightful book bloggers Sarah Johnson, Heather R., and Audra/Unabridged Chick.
My extrovert side thrived on the conversation and the thrill of meeting new people, any of whom might become real friends in future. I didn’t want to go to bed at night, because I was having too much fun. Meanwhile, my introvert side whispered, “Am I talking too much? Am I being a weirdo? Am I lingering too long? Maybe everyone secretly hates me.”
Ah introvert side, you certainly are a ray of sunshine.
Fortunately, overall, the extrovert side won. I accomplished what I wanted to achieve from this conference – I made new friends and new industry connections, learned a lot from the panel discussions, and even worked up the courage to talk to three agents.
When I left, I walked backward, royal-waving sadly to all the people I might not see again till the next American HNS conference in two years. And then at the airport, who should I discover on the same connecting flight with me but Susan McDuffie, the very first author I’d met upon arriving.
The two of us shared a turkey sandwich and conversation in the Atlanta airport while we waited for our separate flights home, then parted with an embrace, satisfied to be each other’s pleasant bookend to a wonderful weekend.
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