Conference Fun, Part I: Jumping in Cars with Strangers

And what's with that crazy line on my forearm? It looks like a sketch when you don't clean up the lines...

I don’t sleep when I’m nervous. I only eat. This is me about to eat my name badge.

Alaska Writers Guild Conference 2013 was AMAZING! I wish I could draw little stars and rays of glory all around that word, but I can’t so you’ll have to imagine them. The conference was pretty great. I had a blast and met some fantastic people that I regularly left my laptop and writing notebook with- that’s how you know I would trust them with my life.

So much greatness happened that I’m going to divide the conference into multiple posts, just for sake of detail. If I put the level of detail I want all in one post, I’m afraid nobody would read it. So! This week, Part One- the wacky hijinks of the first day. At some point this week, I’ll add a bonus post (or two?) about the fun stuff that happened the rest of the conference. And next week I’ll tell you about some of the things I learned.

(Please note: the following story is completely true. I don’t even need to exaggerate.)

The adventure started at 5:30 Friday morning. My alpha reader, Mary Tait, and I were both too giddy to sleep and made the 375 mile drive with loads of giggling, squealing, and junk food. I had a Friday workshop with Lisa Cron, author of Wired for Story, and I was super excited, so I had Mary drop me off directly at the hotel before she took off to do her own thing. I went into the hotel and wandered around, and looked at books and peeked in the conference rooms, and went into the bathroom and clumsily applied makeup. (Someone told me that, as a female professional, nobody will take me seriously if I don’t wear makeup. I still don’t know if I believe that person, but I was too afraid to risk it. This is how desperate I was to be taken seriously.) Really, though, I was just goofing around. I won’t burden you with my inner monologue, but it mostly included the words “I’m here, I’m really here!” repeated infinitely. But by this point, I was starting to wonder where everyone else was. The workshop was still twenty minutes out, but I figured people would be showing up early for registration. Come to think of it, where were the people doing registration?

I went to the front desk and asked, “Which room is the writers conference taking place in?”

A very nice young man looked in a giant three-ring binder and informed me, “There is no writers conference.”

Blank stare. Because this was not possible. “Yes, there is.”

He looked down at the book again. “Oh, yes. It starts tomorrow.”

Blank stare. Because this was not possible. “No, it’s today.”

More book checking. “No… there’s nothing today.”

Blank stare. Still not possible. “Yes. There is. At one o’clock.”

By now, he probably thought I was a crazy person, because the manager was now lingering at his shoulder, and another burly desk man had stepped closer. You know, in case I tried to attack him with one of the plastic bananas or something. Writers are like that.

So at this point, I pulled out the conference schedule so I can PROVE to him that there’s a conference today at one and then they’ll knock this junk off and tell me where it is because this IS NOT FUNNY. And I was right. There WAS a workshop at one.

Just not there.

I felt my stomach falling away and I looked up at the hotel employees with naked panic, whispering a husky, “Thank you.” Then I scurried away out the front doors. (Turns out they were right, too: I AM a crazy person.)

I frantically texted, phoned, and psychically summoned Mary to come drive me across town to where the workshops were ACTUALLY taking place. But she didn’t answer. Nary a whisper of my beautiful chauffeur. I was getting desperate. Maybe I’d take a taxi. Would that take too long? Maybe I should just hop in the first car that pulls up and demand they take me to the workshop. What if he had a hockey mask on? Aaaargh!

Then a car pulled up and I prepared myself to confirm once again my utter insanity to the hotel staff that was very well still watching me on their security cameras. But I thought I kind of recognized the guy behind the wheel, so maybe he’s Mormon or something and not a serial killer. Two people came out of the hotel to climb into the car. I definitely recognized the guy, but I wasn’t sure where from, and then Lisa Cron herself piled into the back of the car. That settled that- time to be manic again.

I darted closer and said, “This is gonna sound crazy, but are you with the writers conference?”

He smiled. “Yes, we are.”

“I have a workshop and I thought it was here, but it’s not and I have no way to get there. Are you guys going there and could I maybe have a ride?” (Later, when I had a moment to reflect, I decided I really could have been a little more eloquent here. Desperation does that to people, I guess.)

The driver overheard this pitiable plea and shouted out the window, “We’ve got one more seat belt! Hop in!”

So I hopped in the back seat with Ms. Cron, who I have been internet stalking for months because I pretty much want her to literarily adopt me. The guy in the front seat asked, “So what’s your name?”

“Jill Marcotte. Thank you so much.”

The rest of them introduced themselves and I realized I’m in the car with the two keynote speakers and the founder of the Alaska Writer’s Guild. A few more drips of adrenaline squirted into my bloodstream and we were off! Ms. Cron smiled at me and said, “I reviewed your manuscript, didn’t I?”

Merciful heavens, she remembered me. That was either really good or really bad. “Yes.”

“Which one was it again? Remind me.”

Oh, no. Bad sign. Bad bad bad sign. Play it cool, Jill, just be cool. “It’s a YA epic fantasy titled City of the Dead.”

“Yeah.” She nodded, still smiling benignly. “It’s really good. You write beautifully.”

I started breathing again. “Really?”

“I liked it. Best of the batch by far.”

Now I was grinning like she’d just proposed to me. My insides were melting. “Really?” And my voice kept rising in pitch. I realized I was sounding like an idiot again before the very people I least wanted to sound like an idiot to.

Then she asked me about the premise for the book, the world I’ve built, the methods I used, and I magically transformed into a smooth-talking professional. She told me about some of her theories, about her clients, about her thoughts on world building, which I love to no end.

Lisa Cron is so wonderfully disarming, so perfectly accessible, and I couldn’t help but feel comfortable with her. Next thing I knew, we were talking about crazy adventures from my childhood, about being the only girl growing up with four brothers, about my military father and our constant moves around the country. She was just so fun, so human. It was wonderful to talk to her. She and Jim Misko (the founder) and Robert Masello (the other author and keynote speaker, who is, by the way, absolutely hilarious) were all so nice to me, that day and the entire conference. They’re all fantastic people and they saved me from suicide by serial killer.

That had to be the most serendipitous day of my life. Really, how did I get so stupid lucky? And furthermore, this was only the first day of the conference. Things stayed awesome.

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