When a friend asked me why I hadn’t signed up for the American Christian Fiction Writer’s conference yet, I had to stop and consider what had stalled my determination to go for the first time.
Seems it’s one thing to pound away day after day at my computer but quite another to dress up, spend money, and declare to the best in the business that I want to be a professional writer.
Not just that, but all that’s involved with traveling and feeling safe in a new place, trusting my instincts to make good decisions and not to make a fool of myself. Not to mention, wanting to blend in and needing to promote myself. It’s enough to make my stomach hurt.
So, like any decent psychology graduate, I analyzed what was holding me back. I processed my fears. And just as an aspiring author would do, I wrote a story about my anxiety thus creating Lilly. Because not even I could be this big of a mess! Let’s pray none of poor Lilly’s experiences happen to anyone attending the ACFW conference in September.
The airplane I ride to the American Christian Fiction Writer’s conference crashes into another plane on the runway at DFW airport. The medic suspects I may have a mild concussion from my head banging against the seat-back.
I brush my hair over my shoulder, smile, and pat his bicep. “I’m fine. I need to go. Can’t be late to my writing conference.”
After I sign some forms, he gives me a couple of Ibuprofen and releases me. My head aches and my feet throb as I tap-tap in my five inch heels for miles through the airport. I shouldn’t have worn the impractical shoes I bought to celebrate entering Romance Writers of America’s Stiletto writing contest, but they are so pretty. I step onto the descending escalator and admire my red pumps.
I plod out the door dragging my suitcase, and I’m back on Texas soil again! Would any of my old friends from Dallas see my Facebook post and meet my plane?
I perch on a bench in front of the arrival doors, insert my earbuds, and cross my legs. My stiletto bops to the tune of Newsboys. For an hour, I sit with the September sun beating on my neck as I wait for the shuttle bus. I refresh my phone over and over, but no one arrives or even replies to my post. Oh well.
I reapply my cherry red lipstick, take a selfie of me smiling, and post, “Love you, Texas! Thanks for the Lone Star welcome.” Technically not a lie.
A white passenger van stops in front of me. The window rolls down and the driver flashes a wad of cash. He points a thumb over his shoulder. “Come on. Get in, girly.”
This must be an unmarked taxi service, and I don’t want to be rude. I slide into the backseat with my suitcase. I give my destination before discreetly bringing my Plumeria lotion-scented hand to my nose to mask the driver’s pungent body odor.
After a few minutes, the driver parks the van beside the highway and leaps over the seat to join me. His lips pucker and his arms open.
I squawk and spring out the door, dragging my luggage behind me. Thank goodness it has wheels. I race onto the road and flag down a police officer who doesn’t believe me! Apparently, they don’t have unmarked taxis in Texas.
After having me wait hours at the station and endure numerous breathalyzers, which I pass, thank you very much, the officer drops me off at the conference hotel. I’ve missed many sessions and my scheduled volunteer times. The bigwig in charge lectures me.
Am I serious about a writing career? My weary concussion brain just nods. Maybe this is all a sign I’m not meant to be a writer?
I enter my hotel room and find the two king-size beds occupied with four incredible writers who agreed to let me crash in their room for a major discount. After catching me up on the conference, the girl who Indie published points her plastic nail at a blanket and pillow on the floor. “You can sleep there or at their feet.”
The girls in the other bed giggle. They do seem rather short. I might fit at the end.
I sigh then grit my teeth. Saving money doesn’t seem like such a good idea anymore. Dead tired, I plop down on the floor and kick off my shoes. I stretch out. This isn’t so bad.
A healthy black bedbug scurries over my arm on his way to the end table. I scream.
After I explain, the wise writer who’s already signed with an agent says, “Five-star hotels don’t have bedbugs.”
Could I have imagined it? I shiver. Who knows, but I can’t risk it. I sprawl at the foot of the short girl bed, and two pairs of cold feet kick me. All. Night. Long.
The following day’s sessions are great, at least that’s what I hear. I can’t focus. At one point I doze off until a famous author, who inspired me to become a writer, pushes me off her shoulder. I wipe my chin. Oh no. That wet spot on her blouse is from my drool. I shriek and every eye in the room focuses on me.
The speaker asks me to leave.
My foot still asleep, I limp out. It’s almost time for lunch anyway. And I need caffeine.
At lunch, I must eat fast in order to stay on the trail of the big-name agent I’d overheard is looking for stories in my genre. I gulp down the chicken, but the roll catches in my throat. Hands to my throat, I thrash about.
A handsome acquisitions editor, one table over, springs to his feet and gives me the Heimlich.
The roll spews out and flies across two tables to punch an award-winning writer as she takes a bite. She’s not happy about her eye and refuses to sign my autograph book or pose for a picture with me. The editor takes her side as if it wasn’t his fault she got impaled in the first place. Whatever. I snap a shot of them scowling at me for my blog. I have my scheduled fifteen-minute agent pitch to attend anyway.
Waiting outside the door for my dream agent has me all stressed and hot. I wipe sweat from my forehead with the back of my hand. My success and fame is so close if only I can convince her.
She opens the door and ushers me inside.
I concentrate on the firm handshake, deep eye contact, shoulder roll greeting I’d perfected in the mirror before I left home.
The agent gasps and releases my wet hand.
I spout off all the possible illnesses I might have that could explain my super-soaker sweat condition. I figure garnering a little sympathy might help us connect.
She squirts on some hand sanitizer, rubs her hands together as she sits, and asks me to describe my novel.
Score! I got her interested without even trying! I park across from her and lay all my one-sheets across the table then I recite the content of each from memory as fast as I can.
Although her eyes crinkle and she looks like she’s sucking a sour lemon the entire time, my pitch is flawless. When I finish, her lips curl up and she takes a copy of all ten of my one-sheets!
But then she glances at her watch and looks around the room. Probably considering what I’d said. Letting it soak in.
With a minute to go, I gather my courage. “So, which one of my stories would you like me to send the full manuscript on?” Please say all. Under the table, I cross my fingers. Although, it would be a pain to have to stay up all night for a month or so to finish nine of them.
She shakes her head. “I don’t think there’s anything I can do for you.”
“But people love my writing.” My mom was speechless after she read it.
Her eyes soften, and she cocks her head to the side. “Maybe you should try self-publishing? If it does well, a publisher may want to pick it up.”
I nod like I hadn’t tried that already. “That’s a great idea. You’re super smart. Thank you so much.” Yada, yada. I can be nice, too. I sulk out the door.
A tall, thin girl exits the room next to mine. She tosses her long dark waves over her shoulder and releases a perky little squeal.
I peek into the conference room and recognize other aspiring writers meeting with prospective agents all smiling or laughing. One is signing something.
The perky girl skips down the hall, but I catch up with her and yank her arm. She turns to me.
I yell, “Why can’t anyone see how great my story is?”
Her mascara laden eyelids narrow and she points at my name tag. “I know you. You critiqued my story on Scribes! It took months for me to overcome your”—she made air quotes— “constructive comments! You’re evil and never should have been allowed on that loop.”
I blink back tears. I knew this would happen when I encountered the people whose writing dreams I’d crushed. I hadn’t meant to, I was just doing what others had done for me. It really helped make my writing stronger. At least, when I listened.
Why had I ever agreed to come? I spent thousands of dollars for this.
I walk into the bathroom and freeze. Urinals line the wall. The man standing at the end looks over his shoulder at me. His lips part. The big-name agent I had been stalking at lunch.
Could God have led me here? Given me the perfect opportunity to share my story with someone who would finally appreciate my amazing novel? I whip out my full manuscript and stick it under his nose.
Red faced, the veins in his neck bulge. He zips his pants and pulls out his phone. He calls security, but he knows my name! Had he read my blog? Maybe he recognizes me from Twitter?
I scurry away and rush back to my room to change for the banquet. I take off my nametag. No way security will identify me in my character costume. Mermaids are a dime a dozen at these events, or so I hear.
Except it’s impossible to walk with my ankles bound by fins. It takes forever to penguin toe it to the elevator. When I arrive at the awards ceremony, I realize dress-up-like-your-character-night was the evening before.
Would nothing go right for me? I remove my shell mask and stuff it into my beach bag. Thankfully, my costume is made of stunning aqua sequins and lace. I feel like the belle of the ball even though I can only spin or sit. It’s magnificent until I don’t win anything. So much for my plan to enter every category in Genesis. Twice.
I pull out my phone and take a selfie as a single tear drips down my cheek. I type, “I’m so sad. Fourth place means nothing.” My followers usually appreciate emotional honesty.
When I refresh my screen, an ex-boyfriend from high school has sent a sad-face emoji.
My aunt has typed, “You poor thing.”
Two comments in less than a minute. This may go viral. I inhale. People do love me. I put away my phone and look over the tables filled with industry professionals laughing and talking. I just need to persevere. The journey to publication isn’t easy and conferences are never a mistake.