A Mormon, a veteran Newsweek journalist, a fiction author and a steampunk enthusiast … walk into a small ski lodge in Alta, Utah.
I can feel the dampness in my armpits. I end up saying “nice to meet you” more than once to the same person as my brain disconnects from my mouth. I don’t have my “spiel” down as to why I’m at this writers conference, what I write, or what I want to write. I struggle through about a half hour of introductions before I go down into my room and sit on my bed, wondering at my social ineptness.
Looking in the mirror, I have the thought that these folks don’t know me as a former fat person, but they will know me as a dumbass if I don’t start forming complete sentences. “God,” they’ll remember, “that gal from the casino industry was an idiot.” I walk back upstairs, then downstairs, then up again (the resort was built and added on to since the 1940’s), and later I will be glad that there isn’t a bar as I’d never find my room again. I feel like it is the first day of high school. I text Amy and Dennis at Raving, and they remind me that I have been writing for the last eleven years.
Here I go again. “Hi, I’m Chris,” I say, “I’m a marketing writer.”
An associate, friend and much respected author, David Kranes, highly suggested that I go to this Writers Conference, that it was time. He was calling my bluff.
Remember my articles about having the guts to ” Start Over With Folks Half Your Age,” “Finding Your Inner Badass,” or how about ” What Do You Want To Add To Your Life Resume?” Well, I huffed and puffed about getting back in shape and how empowering it was. I puffed some more, writing that I felt I could do anything physically or mentally that I set my mind to. Count ’em, people. I’ve got three, first-time racing bibs tacked on my fridge from this year! Ah, but I hadn’t challenged my brain, where my real fear lied.
So I’m here at this isolated ski lodge and everyone I meet, I want to write about. They all have the same title of “writer.” It feels like a story within a story. I already have more than what I came with.
Brock (his real name) loves to travel, especially in Eastern Europe. And he loves falling in love. After living abroad nine months out of the year, his romances end when they don’t find his Montana cabin on the river, sans bathroom or power, or him anymore, all that attractive. There’s 20-something Dan, who is completing his memoir on teaching inner-city kids in D.C., sitting next to the lyrical-speaking Vibhuti, retired from Newsweek after thirty years. There are Mormons, Jack Mormons and poets (who I still struggle to understand), and John, who is writing a novel about a vampire, steampunk, alien; many have completed or are entering graduate writing programs.
Despite the need to reapply my deodorant several times a day, I feel heady and giddy.
There are two main characters that affect me the most, and unfortunately, I fumble my words with them, even after four days of interaction. Pete Fromm, my instructor for the course, looks like a mountain man, speaks like a mountain man, and his favorite phrase is “WTF.” Yet he can write words from a female point of view that break your heart.
Kit, the book agent, has reviewed my submission of my most popular Raving Newsletters. She tells me she thoroughly enjoys my “anecdotal” writing style and that I am “very good.” Giving Sally Field a run for her money, I respond with, “Do you really mean it? Are you just saying that?” Frick!
Who is this needy and insecure person I don’t recognize? After getting positive feedback from writing assignments, I do uncoordinated happy-dances in my room. I organize a hike on the first day, finding comfort in the fact that I might be intellectually impaired, but I can chat without panting at 8,700 feet.
I start my first fiction piece since high school and I’m asked to read it to our group. My first line has the word “nipple” in it and I think I’ve shocked a few. I’m really not sure what has possessed my pen, but Pete tells me “I’ve got it” on the last day of the conference.
Despite being tired, I talk non-stop to my husband on the drive home from the airport this past Sunday. About my leap into fiction, about being the overachieving nerd. He’s my toughest writing critic and when I read him my nipple story (I will have to come up with a better name than that), he laughs when he is supposed to laugh and wants to know “what’s next.”
What IS next? I can’t wait to find out.
Originally published by Raving Consulting