If you find me in a group of more than two or three people that I don’t know well, I’ll be the one not saying a word, hanging back, and trying to appear invisible. I’m pretty sure if you look up the word “introvert” in the dictionary (does anyone still have an actual, physical, words-on-paper dictionary?), you’ll see my picture. Or, more like the top of my head because I’m slouching and looking at the ground. To this day, I can hear my mother telling me to stand up straight and be proud of my height. “And smile. You have such a pretty smile.” NO! That would bring more attention to me. Nonononononononoooooo.
Those of you who know a little about me know I show dogs. I have for over thirty five years. And, it took me about fifteen years to be comfortable enough in that little community to actually go out with dog show people after a show. More than once I was dragged to a restaurant after a show where the only words I think I spoke were to the wait staff to place my food order. The dog show world is one place where being a painful introvert is actually to my advantage. Because I’m so adapt at blending into the background and not bringing attention to myself, I learned very quickly how to fade away so the focus was solely on the dog(s) I was showing.
A few years ago, not only did I run the writing center at my alma mater, I also taught freshman composition at the college level. Yeah…and amazingly, I enjoyed it, because on that first day teaching, I realized those kids sitting in my class room were as terrified as I was. We got to know one another. I let them know up front what the rules were in my class (it was all spelled out in the class syllabus), told them I can’t spell worth a tinker’s darn (and stressed how much I rely on a dictionary), and assured them that anyone who told them they couldn’t write was full of manure. Everyone has a unique voice and it was my job to help them discover that voice and hone it. Words have power. My comfort level with speaking in front of a group of people rose—at least in that situation.
Back in my first marriage, I started writing. Being an author is great career choice for introverts because writers (for the most part) are really shy people. We’re also pretty darn comfortable with our own company. We better be, because we chose to spend hours a day, locked away in self-imposed isolation, fingers tapping on a keyboard. And, in the worlds we create and populate, the people there know us and we know them really well, so it’s easy to interact with them. I was pretty sure the romance I was writing would sell, so I screwed up my courage and signed up for a weekend conference with the local RWA (Romance Writers of America) chapter.
I have never been so terrified in my life. And, when I’m terrified, several things happen to me. I can’t think. I stammer and stutter. I slouch even more and talk to the floor, when I can form words. I have anxiety attacks that make it impossible to breathe. I left that conference in tears, without ever sitting in on one workshop and without meeting with the agent I had signed up for a meeting with.
Fast forward to my time at the university which is my alma mater. I was confident enough that I let my husband (who is also my best friend and biggest fan) talk me into going to college as a non-traditional student. I completed my undergrad degree by graduating Magna Cum Laude. I went to work on my master’s at the same university, took over the writing center, and taught freshman composition—to mostly at risk students. And, I was still writing. I signed my first book contract (my publisher–The Wild Rose Press–is the best in the world, BTW!) before I earned my Master of Arts. I had learned coping skills for the anxiety attacks that go hand in hand with the painful introversion.
Since signing that first book contract, I discovered Facebook is an introvert’s best friend. I could interact with other authors and readers from the safety of my keyboard. I built a street team, composed at first mostly of close friends but that grew to other friends on Facebook. And, then I got a burr under my saddle blanket. Why not try a writer’s conference, this time as a published author? I have three books out, I reasoned, and they’ve all done very well. My first, The Devil’s Own Desperado, has a good review ranking on Amazon and is a Laramie Award winner for debut novel. My second, Smolder on a Slow Burn, was RONE nominated. (Yeah…should have seen me dancing around my living room when I got that review from InD’Tale magazine and realized the review nominated the book for the RONE!) My latest, Seize the Flame, has received some really good reviews for the manner that I’ve dealt with the issue of spousal abuse. So, why not try a writer’s conference?
WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING?
I took my bestie with me, because I’ve joked more than once she’s my good luck charm. When she’s with me at dog shows, I clean house. So, it was only natural that I take her with me. She’s one of those people who just doesn’t know a stranger. I envy her natural ability to make friends instantly and be able to talk to people she doesn’t even know.
We went the day before to help stuff goodie bags for the readers and authors attending the conference. (Yeah, silly me volunteered us to help with that.) We were back at the conference the next morning when it started at 8:00 AM. I had to stand up in a room full of people and announce what I write. I’m exclusively a western historical romance gal. Just love my cowboys—but hate modernity. (Yeah, I write that on my computer keyboard and will be posting this on a strange thing called the Internet.) And, then, after that opening session, I had to talk to more people in something called “Speed Dating.” Tell people about my books. Say what? Ask me about my hubby, my family, my grandkids, my home in Tennessee, the property we have in Wyoming, let me brag about my collies—talk about my books? Oh, Lord, help me…
And, by the end of the weekend, I’d made several more friends, got to meet authors I’ve been friends with on Facebook for several years, and even though I’m not a NY Times best-selling author, I was treated by the authors and the organizers of this conference as if I was. As a matter of fact, every single author and reader was treated like royalty. The atmosphere was laid-back, the ladies who organized this were wonderfully accommodating and adaptive (something is guaranteed to go wrong when planning an event like this), and all the authors and readers took the one SNAFU in stride.
This little slice of heaven for this introvert was A Weekend with the Authors, in Nashville, TN. (You can find them here on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/A-Weekend-with-the-Authors-1030606610309225/) I am planning to attend next year’s conference, as soon as I can figure out finances. Even as an introvert, it wasn’t hard to force myself out of my protective shell. And, because I’m planning to go next year, I’ve got a whole year to polish my sales pitch.
Thank you, Sandy and Maranda, for putting on such a wonderful conference.