Facing Fears: Admissions of a Writing Introvert

Today I’m admitting to something I rarely talk about beyond the circle of family and close friends. And I’m stepping way out of my comfort zone by discussing it in a guest post on Jenn Hubbard’s blogs.


As gatherings go, the Surrey International Writers’ Conference is a big one for me. It’s my favourite weekend of the year but it’s also my biggest challenge.

DSC06310Approximately 600 people fill the ballroom for keynote addresses and calorie-laden meals, crowd into conference rooms for their choice of seventy-two workshops given by fifty-eight writing professions, and cram into elevators to get between the two.

It’s exhilarating, rejuvenating, motivating… and terrifying! Why? Because I’m claustrophobic. Oh, not wildly so, but moderately, and the challenge is to keep myself under control so I can absorb all the benefits of the annual October weekend.

Many writers claim to be introverts, so I’m not alone in my reluctance to mix, mingle and schmooze with strangers. A lot of us would prefer to hunker down and write in solitude….


If you’re a fellow introvert, or deal with any degree of claustrophobia, anxiety or panic attacks, click on over to one of Jenn’s two blogs to read the rest of my story and some of the tactics I employ to cope:

Writer Jenn at Live Journal, or

Jennifer R. Hubbard at Blogspot


~  ~  ~

Conference Aftermath…

Every event has a highlight. For the Surrey International Writers’ Conference, it has to be after the Saturday evening’s theme banquet, when author Jack Whyte offers up his annual rendition of ‘The Hippopotamus Song’. This year’s performance was especially poignant because many of us know we almost lost Jack last year following his November 30, 2012 surgery to remove a portion of his left lung.

Last Saturday night he sang with every bit of his usual gusto. I won’t soon forget it. Here’s a taste:

Memories are highlights to savour long after the event is over, and I have so many…

Lots of memories:

Meeting new friends,
reuniting with old friends from previous years’ conferences, and
celebrating their achievements

Sharing a special weekend of  mother/daughter camaraderie

Attending eight excellent workshops (out of a choice of 72),
listening to six sensational keynote speakers,
being brave and bold through two agent and editor interviews,
and an oh-so helpful Blue Pencil consultation with Hallie Ephron

Author Hallie Ephron

Author Hallie Ephron


Being reminded,
“There are people out there
who need the stories only YOU can write…
Your voice matters.”

(Jim Hines)
and yes, Jim, we do have Internet here in Canada!

Author Jim Hines

Author Jim Hines


Lots of smiles:

A young women, barefoot and wearing scanty pajamas,
creeping out of the elevator in the hotel lobby
“I locked myself out of my room”
(No, of course I didn’t have my camera handy!)

The heartbeat at Michael Slade’s Friday night ‘Shock Theatre’…
“Ba-boom! ba-boom! ba-boom!”
and Robert Dugoni with a pumpkin over his head!

and exchanging great lunchtime conversation with
Seth Jaret

Borrowing extra wine glasses from the bartender

“You gotta be bad. You gotta be bold. You gotta be wiser…”*
(the finale to Bruce Hale‘s keynote speech Sunday)

There are umpteen more memories lurking in remote crevices of my overfilled brain, but it’s time to take myself to bed and begin the post-conference decompressing.

How do you extricate the gems after a condensed period of ‘information overload’?

~  ~  ~


*You Gotta Be (Des’ree)


Photos from THE Conference

I promised some photos…


The opening session in the hotel’s main ballroom

"Roomies" at the hotel: Janet Smith, DD Shari Green, and me

“Roomies” at the hotel: Janet Smith, DD Shari Green, and me


SiWC Coordinator Kathy Chung as Wonder Woman at Friday evening's Heros & Villains Theme Dinner

SiWC Coordinator Kathy Chung as Wonder Woman at Friday evening’s Heros & Villains Theme Dinner

Superhero Tyner Gillies - winner of the Non-Fiction Category in the SiWC writing contest.

Superhero Tyner Gillies – winner of the Non-Fiction Category in the SiWC writing contest.

The sixth annual "Shock Theatre" at SiWC: (L->R) authors Michael Slade, kc dyer, Diana Gabaldon, Anne Perry, Jack Whyte.

The sixth annual “Shock Theatre” at SiWC: (L->R) authors Michael Slade, kc dyer, Diana Gabaldon, Anne Perry, Jack Whyte.

That’s enough for tonight. I’ll have a “conference catch-up” post on Monday.

~  ~  ~

‘Taint Happenin’

I know, I know… this is Friday and you’re expecting a blog post. ‘Taint happenin’, to use a friend’s favourite phrase. I’m currently holed up in a hotel room, getting set for the start of the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. I’m still trying to decide between a couple workshops, but it isn’t easy when there are fifty-eight writing professionals presenting over seventy-two different workshops this weekend.

So I leave you with an apology, but also a promise.  I’m sorry to be shirking on my scheduling commitment, but I WILL post occasionally over the weekend… maybe share a few photos or writing epiphanies. Although I’ve heard adaptations of the saying, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” being bandied around here, so I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to share. (Just kidding.) Time will tell.

One roomie is already asleep. Turning out the light now.


~  ~  ~

More Conference Thoughts and an Inadequate Thank You

I’ve been reflecting on the people involved with the Surrey Conference. So many people! They all had an impact on how I experienced the conference and yet many of them I didn’t directly encounter. For every visible contribution there were at least ten more from behind the scenes, and every one was important to the success of the whole. I’m thankful for all of them. This conference is always the highlight of my writing year.

From its small beginnings, instigated in 1993 by Ed Griffin, the conference has mushroomed in both numbers and impact. It has a reputation for drawing people well known throughout the writing community. The 1994 conference featured the late best-selling author Maeve Binchey as a keynote speaker. Since then, author Jack Whyte has been coming for nineteen years; Diana Gabaldon for eighteen. Anne Perry arrives annually from England. Michael Slade and Robert J. Sawyer have become regulars. Top NY agent and author Donald Maass figured this was his sixteenth or seventeenth year. Why do they keep returning? Why do so many others — authors, agents, editors, publishers and screenwriters — willingly join the panel of over sixty presenters every year?

Yes, they probably enjoy the camaraderie, and perhaps they benefit in ways beyond selling additional books, but I suspect it’s more about the giving back. One thing I’m learning in my journey is that every successful writer was once a newbie, and those memories prod many of them to reach out a helping hand and an understanding heart to those who are still en route.

Donald Maass

Not one of them keeps the ‘secrets of their success’ to themselves. They’re always more than generous about sharing their wisdom and experience. Donald Maass was wrung out with the last of a cold when he arrived at the hotel, but he still gave us a dynamic three-and-a-half hour workshop Thursday evening, and then offered to carry on the conversation over his meal and a glass of wine in the lounge afterwards. (That last bite of burger must have been very cold, Don!)

Jack Whyte

Jack Whyte didn’t disappoint with his memorable annual rendition of the Hippopotamus Song, “Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud” on Saturday evening, despite lapsing into total laryngitis afterwards. When he had no voice for his final workshop Sunday morning, he didn’t just send his regrets… he brought them to us in person. (Sure hope he’s feeling okay now.)

Kathy Chung

k.c. dyer

From morning’s first light to the latest hours of the night, conference coordinator Kathy Chung, her sidekick kc dyer, and their fellow Board and Committee members were everywhere, sometimes white with exhaustion, but still smiling and making sure everyone was having a good conference experience. I don’t know how they did it all, but I know why. Because they believe in the goal that has been the conference mandate for all twenty years: “To inspire, educate and motivate aspiring and experienced writers alike.”

I know I came away inspired, educated and motivated thanks to their dedication and efforts, and that of all the others who were there working for my benefit. It was another awesome conference weekend, and a simple ‘thank you’ hardly seems adequate.


[There are a couple flashes of static in this video, but for those who’d like to hear Jack sing it, here’s my 2007 YouTube version of his “Glorious Mud”.]

~  ~  ~

Now THAT was a conference!

Whooo-eeee! A three-and-one-half day whirlwind just deposited me back at home and my brain is still reeling. So many great people, so much information conveyed, such a lot of encouragement, inspiration and motivation provided… not to mention all the fabulous food consumed!

I promised a conference round up, but I’ve come to the conclusion it’s impossible to condense the following into a few paragraphs:

  • the impact of being among 700 people who love writing as much as you do,
  • the contributions of fifty-five authors, agents, editors and screenwriters at the free ‘Blue Pencil’ and agent interviews,
  • the vast amounts of material they presented during more than seventy workshops,
  • the helpfulness of at least a hundred volunteers, staff and organizers, or
  • the luxury of the conference’s first class hotel setting.

You’ve heard the saying ‘you need to see it to believe it.’ Well, in this case you need to be there to fully appreciate it.

Maybe by Wednesday my brain will be better able to sort through the weekend’s highlights, but at the moment it’s still on Information Overload. For now I think I’ll leave you with a few of my photos and the suggestion that you set aside October 24-27, 2013 and plan to come and see for yourself what makes this conference one of the very best in North America.

[A click on any photo will enlarge it]

Just one-third of the packed Conference hotel ballroom

MC, Carol “Sparkles” Monaghan complete with deelyboppers but minus her wand and feather boa

Agent Donald Maass and Conference Coordinator Kathy Chung

DD Shari Green and author Eileen Cook at the Book Fair

Author Jack Whyte giving his annual rendition of “Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud” (after which he lost his voice)

Author Hallie Ephron at Saturday night’s Book Fair

Editor Nancy Marie Bell (and yes, Joylene, I DID give her your hug!)

SiWC writing contest coordinator and author kc dyer…

… and kc’s infamous “sexy legs” tights

There are more, but they’ll have to wait. The weekend’s lack of sleep has caught up to me and I’m off to dream the maybe-not-so-impossible-anymore dream.

~  ~  ~

Off to a good start!

This will be short and sweet. It’s almost 1:00 a.m. and my eyelids are threatening to shut down at any moment. I did finally get that dratted suitcase packed in time to leave for this weekend’s conference. I’m at the hotel now, filled with information and ideas gleaned from Thursday evening’s workshop with Donald Maass, followed by a glass of wine and good camaraderie. The Surrey International Writers’ Conference is definitely off to a good start!

I expect to be back on the blog Monday morning with the weekend’s round up and lots of photos. If you’re interested in what’s happening in real time, you can follow some of the conversations on Twitter with the #siwc2012 hashtag.

Hope your weekend is even half as great as I know mine is going to be. 🙂

~  ~  ~

In a fog… (in which I complain about suitcases)

Some days my brain is in a fog. There’s just no other way to describe it — fuzzy, unfocused, a little lost. It happens to me every time you put me in front of a suitcase.

A foggy day on the Fraser River

Suitcases were designed to thwart any attempt to contain what may be necessary for the impending journey. Doesn’t matter if I’m going to be away for two days or ten, there is always spillover into a tote bag, my purse, and occasionally even a couple plastic grocery bags.

Take this weekend, for example. Three-and-a-half days at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference is not a particularly long time. (I know from experience it will be much too short.) I won’t be dancing, mountain climbing, gardening or attending the opera. I’ll be indoors, either sitting in workshops or hobnobbing with friends and fellow writers the entire time, so I won’t need a great diversity of clothing. So why is it the stack of neatly folded items on my bed once again towers higher than the suitcase that not long ago held everything I needed for a month’s vacation? (Well, almost everything. There was my hairdryer and my writing kit…. oh, and my camera. They all ended up in a separate bag.)

This is my dilemma: what to eliminate to ensure there will still be room to bring back all the books and other goodies that I’m undoubtedly going to accumulate during the weekend. What can I do without? Shoes? Maybe. If I don’t get my slacks hemmed nobody is going to be able to see my feet anyway. Underwear? No, that would be indecent, and I’m always decent. Maybe the bulky sweater. If I wear my flamboyant  ‘Roaring Twenties’ coat all weekend I won’t need a sweater. Then again, I can’t live in that coat for three-and-a-half days. The feathers will drive me crazy.

I can’t seem to focus on the solution. There must be one, but I’m ready for a coffee break at the moment. I fancy a muffin. Maybe I’ll go bake a batch of pumpkin ones. I have some pumpkin I didn’t use at Thanksgiving. Did I tell you that our church ladies bake The. Best. Pumpkin pies? They make them as a fundraiser every fall. I think they’ll also have some to sell at their Christmas bazaar that’s coming up in November. I must remember to pick up the ingredients for my fruitcakes soon so I have everything on hand for that annual mid-November baking endeavour. Oh, speaking of annual things, did you know the Surrey conference is this weekend? Whatever am I going to do about this mountain of stuff I need to take?

There’s a bigger suitcase in the basement. I think my mother-in-law’s silver tea service is in a box somewhere down there, too. I’ll bet it needs polishing. I wonder if I have any tarnish remover.

Do you have packing panic whenever you travel, or is it just me? 

~  ~  ~

It’s a little like Christmas in October!

October’s here! You know how it was when you were a child waiting for Christmas? December 1st arrived, and with it came all those tantalizing secrets, the fragrance of Mother’s gingerbread baking, the ritual unpacking of heirloom ornaments and, of course, Dad’s annual untangling of Christmas lights. Days crossed off the calendar ever so  s l o w l y  and it seemed like Christmas vacation was never going to arrive.

Parents had a totally different perception of time. So much to do and only three weeks left!

It’s time to don my writing sweatshirt!

The arrival of October brings the same reality for me, but for different reasons. Barely three weeks. In fact, it’s not quite three weeks until the Surrey International Writers’ Conference begins. For those who are registered and anxious to be there, it’s time filled with impatient waiting. Three weeks seem like a long time, but I’m all grown up now. I know it’s not.

I suspect there are people beginning to scramble. There may be a bit of panic. But as we “X” off the days on the calendar there’s no question everything will get done and the Conference weekend will eventually arrive. That’s not the sound of sleigh bells in the distance, but  faint strains of the hallowed “Hippopotamus Song” mingled with chants of “This day we write!”

Oh, squeeeee!!! October’s here!


What special occasion(s) whipped you into breathless excitement as a child? Did becoming an adult alter your perspective?

~  ~  ~


Getting Ready, Preparation, Organization — Whatever you want to call it

The mist drifting in this morning, this moisture darkening the deck wood and dampening the chair fabrics, isn’t rain. It’s dense fog. We’ve had weeks – months! – of sunshine. It can’t rain now. Our church corn roast is tomorrow.

I’m never ready for autumn… never ready to give up summer’s easy living and lack of schedules, but it comes anyway, officially arriving here tomorrow. The seasons are relentless in their march through the calendar year. I enjoy them all, but am always reluctant to face the changeover. I never quite feel prepared.

On our end-of-vacation drive home last week, I saw fields of grain harvested and bundled for winter storage, seed pods developing, leaves changing colour. The world around me knows it’s time to get into gear for autumn.

When there’s something to look forward to, it’s easier to let go and move on. The Surrey International Writers’ Conference is exactly one month away. Eeeeep!! I’ve been registered since five minutes after registration opened in June, booked my hotel room the same day, and sent off entries for the writing contest before the deadline (altho’ not by much, I admit). I should feel organized, but now time is pressuring me to polish my current novel, create a one-sheet for its presentation and perfect a pitch. (Not to mention figure out something to wear for the gala’s ‘Roaring Twenties’ theme.) Is it an OCD thing to need to complete every single task in order to feel adequately prepared for the Conference?

When I taught elementary school I discovered that if my lesson plans were well prepared and I felt ready before the morning bell sounded, my day went smoothly. I was calm, the children were calm (most of the time), and I usually accomplished the day’s goals. If I started the morning unprepared and frazzled, it affected my entire day.

It carries over into my writing, too. When my office is cluttered and disorganized (as it often is), or life is crazy, I can’t get my head into a creative groove. Thoughts slither around and slide away like drops of mercury on a wobbly desk. (I guess that dates me, doesn’t it? Who allows children to play with mercury during science labs anymore?)

So, I guess if I’m going to really enjoy that Conference and get the most out of it, I’d better accept that fall is underway and there’s work to be done around here!

Do you function best under pressure, or do you need to have all the pieces in place before you can accomplish anything?

(Oh, and happy first weekend of autumn!)


 Update: I’m happy to report that it did not rain for our corn roast! (Yes, I’m smiling.)

~  ~  ~