Okay – I haven’t been around for a while, well, I have been but you haven’t seen me. More on that in a bit but first I wanted to share a few surreal moments in my writing life and a writing lesson I learned. Sigh.
I’ve been a member of California Writers Club (CWC) for many, many years. It was the first writing group I joined not long after my kids were born. (My “baby” will be 24 in a couple of months so it’s been a while.) I first joined the Mt. Diablo Branch as that was closest to where I lived at the time. Back then I lived out in what was thought to be the boonies (Oakley) but it was worth it to drive an hour one way once a month to meet with other writers (in Walnut Creek). I met my first agent through CWC (Helen McGrath). I started writing the newsletter for them and met and formed my first and second critique groups from members of CWC.I grew up a lot around CWC. I learned to be less intimidated when talking to “real” writers a.k.a. “People Who Were Published“. I experimented with a lot of different kinds of writing and eventually found my way to writing primarily for children. Being a member of CWC as well as SCBWI gave me a nice well-rounded education. When I left California for Virginia and then New Orleans, I was able to connect with SCWBI groups in each state but I never managed to link up with other writing groups. After a few years I came home to California, landing this time in the South Bay, the heart of the Silicon Valley. I immediately joined CWC again driving an hour, one way (from the opposite direction) in order to reconnect with old friends. That was great the first few years I was back home but after a while it got harder and harder to make the drive on a Saturday. I worked hard all week and I wanted to sleep in on Saturdays (even if the meetings were only once a month). After not going to the Mt. Diablo meetings for a couple of years I finally had to admit to myself that it was time to transfer my membership over to the South Bay branch of CWC. I’ve been living in the South Bay for almost 10 years now. It’s time to make local connections (something I have stressed over before as the Silicon Valley is so huge.) A couple weeks ago I went to my first South Bay meeting. They meet at the Lookout Bar and Grill in Sunnyvale (a whopping 10 minutes from my home). Yipee. They meet on Wednesday nights which means my weekends are still free. (And for those in the area who are interested, their next meeting is July 12th.) Before we get to the surreal part here’s something I learned at the meeting. I haven’t figured out how to apply it to myself yet but I know it was an important lesson.
I knew I wouldn’t know anyone at the meeting. (Stepping way outside the comfort zone here to go it alone.) I was early so I got my plate of food and sat down at an empty table. Yes, I know if I want to meet local people I have to do the networking thing but I am still one very shy, introverted (INFP to the max) and not too confident of a person. So I sat alone and told myself it was all the better to see the podium. I had 4 of my books in my bag. (Hey, I might be shy but I know what I’m supposed to do, even if I don’t always do it.) Two woman sat down on the right of me. We started to chat. (the books stayed in my bag.) Three woman sat down to the left of me. We also started to chat. (No, I still didn’t reach for my bag.) There was one seat left at the table. I continued to chat with all the women there, very casual like, for about 20 minutes. Then a man sat down at the empty seat. He put his plate of food on the table, sat down and then pulled out a copy of his novel and started talking about. In less than 30 seconds everyone at the table knew him and his book. And me? I sat there feeling dumb and trying to decide what number to give when people asked me how many books I had sold.
An aside to tell this story. It might sound funny but the number of books I’ve sold depends on how you want to count. If I tell you I’ve sold 24 books for children you will likely gasp. But here’s the breakdown:
Sold but never published – 1
Sold to German publisher, only available in Gemany – 2
Sold to Korean publisher, only available in Korea – 13
Sold to small, defunct educational only publisher – 2
Sold to educational publisher, only available through the publisher – 2
Sold to publishers whose names you would recognize, books are available everywhere including on Amazon – 4
So you can see how saying “I’ve sold 24 books” might be hard to do with a straight face.
Eventually the guy had to stop talking long enough to eat and I slapped one hand on the table and FINALLY reached into my bag with the other hand. I said, “This guy just sat down and in less than a minute, you’ve all seen his book. I’ve been here for close to half an hour and haven’t managed to get my books out of my bag yet. I think we can all learn a lesson from him.” THEN I put my books on the table to share. For a few minutes we discussed how it was that a man was able to go right into sell mode. Was it the fact that he was a man sitting down at a table of women? Was it just personality differences? Do I just totally stink at self-promotion? I don’t know the final answers but I do think the questions worthy of discussion.
Now for the surreal part of the night. The women all reached for books and started to pass them around with the appropriate oohing and ahhing over them all. The last book to be picked up was CAN I PRAY WITH MY EYES OPEN? One woman said, “I have an autographed copy of this book on my shelf at home. You spoke at my daughter’s school a couple of years ago.” Whoa! Considering that I have only spoken at 2 local schools, this was a surreal moment. Then the book made it to the other side of the table. There was a little squeal and I looked over to see someone hugging the book to her chest. “I LOVE this book. I give it as a gift all the time. I can’t believe I’m sitting here with the author of one of my favorite books.” I am seriously weirding out by now because this is, remember, CWC, NOT SCBWI. I still can’t get over the idea of total strangers reading (and liking) my books.
Moral of the story? There are a few. One, step outside your comfort zone. More often than not, it will be a good thing. Two, you can and should talk about your work, your successes. Three, well I don’t have a third one but I hate even numbers. As for the other update, I’m here and I am reading all your blogs but posting means typing and my tendonitis and back/shoulder/arm/tingling fingers problems are in major flareup mode and typing hurts like the dickens (okay, I’m not really sure what it means to hurt like the dickens but my grandmother always said it when something hurt a lot.) Please know that I am reading my flist every day and if I could pick up the phone and respond to each of you, I would. It would be a lot easier on me than the typing.