Tag Archives: friends

WU UnCon: A Conference of Connection

WU UnConIt’s ten days since I arrived back in Australia after attending the Writer Unboxed UnConference in Salem. Ten long days, and I’m only now posting about it. Why? Because if I’d posted sooner, my whole post would have consisted of a disjointed list of unrelated adjectives interspersed with exclamation marks and the occasional unsubstantiated claim that the UnCon changed my life.

But now, ten days later, I feel I’m ready. I’m ready to say that it was a phenomenal, transformational, life-changing, brain-expanding, emotionally-charged hot-pot of creative energy and connection, built around a series of inspiring, enlightening, and incisive workshops.

Or something like that..

Actually, I’ve pondered long and hard about how to share the experience of Salem with you. And as I’ve pondered, I’ve consolidated the things I learned in a deeper and more meaningful way. And thus, I’m ready to share.

I could tell you about the amazing workshops I did — particularly Lisa Cron’s “Wired for Story”, Donald Maass’s “Writing 21st Century Fiction” and John Vorhaus’s “The Comic Toolbox” — and the ways those workshops have improved my writing and expanded my thinking.

But I won’t.

UnCon Group 2I could tell you about the deep connection I felt with the other writers I met there, many of whom I knew as icons and names online, and the long-lasting bonds that formed during those five days.

But I won’t.

I could tell you about the dinner we had as a memorial to Lisa Threadgill, my dear, dear friend who passed away earlier this year, and how laughing and crying with other people who felt her loss so keenly reopened old wounds and yet helped them heal so much cleaner.

But I won’t.

I could tell you about hanging out in a bar at 1:00am on the first evening with a group of people I’d only just met, drinking picklebacks (the most revolting shot I’ve ever tried), and then asking the bartender for his shirt.

But I won’t.

I could tell you about the Poker Cabin, and how it felt to be playing poker of an evening after a long day of brain-expanding workshops and conversation, and the surreal feeling of sitting next to an inspirational (and possibly super-human) NY literary agent as I confidently bluffed my way to a winning hand.

But I won’t.

UnCon GroupI could tell you about sitting at dinner on Friday night, after the UnCon was technically over, and collaboratively building a back-story for our surly waitress using all the techniques we’d learned from Don Maass during the full-day workshop we’d just attended.

But I won’t.

I could tell you about Bob Stewart.

And I will.

Before the UnCon, I knew WriterBob Stewart as a name and an icon on the Writer Unboxed FB page. We interacted once or twice, in an oblique way, and I admired his dedication and persistence, but I didn’t know much about him. As the time for the UnCon grew closer, I learned more about him. He was much older (75, I later learned), and had some health issues. He was an accomplished playwright, journalist, and novelist. And, above all that, he was funny and kind and a good and genuine human being.

WriterBobOn the Saturday before the UnCon was due to start, he was bitten by his cat. Due to other health complications, the bite got infected, and he ended up in hospital. The first thing he did was message Therese Walsh to find out if it was okay if he arrived at the UnCon a little late. Which, of course, it was. He checked himself out of hospital early, and flew to Salem, and arrived on Tuesday afternoon.

I spoke to Bob briefly. Just enough to say hello, and I was glad he could make it. But he was there — real, and solid, and not just an icon and a name. He participated in groups, and stayed for evening sessions. And Wednesday evening, after everything was winding down, he complained about feeling a little funny, returned to his room, and passed away.

We found out on Thursday.

I wasn’t having a great day on Thursday. I finished the day with an amazing session that hit me like a brick wall and made me question the validity of everything I’d ever written in my life. Then, mired in self-doubt, I found myself flicking through the memorial book that had been created for Lisa Threadgill. A book that was full of my words. A book that brought all the grief and pain I’d felt at her passing back to the surface. And so there I was, weeping in the lobby of the Hawthorne Hotel in Salem, when Therese approached and told me about Bob.

WriterBob Stewart. A man who spent his last days exactly where he wanted to be — with a community of writers he’d only known online, in a beautiful little hotel in Salem.

And so I found myself, on that Thursday evening, telling the other attendees that our evening plan had changed. That instead of a discussion of craft, we would be sharing a toast for Bob, and hearing some of the pages from his latest work. And as I told them, I found myself breaking the news of his passing over and over and over.

Some people cried. Others told me stories. One person looked like she was going to faint. Another told me that he’d lost a number of family members recently, and then excused himself to find somewhere private to sit and reflect. And through it all, I hugged and comforted and listened and was present.

UnCon Group 3But once the toast was said, once the memorial was underway, I couldn’t be present any longer. To coin my own phrase, my heart was a new helium balloon floating through a cactus forest. The slightest brush — skin against skin, mind against mind — would break me. I had too much grief, too much emotion, coursing through my body. I had to escape. And so I fled the room. Quietly. Hoping not to be noticed.

But I was.

John Vorhaus*  — a man equally funny and wise — saw me going and followed me out. He rejected my claims that I was ‘fine, just fine’, and he sat with me, and we talked. We talked about loss and grief and self-doubt and pain and all manner of things. We talked until my skin no longer felt electrified, until I no longer felt I was going to explode, until I felt grounded again. And during that talk, during that conversation, he said a phrase that resonated with me both then and now, and defines the UnCon experience for me.

“Cherish your emotions’.

When JV said it, he was referring to the grief and shock I was feeling — that we were all feeling — in the wake of Bob’s death. But it means so much more to me.

he entire UnCon for me.

Cherish your emotions.

Think about it for a minute. How often do we truly cherish our emotions? Conversely, how often do we feel shame or guilt about our emotions? How often do we attempt to hide them/ To wall them away, or move on from them, or pretend they’re not there? What would happen if we truly cherished our emotions — accepted them, not as being bad or good but just as being. How would that feel?

UnCon Group 4How would that inform our writing?

How would that inform our lives?

Cherish your emotions.

It ties in to what Lisa Cron said about specificity and back-story. It mirrors Donald Maass’s talk of finding emotional resonance between our lives and our character’s experiences. It touches on Meg Rosoff’s discussions of voice. But, more than that, it is a model, a mantra, for life.

And so when I think about Salem, and about WriterBob and Lisa Threadgill, and about the close connections I forged, and the games of poker I played, and the fun and hi-jinks I was part of, and the way I got lost every freaking time I walked out of that hotel building, I think of that phrase.

Cherish your emotions.

And when it all gets too much for me, when the homesickness for an event that lasted only five days and yet a lifetime threatens to overwhelm me, I take a deep breath and cherish my emotions. And then I write.

* JV has a new book coming out. I’ve read it. It’s brilliant. And you should totally go and buy it right now. Tell him Jo sent you.

Advertisements

15 Comments

Filed under Opinion, Writing

Coming to America! (With a Little Help from my Friends)

Yes, that’s right my friends, I’m coming to America. Just like this guy:

Coming-To-America-1998

Okay, maybe not exactly like Prince Akeem, but very close. And I’ll take with me all the lessons I learned from watching the movie.

  1. If you want to meet a future Queen, you go to Queens. (duh!)
  2. New Yorkers are ready to steal everything you own at every moment. Unless you’re in a barber shop. Barber shops are super friendly.
  3. Eddie Murphy’s smile is bigger than his face.

But enough of that.

So, I’m coming to America. To be more specific, I’m coming to Salem, Massachusetts. To be even more specific, I’m coming to Salem, Massachusetts to attend the Writer Unboxed Un-Conference from Monday November 3rd to Friday November 7th.

Now, I’ve talked about Writer Unboxed here before. I’ve mentioned the blog (Look, it’s right over there => on the blogroll!), and I’ve talked about the Facebook group. Both of which are awesome. I’ve been an active member of the FB group for a few years now, and an active participant on the blog, and so when I heard about the Un-Conference, I decided there was nothing more important in the world than for me to attend this not-a-conference-conference.

And then, you know, my life imploded and changed significantly, and I found myself a single mother, living in a caravan with two small boys, with little to no income. And I had to regretfully admit that I just couldn’t afford to goto the Salem this November. With flights, insurance, accommodation, meals, conference fees, childcare arrangements, and the need to eat actual food (rather than just dine on the writerly ambience), the price was going to run to thousands of dollars.

But put away those violins.violin

No, seriously, put them away. Because just at the point where I was feeling a bit like having a wallow in my own misery — and bemoaning the fact I live in FutureLand, rather than downtown Salem — a team of Superheroes came to the rescue.

A group of online friends — all of them women writers — decided to take matters into their own hands and do whatever it took to get me to that conference. And not just me. There were five of us in all. Five of us who desperately wanted to attend, but just couldn’t get there for financial reasons. And we all have a few things in common.

  • We’re all writers. (Obviously.)
  • We’re all women.
  • We all have small children.
  • We are all passionately involved in helping and supporting our fellow writers.
  • We all have the bestest friends in the whole entire universe.

And thus, the WriterMamas fundraiser was born.

And this is where you come in, my dear friends. You see, at the time of writing this, we’re about halfway to our fundraising goal. Halfway. Which means that, at the moment, when I board that plane in November, I’ll be thrown out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. And I’m not much of a swimmer.

If I’m lucky, I’ll find an island nearby. A few days later, I’ll look like this:

castaway

Yes, beard and all. What happens on the island, stays on the island.

So if you’d like to prevent me from turning into a grizzled, mostly-naked man with nothing but a volleyball and my own psychosis for company, please jump on board the WriterMamas fundraiser.

There are four ways you can help.

1. Make a Donation

It’s pretty simple. Pop on over to the WriterMamas GiveForward page and make a donation. Even if all you can spare is $5, we would all appreciate it. I would appreciate it. I really don’t want to be stuck on a remote island, slowly turning into Tom Hanks…

Of course, you’re welcome to donate more than $5. Any and all donations are gratefully accepted.

2. Buy The Successful Author’s Toolkit

Okay, this is an absolutely awesome parcel of writer’s resources for a fantastic price. All of these products have been donated to the WriterMamas fundraiser by the authors, so 100% of the price you pay goes straight towards helping me avoid a long and lonely swim in the Pacific Ocean. The Toolkit includes:

  • “Got High Concept?” by Lori Wilde
  • “Writing Active Setting” boxed set by Mary Buckham
  • “Rock Your Writing” complete set by Cathy Yardley (including her never-before-released marketing course)
  • “Write. Publish. Repeat” by Sean Platt and Johnny Truant
  • “A Writer’s Guide to Blogging” by Dan Blank
  • “Your First 1000 Copies” by Tim Grahl (including a usually not-for-sale bonus podcast)
  • “Prowriter: Secrets of an Author Entrepreneur” course by CJ Lyons and Joanna Penn
  • “The Career Novelist” by Donald Maass
  • BONUS: 50% off Cathy Yardley’s amazing editing service on a single project
  • BONUS: Live chat or phone call with Shelley Souza, an experienced editor, to discuss the first five pages of your manuscript.

The whole package retails at well over $200 — and that’s not even taking into account the bonus offers — but it’s available as part of this fundraiser for $100. Go and read more about each of the resources here. And then buy the toolkit, either for yourself or for a deserving writer friend.

3. Buy cool Writer Unboxed merchandise

This fundraiser has inspired some of the most amazing people to dive in and help. And so you can buy cool caps and t-shirts, and all the profit goes back to making sure I don’t have to spend the next two months practicing my breaststroke.

Check out these great baseball caps, available for a limited time for $30.

Or, if you’re not into baseball caps, you can pick up a limited edition Writer Unboxed t-shirt for only $23. Don’t they look amazing?

 4. Spread the Word

Seriously, tell everyone. Share this blog post. Share the individual links. Tweet them, FB them, G+ them, Pinterest them, scrawl them on bathroom walls, do whatever the cool kids are doing with links these days. Go crazy and tell your friends in person. Sky-write it. Shout it from the rooftops.

If you’re not interested in writing books or merchandise, and you can’t or don’t want to donate, that’s okay. You can still help just by clicking a few buttons. Spread the word.

Any other ideas?

And if you’ve got any other fundraising ideas, hit me up in the comments.

I am ever so grateful to the original organisers of the WriterMamas fundraiser, to all the other people who’ve come on board in the last few weeks and turned this dream into an almost-reality, and to everyone who has already donated, purchased, and shared the love. Without friends like you, the world would be a darker place.

And with that little piece of nostalgia, how can you do anything else but help?

I assure you, you’ll make me smile even bigger than Eddie Murphy. And that’s no small task.

eddie murphy

12 Comments

Filed under Random Stuff, Writing

Book Recommendations

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve taken to reviewing all the books I read on Goodreads and linking them from the Reading List tab above rather than reviewing them on my main blog page. But sometimes… Well, when I read a book I really enjoy, there’s nothing I like more than recommending that book to my friends.

So, my friends, allow me to recommend some of the best books I’ve read over the last two months.

(And remember to friend or follow me on Goodreads for all my reviews.)

Addition by Toni Jordan

AdditionAddition was a good read and I really enjoyed it. The plot is simple but entertaining, the writing is amazing, and the characters are so authentic I want to put them on my Christmas Card List.

Addition is touted as being touching and funny, and I agree with that description. However, there are also parts that are incredibly uncomfortable. One of the great strengths of the writing in Addition is that we, as readers, are put right in the hot seat. We’re inside the head of a funny, non-average woman who lives with fairly extreme OCD. …read more

Unholy Ghost by Stacia Kane

Unholy Ghosts (Downside Ghosts, #1)This is a tricky book to review. Not because I didn’t like it, but because I don’t know where to start.

The world-building in Unholy Ghosts is phenomenal. I won’t go into the details about the world here — you can easily read the blurb on the book — but trust me: you won’t find a world better portrayed than this one. The background is well thought-out, the setting is authentic, and the characters are believable. The effectiveness of the world-building was particularly evident when I reached the last few chapters and I realised I was reading about types of ghosts, herbs, and charms and I knew exactly what was going on and could predict the outcome of what the characters were doing, without needing it explained. The unfamiliar terminology of the world had been explained so well throughout the story that it was now utterly familiar. …read more

Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson

Tiger LilyI want this story to live in my heart forever.

“Let me tell you something straight off. This is a love story, but not like any you’ve heard. The boy and the girl are far from innocent. Dear lives are lost. And good doesn’t win. In some places, there is something ultimately good about endings. In Neverland, that is not the case.”

So begins Tiger Lily, a book I can only describe as ‘hauntingly beautiful’ and ‘captivatingly catastrophic’. Tiger Lily is, in the most simple terms, a retelling of the story of Peter Pan from the point of view of Tiger Lily. But that’s not quite right. It’s actually a love story narrated by Tinkerbell, a mute fairy who reads what’s in the hearts of the people around her but has no ability to influence events. I assure you, those opening words are very true: It is a love story. And it isn’t like anything else I’ve ever heard. …read more

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player OneIn a dark future full of pain and misery, hunger and heartache, and evil corporations running the world, there is only one bright spot: a virtual reality game known as OASIS. Wade Watts (so named by his father because the alliteration makes him sound like the secret identity of a superhero) is just one of many gunters, searching for the Easter Egg hidden inside the OASIS. Finding the Easter Egg is the game within the game — and something that has kept gunters searching for five years. A game that depends on an encyclopedic knowledge of geek-trivia from the 1980s.

Fuelled by a love of roleplaying games, 80s TV shows and movies, and more early video games than you can poke a joystick at, this book is like the 80s on steroids. …read more

Unclean Spirits by M.L.N. Hanover

Unclean Spirits (The Black Sun's Daughter, #1)When I picked up this book, I had no idea what I was getting into. The blurb looked interesting — a college student inheriting her uncle’s “business” of fighting supernatural creatures — if a little over-dramatic.

Wow. After reading the book, I can say with all honesty that the blurb is so not over-dramatic.

Jayne Heller is, indeed, a college student. At least, she used to be. Now, she’s a college drop-out with no family, no friends, and a secret desire to get back with her ex-boyfriend. She’s got a world of baggage and backstory. And despite all that, or perhaps because of it, she’s immediately likeable, relatable, and all-round fabulous as the leading lady in an urban fantasy world. And what a world! …read more

Croak by Gina Damico

Croak (Croak, #1)The minute I read the blurb on this book, I was hooked. A teenage girl goes off the rails and is sent to live with her Uncle Mort, only to find out she’s secretly a Reaper? Yes, please! Sign me up! So I went into the book with, let us say, insanely high expectations. And I’m pleased to say that it delivered on almost all of them.

Lex is a tough, troubled teenager. She doesn’t quite have a heart of gold, but it’s probably silver. Or bronze. But it doesn’t really matter. She’s a strong female lead amongst a cast full of strong characters. If I had daughters, they could do worse than to grow up with Lex’s wilfulness and determination. (Although they’d be welcome to skip the whole “reaper of the dead” angle.) …read more

Have you read any of these books? What did you think?

Share a book you’ve recently read that you’d like to recommend to us all.

10 Comments

Filed under Reading

When “Being Nice” Backfires

This may come as a shock, but I wasn’t very good at making friends when I was a child.

I was awkward, gawky, self-conscious, and never “right”. I never had the right clothes or the right hair or the right words. I wasn’t cute or cool or hip. I had glasses (before they were geek-chic), I was chubby, and I was always the tallest in the class. Always. Also, I was painfully shy.

It didn’t help that we moved to a new school every year or two (due to my father’s job) and I had to go through the “making new friends” thing all over again.

When I was ten, we moved from the US back to Australia. There would be no more teasing and mocking my accent and asking me to repeat things over and over so people could laugh at me. I was hopeful.

Those hopes were quickly dashed. As it turns out, I did have an accent. I had an American accent. And I was immediately subject to the exact same teasing as I’d faced on the other side of the world.

But in amongst the bullying, there was a single bright light. I made friends. Multiple. Two of them. Their names were Natalija and Nicole. We hit it off when we all walked home in the same direction on my first day, and that was that.

Every morning, Natalija and Nicole would meet up and walk up to my place to pick me up for school. We’d walk the two blocks to the schoolyard, chatting and gossiping about the teachers and the kids in our class and who was going out with whom this week. Then we’d all sit under the trees until the bell rang for morning assembly. On the way home, we’d head out of class together and walk home, sometimes stopping at the corner store to pick up a bag of mixed lollies to share.

But about a month into this beautiful friendship, I made a decision that haunts me to this day.

Every day, Natalija and Nicole would come to my place before school. And every day, without fail, I’d be running late.

“I’ll be there in a minute!” I’d yell from the bathroom where I was half-dressed, with a toothbrush in my mouth and no idea where my shoes were hidden. “I’m coming!” I’d call from the kitchen where I was trying to stuff my lunch into my schoolbag, but only succeeding in dropping books, papers, and pieces of fruit all over the floor. “Nearly there!” I’d scream from my bedroom where I was crawling around under my bed trying to find the homework I’d done the night before.

Every day. Every. Day.

I was embarrassed. Every morning I was racked with guilt and mortification, sure that Natalija and Nicole secretly resented me and talked about me behind my back. Not that they ever said anything. They never commented or complained, they never even rolled their eyes when my parents told them again that I would be out in a minute.

But I felt terrible.

So I made a decision. Because their friendship was so important to me, because I loved them as much as a ten year old girl can possibly love the only two people outside her own family who don’t mock and ridicule her, I decided to sacrifice my own happiness on their behalf.

“I’m really sorry I’m late again,” I said, meeting them at the door with unbrushed hair and only one sock. “Just go on without me. I’m never ready when you get here, so you may as well not come by in the mornings. We can just meet up at school.”

So they left. And they didn’t come back.

Nothing was the same after that. They stopped walking past my house in the mornings — they walked to school a different way, meeting up with a couple of boys we all had crushes on. When we met up for morning assembly, I’d missed the gossip and felt like a third wheel. I didn’t know what to say to them so I stopped walking home with them in the afternoons. We drifted apart.

And I still regret it twenty-five years later.

Because when I said, “Don’t come by my house anymore,” what they heard was, “I don’t want to hang out with you anymore.”

But I learned something from the situation. I learned not to make personal sacrifices on behalf of someone else unless they’ve asked me to do so. Or, at the very least, not unless I’ve talked to them first. And I learned that what I say and what people hear aren’t always the same thing.

So please, learn from my lesson. Next time you’re tempted to make a personal sacrifice on someone else’s behalf, make sure what you’re offering what they want. Make sure you’re not accidentally saying: “I don’t want to be your friend anymore,” when what you really mean is: “I love you so much I don’t want to cause you any inconvenience.”

Postscript: I’ve been informed that this post is somewhat… depressing. So I just want to add that I posted this story because these types of miscommunications have been on my mind lately, and those lost friends have stuck with me.

As adults, we often make these sacrifices without even realising it. People think things like: “I won’t invite X to the party this time because she’s just had a baby”, or “I know Y is having money trouble, so I won’t ask if he wants to go to Hawaii with us”, or “I know Z is busy with her job so I won’t ask if she wants to volunteer at the school this year”. But the moment you make that decision on their behalf, you may send them the wrong message.

But how do you feel if you’re X, Y, or Z? If the reasons haven’t been explained to you, and you haven’t even been given an opportunity to decide for yourself? No matter how much you may justify the reasons you’ve not been invited, in your heart you feel hurt. No one wants to bet the cause of hurt feelings. Especially when you’re just trying to be nice.

11 Comments

Filed under Opinion, Random Stuff