I’m at the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association Conference in SeaTac, Washington this weekend. It’s actually early on the second day. There’s no one else in the whole conference center at this hour. I’m a wee bit early, so I thought I’d use the time productively. Yesterday was an interesting day, in many ways.
The conference center is literally right across the street from a building I worked in from 1999 to 2004, so I know the neighborhood pretty well. There’s a Denny’s Diner not to far from here I used to go to from time to time, and since I was early yesterday (and hungry), I decided to swing in and have one of my guilt pleasures, a Denny’s French Slam, with bacon, and true diner coffee.
When I got off the plane from Denver in 1999, I stayed at a hotel just a few hundred yards from Denny’s for the first week. The first night I was there, I met a waitress named Geri. She was in her early 50’s then, the picture of an American diner coffee slinger, the deep voice of a life long smoker, or at least inhaler of second hand smoke, as nice as all getout, and just really friendly. Her husband worked for Alaska Airlines, where I was just starting, and she and I struck up a friendship. I’d swing by once (or more) a month. She knew my order. We talked about the airline, we talked about what was going on in my life. We laughed. We went through Flight 261 together. We went through 9/11 together. This Denny’s was half a block from the airport. Pilots, crew, staff from every airline were in and out of this Denny’s at all hours of the day and night. To Geri they were all family.
When I came in yesterday, Geri wasn’t there. I asked the guy behind the counter where she was. He paused for a moment, and then told me that Geri had passed almost a year ago from lung cancer. She had gone quickly. A few weeks from diagnosis to death, and it had hit the staff pretty hard. I sat there for a moment, a little stunned. Then I started to tell the new waiter about how I knew her, and a couple of my memories. He just smiled, kind of nodded his head, as if to agree, what a great ole gal. Geri, I’ll miss you.
I got to thinking after that, as I often do after hearing news like this, about how lucky I am. I’ve got a fantastic family, a great job, a hobby that is truly fulfilling, and have been fortunate in the past few years to be in the right place at the right time to be financially safe, living in a great neighborhood with great neighbors. Sometimes it’s really important to take a step back and just remember that, and just as important to say it out loud. So to all of who are reading this, thanks. You’re part of the reason I’m so lucky. You care enough about what is going on in my life to want to read about it. That’s means a lot.
Last night, author Terry Brooks (who wrote the Shannara Series, Phantom Menace and 30+ other books) did the keynote speech. He talked about Fame, Fortune, Friendship, and Fulfillment. He said he had achieved Fame. He knew this because his son, who was in his early teens at the time, told him has was famous because he worked with George Lucas on Phantom Menace. He had achieved Fortune. He knew this, because when he asked his publisher one time about a bigger advance on a book, his publisher, Mr. Del Ray, basically wondered why a man with more money than God needed a bigger advance. His talk about Friendship revolved around the fact that his 10 year old son had put all his personal information on a social networking site, and he now had plenty of friends, and didn’t want anymore. But his talk about fulfillment aimed directly at the heart of all the writers in the room. He talked about getting so immersed in a character that you can’t separate them from yourself. He talked about the nerves of starting a new book, and not knowing where it is going to go when you sit down. The relief you have when it is done, and the angst you feel when you are away from the keyboard for too long. He hit it right on the nose.
Don’t get me wrong. I still want my share of fame, fortune and friendship, but that fulfillment piece, that’s where it’s really at for a writer.
I met a lot of interesting people yesterday, and I’m hoping that a few of become good friends. There are some really talented people here, and some that are… a little odd. I’m trying to set up, or join a writing critique group to learn to write better, and it’s important to have people you like and trust in the group. This is where you find those people. Yesterday was a day for practicing your book pitch to fellow authors, listening to feedback, and making alterations. Today is the real deal, where we start to meet with agents and editors. I’ve listened to some really good pitches, and some not so good. My first draft fell somewhere in the middle, but with a little help, I’ve got it tightened up. I talked to Pam Binder last night, the president of the PNWA, and she asked for my pitch, and she said it was really good and tight. We’ll see.
People are starting to arrive now. Have a great day!