When my kids were in high school, money was tight--car insurance for two teens, one of whom was the dreaded male under the age of twenty-five; gasoline to drive 70 miles a day to school; prom dresses, tuxes, regular school clothing, lunches, etc, etc. I wanted to join RWA and go to a conference, but the money just wasn't there. Then I discovered that the 2005 conference was slated to be held in Reno. Reno! Only 172 miles away. No expensive flight involved. It seemed like a sign, so I scrounged up the money to join, then signed up for conference.
I think I packed for two weeks, putting things in my suitcase, then taking them back out again. Two days before conference, our vehicle died. Just...died. I think it might have been the fuel pump or injectors or something quite expensive. I had no way to get to conference and it seemed that that might also be a sign. I'd been so looking forward to meeting other writers. I had an editor appointment. I'd made arrangements to meet up with Superromance authors I'd met online--real authors! And it wasn't going to happen. I was devastated.
Well, it did happen. We bought a new vehicle. (On a side note, I remember what I was wearing, because when we were talking to the salesman, I looked down and realized my shorts were on inside out.) It was the worst time ever for us to do that, but we had to have something dependable, so we tightened our belts, signed some papers and I had wheels to get to Reno.
Once there, I strolled into the conference hotel, feeling very intimidated and out of place. When I got into an elevator after registering, I read the name tag of the woman riding up with me. Debbie Macomber! I have to be honest. I gushed. She was quite gracious. I was in awe.
That night I went to the Literacy signing and met all my heroes. Oh my gosh...the Nora! I met the Harlequin editor who'd given me excellent feedback on my multi-rejected manuscript. And I went to classes. Being a teacher, I love classes. I'd read on one of the forums that a person shouldn't fill their day with classes or they'd burn out. Pfft. I hit a class every hour and I learned a lot.
I didn't have any close writer friends when I went to the conference, but by the time I checked out of the hotel, I felt like I was truly part of the writing community. That lit a fire under me. I sold in January 2006 and the next conference I attended as a published author.
So as I start packing for this year's conference--I've kept the two-week-in-advance packing tradition alive--I always think of that first conference and how excited and scared I was, how I almost didn't get to go, and how terrifically valuable it was. It's good to belong to a community.
Yep. I do love conference.