It wasn’t until after my grandmother died and her twenty (yes 20) siblings showed up at her funeral that I found out my mother is FBI – Full-blooded Indian. Mawmaw’s brothers and sisters looked like a reunion of the winning team at Custer’s Last Stand. There were reasons this information was kept from all of us (my brothers and my cousins,) but we won’t go into it here.
I attended my first Powwow several months later and that is where I bought my mother her FBI t-shirt. It still makes her smile. A Powwow is an amazing symphony of dancing, music, drums, food, family reunion, ceremonies and arts and crafts fair. If you’ve never tried Cherokee chili or Creek fried bread you’re missing a real treat.
My first Powwow introduced me to Cherokee chili and I was going back for my second bowl when I realized one of the ladies serving was staring at me. Hard. She abruptly asked “What nation are you?” I was a bit stunned by her question. “You have Creek eyes,” she continued. “Only Creeks have those gray eyes. You are Creek.” Her observation was a gift. It filled my soul and connected me to my grandmother in a way I’d never known.
I’ve attended RWA’s National Conference for the last six years. I’m not a wealthy woman by any stretch of the imagination. I work at Walmart, which means I am not even in that “comfortable” range of income. I live paycheck to paycheck. Going to this conference is expensive. It is the only vacation I take each year. I once had a writing friend tell me going to conference was a bad, impractical choice - spending all of that money going to conference when I didn’t even own a washing machine. (I bought a washing machine a few months ago! It is awesome and I no longer have to schlep my laundry to the laundromat every week.) She said I was ‘poor and dumb’ and would continue to be so if I made such foolish choices with my money. Don’t be angry with her. Her advice was practical and I truly believe given out of an honest concern for my welfare.
I spend forty hours a week at a job I despise. This is not the normal griping about a thankless job. This is the absolute truth. My job puts me in the company of people with whom I have nothing in common. It requires no creativity on my part and very little thought. It hammers away at my soul like Andy Dufresne hammering away at the prison wall with that little rock hammer in The Shawshank Redemption. And some days, like him, I feel like I am crawling through five football fields of raw sewage to escape prison. ‘Practical Me’ knows working at Walmart pays the bills, provides me with insurance and affords me little luxuries like food, toilet paper and living indoors. At least once a day I want to knock ‘Practical Me’ in the head with a tire iron, bundle her into the trunk of a car and take her off to the alligator farm for disposal.
Then, just when I am at the end of my rope, RWA National Conference arrives. For one week a year, I escape all that. For one week a year, I am a writer in every sense of the word. My roommate and I plotted a hilarious mystery/romantic comedy our first night. We only see each other once a year and yet we pick up as if it were only yesterday. I attended workshops that produced so many ‘light bulb’ moments I felt like a Kardashian being chased by paparazzi. I heard some of the most inspirational and heart-felt speeches I’ve heard. I talked writing in the bar and in the restaurants. Word counts, genre, self publishing, indie publishing, agents, editors, who got a good book deal, who got a better book deal, who is buying what. An entire week with not one word about shelf caps, outs, broken ovens or disgruntled customers.
The Beau Monde mini conference is always held the day before RWA officially starts. The workshops are intense scholarly lectures on historical topics vital to any Regency romance author. The afternoon tea and the soiree in the evening are a chance to walk in the shoes of our characters, and even better to dance in them.
I had the best editor and agent appointments I’ve ever had. They asked questions. They were interested in my stories. They asked to see what I write. I was up for four awards in four contests. I won three and someone whose work I admire won the fourth. There are people who discount those contests and those certificates and bookmarks. Fools. When your well is almost empty, when there is nothing but mud at the bottom, those certificates and bookmarks are like a natural spring bubbling up through the muck telling you “Nope. You ain’t done yet, honey.”
There is a scene in the film The Man in the Iron Mask where Philippe (one of the twins played by Leonardo di Caprio) newly freed from the mask sees a sliver of the moon through the closed shutters of the room in the Jacobite safe house. All during his imprisonment, his only connection to the outside world was a small piece of the moon he could see from his cell. In this scene he slowly opens the shutters and sees the moon entire, so close he can almost touch it. He stands there, framed in the window basking in the light of that big, full moon and you can see his soul expanding, breathing, taking flight. The empty well of all of those years alone is filled.
Writing is often a lonely art. And those of us who truly love it long to devote our days and nights to it, to the exclusion of all else. My life’s dream is to write my way out of Walmart and spend every moment of my days and nights writing and researching and reveling in the sort of creativity that soothes and buffets and beats and exalts and makes me feel as if I have finally come home.
RWA National Conference is my moon in the window. For that one week a year I stand in the window and bask in the moonlight of writers, writing and all of the people and things that make this journey worthwhile. It doesn’t matter that at the end of the week I have to close those shutters and crawl back into the dark. I have spent time in the company of my ‘tribe,’ my nation, my people, my moonlight. And for right now, that must be enough. My well is refilled and until next time I go on.