How I Conquered My Book Eating Pigeons (or writing conferences are awesome)

A car crashes into a writer’s bedroom. The final line of her manuscript (the only manuscript that can save the world from fictitious book eating pigeons) is left unwritten. Will anyone ever read it? Will her story ever be told?

Pigeon flying

A book eating pigeon poised to attack.  (Pigeon in Flight. Image courtesy of quinet via  Flickr CC Lic. 2.0)

A young woman leaves her “day job” to write insanely humorous urban fantasy. Follow her as she skyrockets to the top of the industry and remodels her house to include a dark, but well lit library.

study or library

My dark, but well lit future library complete with magical potions, because writing is magical. (Study. Image courtesy of CodyR via Flickr CC 2.0)

These aren’t the plots of Hollywood movies. These are the types of thoughts that run through my mind at night. And by night I mean while in bed desperately trying to fall asleep.

These thoughts can usually be divided into two very distinct categories: Fortune and Fame or Doom and Gloom. Examples:

Fortune and Fame – I can’t wait to sell the first million copies of my book!

Doom and Gloom – What if I never finish the book? What if something happens to me, and my manuscript remains the gooey, messy, but delightful draft that only I’ve read?

Fortune and Fame  – This trip will be amazing! Our Mardi Gras costumes will be the best anyone has ever seen and we’ll be on the front page of every newspaper and meet Angelina and Brad.

Doom and Gloom – Unless our plane crashes into an alligator infested swamp.

Yeah, I might have a little anxiety … countered by delusions of grandeur.

I don’t know why my brain does this. Someone please explain to me the evolutionary advantage of keeping myself up all night worrying about book eating pigeons or fantasizing about my Oscar speech for a book that doesn’t even have a title yet.

But I digress.

This weekend I attended the Pikes Peak Writers Conference (PPWC) in Colorado Springs, CO and guess what? I learned things. I learned new ways to think about things. I learned that “things” isn’t a very strong word. Well, I already knew that, but I liked the use of anaphora.

Crows reading

Me looking up the word anaphora. What? You didn’t know I was a crow, with other crow friends? (Reader. Image courtesy of h.koppdelaney via Flickr CC 2.0)

When I sunk into my couch yesterday afternoon, I was filled with a range of emotions, the best being exhilaration. Although, you couldn’t tell from my slack jaw and glazed over eyes.

The conference was three days of workshops, pitch sessions, critique sessions and writerly fun. At times it was overwhelming, and the realities of the writing life can be daunting.

While I was splayed on the couch, my husband asked if I felt discouraged. I didn’t even have to think about my answer. No, I wasn’t discouraged. In fact, I have never felt more encouraged, supported and empowered. I’ve never loved being a writer more.

When 8:00 p.m. rolled around, I was semi-conscious and drooling on a throw pillow. So, I decided to go to bed. And then it happened – I couldn’t sleep. I was up for hours. I reworked my first two chapters in my mind, pondered marketing strategies and, of course, pictured myself walking down the red carpet. There was no worrying, no negative thoughts. Only the positive flowed through my mind.

So, goodbye Doom and Gloom. From here on out, I’m focusing on Fortune and Fame.

Thank you PPWC!

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Public Speaking: Practice Makes Perfect (or at least slightly less scary)

It’s feared more than spiders, heights, and Jello molds. Some would actually rather be dead than do it.

Amazingly, public speaking is more frightening to people than going an entire night without cable TV.

And that’s what I was doing last week. I rarely talk about my “other” job, but after eight months of being self-employed, I think it’s time.

I used to work for the state government as a nurse surveyor. This meant that I got to visit home health agencies, hospices and even a few hospitals to evaluate their compliance with state and federal regulations. We’ll just say nobody was happy when I walked through the front door.

Now, I help the same companies that I used to scrutinize. I provide training and education on how to interpret and comply with all those federal and state requirements. This means that on a monthly basis I give presentations. In front of people. For like hours.

This is how I felt about public speaking in college:

Public Speaking Socially Awkward penguin

Um, I may have done this once. Or twice.

Socially awkward penguin public speaking

Yes, socially awkward penguin, I understand. I contemplated doing this.

public speaking anxiety cat

Luckily, I never had to resort to this. I found a loophole 🙂

And that feeling stayed with me into adulthood, although it lessened over time. Soon, I was able to verbalize my thoughts in front of a group of five or ten people without this happening:

Public speaking brain

But a four hour presentation in front of twenty or so strangers? Hmmm…. Maybe that coffin doesn’t look so bad.

My first presentation brought on some nerves. To help, my body decided to recruit my sympathetic nervous system, which resulted in:

Nausea – I knew those three bites of toast would come back to haunt me

Tachycardia – The fancy word for a fast heart rate

Cotton mouth – I had no idea my tongue could be this dry

Trembling hands – We’ll just forget about using the laser pointer

The need to pee every five minutes – Now I know what it’s like to be my mom

And pretty much the overall sensation that I was going to die.

Thanks, body. That really helped create the illusion that I was confident and composed.

Now, eight months later, I am more confident and composed.

sponge bob public speaking

Just like Sponge Bob

I still get a little jittery before each presentation, but instead of feeling like my heart might explode for the full four hours, I go through the following:

-It’s almost time to start the presentation. Everyone is looking at me. Wow, my heart really can beat 200 times per minute. Maybe I should go throw up really quick. Or just pee. I think I have to pee again.

-Wow, I’m already 30 minutes in. And I’m rockin’ it. Look they’re laughing at my jokes. They’re asking questions. They’re nodding like they understand. I’m awesome!

-Ugh. We’re only two hours into this thing. Is that person sleeping? Yes, I think they’re sleeping. I’m boring them. Better say something funny.

-Says something funny. Everyone laughs. They all go back to sleep. And I don’t take it personally.

-We only have a half hour left. I can do this. Maybe I need some caffeine? Where’s that racing heart beat? I think I need that again. A little shot of adrenaline just might spruce up the last bit of this presentation. Ugh. Body, come on. You were so generous with it earlier.

So, I guess what I’m trying to say is this public speaking thing does get better. The more I do it, the easier it becomes. I almost even like it sometimes. Crazy, huh?

As a side note: My cousin and I are attending our first writing conference this weekend and we’re planning to read the first page of our novels. Out loud. To an agent. And an audience. I have a feeling that pesky sympathetic nervous system will be kicking in again.

As another side note: My cat was sitting on my mouse the whole time I was writing this and she bit my hand every time I tried to use it. But don’t worry – she hardly has any teeth left.

Irrational fears: Ghosts and Sharks (and a little snake too)

We’re all afraid of something, right? Some are afraid of heights, others fear flying, my husband is TERRIFIED of snakes.

snake

Yes, he’s even afraid of snakes this small. You may proceed to make fun of him.
(Courtesy TonyAlter via Flickr)

Some of these fears are rational and others aren’t. I personally have a few irrational fears. At the top of my list: sharks. I’m 100% sure this stemmed from the movie Jaws–thanks a lot Spielberg.

shark

Courtesy Steve Garner via Flickr

Swimming in the pool, the ominous music plays in my head (you know what I’m talking about) and I wonder if one could be lurking behind me. In a dark, Colorado reservoir I’m sure one is circling below. Any moment the fin of death will show itself and I’ll be a goner.

Snorkeling off the coast of Mexico, I cursed my husband’s choppy swimming style. His legs thrashed and kicked the water, splashing around like a dying fish. Was he trying to lure them to us??? Doesn’t he know they can sense erratic movements?!?

Needless to say, we survived, only to face another one of my irrational fears: ghosts.

We drove through the vine-covered gates and down the oak-canopied driveway.

vine gates

canopy

Decomposing white shacks flanked the road. These were the old slave quarters. Up ahead, the mansion stood proud with secondary buildings on either side. There were sleeping quarters in the main house, the converted kitchen and the schoolhouse.

The innkeeper menacingly informed us that there was just one other couple staying the night. (I’m just kidding; she was very sweet and obviously harmless… at first glance)

We dropped our bags and headed off to explore the former rice plantation, established in 1718.

Slave quarters

Weaving through the rotting buildings, we contemplated whether it was right to be staying on land that once enslaved hundreds. It was then that the kernel of fear was planted. My husband reflected on how many people were probably buried there, in unmarked graves.

Sleep wouldn’t come that night. I positioned myself in the center of the bed, pressed against my husband (because they can only get you if you’re near the edge, right?).

ghosts

This is what I pictured was happening outside our room.
(Courtesy of Johnxfire via Flickr)

Around four in the morning I had to pee. Every time I opened my eyes I expected to see someone standing there. I held it until morning. Even my husband admitted he was freaked out.

At breakfast the other couple made the requisite chitchat. But soon the conversation turned to the ghosts. The other couple sensed them as well!

He started going on about the guest book and how the innkeeper said no one had stayed over the last week. But someone had signed the book just yesterday. She told of how at lunch in the nearby town, a local asked where they were staying. When she said the name of the place, the local had never heard of it.

Did it even exist? Were we lured there like in a scary movie?

The innkeeper served the main course, informing us that she had checked her husband out of some sort of facility and he was living in one of the refurbished slave quarters. But we weren’t to worry, he never left the bedroom. Uh, anyone see the movie Skeleton Key?

her house

Where the innkeeper and her, uh, husband lived.

We asked if we could see the other rooms of the inn (most B&Bs let you do this). She said the other rooms weren’t clean. Sure… we thought. All these other rooms and none of them were clean? That must be where the bodies are kept.

The other couple talked about checking out. We pondered the same thing. But, it was agreed that we would all stay and meet by the fire pit that night–in the scary movie world, this would have sealed our doom.

It was dark when we returned. We turned off the highway and found the first gate closed, but not locked. That’s strange. The innkeeper said the gate was never closed. The other couple wasn’t back yet and we feared they wouldn’t return. An hour later they showed. We had a few drinks, shared our fears and finally went to bed.

our room light

The door leading into our room.

our room

The first picture wasn’t scary enough, so I did as much editing as I know how to make it look creepy. Are you scared now?

Of course, I couldn’t sleep. I sensed them–the ghosts. They were definitely there and going to get us. For what, I don’t know.

The next morning we told the innkeeper about the first gate being closed. Her eyes opened wide and she stuttered. It was strange she kept saying. She didn’t close the gate. Who would close the gate?

The girl from the other couple was a wreck. They were on their honeymoon and thinking of cutting it short. We parted ways, never to see them again.

Looking back this was the most scared of ghosts I have ever been, save my haunted college house and the ghosts that haunted me after watching Paranormal Activity.

People ask me why I’m so afraid of ghosts and not, say a burglar. Well it’s quite obvious and rational, I think. A burglar I can fight. I have a chance. With a ghost, what am I going to do? Call Ghostbusters?

Just like with a shark. I’m more afraid of them than, say a mountain lion. Why? Because I feel like I can try to fight a mountain lion. I could even use bear spray. With a shark, what am I going to do? Out-swim it? Pretend I’m a bigger, scary shark? I doubt it.

And now, to add to my irrational fear of sharks, there is the sharknado…

sharknado

Really? Now I have to worry about this?
I do live in an area that gets tornadoes…
(courtesy of ZennieAbraham via Flickr)

What are your irrational fears? Are you afraid of ghosts, snakes or public speaking? Are you permanently traumatized from a movie or book you read? Did you watch the movie Sharknado?