The City of Big Shoulders

Cloud_Gate_2That’s one of Chicago’s nicknames. Isn’t it great? For many years now, I’ve wanted to go to Chicago based on this name alone, and on Tuesday, Princess Daughter and I are doing just that. We’ll have a few days of sightseeing in the city proper before I go to the Chicago North Romance Writers conference.

I’ll tell you a secret…I always get a little anxious before a conference, though I’ve gone to quite a few now. I’ve given between six and ten keynote addresses, and I’ll be giving one Saturday night. But that’s not what makes me nervous. It’s that walk from my hotel room to the meeting rooms or lobby. The walk where I wonder if people will like me. If I look okay. If I’ll be helpful and memorable. If I’ll fall on the way up to the microphone. If I’ll spill something down my front (those last two things being definite possibilities).

jillandkristanAt my very first writers conference, I didn’t know anyone. I made exactly one friend, but she’s a friend with staying power, I’m happy to say. At my next conference, I was afraid to say the words, “I’m published” because I didn’t feel like I could put myself in the same category as the real authors (some of whom are my friends now). The first time I went to a big book show, I emailed Jill Shalvis and told her I was hiding in my room because I was afraid to go down to the bar where the other writers were. I think this is when we really started to become friends, because she wrote back and said, “Ha! I’d be doing the exact same thing.”

But over the years, I’ve learned to do something—to act like the person I hope to be. I want to be outgoing and friendly and down-to-earth…I think I genuinely am those things, but when faced with a hotel full of people I’ve not yet met, it can be a little scary.

Once upon a time, when I was brand-spanking new at one of these conferences, I sat down at a table and, reminding myself to be outgoing and cheerful, introduced myself to the woman next to me. “Hi,” I said. “I’m Kristan Higgins, and my first book just came out.”

“Hi,” she said. “I just love your purse.” (It had a silkscreened picture of Clark Gable on it.) “I’m Linda Miller.”

cowboyAs in, Linda Lael Miller. The number one New York Times bestselling author, who proceeded to tell me that she spent her first advance fixing a crack in her windshield. We both love horses (and cowboys). She urged me to visit Washington State. That weekend, Linda was being honored with the Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award that weekend. We talked for a good hour, LLM and I.

“Thank you for being so nice to me,” I said when I was leaving. “I was scared I wouldn’t have anyone to talk to.”

“Oh, honey,” she said. “I felt exactly the same way.” That wasn’t true, I imagine, but heck, it was awfully nice of her to say.

So I guess the moral of the story, if there is one, is pretend you have big shoulders, and you just might find you do. The old fake it till you make it. It beats hiding in a hotel room.

And thanks, Linda Lael Miller. I’ll never forget how a big-time author had time to talk to a newbie.

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