What an absolutely incredible weekend.
It started off Wednesday evening when I arrived at the Sheridan for the conference with buddy and fellow author, Lee Fodi. We had a Master Class to prepare for on Thursday at 1pm, so it was time to get settled in and relax a little.
The funny thing about this conference was that it was only a 20-minute drive from where I live … yet it felt as though I had stepped through a magical door and found myself in a strange world. Rather than this world being inhabited by elves, dwarfs and other nocturnal birds (private joke), it was filled with publishers, editors, and agents. There were also some incredible authors there from Eric Walters to Meg Tilly to CC Humphreys to Jack Whyte to Diana Gabaldon … I could go on.
The conference began for me as I waited at the elevator on Wednesday evening. A woman walked up beside me, I commented on how slow the elevators were and she pressed the button – apparently I hadn’t done that. She then gave me a scrutinizing look and asked, “Are you James McCann? My daughter loved your books!”
This is what the rest of the weekend would be for me. As I taught my master class with Lee, then sat on panels, taught my own workshop and had one-on-one appointments with writers struggling to break into the market, I would constantly be approached as the “nice guy” of SiWC. “I was told you were very approachable,” another woman had said to me during dinner on Friday evening. In my head I thought, “It’s just as much a thrill for me to meet all of you,” as others around me stated the same thing.
My favourite activity wound up being the very thing that I was most apprehensive of – the Blue Pencil. These were the appointments that writers could book with agents, publishers, editors and authors to get inside info on the biz as well as a one-on-one critique of their books. I wondered if anyone would sign up to talk to me – what if they didn’t? What if I wound up sitting at a table, all alone, the only one in the room with no one wanting his advice?
So there I sat, waiting to see if I’d have a first appointment on Friday afternoon, when a young lady came and sat in the chair on the other side of the table. Her long blond hair had fallen over her face, and she was clutching her book bag tightly to her chest. As she loosened her grip to rifle through for her manuscript, I could see her hands shaking. She was scared – nervous of what I might tell her – I’ll bet she had doubts in her mind about her talent and had convinced herself that I would confirm those doubts.
What she didn’t know was how nervous I was. What if I couldn’t evaluate her manuscript? What if I wasn’t of any help? My mind, the Censor, had convinced me that she would be the one to confirm all of the doubts I had of myself. Then she realized she had left her manuscript on the chair outside, so she stood and ran to go get it. Finally, it was on the table before us. I started to read.
What happened was magical. It suddenly became two peers discussing a story – characters, plots, pacing – and I started getting excited about the tale she had weaved. My excitement drifted across the table, infecting her, and suddenly nervousness suffocated away. A love for creativity will do that to those negative forces in our lives. Then the next appointment came, and the same thing happened. It was one author after the next, regardless of where they were in their craft, finding something valuable in their work. Most importantly I think, they found the same thing I rediscovered that weekend – the thrill of creating a tale that enthralls the reader. I could have done a whole weekend of just Blue Pencils.
But if I had I would have missed out on so much. SiWC attracts some high calibre talent in the publishing industry, and more often than not I felt as a fan and not as an author. I often retreated into my humour as a way to relax – a humour that is so dry that recipients don’t always know if I’m joking around. Though when I stood at the podium during the award ceremony on Friday night, a podium that was so high I could barely see over it, I got many laughs as I jumped up and stated, “I feel like I’m in an episode of Wizard of Oz.” Perhaps even more telling of my jovial personality was when I showed up at the masquerade dressed as a Hobbit.
This was a weekend that reminded me foremost how grateful I am that I get to do what my dreams inspired me to achieve. Secondly, it inspired me to continue on – and to do it with gladness in my heart. Writing isn’t something to take up if it fills you with angst, it’s something to cherish and do so with childlike delight. This weekend, I found the child in me – and he’s feeling awesome.