Scared Yet?

Two weeks left before the Santa Barbara Writers Conference. A little more as I write this— seventeen days. Just like the line in the movie Aliens. After the first big attack when the critters wiped out most of the cocky Colonial Marines and the survivors wonder how long before they can expect a rescue. Seventeen days. No rescue this time, Private! Seventeen (or fourteen or whatever) days until we all fetch up on the shores of the SBWC. But fear is good. Fear is normal. Fear works. I was very, very afraid before my first SBWC.

I lived in Goleta for ten years and never went to the SBWC. The Conference was for Serious Writers, I told myself. I was a craven hack in a condo writing novels nobody wanted. Every year I’d read about the Conference in the Santa Barbara News-Press, and long to go, and every year I wouldn’t. Then my mother wrote a book ( and decided to go, and took me, cringing, along.

The first year I was too afraid to say a word. The second year I was brave enough to comment on other people’s work. The third year? The third year I read aloud something I’d written for a Conference contest. Matt Pallamary liked it. Shelley Lowenkopf liked it. Actually, Shelley scared the bejaysus out of me. I read my piece at his pirate and he said:

“This is the sort of thing that I...” his long inhalation while I died one thousand tortured cowards’ deaths at the podium— Shelley has the lung capacity of several large giraffes who have all run the marathon— exhalation... “really like.”

I was off and running. Matt told me I’d be happier and saner if I changed my small vignette from first-person to third, and he was right and I did. That thousand-word piece became the first scene of my first published novel.

Even the circumstances of my publication can be credited to the SBWC. In the newsletter one day was a notice that a new publisher was looking for new writers. One thing led to another (I’m quite brave on email), and two years after the notice I was on book tour. Go figure. An overnight success after a few short decades!

As about fifty people have said before me, courage isn’t about not being afraid. It’s about being afraid and doing it anyway. Congratulations on doing it anyway.