Brin Jackson, Fantasy writer & daydreamer

Writing, fantasy, craft, sharing, chatting. It's all about books!


Experience of a lifetime: Writer Unboxed Un-Conference

Aside from my Monday Quotes, it’s been a while since I’ve posted an actual blog post. (Yeah, I snickered too!)

Several weeks have gone by since the first Writer Unboxed Un-Conference in Salem, Massachusetts and I’m still in la-la land; my mind a swirling haze of images and sounds.

Each time I ready myself to write, either this post, or on my wip, I get caught up in memories. It’s the people who attended the Un-Con who come to mind. I hear the echo of their voices and laughter and I realize this post is as much about them as the Un-Conference.

Let me give you some context. Writer Unboxed is, in my opinion, the best online site for writerly know-how and camaraderie. There is also the Writer Unboxed Facebook page which connects writers with each other and is a wonderful forum for sharing and connection. Therese Walsh, co-founder of Writer Unboxed decided to pull together the first Writer Unboxed Conference, and in true fashion, called it an ‘Un-Conference’! Finally, here’s a vital piece of information: the majority of us have known each other online only – we’ve never met “IRL” or in real life until now.

I traveled across the continent to attend this Un-Conference. As well as Canada and the U.S., other friends came from Australia, Spain, England and Alaska – we were a global potpourri.

Jeannine, her family, (Bil, Kade & Jack) and Tonia were the first people I met IRL. These are people I’ve known on-line for two years or longer. There’s the accompanying and totally useless self-talk of, “Oh, God – will they like me? What if they think I’m a putz?” before the exhilarating, adrenalin rush of, “You’re exactly like you are online!”

Now, ramp that up several notches. Something on the order of ninety people meeting each other for the first time. One might not be far off assuming that there would probably be a wallflower or two. (I tossed myself into that group.) Pfft! Not bloody likely. The reality of that first afternoon and evening is where I lapse into foggy bliss-filled memories – we were like family members who have written to each other over the years, or spoken on the phone, and finally have the long-awaited family reunion. Imagine that!

When I met Therese Walsh, Un-Conference organizer extraordinaire, she said, “Brin!” with such warmth and loving I knew magical things were about to happen. She handed me a box of tissues which had my name written on it. I’d made a wise-crack online about weeping when I met people for the first time. I’m surprised to say, I didn’t need the tissues then – I’d need them later.

This would prove to be the Un-Cybering cyber family reunion of the decade.

We met for the dinner and dedication in the ballroom. A grand room set with tables and glittering tableware. Everywhere I looked, were people meeting for the first time. Struck by the delighted exclamations and whoops as fellow attendees greeted each other, I was filled with inexplicable joy. A roomful of self-confessed introverts and not one person stood alone. I was in awe of these people!

Therese dedicated the Un-Conference to Lisa Threadgill; a long-time facebook member and first to register for the Un-Con, Lisa sadly passed away. Rather than setting a morose and sad tone, I believe this dedication drew us together and filled our hearts with loving and a promise of great things to come.

Over the next four days, I crammed by head full of information from workshops like: “Throughness” with Meg Rosoff, “First Pages” with Ray Rhamey, “If You Must Fail, Fail Big” with John Vorhaus. “Voice” and “Where Stories Come From” with Meg, “On Criticism” with Porter Anderson, more “Voice” and “Subconscious Writing” with Meg, the beginning of “Write On!” with Therese Walsh and Jael McHenry, and a day-long 21st Century Fiction Workshop with Donald Maass.

By the time we were done, I thought my brain had liquefied and threatened to leak out my ears. What a ride!

Amidst the walking back and forth between the Hawthorne Hotel session rooms and the House of Seven Gables where other sessions took place, I noticed, though didn’t introduce myself to a tall older gentleman. This was a man we knew as, WriterBob. We knew some of his health struggles and the effort it took for him to attend. Many were fortunate to experience his delight upon his arrival in Salem.

During the “Write On!” session we learned WriterBob had passed away. Rather than plummet the Un-Conference into a gloomy downward spiral, his death knit us together. Family. The Writer Unboxed family.

I stayed on in Salem for another day and a half after the conference ended. I’m glad I had that time to reflect and begin to process the range of emotions and array of imagery I experienced. As I wandered about Salem exploring the House of Seven Gables and taking photos, I recognized my overwhelm began with the depth of loving and connection I experienced from friends, progressed with the depth of the learning, and of course, culminated in the stunning location and history of Salem. I cherish images of clusters of people in deep conversation with each other, individuals typing away on their laptops in the lobby of the Hawthorne Hotel, watching people’s eyes as they un-focus while the author vanishes into the world of their creation when a new and exciting plot twist or character trait intrigues them. Reveling in being surrounded by brilliantly talented, warm, spontaneous, imaginative people. Overwhelm? Ya think?

The tissues I mentioned earlier? I needed them once I got home and began reading the rafts of posts from friends.

I think I can safely say we are all going through post-Un-Con blues.

Therese created a conference about the craft of writing. I experienced a conference where we all, presenters and attendees alike, were comfortable to be ourselves and for this, I am deeply grateful.

Dinner and dedication.

Dinner and dedication.

The Gang

The Gang

Two very special people: Therese & Vaughn

Two very special people: Therese & Vaughn