This past weekend I went to the Nebraska Writer’s Guild Spring Conference. The event was held at Mahoney State Park between Omaha and Lincoln. I was a bit apprehensive. I had inquired about the event with a few friends who have published bestselling novels – none of whom knew about the event. Some friends at the paper were apprehensive for me. Writer’s guild sounded like a book club, and book clubs can be an excuse for drinking wine and gossiping.
The event started at 6:30 p.m. Friday, and I hit the park right at 6:30, so by the time I bought my park pass and drove to the lodge, it was about 6:40. I got my name tag and conference packet, then scurried into the room right behind someone else. This woman and I each grabbed a goblet of water and a plate of hors d’oeuvres. I slid into a seat near the front, in the middle of a sparsely-occupied row. I looked at the plate of food in my lap, then glanced around. Sitting two seats to my right was an African-American with a white beard, wearing a black shirt, slim-fitting jeans, white cowboy boots and a black cowboy hat. He had a half-drank glass of water on the floor beside a notebook with a purple yin-yang on the cover. Sitting in the row in front of me was a middle-aged woman wearing indistinct jeans and a sweatshirt. There was an empty plate on the floor beside her chair.
I looked at my plate again, avoided the carrots, and popped a piece of broccoli into my mouth. As I self-consciously chewed, someone was reading a story about a life-affecting illness. I learned several things, such as how using your left side poses its own unique set of challenges. As he finished reading, I sneaked a piece of cauliflower into my mouth and applauded.
Another reader towards the beginning was a woman who wrote a story about … the proliferation of cats on her farm.
The people in the room laughed several times throughout this reading, and the punchline was so funny, I nearly dropped my plate out of my lap.
This wasn’t a book-club-esque writing club, these were good, even great, writers.
A different lady came up to the front to read, and apologized before starting. “If you are offended by swear words, you might want to close your ears towards the end,” she said politely. She read the word “arse.” I popped a piece of cheese into my mouth as I applauded.
Two readers later, an old military man came up and said the “f” word … frequently. Another piece of cheese went into my mouth during the applause.
A lady wearing a suit and fashionable heels came in eventually, sitting between the cowboy and myself. I glanced at her, thinking, “Where do I know her from?” but others were reading, so I didn’t ask.
The cowboy, when it was his turn to read, stood up and deliberately walked to the front of the room. He took a breath, looked at everyone, and started in a clear strong voice … “Who has the right?” Poetry is not normally my genre, but I was blown away by this man’s skill, as were many others in the room. I crunched on a carrot afterwards.
Towards the end, the woman in the suit, identified as Lisa, stood up and read a piece about her job. As she read about a couple of characters who have walked into her publishing firm, the proverbial light bulb clicked on.
She sat back down, and I leaned over and asked quietly, “Do you work with Leo Adam Biga?”
The lady replied, “Yes, I have.”
“That’s where I know you from,” I said as the next person was walking to the front. “I’m Daisy. I’m with the Omaha Press Club.”
The night ended a bit after 10 p.m. I picked up my half drank glass of water and my plate of food, then walked to the front of the room with everyone else, putting in the trash one of the three carrots and two of four cubes of cheese.
I drove home with Gwen Stefani blaring on the stereo, which I turned down at the fast food drive-through window. Knowing that by now my husband, Wade, would already have eaten dinner, I ordered a two-taco meal with an extra order of potatoes. When I arrived at the house, I walked in ready to tell stories about all these writers. I set the bag on the table and saw a cup of salsa from the local Mexican restaurant already there.
“I figured you already ate, so I just got you two beef tacos,” I said, unloading potatoes and cheese dip from the bag.
“There’s also part of a veggie plate in the fridge,” Wade replied. A veggie plate is slightly-spicy rice topped with steamed broccoli, carrots and cauliflower then drizzled with cheese.
“You ate a veggie plate?”
“Well, I got shrimp on top, but I ate the shrimp,” Wade said. “How was the writer’s thing?”