Earlier in the fall I asked my Facebook  readers what topics they would like to see here at Southern Exposure.  Brandi Jones asked about my relationship with other authors.  She wondered if we critique or brainstorm together, help each other out of writer’s block or even lend ideas.  She was surprised at the lack of rivalry she witnessed. 

I spent most of last week at the Novelist’s Inc. conference in St. Petersburg, Florida.  “Brainstorming on the Beach” was billed as a chance to reconsider the future of publishing along with movers and shakers in the biz.  Since NINC is my favorite writer’s organization, and since St. Pete is  not only my hometown but also close to “Happiness Key,” attending was a no-brainer for me.  I could celebrate finishing Sunset Bridge, my latest novel, check on my 92 year old father and attend workshops if they were interesting enough.  Plus I could do a little research and sit on the beach as I did.

As it turned out, the visit with family was the only part of the trip that went as planned.  The book was NOT finished on time–still editing–and the workshops were simply not optional.  They were, in fact, highly frustrating, since every one was so good that choosing was agonizing.  What beach time I experienced was in the company of other professionals, and conversation took precedence to studying seagulls.  Rarely have I gained as much from a conference as I did from this one.  Publishing is changing at the speed of light, and now I’m at least aware of the possibilities.

The one plus I hadn’t even considered when I registered was the pleasure of being with friends.  I’m online with many of my favorite writers, and I keep up with their lives.  Of course being online is a poor substitute for being in the room or on the sand together, something I rediscovered immediately.   A funnier, smarter, more perceptive group doesn’t exist.  And now, when many of us have decades of publishing experience behind us, the conversation never lags.

All friendships are special, and friendship’s a subject I’ve considered in depth since the first Happiness Key novel.  Friendships among colleagues, though?  Sometimes touchy, sometimes impossible.  Those of us who write similar books are vying for the same readers.  Some of us are treated better by our publishers.  Some hit gold and others are just hoping to pay the mortgage and stave off creditors.  Publishing is rarely fair and always stressful.

And yet?  We’re friends nonetheless.  Because when it comes down to it, we ALL want to read good books.  Who would I read if my friends left the biz?  Who would I talk to about deadlines and proposals, word count and e-publishing?  Who would understand when I moan that the book in progress (every book) just isn’t coming together the way I hoped?  Who else would understand when I suddenly stop in mid-sentence and say “I just figured out how to murder Ralph?”  Who would applaud?

Although many of my writer friends do not hold my political beliefs, are members of different churches, have opinions I don’t share, what we have in common, besides our chosen careers, is this.  As a group, right down to the newest of the newbies, we are curious.  We want to know everything, and we want to spin what we learn into different universes, into situations that “might” happen, into problems and possibilities.   We want to tell stories, even if no one ever reads them.  We want to imagine new outcomes for the simplest interactions.  And more than that?  We want to share all this with people who understand.

So thanks Julie, Pat, Diane, Jasmine, Barbara, Jimmie, Carole and more.  I loved being with you, just as I always have.  You and my other writer friends are a big part of the reason I continue doing what I do.  And thanks, Brandi, for suggesting this blog.

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