Connecting with Folk: That Tribe Thing

In my last post, I wondered about tribes and finding one. Perhaps that sense of isolation came from so many years as a gypsy cruiser on Sea Venture, connecting with boat people or via social media. Here, at home in NC, taking care of my mama, I’m miles from town, tethered to more than a few by that same Internet.

And then came a recent writers conference (OWFI). I’d been invited to sit on an editor/agent panel and asked to take appointments. They gave me a shepherd so see to my comfort. Oh, my, what luxury.

And, lookee there, so many lovely new faces. Scads of eager writers and a slew of editors and agents. Most wore friendly, eager expressions, those writers, hoping that someone would want them and their work.

This blog is not about Normandie the editor. Here, I’m a writer, hugging my own stories to my breast, waiting with eager eyes for someone to love my children as much as I do. I’ll just say that I’m glad I know that angst: it gave me compassion for those sitting on the other side of the table with their hopeful eyes and sometimes quavering voice.

I came away from that conference smiling. Fatigued, yes, but with the assurance that my tribe had enlarged. That lovely young shepherd, Robin Patchen, who brought me Starbucks every morning, probably had no idea that we’d bond so well or that her eager enthusiasm would cajole me into asking for a sample edit. Based on that sample, I offered Robin a place on the Wayside Press team. But the circle Robin and I formed moves beyond the publishing house, overlapping into friendship and the symbiosis of one writer helping another.

We make friends and enlarge our circles for any number of reasons, but friends should have each other’s back. That conference also allowed me to meet and enjoy another new friend, C Hope Clark, who hails from the state to the south of NC. I’m reading her first story now, Lowcountry Bribe, published by Bell Bridge Books. Her next will be set in Beaufort, SC. Hope and I decided we’d market books together: she, using the Beaufort (Bewfort) setting, and I, using my Beaufort (Bowfort) crew; she, telling about shrimp boats, and I, about sailboats. She’s a hoot, which is what Southern gals who write ought to be.

I made other friends and renewed acquaintances at the conference. Between them and a new Facebook clan at Writer Unboxed, I’m kicking up my heels.

Do you live in a city or someplace crowded with people? If so, do you connect with them, or do you feel isolated among the masses, an unseen face and an unheard voice? How do you reconcile your life with the need for connections?

If you live in a remote area, far from neighbors or in a small town with only a handful of friends, how do you reach out and enlarge your tribe?

I’d love to hear from you.

48 Replies to “Connecting with Folk: That Tribe Thing”

  1. It’s a delicate balance – the need for tribe yet the call to remain an introverted writer. Sometimes just being out in public will provide the opportunity to meet a new friend and, as you mention, conferences are a great place to connect. God often does this work for me with a nudge to “Go talk to that person.” Then it’s my role to obey.

    1. I’m comfortable as that introvert. I always have been. But I also love people. All sorts and varieties of folk, so meeting them in a conference setting where I had time to interact one-on-one was just my cup of tea.

      Thanks for stopping by with your comment. I’m glad we’ve been able to interact via Facebook!

  2. Sounds like you had an awesome conference. So cool that you’ve seen it from both sides now. A writing conference is definitely on my to-do list for the near future.

    Coincidentally, one of the funniest of my tribe-mates, met at WU, is a Southern gal. Kathryn Magendie, also with Bell Bridge/Belle Books, is also one of the most generous writers I know. It’s so much fun getting to know peope from all walks, and from all over the globe. I have close writing buddies in Alberta, Australia, CA, IL, NY, WA, WI, Scotland, and a big bunch in Texas (everything from Texas is big, right?).

    The main thing I’ve done to connect is reach out, whether it’s to comment on a blog post (like now) or on FB or twitter, wherever. When I try to listen first and hear what others are saying, I am almost always rewarded. Keep up the good work. As I said, I think WU is a strong foundation to work from in your online connections.

    1. Vaughn, I can see why you’ve many, many friends. You’re an encourager at heart, which is a true gift. I’ve used the Internet for years to work with various critique partners (I had to when out sailing–no land partners there!) and have been thrilled to find folk whose lives differed from mine in ways that let me peek into their backgrounds and choices. The sailing community is a huge resource for connections, but we don’t talk writing very much–mostly boats and places and lifestyles. (I’ve another blog for that and Yahoo groups that cover the world.)

      I love what’s happening at WU and especially all the resources for writers there.

  3. Normandie,

    We seemed so alike, you and I, at that conference. I’m often alone at these things. I thoroughly enjoy meeting writers, but they always seem a little fearful of spending much time with me as a member of the faculty. So I wind up strolling around looking for something to do.

    But with our NC/SC connection, we hit it off, and I made a new friend. I expanded my tribe. I live in the country by choice, adoring seclusion. Elbow to elbow at an event sometimes raises a degree of angst in me. Finding one or two people to connect with seems to ease that angst as I compare worlds and don’t let the masses upset me.

    So to anyone fearful of reaching out, think of it as finding a friend – just one. As you do so, you often find more than one, walking away with a great new connection. it’s like I do when I speak. I connect each sentence to one pair of eyes in the audience, pretending the masses have vanished, and we’re having a conversation over coffee.

    So happy you’re enjoying Lowcountry Bribe! It means the world to me.

    Hope Clark

    1. I know exactly what you mean about connecting with one person at a time when speaking. Back in the days when I spoke before groups, I tried to think of the one woman there who looked like she listened and the one man who caught what I was saying. Then there’d be someone who smiled and another who nodded–and just as you said, intimacy could exist in a crowd. It’s the same reason I sought out one interesting person at a cocktail party instead of roaming the room, hoping to connect with dozens in bite-sized nibbles that only leave one hungry.

      When Becalmed comes out and your “Bewfort” book makes the rounds, we’ll pick some places and help folk connect with the sameness and the variety of southland stories. You in?

        1. I’m thinking hats, Hope. We’ll play the Southern belle in style–and I don’t care if that’s country jeans and hat or flowy dress and hat.

          1. LOL – look at Carolina Slade -flowy dress is OUT. Jeans and hat could work.

          2. I’m a jeans person–who loves hats. Slade and I are bonding, and she’s bound to need a hat out in that sun.

            Fine, I’ll take it off inside. (Sigh.)

  4. I tried to follow your link to Writer Unboxed but I had to find it by searching on Facebook. I love the fact that it is about community rather than platform. I need a platform, but I also need a place to pal around with people who write, just because I need that. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks for stopping by. That link was supposedly for their blog, which is great fun to read. I suppose my reference was misleading, so I’m glad you found it on Facebook!

  5. I miss Alaska terribly, but I console myself with the conferences down here in Atlanta. Air travel was so expensive that I was only able to go to one conference a year when I lived in Alaska. But down here, I got to at least three a year, sometimes more. And all kinds of little one-day, local workshops.

    1. You’re hilarious, Sally. When we were in the Sea of Cortez, I only managed one conference and that when I was home on a visit before my daughter’s wedding. How fun that you’ve local venues that appeal. Even the conferences in NC are almost a day’s drive away. There should be some at our beach.

      Ah-ha! An idea! Perhaps that should be the next call: a writers conference at Atlantic Beach. Shall we do it? Anyone?

  6. I’m up for a conference on the beach. Of course we’ll have to spend more time outside than we did in OKC.

    Even though I don’t live in the country, staying home and writing all day long can feel very isolating. Connecting online isn’t the same as visiting with fellow writers in person, like across the table at Nonna’s for instance. There’s something special about getting together with writers, and it’s extra-special when you find a true friend. I had no idea I’d make such a great friend in you, Normandie. And I’m already enjoying working with you.

    1. We don’t have a Nonna’s here, but we have many other wonderful places to eat. And a gorgeous beach on which to play. So. Now we just need Linda Apple to come organize a great conference here. (Linda? Are you listening?)

  7. Did you hear me scream all the way from Fayetteville, AR? 🙂

    I’ll come speak, how about that? You and Hope were such hits at the conference! But, now, I have to say that I vote “flowy dresses over jeans any day. I’m a Mis’sipi gal and I like the big hats too!

    Thank you again from coming. It was so wonderful getting to finally meet you.

    1. You can come speak, but we’ll have to get someone on board to put it together. I’ve been there, done that in my former life when I was a young thing. So, if not you, then…um…Robin? No? Okay. Trusting that someone will come forward and say Beach Conference (and not up in that heavily trafficked part of the state–down here in the middle, please. It’s called Atlantic Beach….).

      I loved meeting you, Linda. You and your folk put on a great conference!

      1. Oh, I’m the last person you want organizing anything! Have you already forgotten the pumpkin bread (or lack thereof) on Sunday? The (lack of) brown sugar in your coffee on Friday? Give me small tasks and I can get them done–sometimes. But I know my limitations.

        I just googled Atlantic Beach and Beaufort. It looks beautiful!

    2. Ah, knew there was something unspoken I liked about you, Linda. I’m originally a MIs’ippi girl as well. Family still there. My distant family founded Pearl, MS. I was born in Rolling Fork, raised in Greenville and Columbus. Accepted to MS State and Clemson and chose to go to Clemson. When I’m in MS, the accent slides right back into place.

    1. Yeah, but Robin did stop and let me get some, Linda, and I picked up a blueberry scone to bring home to Mama. Much better on the digestion than any oils in that omelet. Won’t we all have fun with the rambling accents when we get together again.

  8. Just a wee warning about connecting with Hope and Kat: Update your sneakers and stock your sack with energy drinks. I had the pleasure of hearing Hope at the Cape Fear Crime Festival in 2011. She’s been such a force in providing opportunities for writers for many years, I was thrilled to see her own work come to publication. You don’t get Kat without the premium package of sisters Angie Ledbetter and Alaine Dibenedetto. I promise this combination will electrify all of your creative juices.

    1. Well, Molly, what a trip. You, me, them, us, a crowd of fun folk, talking fun things. Would you like to be the one who sets up the conference? Hey, we could just get a beach house for the weekend and gather those who would. Hmmm…

    2. Wow, this sounds like a tremendous force coming together, much like our beloved coastal hurricanes. And yes, I could do flowing dresses for one weekend, though it might be a shock to my senses.

      1. I’ll relent to gauzy pants, but I’m *way* too short to flow effectively. I hear Normandie getting in “gathering mode”. Slow down, Girl ! We’ve got time to gather good intel and availabilities for a fun conference.

    1. My fingers are skittering over the keyboard. Is that excitement I feel? Yes, ma’am. So. Most of you have my email. Let’s talk gathering size, venue, cost, time, and then we’ll let magic Molly (I’ll help…some) organize the fun. For any who don’t know the email addy, it’s my first and last name (no middle) at gmail. Easy. October is risky still for hurricanes, but the weather is gorgeous.

      1. South Carolina Writers Workshop holds its annual conference in Myrtle Beach the last weekend of October each year, so it can’t be too risky. A LOT of agents love coming, and many have waived fees just to have a place to stay and bring family for a late season vacation. Just saying…

        1. I don’t think we’d want to compete with them. Or would we? No, that wouldn’t be nice. Especially as you and I, Hope, plan to bop around doing a North/South Carolina thing. Gotta stay friends. Just saying….

      2. Wow, I’m off the computer for three hours and y’all have all but set the dates for this thing! You’re an impressive group of ladies. I’m just hanging on for the ride.

  9. Molly, a year of planning works for me. Then we’ll have a head start. (Of course, I got married with three days’ prep on my sister’s suggestion. She is an amazing party planner. We said a nervous “go” and she went. Not that we had very many in attendance–which is why we might want to take a deep breath and think 2013.)

    1. Personally, I like to start with a sound purpose for gathering. Marriage is always a good one with some nice “presets”. I think to develop a “voice” for the conference should be among the first steps. If there can be unique offerings, then the “competition” often begets compatriots 🙂 I’m known far and wide for my egregious agenda-mentality…you may fire me now, of course .

      1. Hmmm… No, we won’t fire you. I can see that you’ll keep us focused and in order. But I’m thinking more along the lines of Southern writers comparing notes, perhaps with agents and editors who handle Southern fiction/narrative non-fiction. But relaxed, fun, round-table discussions, brain-picking sessions, critique times instead of ten-minutes-with-the-editor. Unless that’s too ambitious?

        The other thought would be a few of us getting together in a big beach house and playing with words for a weekend. You know, good food, good wine, great coffee, no stress. I’m all about limiting my stress levels. They’re high enough as it is.

        1. It has to be unique – nothing else like it – Southern – relaxing and not stressful like so many other conferences. No barriers between “them” and “us” like we see at other conferences (like I just blogged about at ).Something that writers would line up for, Doing such an event would limit the number, though. Is that what you’re talking about Normandie?

          1. Completely agree with Hope — no barriers — a true moment of writerly hospitality and warm interactions. (I’m a native Charlottean in case anyone wonders why this Floridian who’s sitting at the keyboard in Virginia tonight is butting into a Carolina-based gathering 🙂 I too have attended many writer conferences where, despite best efforts, a “pecking order” exists. I think I understand Normandie’s intentions, and will be interested in what others would like to experience.

          2. That’s exactly what I mean, Hope. Break down the barriers. No “us” and “them,” but all “us.” I could wear an editor’s hat and a writer’s hat and have them be interchangeable, because my job as an editor is to help, not to stand apart. You could teach and share if you wanted, but in a casual way, talking writing, talking platform, talking whatever you wanted or the situation allowed.

            Molly may have similar memories from our youth of very small classes where ideas zapped back and forth and everyone learned. Is that possible in such a context? Time apart and time together, learning from each other in small groups or larger ones. I agree that we’d need to limit the numbers just to make it manageable — unless one wanted to put together a full-fledged clone of the big guys. I went to a conference years ago. It was essentially by invitation only in that you had to apply and be accepted, but it allowed attendees to interact in small groups. I still thought it rather too structured. When I taught, the small, highly motivated classes were the ones I enjoyed.

            Am I wanting a house party? It’s beginning to sound like that.

            My divergent thinking may be overtaking me here. Too many contradictory ideas. Focus, Normandie, focus.


  10. I didn’t see your comment, Molly. Did I know you came from Charlotte? How did I miss that? I only knew the Northern VA you.

    Waving at you!

      1. Oh, my. Let’s see, I bopped back and forth, NC to VA to NC and back to VA in time for high school. And so many roads after that (including a stint in Hope’s SC).

  11. Hope, I just bopped over to your blog. Have you been reading my mind again?

    I spent the first minute or two of every appointment at conference reaching out to touch, to soothe, to let the writer know that he or she could relax. We’d just chat. I wasn’t worried about a perfect pitch. I wanted to know her (in all of that allotted ten minutes). We’re all so eager, all of us, that we forget to listen to one another. See me! Look at me! Buy me!

    “Breathe,” I said. “Just breathe.” That’s what I’d enjoy. A place where everyone could breathe and listen to each other.

    1. I know, Normandie, but people still hold you at a different level. All faculty is held that way. My newsletters go out to thousands, and when someone sees me, they treat me like I’m famous, afraid to just relax and joke and cut up. That’s probably why we hit it off so well. We just chatted.

      1. Oh, you’re famous?!!!! Wow. I didn’t know!

        I’m teasing, but I do know what you mean. I’d still like to break down those barriers, even if only one on one. Yes, editors and agents have power to choose, to say yea or nay to something dear to a writer’s heart, but we’re human and, after all, only one voice and one opinion. If we don’t take ourselves too seriously, perhaps that will break down a few walls folk might erect around us. We can’t change the clannish behavior of others, only our own.

        I remember being president of a largish group and speaking before other largish groups of women. I found it particularly interesting that, while our local gathering felt warm and cozy and loving (even though we had women from all walks of life and various economic levels and we let men in the door), some gatherings in the larger cities appeared much more stratified, definitely an us versus them, with the speaker (moi meme) pushed up on some exalted stage as if I were more than I am.

        Yes, we want others to hear our words and allow us to share what we’ve learned, but there must be a way to do that and still remain transparent and touchable.

        I hope so. I pray so.

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