I started listening to Writing Excuses at the end of season nine, so 2014. And after getting part way into season 10, I went back and listened to the archives. All of them. I found out about the cruise in 2016, and I applied for the scholarship for the past two years, but finally saved up enough money to go this year. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I hung around on the Google group where everyone was talking for months ahead of time. I picked my roommate, Morgan, because she wrote fantasy and didn’t snore.
But it wasn’t until the Saturday when I flew into Houston that the people-interactions really started. I met Eric in the airport using the Discord app everyone was on for conversing on the cruise. Then, since Morgan’s flight was delayed, (There was rough weather, most people got delayed.) Eric and I met up with Michelle and we all shared an Uber to the hotel. Both of them had been on the cruise before, and Michelle let me tag along into the group of people she knew as soon as we got to the hotel. Everyone seemed really nice and entirely non-threatening.
After picking up registration bags, we went behind the waterfall where they had swag for us. I went up to a table with books on it, because of course I did, and the person behind the table began to describe the books. I had to reboot because the voice that was speaking was Dan Wells, and I was entirely unprepared to hear that voice in a non-podcast situation. Then Howard Taylor said something from the table beside him, which furthered the surrealism, and I had to ask Dan to repeat himself because I hadn’t heard what he actually said. He was very nice about it, which bolstered my confidence further, so when I turned and saw Mary Robinette Kowal at a third table, and walked over and asked if she could also speak for me to complete the blowing of my mind. She acquiesced.
I managed to work through the “getting to know you” sheet where you get people to sign your paper based on something about them, like what genre they write or what their job is, by actually talking to people. Though, in truth, I was given a task, and I am good at task completion. But it was also a very comfortable situation. Then those of us who went on the NASA tour further bonded by living through the torrential downpour on our cart train that had no sides.
That night was the cocktail reception, and oddly enough, I settled right into talking with people. Part of it was by that time I had bonded with my roommate, and I’m always braver when I have someone I know around, and part of it was that I sat at a table and almost everyone was a genre writer. Even if I do attend other writing events, I rarely find genre writers, and if I do, they’re all YA. (Not that I have anything against YA. I just feel like I never find adult fantasy writers.) So again, it felt a little surreal to ask what everyone was writing and have so many of them be my same genre.
At this point I was still rather intimidated by the hosts, but I still managed to get my books signed and to ask them to hug my stuffed animal gryffin (That I’ve had all the people who are important in/to my life hug). It was also the first time I was able to meet Brandon Sanderson. I cried a bit, I’ll admit it, but he was perfectly accommodating, and he signed my book and took a picture with me grinning like a silly fangirl. My one regret about the whole situation was that I was simply too overwhelmed to approach him as a writer. It doesn’t help that he wasn’t on the cruise, so while I got to see Mary Robinette, Howard, and Dan as real people, he’s still Brandon Sanderson. At least for now.
The introduction/instruction speech that came at the end of the reception really helped to settle things in my mind, and solidify the feel of what to expect from the cruise. All of the instructors and the helpful team were introduced, as well as the rules for how to treat each other. I know the Wxr hosts have always been pretty big on making a space safe for everyone there, and I was really starting to feel that.
The next day we got on the boat and that’s when things finally started to settle a bit in my mind. All of the Wxrers had red badges that hung from our necks, meaning we could spot each other through the, well frankly, massive crowd of muggles who were on the cruise as well. The classes were simply amazing, though that’s fodder for another post. We all ate dinner together rotating tables so we got to meet other people, as well as the hosts. Morgan and I sat with Dan, Howard, and Mary Robinette on various nights.
And I found the most amazing thing happening. I was interacting with people. People I didn’t know very well, but it was like that red badge was magic. As soon as I saw it, I would meet the other person’s gaze and wave, and they would do the same. Or I could just walk up and start a conversation. We were able to just be comfortable around each other, as people, because we had been brought together by this cruise.
I am not normally one to join in or participate in conversations. I like being on the sidelines, listening to other people say interesting things, but never feeling like I have anything to add to most conversations. And if I do, it’s usually a quick comment and then over. Only at the dinner table, I found so many people with topics they wanted to discuss that were interesting and that I had something to say about. One night I started talking about Supernatural and fan fiction, and I realized almost halfway through the night that I was actually having a good time participating in a conversation. That I had things to say, that these were topics in which I was interested. I have never before had such an actual lengthy conversation with people in a group setting like this, not even among my friends.
I also hopped into a discussion on magic system creation where I felt emboldened to add some to the conversation. And I jumped into a quickly created critique group that all looked at the part of my story, I’ve been trying to fix forever and thought was “okay”, and told me it still didn’t work. And I felt safe getting that feedback, and glad that they were willing to say something.
I had, for the first time, actually found my tribe. So much so that I cried when it was time to leave the boat. After my flight landed in Atlanta I found myself looking through the crowds for red badges and being sad when I remembered I wouldn’t be seeing any. I clung to Discord, that last connection I had to them, and I mourned not being on the cruise anymore.
For the first time I really understood Daisy’s reaction in Agents of SHIELD, after she’s freed from Hive’s control, and she throws herself at him again, begging for him to let her back in. I felt like I had been removed from a situation that felt so right for the first time in my life, that I wasn’t sure what to do without it. Maybe I’m being overly dramatic, and maybe I’m not. But I know I need to figure out a way to be able to go on the cruise again next year. And for now, I’m very grateful for Discord and for everyone involved with putting on and attending this cruise.