The Book of Love

It’s kind of a running tradition that every year for my beloved’s birthday, I come up with some hand-made way to express how joyful it makes me that he was born. One year, I made him one of these little babies (that was a huge hit, by the way, and not horribly difficult to make). Another year, I took a box of his favorite tea and wrapped each tea bag with a slip of paper that had a reason why he’s awesome on it and a sentiment of endearment.

This year I wrote him a book.

It sounds pretty extreme when you put it that way, but think of this: every person in the world needs a creative outlet. I love to write. At this stage of my dissertation process, I do a LOT more research than writing, and creative writing is an entirely different beast than academic writing. I needed a place to put all of the pent-up writer’s emotion that wasn’t going into my diss. That, and I wanted to play with the novel-writing functions/capabilities of Scrivener (which, when I started writing this book, was a new toy for me).

You might also say “where on earth did you, oh woman who works seven jobs, find the time to do a thing like write a novel!?”. The truth is that it happened in snatches. I set myself word targets and sat down to write one chapter a night (two when I was being REALLY productive). I took breaks when it got too overwhelming, and I definitely didn’t edit it as toughly as I could have. On the whole, it did eat into my social time; but not as much as you might think. Part of it was discipline; I knew that I had to write at a certain pace in order to hit my goal; so I just did. Part of it was careful outlining; I came up with the story I wanted to tell in about five minutes as I was going to sleep one night. Then I took that outline and pulled it apart into chapters so that I always knew exactly where I was going with things at any given time. This helped when I got stuck in the occasional rut because I could tell myself “you’re not stuck; you know exactly where you need to be… just knuckle under and write!”

The point of the exercise was simple: to write my companion a story that he would enjoy reading, and that I would enjoy producing. And to play with my new toy software (which, by the way, is still awesome and I highly recommend to anyone producing any writing of any length but particularly long pieces or things that require a lot of moving parts to keep going).

But I had an ulterior motive as well. I wanted to prove to myself that I could, on a time-table, produce a novel-length manuscript that was worth the paper it was printed on. It was a test, you see. A way to prove to myself that I was in fact capable of producing that many words and slapping them coherently on the page. And you know what? I am. I know I am because I did. And that’s just one less piece of ammo that my demons can use against me when I’m having bad dissertation-writing days.

Yup.  There she is.  My book.

Yup. There she is. My book.  That I wrote.  And had professionally printed.  Because I can write books.

I had the book printed on Harvard’s Espresso book machine (her name is Paige Gutenberg, by the way). It was an awesome experience to layout my own text (so not as hard as it may seem; the final product even has fancy drop-caps at the beginning of every chapter, different alternate page numbering, and header texts which varies by chapter and is distinct on odd and even pages), PDF everything, send it, proof it, re-edit, then send again. The nice lady who runs the Espresso book press even agreed to meet me at a time when we could watch her print the final product so that we could see the machine in action. It’s totally awesome to think that we live in a future where I can manipulate a few lights and dots on a computer screen, then have that create an object of importance with which one can interact about fifteen minutes later.

So take that, dissertation demons. I wrote a book. And I’ll write another one, too. As soon as I get all of my research ducks in a row. Ugh. Guess I better go read something now…

A Bushel of Books

For the record, two weeks is not a long time at all.

When July happened (yes, it’s July now, can you even believe it?) I began to understand that this New York trip was really right around the corner. Now, I’m only a week and a half away from bidding my lovely, airy, light apartment a fond “see you later” and heading to the Big Apple, my home, for a full month.

This has meant that I’ve been struggling to get things together here so that they won’t be left undone when I return in August. At that point, I’ll only have two weeks with which to prepare for the coming of the semester and the last thing I’ll need is to have the apartment in such a place as to be uncomfortably unfinished.

So yesterday, in an effort to get the place to where it needs to be, I organized my books.

While I had previously shelved all of my volumes, they had been shelved only in the order of how I pulled them out of boxes. Organization is just one of those things in a move that has to be left for later. There’s almost no way to organize finer than broad strokes the mass amounts of box-pulling you do when unpacking your stuff. What this means is that, while I had access to my books (technically), there was no way I could actually find any of them.

Just you try to organize a massive and eclectic body of work such as that which currently occupies my shelves.

My library all cozily settled in.

My library all cozily settled in.

I’ve been tempted, over the years, to convert to the Library of Congress system and let the greater organization of librarians tell me where I should be putting things rather than figure it out on my own. This time, I opted for my generally unconventional method: Literature (fiction) in one section (this time not subdivided by “things I read for leisure” and “things I read because they’re part of the literary canon” but rather simply alphabetized by author’s last name), reference books in another section (let me tell you how many dictionaries I own… a lot), my collection of Shakespeare’s complete works subdivided by “Complete Works” and “Individual Plays” then alphabetized by name of work, theatre reference books in their own section, theatre theory books in their own section, plays alphabetized by name of playwright, and a separate shelf for my foray into Irish Studies.

The important part is to batch intuitively. If I think of a text, I need to know where to go to find it without thinking too hard about it. Alternately, it needs to be amongst texts of a similar type so that, if I can’t find it, I can look at my shelf and know where I need to go that it might be hiding amongst its “people”. The whole affair also involves the juggling of shelf size; my shelves, while standard length, vary in height. My books also vary in height and that variance cannot be counted upon to be uniform across categories. So what to do with books that don’t belong alphabetically in a certain place, but simply won’t fit anywhere else?

As you can see, the entire mess is a jigsaw puzzle that I am more than happy doesn’t need to be addressed more than once every few years. I’m also happy that my books are finally somewhere that is home, even if I won’t be here to look after them for a little while.

And now, it’s back to archive prep and finding aids for me.

Preparing for Liftoff

Having just moved and preparing for my first ever 5K (The Spartan Sprint happening… eek! Tomorrow!), for my next trick, I’m preparing for a one-month research tour of New York archives in an effort to assemble the primary research phase of my dissertation.

This involves examining archive inventories, poring over finding aids, considering what might be available to me digitally in Boston, scheduling where I will be when, contacting archivists, understanding library policies and hours, and assembling lists upon lists of what I will be doing where and when.

It’s a lot to organize, but it’s really exciting.

Just today, I happened across a source which listed a primary text available to me at one of my target archives. The source was written in the early 1920s. The primary text is from 1825. My job is REALLY REALLY COOL.

Archives have a lot of rules; mostly surrounding what you can bring in (generally just a pencil and your laptop) and how you can document your findings. It’s important to understand these rules before you arrive and to respect them at the individual institutions. It’s also important to consider how they might change the way you research. Often, I will take pictures of a document for reference. Some archives allow this, some do not. Most archives do allow computers these days, but not all of them allow tablets or smart phones. That means I can’t auto-sync pictures and take notes on them in real time (like I can when I’m documenting using my phone), and it also means I have to dig my camera and camera cable out of its storage box. Archives are also temperature controlled and, especially during the summer, can be rather chilly when compared with the heat outside. Dressing appropriately for the archive is important, and when I think about what to pack I’m definitely thinking layers. Archives are generally very safe and friendly places if you approach with great respect and a solid understanding of what you’re looking for.

I’ve already expounded upon the infinite helpfulness of reference librarians and archivists. The world is truly a better place for having them. I am finding, now more than ever, that these people make my job so much easier. I have the utmost respect and deepest gratitude for the people who help me make appointments, find what I’m looking for, and answer my questions about policies and scheduling. Thank you, archivists. You are truly the super heroes of academic research.

I’m also doing this prep while trying my darndest not to take home any new library books. The last thing I need is something coming due while I’m away and, as a result, having to try and explain my library book filing system (otherwise known as the “book fort mess”) to my long-suffering boyfriend and talk him through where to find the one book in a stack of 87 that needs to be returned TOMORROW or it will start incurring fines.

So it’s a challenge; but it’s a fun challenge. It’s definitely one that I’m taking slowly at first while I figure out how best to work things. I’m already implementing some systems and we’ll see if they pay off.

For now, I’m off to read one last book for the week then head out bright and early tomorrow on my SPARTAN ADVENTURE. I’ll catch you on the other side!

Pano of the new office space.  Isn't it lovely?

Pano of the new office space. Isn’t it lovely?

A Room of One’s Own

We moved on Friday.

Which really meant that we did a couple loads in the car on Friday and tirelessly dragged seemingly endless amounts of boxes up the stairs into our new digs, piled them somewhere that seemed “out of the way”, and made sure the internet was working. On Saturday, we handed the furniture over to professional movers and followed in their wake as we attempted to maintain some sense of order (it didn’t really work, though the movers were AWESOME). I spent the rest of the weekend and the beginning of this week trying to find my sanity and unpack as much as I could.

Sitting in a very pretty library we found the other week (Topsfield Public, for those who care)

Sitting in a very pretty library we found the other week (Topsfield Public, for those who care)

Today, for the first time since last week when I had to start getting serious about putting EVERY LITTLE THING away in a box, I am working. At my own desk. In my own apartment.

My books are haphazardly thrown upon shelves with no order to them (I’ll pull them all down later and organize as soon as I have a moment), but they’re all OUT OF BOXES!

My desk is mostly assembled, and I even installed my track lighting so that my office will be bright and cheery no matter what time of the day or night the muse strikes.

My bedroom is starting to look like a bedroom and not a conglomerate of boxes and garbage bags.

We’re not going to talk about the kitchen and/or closets because those won’t be done for a while. The kitchen is small and so requires a great deal of organizational thinking, something I am notoriously bad at when it comes to small objects and not tasks, so it’s waiting for my best beloved to have a go at putting things together in a way that makes sense. The closets will require some furniture/additions that we’re going to have to wait on until we can fit them into the budget. Since most of the things that we need accessible are, for the moment, at least findable if not convenient, this has been back-burnered until we can get the necessities taken care of.

I’m extremely happy with the way the place is shaping up. I have direly missed central air and I am thoroughly enjoying man’s triumph over nature in the form of temperature control.

I’m also extremely happy with my new workspace. It’s big, open, lots of natural light, has a pretty tree in front of its large window, and not so slowly is starting to feel like mine.

So here’s to a new start; a place to work; and bookshelves that (someday) will be organized in a way that I can find my books once more (honestly for the moment I’m just SO happy to have them accessible and no longer in boxes that it almost doesn’t matter that they’re not organized by author/subject yet… almost).

Goodbye, Old Friends

Over the weekend, I worked on my bookshelves.

I am currently in the process of packing for a long-anticipated move. As I’ve often said, the vast majority of my belongings consists of yarn, clothing, and books. In my current apartment, I have the luxury of an entire room devoted solely to my books and almost nothing else (it’s also got a sadly underused dining room table, but that’s a permissible addition to a library… especially since it’s positioned in such a way as to not take up any precious wall space). I have a LOT of books.

Compound this with the number of library checkouts I have and you’ve got yourself a real problem. I’ve actually had to strategize how I’m going to move my books (for those who are curious: I’ve carefully documented my library checkouts and have started to systematically return them since they will almost all come due when I’m on my grand research adventure in New York anyway and its much easier to tote them back in twenty-book loads to the library and leave them to the tender care of librarians there than it is to

Breakfast in my library

Breakfast in my library

box them up and cart them with my other belongings across town to my new digs, the whole while fervently hoping that none of them will go missing en route).

Phase one was implemented this weekend in which I went through all of my books and decided which I am keeping, and which I am parting with.

This is a HUGE decision. For more people, hanging onto books is a matter of “will I read this again or not?” For a budding professor, hanging onto books is a matter of “will I ever need to reference this, or teach it, or give it to a student to read?” There were whole piles of books that I kept because, while I certainly wouldn’t read them if left to my own devices, I do anticipate needing to teach them at some point in the near future.

Predicting the future is a matter of foreseeing the canon. While I know what is likely to be on a general intro to theatre history class syllabus right now, how about when I teach? Will the department demand things of me that I sadly gave away in my last move? Will I get the chance to teach a class that I’m really really prepared for (say, Early Modern Theatre History), or will I be asked to stretch into something that is slightly out of my ballpark (like Modern and Postmodern Theory)?

It’s all a balancing act. I tend to dispose of things that A) I am not very likely to teach, and B) are readily available online. If B is true, then A is less important. If A is true, then I double-check B first. The age of the internet has made teaching materials plentiful and it’s incredible just how many primary sources I can access from my desk at home without even requiring a library log-in.

While it pains me to thin out my collection, the new place has one flight of stairs which I will have to personally cart every single box up. A good question that I ask myself is “is this book worth carrying on my back up that flight of stairs?” If no, then out it went.

Don’t worry, by the way. I would never do something so horrendous as actually destroy a book. I have re-sold all of my leavings to a mom-and-pop shop that functions on this kind of book “donation” and they will all be lovingly read and re-read by drama enthusiasts in years to come. Either that or “up cycled” into etsy art projects, but I’m definitely hoping for the former rather than the latter.

Godspeed, little books! May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!

…and may my move proceed without much stress, drama, or hassle. Because one thing is for sure: I can sugar coat this all I want, but at the end of the day I REALLY hate moving.

Books Don’t Keep you Warm

Here is your obligatory complaining about the weather post: on Tuesday it was warm enough for a run outside.  Today I’m going to have to shovel my driveway before I leave for class.  Because I live in New England.

I’ve spent the week looking yearningly out of windows and hoping that the words “Spring Break” would actually mean something to the weather gods.  Unfortunately for me, the weather gods are tricksy jerks and care not for a university schedule, or even the pleas of a desperate doctoral candidate looking for some small way to salvage what’s left of her sanity.

On that note, I don’t know why I’m continually surprised at the revivifying quality that exercise has on my mind.  No matter how many times I prove it to be true, I am consistently astounded by the fact that if I go for some kind of physical activity right at the point when my eyes get bloobity and I can’t really read/comprehend what’s on the page in front of me, an hour later I’m raring to go again.  This re-realization only compounds my yearning for the warmer weather; convincing myself to go outside for an hour is so much easier when “outside” is a pleasant place to be.  I do break down and move my workouts indoors during inclement weather, but even walking from my door to the gym can sometimes be a fight when it’s bitter and leaky out there.

If anyone knows anyone who has a hookup with someone who can make spring come faster here in Massachusetts, I’d be ever so grateful.  I’m plumb tired of being cold.

Dissertation work is draining, and my book fort doesn’t seem to be moving one way or another.  This is mostly due to the fact that the minute I manage to reduce my “to read”

artistic desk shot.  This doesn't really expound the extent of the book fort, but it does look pretty.

artistic desk shot. This doesn’t really expound the extent of the book fort, but it does look pretty.

pile to workable number, I get another dose of ILL books from the library and stack them on top again.  Despite diligently hacking away at the pile on my desk (which at one point this week was tall enough to literally bury me), I’m still surrounded by things that need to be read.

I suppose I should look at the other end for any indication of real progress: it is true that my “have read” book fort is steadily growing larger.  It has, at this point, expanded to the point of walling me into my desk.  I have to traverse an obstacle course before I can actually sit down these days.  The scary part is that I haven’t even really begun to work on the bulk of the project; I’m still just picking at the edges.  I suppose that means I’ve chosen a topic ripe for exploration, but it does leave me a wee bit nervous about just how many library books I’m going to be held accountable for before this is all over.

And that’s not even to consider the archival work ahead of me.  I’ve identified piles upon piles of things that I’ll have to sort through; but at least those items won’t follow me home.  Well, they will, but in neatly sifted digitized form so that they won’t take up any room on my floor (just on my hard drive).

And on that note, it’s time to re-launch today’s attack upon Research Mountain.  Wish me luck!


Happy, Merry, Healthy!

For those who were unaware, I really really love Christmas.

This may not be so odd until you consider that I’m an agnostic raised by Jews.

My deep love of all things Christmas extends to food, music, lights, celebrations, traditional flora, decorating, movies, gift giving, literature, and theatre.

This year, to celebrate the holidays with you (my wonderful readers) I was determined to

Yankee Candle has this beautiful display to help you get in the Christmas Spirit.  It's up year-round at the flagship store.

Yankee Candle has this beautiful display to help you get in the Christmas Spirit. It’s up year-round at the flagship store.

provide a list of opening lines to my favorite Christmas tales.  While I am a little bit late on this, you’ll have to forgive me (Santa seems to have brought me a nasty cold).  Since literature is ever lasting anyway, you can perhaps consider this as your first step towards detoxing from egg nog and Yule logs.

A Visit from St. Nicholas by Clement Clarke Moore (1823):

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there…

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (1843):

Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail. 

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868):

“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug. 

“It’s so dreadful to be poor!” sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss (1957):

Every Who Down in Whoville Liked Christmas a lot…
But the Grinch,Who lived just north of Whoville, Did NOT!
The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason. 

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer by Romeo Muller and Robert May (1964):

If I live to be a hundred, I’II never be able to forget that big snowstorm a couple of years ago.  The weather closed in, and, well, you might not believe it, but the world almost missed Christmas.  Oh, excuse me. Call me Sam.  What’s the matter?  Haven’t you ever seen a talking snowman before?

A Charlie Brown Christmas by Charles M. Schulz (1965):

It was finally Christmastime, the best time of the year. The houses were strung with tiny colored lights, their windows shining with warm yellow glow only Christmas could bring. The scents of pine needles and hot cocoa mingled together, wafting through the air, and the sweet sounds of Christmas carols could be heard in the distance.

 Fluffy white snowflakes tumbled from the sky onto a group of joyful children as they sang and laughed, skating on the frozen pond in town. Everyone was happy and full of holiday cheer. That is, everyone except for Charlie Brown.

The Nightmare Before Christmas by Tim Burton (1993):

 ‘Twas a long time ago, longer now than it seems, in a place that perhaps you’ve seen in your dreams.  For the story that you are about to be told, took place in the holiday worlds of old.  Now, you’ve probably wondered where holidays come from.  If you haven’t, I’d say it’s time you begun.

Strawberry Banke Candlelit Christmas Tour; SO lovely.

Strawberry Banke Candlelit Christmas Tour; SO lovely.

Love Actually by Richard Curtis (2003):

 Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow airport. General opinion started to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. Seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy but it’s always there.

Obviously I could go on, but I’ll leave it there lest you wind up reading until next Christmas.  I hope you had a wonderful holiday, and that you were gifted with everything you could have possibly wanted!

Please note: I will be away for a week celebrating with my family.  I won’t be checking in here, but I’ll be back in the New Year to continue coverage from the front.  Have a happy and healthy one, and catch you in 2014!



As I have previously mentioned, comps does many things.  Among those things, it gives you perspective.

It gives you perspective about your friends.  Who is really going to be there to cook you dinner at the end of the day when you can barely make eye contact and talking about anything that’s not theatre history is simply out of the question?  Who is going to not be offended that you haven’t called/been to a party/replied to text messages for the last few months because you’ve been swallowed into the oblivion of studying?  Who is going to understand when you just need to sit and stare at the wall/cry/talk out an idea that they have no possible way to contribute to?  Who is going to respond to the rally of “I need to not be in my house tonight, but I don’t have any energy to expend socially”?

It gives you perspective about your life.  Can you ever really say that you’re having a stressful day ever again?  Or a bad day for that matter?

It gives you perspective about what you can and cannot handle and what you can and cannot do.  I, for instance, am never going to say that I don’t have enough time to complete x assignment again without some serious thought about what I managed to do in four-days with my take-home exam.  I have a better idea of my own limits both emotionally and intellectually.

Most pertinent to my everyday life and writing, however, is this: it gives you perspective about books.  I have a brand new notion of how big a “big” book is, or how many books is “a lot” of books.  What this really means is that my perspective is skewed.  I sat down, for instance, to write about how I should be doing some research right now and sorting through the “large pile of books” that I brought home from the library today.  But looking at it?  It’s not that big.

In other news... campus was really pretty today!

In other news… campus was really pretty today!

…it’s really not my fault that, at my peak this summer, I was reading 5-7 books in a day and, thereby, a stack of 8 books no longer looks insurmountable, right?  Somehow, this newfound regard for the amount of research that I am capable of is somewhat dehumanizing.  If I can really pound through that many books in a day, then what does it say on days when I don’t?  Days when I’m working at my usual speed rather than ridiculous comps-speed?

The psychological aftershock of this process is something that I’m going to be dealing with for some time now.  Also; I’m not even really done yet.  I still have orals to get through.

No rest for the weary.


In Nōh drama (an ancient Japanese style heavily laden with chanting and slow rhythmic dance), the desired effect of a piece is termed yūgen.  Sometimes, yūgen is translated as “grace” or “a mysterious sense of beauty”, but honestly it’s just easier to try and wrap your head around the concept of yūgen than to find a good way to define or translate it.

Yūgen, when achieved, is supposedly a symptom of “refined elegance” that properly executed Nōh brings with it.  Attempting to understand it is today’s metaphor for attempting to prepare for the comprehensive exams.

the book fort is growing

the book fort is growing

You don’t really know what comps are, despite knowing what comps are (just like yūgen).  Even when you think you may understand it, explaining it to someone else is extremely difficult and you find yourself resorting to all kinds of crazy metaphors (…i.e. this post).  While it may perhaps relate to something completely outside of its realm (comps prep relates to athletics like yūgen relates to comps prep), you can never truly pin down entirely what it is.  When you think you have achieved it, you can only understand that by a true inner calm and a self-assurance that you have done well.  While others may, by gazing from the outside in, observe the process within you, only you can be completely assured that you have truly done it.

Actors study for decades to achieve yūgen.  I have studied for decades to reach the comprehensive exams.  Japanese acting teachers are notoriously abusive in their training techniques; as is the world of academia (especially since the old guard had to walk fifteen miles uphill both ways in the snow to retrieve their library books and, of course, speak fifteen languages so thereby don’t need translations of foreign-language passages in their texts).  Japanese theatre is a man’s tradition (women were banned from the stage until the later part of the twentieth century, and even now there are extremely few female performers of the traditional theatre types; Nōh and Bunraku especially; Kabuki has a bit more).  Academia is still very much an old boys’ club.  Dressing in drag is discouraged in either setting (once they let ladies onto the stage, it took care of a lot of anxieties about what onstage cross-dressing meant for Japanese gender identity… and as much as I LOVE Ru Paul, somehow I don’t think she’d make the appropriate kind of splash if she showed up in full regalia to lecture “Theatre History 101”).

Appreciative audiences often sleep through Nōh productions (the desired

a better/alternate shot of the book fort

a better/alternate shot of the book fort

viewing state is the place between wakefulness and dream, so this activity, unlike in the Western theatre, is not at all discouraged).  Sometimes I take naps on books (especially if they’re not particularly engaging, or alternatively too mentally taxing).

Achieving yūgen is essentially achieving a divine state.  I can imagine that completing comps will feel the same way.  I only wish that there would be an ensuing audience to give me a GIANT round of applause while I take a triumphant bow when I turn in the final portion of the exam.

I am officially one month away from my test.  I think I’ve finally defeated the six-day stress headache that made me slow way down last week to accommodate the ailment (…though I won’t say that too loudly in case the headache-from-hell hears).

…let’s try to achieve some nirvana, shall we?

Con Men

My trusty partner in crime by my side, this weekend past I was cajoled into visiting my first SF/F convention.

Okay, before you close your browser window, point at your monitor, and laugh yourself silly, let me get a few things straight: 1) No, I wasn’t in costume.  2) Neither was anyone else for that matter. 3) Yes, I’m a nerd, but I was definitely the best-dressed nerd there. 4) Even though no one was wearing a costume.  Especially because no one was wearing a costume.

The con was readercon, an extremely local convention which prides itself on being more “literary” than other SF/F conventions.  What this really means is that instead of attending panels to discuss which pop-culture vampire is the hottest, you go to panels with useful information on being a writer, reading stories, and interacting with books.  The con is well-attended by some pretty well-known SF/F authors who participate in panels and also offer readings of their up-and-coming works throughout the weekend.  Perhaps the coolest offering of this particular convention is what they call a “Kaffeeklatsche”, an intimate gathering between a designated author and up to 15 conference attendees.  You sign up in advance for an hour in a special lounge with a small group of other con denizens and whomever you’ve signed up to klasche with.

As a result, I got to meet and talk to some really neat people (including Elizabeth Bear  and Scott Lynch… fan girl squee!).

I also got to hear some really solid advice on becoming a SF/F writer.  And so, since it is my wont as a blogger to blog about my experiences, I’m passing this advice on to you.  This is culminated from my weekend of listening, discussing, and observing and is not from any one source (direct or indirect) other than the con as a whole.  Suffice to say with the amount of publishers, editors, and authors running around doling out the advice, I feel that it’s pretty solid (though of course, can neither personally confirm nor deny any of it as… well… I’m a blogger, not an author… at least for now).

 Thing 1: Don’t quite your day job.  Writing does not pay.  Even if you get that book contract, it could be a long time before you see any money and chances are it won’t be enough to live off of.  Of course, there are exceptions to this rule (Twilight, Harry Potter, 50 Shades of Gray, etc…), but it’s a rule for a reason.  You won’t be the exception, so don’t bank on it.

 Thing 2: Write the stories you want to read.  If they sell, great!  If they don’t, at least at the end of the day you won’t be sitting there with a gun to your head (seriously, I heard and re-heard the story of depressed-to-death writer this weekend).  Writing is art and in no other profession based upon art do you hear people give up simply because it’s not making money.  How many hobbyist painters do you know?  Actors?  Musicians?  Same thing with the written word.  And, since you took Thing One under advisement, you won’t even have to move into a cardboard box.

Thing 3: If you want to write, write!  If you want to publish, submit!  An editor can neither accept nor reject a manuscript if it has not been submitted in the first place.  Just do it.  What’s the worst that could happen?

Thing 4: Less writing advice and more general tip for courtesy during Q/A sessions/small groups meetings: do your research first.  Don’t waste the time of everyone in the room (who, by the way, has done their research) by asking questions which could easily be answered with one google search.  Similarly, we know you’re excited about your own work.  We know you fancy yourself an artiste.  But unless you have a “participant” badge, I did not come here to hear you talk.  I don’t care about what you’re writing, how hard you’re trying to get an agent, or your insecurities about your work (and frankly, neither do the panel participants).  Don’t waste our time listening to you blather about these items (or, really, yourself at all unless it’s pertinent information and, in that case, keep it concise).  If you feel you must talk about this stuff with the participant “on-stage”, catch him/her in the hotel bar/elevator/hallway between panels and don’t inflict your dithering upon the rest of us. (…can you tell how grumpy this made me?)

 Thing 5: Especially if you come to make networking connections, dress like you’re headed to an interview.  Leave your super hero tee shirts at home.  I’m not saying you need to bust out the three-piece, but at least look a bit polished when you’re trying to oh-so-covertly slip your card/manuscript to the editor.

 Thing 6: Panel moderators take note!  You have fifty minutes to accomplish what your panel description says you are going to accomplish (actually more like thirty-five to forty if you want to have a Q/A at the end).  You have between four and six people on your panel.  That means that each individual (including yourself) is allotted approximately eight minutes of talk-time spread over the entire session, during which you probably want to make three or four points/present that many rounds of questions.  This means that, for each question you present, each individual should be allowed no more than two minutes of talking.  Wasting this time with preamble, summation of why we should care about the issue at hand, and/or lengthy introductions is going to make it such that you can’t get to the real meat of your panel (and, by the way, what we came here to listen to).  Slim down, think hard about what you really need to say, and be ready with extra (not necessarily vital) material which you should be fairly certain you will never get to.

Thing 7:  Plan for all temperature conditions.  Though it was well into the 90s outside this weekend, the panel rooms ranged from comfortable, to sauna-hot, to arctic.  I made good use of my shawl collection (as blankets sometimes!).

Thing 8: If you, like me, are easily distracted and find it difficult to focus without something

in lieu of a “dealer room”, this con has a bookstore! Scored some swag pretty cheap (i.e. more books to read…. oh the horror)

to do, bring knitting or other unobtrusive crafts.  I saw embroiderists, seamstresses, fellow knitters, crocheters, and doodlers at this convention all quietly doing their thing while folks were presenting.  There’s nothing wrong with needing something for your hands to do, but it is really rude to not be attentive.  As a result, I finished an entire sock over the course of the weekend (and could probably have finished its mate if I didn’t refuse to knit during kaffeeklatsches… somehow that feels more intrusive than knitting in the grand ballroom).

Thing 9: Drink water, eat well and at regular intervals, sleep as much as you can.  Trust me, you’ll need it.

Well, that’s that!  I’m excited about all the things which I was able to see this year, and I’m pretty sure we’ll be back next year (…maybe even with participant badges… stay tuned).  Happy conning!