School Daze

When I started school, I had an optimistic mindset. I remembered being an excellent student. Hermione Granger had nothing on me. I was confident about learning and absorbed facts quickly, while being able to organize the facts for easy access later.

Well.

That was all true, but when you’re a student at 17, you live at home, you don’t have to run a household. Your biggest concern is generally what you are doing on Friday night. Being a mother, a wife, and an author, becoming a student tore a hole in my nice, shiny set-up. My friends have often made comments about the way I Tetris my schedule to squeeze every last usable minute out of my day. Well, I did not compensate for the demands of the day, and nearly ran my brain over a cheese grater in the process.

Like a drunken pilot seized by a survival instinct, I blindly grabbed for the controls and brought everything to a halt. My clockwork precision in ruins, I had to scramble to bring it all back to a medium pace. Lesson learned.

Everything is riding on college right now. I spent six months looking for work, and I barely scared up a pre-screening phone call. I got a lot of nice rejection letters, which is better odds than the last time I was unemployed. That said, I’m getting sick of being unceremoniously dumped out the cargo bay when a corporate entity feels the need to lighten the load. I’ve topped out on my customer service skills alone. I need something with more depth and more challenge.

The irony in the swirl of all this change is that I had just come to a point where I’d accepted my lot with my ex-employer. I’d been looking for jobs and hadn’t caught any breaks. So, I decided that I could keep doing what I was doing – work all day, write all night, live in the margins. It wasn’t a month after I made that decision that I got the boot treatment.

Back to school. I love it. I still have the ability to absorb information quickly. I’m still good at taking notes, organizing them, and turning them back around. I’m not doing as well as I’d like, but just imagine Hermione pulling a ‘B’ in a class. There are stakes. I hold myself to a high standard, and anything less than an ‘A’ isn’t a good grade in my book.

Sadly, I’ve had to put that model to bed, because life. I’ve had to adopt a more realistic model of things, one that gives me time and space for family and writing and sleep. It’s been difficult to adopt that model instead. I’m a perfectionist at heart, but perfection is a state attained only in one’s mind. It’s better in your head, Tina.

I’m hoping that with these adjustments college will be a smoother ride. Ah, platitudes. How would we manage without them?

Conference Send Up

I attended my first writer’s conference. I felt like such a grown-up, ready for school with my laptop bag and my shoulder bag slung over one arm. The day was sunny and bright, and the modest building hosted trees that went all in on the autumn foliage. The day began full of promise, and I made it on time for registration.

I almost missed the morning ceremony, however. A well-dressed older woman extolled how amazing this particular conference was, listing kudo after kudo while I juggled my gear and the gratis coffee that I prayed would be drinkable. I was in for a surprising treat on that end, and I fishtailed my way to a seat only to send my drinkable, gratis, lidless coffee sloshing far and wide beyond the lid of the cup. No writers were hurt in the making of this feature, but I was mortified by my unruly beverage. I sat down, shamed, listening to the litany of People Who Are Cooler Than Me.

I looked around the room, and noticed a couple of things. One, that there was a PALTRY number of outlets that I would have to target if I wanted to use my laptop, and I was suddenly grateful for my splitter. I would make friends by extending the warm glow of electricity to their toys. I also noticed that I was not the target demographic of this conference. I was, in fact, a good twenty years younger than the median age.

As the clapping began, I stood up to fishtail my way over to the open outlets, when my drinkable, gratis, lidless coffee did a half-gainer with a twist, and ended up turning the seat I had just vacated into a caffeinated swimming pool. My mortification from earlier was a pale and paltry thing. A lovely woman named Fran took pity on me, offering up her napkins to my disaster. She said she’d never forget me. I pray that she was wrong.

My first speaker was William Dietrich, a PacNW local who is also an NY Times bestseller. I listened avidly and took copious notes.. only to look around and notice that there was only one other laptop in the room. The two of us were of a similar age, which may have something to do with it. Over a sea of gray I listened to William extol his formula for improving his plot.

My next speaker was Alice Acheson, who has been a publicist for 40 years. She’s the person I was most interested to see. I mean, as a writer, one always strives to improve your craft, but if you want to be an author, and get a published deal, and join the ranks of Stephen King and JK Rowling.. you have to be into the marketing aspect of things. You have to understand that you are going to be a recognized figure. You will no longer be obscure; people will make judgments of you and want you to speak at awards ceremonies or maybe the darker side of fame, where you become someone’s imaginary best friend. Now, that’s the best case scenario, becoming that famous, but in this day and age, where a woman managed to get on the NY Times Bestseller list for writing Fan Fiction, you don’t know when it could be you.

Alice spoke about how to focus on that secondary piece, researching Agents and Publishers and how to submit, etc. I listened in horror as one of the attendees asked her point blank, “What’s the hot trend right now?”

Alice smiled, as smooth as a cat, and replied, “It doesn’t matter. If the ink was wet on your contract today, it would take a year, maybe two to get your book on the shelves.”

I love her.

My third speaker was by far my favorite, although I wasn’t expecting him to be. Maybe you’ve heard of Benjamin Percy, but I never had. He stepped up to the podium wearing flannel, well-worn jeans, and equally worn cowboy boots. Not the frilly kind, but the working kind. I know the difference, coming from Wyoming. I wondered how this guy could write a paragraph.

Then, he spoke. First of all I must describe his voice to you, but I never will properly manage. He simply had one of those deep, bass voices like Ving Rhames, Vin Diesel, or Morgan Freeman. At one point a participant told him he should be a voice actor. He grinned and said, “Yes, I read my children bedtime stories. Can you imagine me reading Goodnight, Moon?”

He began with his humble start, and detailed how he devoured mass paperbacks. Anything with a dragon on it, a dragon with a sword was better. He named Robert Jordan and Dritz, and I was hooked. The way he turned a phrase was lyrical, and I was astounded. He made me want to go back to school, so I can do what he does.

In the interest of cutting a long story short, (too late,) the conference was excellent. I’m glad I went. I can also tell you I was exhausted by the end of the first day and opted to skip out on the second, despite how much I enjoyed being there. My brain was full, and I spent Sunday reveling in the ‘nothing to dos.’