boston book festival

The new nasal pillows kept me up half the night. While not as obtrusive as the full mask, which was like having Darth Vader sit on my face and sigh all night, the new contraption is less nasal pillow and more vengeful nose plug. Both, however, are preferable to dying in one’s sleep, so I carry on as I carry on. I woke up two hours later than intended, looked outside at the rain, and decided to blow off the Boston Book Festival. Went downstairs and poured a bowl of Cheerios but because there was no milk I reinstated my plan and took off. I am easily manipulated, even by breakfast cereal.
The festival commandeered Copley Square, with events running all day in the Boston Public Library and Old South and Trinity churches. Vendor tents around the square sheltered publishing companies, free coffee, radio stations, etc. One tent had a lineup of authors each spending an hour signing books that were being given away. Yes, given away. Not crap books either; books by people you’ve heard of: Ken Burns, Jay O’Callahan, Barbara Lynch.
My favorite event was Writer Idol. Here’s the description from the website:
In this freewheeling session, a professional actor will perform the first page of your unpublished manuscript for the audience and a panel of three “judges.” Judges are agents and editors with years of experience reading unsolicited submissions. When one judge hears a line that would make her stop reading, she will raise her hand. The actor will keep reading until a second judge raises his hand. The judges will then discuss WHY they would stop reading, and offer concrete if subjective suggestions to the anonymous author. If no agent raises a hand, the judges will discuss what made the excerpt work. Though all excerpts will be evaluated anonymously, this session is not for the faint-hearted or thin-skinned! While judges will be respectful of the work, laughter and even scorn from the audience is to be expected. To participate in this session, bring THE FIRST 250 WORDS of your manuscript (fiction or non-fiction only, please) to the session. It must be double-spaced, titled, and clearly marked at the top with its genre. Participants will leave the manuscripts in a box at the front of the room, and manuscripts will be chosen randomly by the actor.

I don’t watch American Idol but due to popular culture salvo I understood that the panel included the Simon judge; lots of eye-rolling and stinging commentary, the Paula Abdul “nice” judge, and… you get the picture. Or maybe you don’t and if that’s the case don’t change anything. The difference of course was the anonymity of the writers. No need to parade that cliché-suffused spasm of a first page in person; the actor did that for you.
A few things I learned:
Don’t open with the weather.
Opening with your character just waking up is risky. By extrapolation, if you must open with your character just waking up, do not under any circumstances have her talk about or even notice the weather.
Your first few pages should not describe urine running down any leg. In fact, avoid vivid chronicling of all bodily functions. It might be okay to describe bleeding, provided it is from someplace that does not typically bleed — gashes, eyes, etc. Menstrual blood falls into the former category.

It was hard to listen without comparing my first 250 words with their first 250 words. Harder still was not staring at any person who stood up and hurried out after the judges' sometimes ruthless criticism. What I wanted to do was stand at the door and conduct exit interviews: “Why are you leaving?” “Was that your piece that just got skewered before the crowd?” “Why are you crying?” “Do you think you’ll ever write again?” I suppose it’s good practice for the rejection letters we all have to open.

I left the festival with a few literary magazines, a stack of books, some free and some purchased, all signed by the authors, and went straight to my friend Debbie’s for a lovely evening of sparkling toilets, delicious food and good company. I got home at 1:00 a.m. without the milk.


Freecycle Etiquette: A True Story and a Cautionary Tale (and an annoying line break.)

I read through a few of my blog posts and realize that some of you might think that I am nice, and sappy. I offer this post in contradiction. Insert [sic] where necessary.

This one's for you Lizzy, 'cause Debbie's not good at clicking either.

Debbie and I belong to the same Freecycle List and exchange witticisms and clever wordplay on a variety of subjects, freecycle being the recent favorite. While many of the goods offered through freecycle are decent, usable, sometimes even valuable, there are the items whose owners don’t recognize are too tired to go any further than the trash. I bring you Suzi (not her real name) and her treasures of such dubious value that even the most rigorous of recyclers may flinch.

Suzi to Freecycle:
2 Crazy Straws
2 Standard Pillowcases
Baseball Hat Cleaner

Suzi to Freecycle:
3 Chloraseptic Sore Throat Relief Strips
4 Raspberry Drink Mix Packages (Just add hot or cold water)
(32 Minerals and Vitamin C) (A Dietary supplement)
Finger Nail Polish Remover
Sponge for Body Wash (Never used)
Toothpaste (Some used.) Didn't like the flavor.
I want it gone ASAP

Debbie to Me:
Come on!! D

Me to Debbie:
Thank God someone has offered this. My polish is chipping badly and Lord Knows I can't spend the 69¢ for a bottle. Gas up the car, we're goin' to Nashua!
Suzi, get a grip!
(Sure you don't want any empty margarine containers? Just slightly used...)

Debbie to Me:
Run--don't walk!
She also offered three strips of some cough-related thing, I think.
Interested? Three f-ing strips.
The height of bad taste, I know, making fun of freecycle. Can't help myself.

Me to Debbie:
I think we need to start a compilation of the *interesting* things people think other people want. Again, there's a thesis in there somewhere...

Suzi to Freecycle:
4 Folders
Want everything gone ASAP or it will go to Goodwill.

Me to Debbie:
OK, now Suzi's getting to the MEAT of her stash. Stay tuned...

Suzi to Freecycle:
Reference Book 2 Volumes A-Z (Brand new) (I want it to go to a real good home)(I paid alot of them)
Electic Bands for stretching
5 Folders some used some never used must take all.

Uh-oh. Here's where Debbie’s aim goes awry. She hits the "reply" button instead of “forward” and sends these e-mails, intended for me, to Suzi.

Debbie to Suzi:
Threats now.

Suzi to Freecycle:
5 Folders some used some never used must take all.

Debbie to Suzi:
Must be spring cleaning...in the fall. I love this: "Reference Book 2 Volumes A-Z (Brand new) (I want it to go to a real good home)(I paid alot of them)"
Whoa--more folders. Some used, some not: must take all. Is this a fucking joke?

Debbie to Suzi:
Still going--you were right. She is really getting down now. Stretchy band?

This is when Debbie calls me laughing hysterically which I take for crying and panic. With the laughing and the two feet in her mouth it is hard to understand what she is saying.

So, two questions: Should Debbie apologize to Suzi; and do you think that the 32 Minerals and Vitamin C is *per packet*, or is it 8 Minerals and Vitamin C per packet, times the four packets?