In this series apprentice Imari Berry selects essays from Jessica Conoley’s archives. Imari shares why the essay resonates with her as a newer creative, & Jessica’s original essay follows.
Imari chose this essay because: “This essay is motivational in so many ways. Nothing like meeting the people you admire.”
Initial publication Date: 7/21/2015
Super Secret Library Day-Part 1
You may remember My Great Escape a few weeks ago that ended at a super secret library event. At that event the guest of honor was George RR Martin. While I would like to assume everyone knows who GRRM is, I realize my blog includes readers (like my Grandma) who may not have stumbled upon one of his novels. The important thing to know is not only is he a hell of a writer, but he’s also an extremely talented editor. And, right now, after jumping off the “security bridge” to swim the waters between writer and editor full-time, he’s the person who rocks my face off the most. It’s not just that he does what I do in the most successful way possible. He does it in a way I respect. So there I was at a super secret library event, sitting in the audience, fan-girling to the point of obsession.
5/22/15-noon-1 p.m. at the Kansas City, MO Public Library 30th & Prospect branch.
I get there early.
This library’s adorable with a kids play section, cheerful colors on the walls, patterned reading chairs. There’s a glassed-in meeting room with roughly one hundred seats set up facing a padded center chair on a small pedestal. Next to the comfy-chair is an end table.
I sit along the center aisle, three rows from the front. About ten ‘til noon I hear someone say “Mr. Martin”, and for the first time since I got my super secret invite I am certain he is the person we’re here to see.
He’s a bit like Santa in black pants with navy suspenders, a black & white short-sleeved shirt. His white beard matches the stripes in his shirt and hair sticks out from under his black newsboy cap. The librarian helps him settle in at the front of the room.
He’s very unaffected—kind to the librarians and the British lady and two friends who came with him.
The first few minutes people take out their phones and snap pictures. It’s like he’s in the zoo. It seems uncomfortable, and I feel bad for him. I don’t think he enjoys having his picture taken, but he lets us do it because he knows it’s part of the job—but perhaps that is me transferring my own fear of the camera to him, maybe he doesn’t mind at all. I take two pictures myself, and then feel guilty.
The British lady, Joanna, speaks first. She says they love the library. And wherever they go they do what they can to support it. She says how excited they were to help today and then introduces GRRM, who has been sitting next to her the whole time.
GRRM starts talking and realizes the room is small enough he doesn’t need a mic. There are maybe sixty of us, and when we all agree we can hear him he continues. “New Mexico has the best Mexican food, but not much in the way of BBQ. I come to KC for the BBQ.” He’s been coming here for sci-fi conventions since the 70s.
He read from the Song of Ice and Fire series, book #6, starting by saying he’s written the story in a tight focus limited third person viewpoint. It’s a scene with a siege against Daenerys’s city. The scene opens with catapults flinging corpses of bodies over the city walls. Barristan is getting ready to lead the men into battle.
He reads and the room sits quiet, everyone fixated on his voice and the tale he’s spinning before us. His voice is calm, but there are small pauses sometimes—the pauses of a writer thinking that part’s not right or I can do that better. The pauses don’t interrupt his cadence. They’re just quarter-second sporadic silences.
The Q&A begins.
I want to ask a question, but am terrified I won’t be able to talk or my question will come across as dumb or it’s something he’s heard a million times. I don’t raise my hand at first. I have to work up my nerve.
One of the super-secret-library-event-conspirators, Christine Taylor-Butler, is the first one to raise her hand. “Do you keep a character bible? How do you keep track of all of your characters/world?”
“I keep lists.” Long ever-expanding lists, some of them are in the backs of the books.
A young woman says she just finished writing her first novel and she went back to read it and noticed the first chapter’s terrible “What should I do?” He says the first chapter has to be the best—especially if you’re going to make it through the slush piles. You’ve got three pages to catch an agent’s attention. A lot of the time people don’t get into the action fast enough. Can she just cut the first chapter? Is anything confusing or missing? If so, just start with Chapter two.
I raise my hand.
What I really want to ask is “Does Arya get her wolf back?” Because all I want is for Arya to get her wolf back. 99% of me tearing through each of the books in a gluttonous reading frenzy is to see if Arya gets her wolf back. But I know that’s not a question that will help me be a better writer. So I get ready to ask him about the thing I struggle with on every single story.
He nods to me.
I wait a half second to make sure I’m really still alive and then I open my mouth.
(Oh yeah, one of the things GRRM is also good at is Act Breaks a/k/a leaving your audience wanting more. I thought I’d give it a try on this post… Don’t worry part 2 will be in your inbox before you know it!)
by Jessica Conoley