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Happy Hour Writing Session at GrubStreet

Last Friday, I went to GrubStreet, a creative writing center in Boston that has made a huge impact on the local writing community and individual careers, to attend an event called “Happy Hour Writing Session,” which was exactly what it sounds like. Snacks, drinks, and writing prompts were available to those who signed up and a few who didn’t (including myself—oops). GrubStreet offers classes, programs, and various unique events with a dedicated and experienced faculty willing to help students and visitors fulfill their greatest potential. They encourage all kinds of writers to take the time to work on the projects that they often put aside for work, family, and other personal responsibilities.

I was not expecting the class to be so packed at 6:30 on a Friday evening, but the classroom was nearly full when I got there. Unlike in my creative writing classes at school, where my work is critiqued and commented on by only eight other people who know more about me than they should, I felt surprisingly calmer around this large group of strangers than I had anticipated.

I, however, was one of few people pursuing a degree in writing; most of the others already had full-time careers in fields that ranged from nursing to teaching to analyzing computer data, but were trying to squeeze some writing time in for the week in a space that helped them focus and become inspired. Others were retired and trying to discipline themselves to write more every day. Others were there for the first time just to see what it was all about. Diverse as this group of people was, we were all there for the same reason—to write, to relax, and to make good use of one free hour on a Friday night.

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I sat at a table with three other women. JoAnne was retired and a GrubStreet regular; Bridget was a sixth-grade teacher who just completed her first year and was looking to get some writing done during her much-deserved summer off school; Emily was a retired CEO and a great conversation starter who had a goal of taking some time to write at least three times per week.

For the first exercise, we were prompted to describe a color, and whenever we felt stuck or distracted, we would just have to envision that color and write whatever came to mind. No editing, no primping, no perfecting—just writing. After that exercise, some of us shared what we wrote while others simply explained their ideas without reading their work. I chose sea-grass green.

For the second exercise, each table was given a spice and a perfume strip from a magazine, and we were told to write about what those scents inspired in us. I smelled my table’s spice without looking at the label first and immediately thought of Christmas before I even realized the spice was cinnamon. Our box of Christmas decorations sitting in the basement at home that smells like cinnamon because we have ornaments made of stale cinnamon sticks and ginger cookies with in festive ribbon. As a result, I wrote about my family’s twenty-something-year-old, fake, dwindling Christmas tree had it not been for that smell, which I would have never thought of had it not been for the spice sitting on my table.

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Finally, we were given our third and final exercise at the end of the hour-long event. We had twenty minutes to write anything using one of several opening lines our instructor had given us for inspiration. I chose to write a passage starting with, “In my second life,” as did Bridget, but we ended up writing completely different exercises. In Bridget’s second life, she was a Broadway singer who could express herself through voice and drama. In my second life, I got my first job at a movie theater was I was sixteen and lived in the same town until college.

It was this duality between our two stories starting with the exact same line that made me realize how different all of us at my table, in the room, in the city, and in the world are. We all have so many different ideas and stories to offer people who are willing to read them, and GrubStreet is willing to help you get to that point.

If you are interested in attending a Happy Hour Writing Session at GrubStreet, see their website and event calendar; don’t forget to sign up!

—Audrey Conklin

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The Price of Self-Publishing

What does it really cost to self-publish a book? I thought this question had been answered for me when an author came to visit my high school to talk to a group of students who were interested in learning more about patenting and publishing. She was a romance novelist and had self-published over twenty of her own books, some of which were sold in popular airport bookstores.

She explained to us that while self-publishing costs more upfront, she was ultimately able to make a larger profit because she had more control over the money she made off her sales. Usually, writers who commit to large publishing companies keep less than half of their book’s profit. But I want to explain the process, because self-publishing is not for everyone, nor should it be. How does an author become confident enough in his or her work to make such a time-consuming commitment?

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According to Tom Harris, a writer for the website “How Stuff Works,” which is also the home of my favorite podcast (“Stuff You Should Know”), self-publishing is essentially the same thing as running a small publishing company. You may have to get a business license and even a bank account. You may also have to come up with your own name, logo, and perhaps a website. But before you even start setting up your business, the first step to self-publishing is making sure you have a sellable product. Research websites and fan bases and see what people are buying and where and for how much. Be confident enough in not only your writing, but also the book’s design, genre, target audience, and so on.

To keep yourself on track during the writing process, you should set your own deadlines. Hiring a developmental editor can help motivate you to have a specific amount written for a set date. Developmental editors help you to plan and structure your work; they give you useful feedback about the track of your book. The author, however, ultimately has the final say, unlike with some larger publishing houses. Once you have completed a manuscript, you could hire a copyeditor to get some professional feedback on your work before sending it into the world.

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Photo taken by DeckledPages on Instagram

 

As Tom Harris explains, “For your work to be a viable book that can sit on bookstore and library shelves, it needs a few additional things. Before printing, you need to: Get an International Standard Book Number…Get a Library of Congress catalog number…Get a European Article number…Set a price.” Include details like an author bio and endorsements or reviews on the back cover to give your book a more professional look.

Once your manuscript is complete and ready for printing, decide whether you want to publish your book electronically, in print, or both. The first step for either option is to create a digital copy through computer software which isn’t so difficult to find and manage nowadays. Your next step would be to do some research on book manufacturers and, when you find one that appeals to you, ask for a quote, just like you would ask for a quote from your editor.

Finally, once your book has been printed and it’s ready to be sent out into the world and shared on Facebook profiles and showcased on Instagram and retweeted on Twitter, you must complete the process by marketing your work. “There are a few major marketing steps that are nearly essential: Fill out an Advance Book Information (ABI) form at BowkerLink.com before your book goes to press…Send advance information and copies of your book to Publisher’s Weekly and Library Journal…Pick other suitable publications and send them books for review” (Harris). There are also book and lifestyle bloggers who recommend great reads to their followers; you may want to contact these people (usually via email) and offer to pay them to advertise your book (which you would obviously send to his or her P.O. box, free of charge) to their audience. Giveaways on social media usually seem to have successful outcomes, too. I’ve seen ads for books everywhere, from podcasts to music streaming websites to Tumblr and Pinterest posts. There are endless opportunities, but only so much money, so choose your advertisement outlets wisely and according to your target audience.

So, what is the real price of self-publishing? The answer: a lot of hard work, but when done correctly and efficiently, worth the time and money and pressure. Of course, it is not for everyone, and sometimes signing a contract with a publishing company can make one’s career as an author soar. But evidently, a self-published book that does well on the market is obviously a great option for an author trying to get a foot in the door of the literary world without wanting to commit to a large company. Plus, once you self-publish one book, you may find yourself content with the process and willing to continue your career on a more individual level, much like the romance novelist I was fortunate enough to learn from several years ago.

—Audrey Conklin

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15 Writer’s Residency Programs in New England

What better way is there to capture New England lifestyle than to take a break from one’s everyday routine and finally take some time to write uninterruptedly at one of these 15 residency opportunities? These programs range from extremely outdoorsy to comfortable and even somewhat luxurious:

  1. Noëpe Center Residency Program

Where: Edgartown, MA

When: Spring and summer

Cost: $20 application fee; $400/week April–June and September–October; $800/week June–September

The Noëpe Center for Literary Arts on Martha’s Vineyard provides a place in a historic inn for writers of all kinds to focus on completing or creating new works. The program offers residency opportunities for up to 10 writers at a time, and each resident is provided with a private room and bathroom, as well as a community living area and kitchen.

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  1. Writer’s Retreat at Panther Orchard Farm

Where: Hopkinton, RI

When: Open year-round

Cost: $50 administration fee, $650/week master bedroom, $600/week guest bedroom

Settled on 43 acres of land in little, rural Rhode Island is a comfortable house designed for writers to break away from busy urban or suburban life and focus on their work. This retreat offers individualized consultation and mentoring, as well as a complimentary critiquing. There are only two bedrooms in the house, so the experience is peaceful and private.

  1. Whispering Pines Writer’s Retreat

Where: West Greenwich, RI

When: March 2–4, 2018

Cost: Full three days for $570 (members) or $600 (non-members)

The Whispering Pines Writer’s Retreat, a writing center even more beautiful than its name, is designed specifically for serious children’s book writers and illustrators to work on their craft and network with other professionals. The program offers presentations, 25-minute individual critiques, and evening activities.

  1. Vermont Studio Center

Where: Johnson, VT

When: Open year-round

Cost: $3,950 for 4 weeks or $2,050 for 2 weeks, fellowships and financial aid available

Located between the Green Mountains and along the banks of the Gihon River in Johnson, VT, The Vermont Studio Center is a spectacular residence option for visual and creative artists looking for a simple and scenic getaway that will help to inspire and foster their work. Residents are given private bedrooms and studios specific to their mediums and share a communal dining area with fresh foods from local and organic farms.

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5. Fine Arts Work Center

Where: Provincetown, MA

When: October 1–April 30

Cost: $50 application fee ($750 monthly stipend for accepted residents)

Designed for creative writers and visual artists in the early stages of their careers, The Fine Arts Work Center program in Provincetown, MA, provides a unique and fulfilling experience to accepted residents. While it involves various opportunities for group engagements, individuals are also given their own private, furnished apartments and a monthly stipend of $750. Provincetown is located on Cape Cod and is surrounded by serene, local beaches.

6. Edith Wharton Writer-in-Residence Program

Where: Lennox, MA

When: Two–three weeks

Cost: No cost for accepted residents ($1000 stipend)

This residency takes place at The Mount, Edith’s Wharton’s stunning, European-looking home and garden in Lenox, MA, built as a writer’s retreat. Accepted writers are of “demonstrated accomplishment” and currently working on a new piece of writing. Writers are given workspace at The Mount, a $1000 stipend for food and travel, and lodging.

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7. MacDowell Colony

Where: Peterborough, NH

When: Open year-round, residencies of up to eight weeks

Cost: No residency fees

As the nation’s first and leading artist colony, the MacDowell Colony encourages growth of the imagination for writers, composers, visual artists, and the like. More than 6,900 artists have been awarded Fellowships to the Colony and more than 250 artists arrive each year. The Colony is any artist’s ideal home, with facilities such as heat and ventilation, dark rooms, natural lighting, pianos, and more.

8. Peaked Hill Trust

Where: Provincetown, MA.

When: Nine 1–2-week retreats

Cost: $200–$750 fees

The National Park Service of the Dune Shacks of Peaked Hill Bars Historic District has agreements with non-profit organizations that offer writer-in-residence programs within the natural, breathtaking dunes of Provincetown, MA. This program is designed for extreme outdoors lovers, with solitary beach cottages without running water or housekeeping services.

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  1. Wellspring House

Where: Ashfield, MA

When: Open year-round

Cost: $280/week for single room; see other rates on website

Nestled between the green, gorgeous Berkshire Mountains, the Wellspring House retreat for artists and writers emphasizes the importance between quiet, private spaces to focus on work and the connection between human and nature. Surrounded by dense woods and flower and vegetable gardens, it is a perfectly quaint and quiet place to become inspired.

  1. I-Park Foundation

Where: East Haddam, CT

When: Typically 4 weeks from June 12–November 20

Cost: $30 application fee

The General Residency program at I-Park, located in a vast nature preserve, offers the perfect amenities for artists of all kinds, including creative writers, studio artists, musicians, film art, landscape design, and much more. Artists are provided with a private bedroom, private studio, meal plan, common room, library, and Wi-Fi to help artists get work done, which will be presented in an open studio event at the end of the term.

  1. James Merrill Writer-in-Residence Program

Where: Stonington, CT

When: One 4 ½-month residency between mid-January and the end of May, and 3 or 4 shorter residencies of 2 to 6 weeks during the months between Labor Day and mid-January

Cost: No fee for accepted residents ($1,000 monthly stipend)

As a tribute to James Merrill, this beautiful, waterside residence in Stonington, CT provides a comfortable experience for writers and artists accepted to stay in the historical Merrill Apartment. Stonington is a small beach town with independent coffee houses, shops, restaurants, and other local businesses that give the town a homely feeling perfect for focusing on one’s writing.

  1. The Studios at MASS MoCA

Where: North Adams, MA

When: Up to 8 weeks from September–April

Cost: $650/week, but many participants are offered both merit- and need-based financial aid

The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, or Mass MoCA, provides exciting residencies for artists and writers in furnished studios and newly renovated apartment space right across from the museum in North Adams, MA. While it provides great opportunities to talk with other artists and gain new inspiration, it also provides generous time and space to your most important work done.

  1. Straw Dog Writer’s Guild Writing Residencies

Where: Westhampton, MA

When: 6-day retreats starting in September

Cost: Accepted writers funded by grants and donations

Writers working on substantial projects who live in one of the four counties of Western Massachusetts and are paying members of the Straw Dog Writer’s Guild are eligible to apply for this residency located on the beautiful Patchwork Farm in Westhampton, MA throughout the year starting in September.

  1. Norton Island Residency

Where: Norton Island, ME

When: July 6–17, 2017

Cost: $35 application fee, $125 residency fee

If you love the extreme outdoors, this program is for you. Norton Island hosts artists in rustic cabins a mile off the coast of Maine, where Wi-Fi can only be accessed from one specific location. It’s remote and wild landscape provides an uninterrupted escape for painters, sculptors, writers, and musicians who are brave enough to experience the great outdoors like never before.

  1. The Helicker LaHoten Foundation

Where: Great Cranberry Island, ME

When: Annual sessions held between June and October

Cost: $40 application fee, $1250 residency fee

This residency takes place in an updated 19th-century house on Great Cranberry Island, Maine, with heated artist studios, a private shorefront out back, and beautiful lawn space. The program is designed for established artists to break away from the chaos of their everyday lives and immerse themselves into a tranquil environment in which they can focus on their work.

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—Audrey Conklin

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Pride Month Reads!

Pride Parade

Boston Pride 2017

Happy Pride Month everyone! I attended Boston Pride for the first time this past weekend and it was an environment full of happy, dancing people who felt comfortable being themselves. So, in honor of Pride Month, I decided to put together a few books that have excellent LGBTQ+ representation. They are all YA novels that serve as an introduction for cisgender/straight readers, provide representation for LGBTQ+ teens, and can be enjoyed by all ages. Representation is so important, especially for traditionally marginalized communities to be able to see themselves in characters. Without further ado, here are some great Pride reads!

You Know Me Well by David Levithan & Nina LaCour

You Know Me WellThis book takes place during Pride Week and follows two teens, Mark and Katie, who have never spoken before they end up in the same gay bar. They’re both young, gay, and afraid of love, which creates a fast bond between the two of them. The story is told in alternating points of view as Mark and Katie grow closer and adventure through the colorful world of Pride while trying to figure out what to do after high school graduation. Given that David Levithan and Nina LaCour are both members of the LGBTQ community, the vibrant scenes that take place during Pride feel authentic, all the way down to the bands that play. You Know Me Well is a quick read full of the joy, happiness, and acceptance.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Aristotle and Dante

Aristotle and Dante was one of the best books that I have read this year. When the book starts, Aristotle is struggling with his brother’s arrest and the fact that his parents won’t talk about it. Dante is an oddball kid who doesn’t look at the world quite the same way as everyone else. They meet at a pool over the summer and quickly become the best of friends and, maybe, just a little bit more. The first word that comes to mind when I think of this book is “sweet.” Ari and Dante have the most genuine, adorable friendship and the feelings between them progress slowly and realistically. With a narration style similar to that of The Catcher in the Rye and characters that steal your heart, this book will quickly become one of your favorites!

The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

The Art of Being Normal

The Art of Being Normal was the first YA book about transgender characters I ever read. Although the author herself is cisgender, she spent years working with transgender teens and clearly did her research in order to portray the characters and their experiences as well as she could. David is in the process of trying to figure out how to transition to a girl and how to come out to family and friends. Leo is the new kid at school with a few secrets of his own who is desperately trying to stay under the radar. The two of them have much more in common than they initially think. While The Art of Being Normal doesn’t address trans issues beyond the most basic beginning thoughts of transitioning, I still think this book is important. It is a great introduction for cis readers to the perspective of transgender characters and I think that young trans teens who are still trying to figure out their identity could find it helpful.

Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour

Everything Leads to You

Nina LaCour is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. It is rare to see books, especially in YA, where a character’s sexuality is just a part of who they are. Often, the plot centers solely around a character coming out or bullying/harassment in school, but that isn’t the case with Everything Leads to You. Emi is a talented young set designer trying to break her way into Hollywood. When she finds a mysterious letter from a recently deceased Old-Hollywood star, she meets Ava, who is unlike anyone Emi has ever encountered before. The world of Emi’s set designs and film-making is so vibrant in this book that readers can’t help but picture every piece of furniture Emi places in a room. She has a caring romance with Ava and I love that their feelings for each other took a backseat to solving the mystery surrounding Ava’s family. It was nice to read about two lesbian characters who were more than just their sexuality or their feelings for each other.

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

If I Was Your Girl

If I Was Your Girl tells the story of Amanda, a trans woman who has been fully transitioned and on pills for several years. She’s recently moved to Tennessee to live with her dad and finish out high school while remaining as low profile as possible. Her plans become complicated when she acquires a group of friends and meets a boy named Grant who she wants to tell everything. This is also the first YA book written by a trans woman to be heavily promoted, which is amazing. The book is heartfelt and significantly more upbeat than one might expect from a story that could have easily felt dark. Meredith Russo also includes two separate notes to readers, one for cis-gendered readers and another for trans readers, each with their own message about the book and its contents. To see those notes in full and to read an awesome review of the book by a trans woman, have a look here.

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

Two Boys Kissing

I’m closing this list out with David Levithan again because it’s hard to go wrong with one of his books. His first book, Boy Meets Boy, was originally published in 2003 when it wasn’t anywhere near as normal to see a romance between two boys, even in Young Adult books. Since then, he’s continued to write beautiful stories about gay teens just trying to live their best life in a world that tries its best to knock them down. Two Boys Kissing was no exception to this. The book is narrated by the generation of gay men that died from AIDS telling the story of several gay couples and gay teenagers in the present. All of this is centered around Harry and Craig, two ex-boyfriends trying to break the Guinness World Record for the longest kiss. I have never read another book narrated like Two Boys Kissing and the contrast between the lives of the gay men killed by AIDS and the teenagers today was stunning and I teared up while reading a few times. It was equal parts adorable and sad in a way that only David Levithan can manage. This book is an excellent reminder of how far we have come and how far we still need to go for equality.

Happy Pride Everyone! Keep being your beautiful selves, no matter who that may be!

-Megan, Intern

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Hey Everyone!

I’m Megan, one of the new interns for the summer. I’m so excited to be working with my fellow intern Audrey, Dr. Harte, and the rest of the Cambridge Editors team!

I’m a Junior at Emerson College majoring in Writing, Literature, & Publishing, and minoring in Sociology. Someday I’m hoping to write my own novels and to work as a Literary Agent. I have enough books in my room that I could be buried alive if a shelf were to ever collapse. I mostly read YA novels and have been a huge Harry Potter nerd since age 5. Some of my current favorites are We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, and You Know Me Well by David Levithan and Nina LaCour.

When I’m not walking around with my nose in a book I can be found binge watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Office on Netflix or trying to catch up on The Walking Dead (shhh no spoilers). I also just spent the past semester studying abroad and traveling Europe. I visited fourteen countries within the last four months, lived in a castle (yes you read that right!) in the Netherlands, and fell totally in love with it all. I 100% have the travel bug and will be planning more trips as soon as time and money allow!

My life has changed a lot in the past few months and in ways I never could have expected. In Europe I visited every art museum I could, seeing paintings made by Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Degas, Picasso, and so many other painters whose work I had only ever seen in books. I ate handmade pasta in Italy, saw the Eiffel Tower, went on the Harry Potter Studio Tour in London, and fell in love with places I never thought I would get the chance to go like Prague and Budapest. And now I’m in Boston for the summer, living in an apartment with one of my best friends, figuring out how to be a full-time city-girl and an independent adult. I couldn’t be happier!

I’m so thrilled that I get to be a part of the CambrideEditors team and I’m looking forward to an exciting summer of learning even more about the editing world!

Me in Greece

Soaking up a Greek Sunset in Mykonos

Me in Rome

Here’s me in Rome!

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So, Tell Me about Yourself: A New Intern at Cambridge Editors

In early April, I had an interview for a sales associate position at Anthropologie, a bohemian-esque women’s clothing store, on Newbury Street. I was dressed in all my Anthropologie clothes that hopefully wouldn’t provoke any quick assumptions about my personality—a white, button-up blouse; my nicest pair of jeans; leather booties; and a small, gold necklace. I waited about fifteen minutes before sitting down with one of the store’s managers, which gave me plenty of time to start getting nervous. Once we finally did sit, I was bombarded by the only statement I should have been prepared to respond to: “So, tell me about yourself.”

“Like, career-wise?” I said. Stupid.

“Anything. Just tell me about you.”

And then I started down the usual path of conversation that I always seem to find myself wandering with friends, family, and store managers, beginning with this explanation: My name is Audrey. I’m twenty years old. I transferred to Emerson College in Boston from a liberal arts college in Upstate New York after my first year to peruse a BFA in Writing, Literature, and Publishing. Do I want to write a book? It’s definitely on my bucket list. I live about a twenty-minute walk away (from Newbury Street) and have a year of work experience at the third-busiest Starbucks in the city.  I’m looking for a part-time job so I can earn some money on top of a part-time, summer internship, and of course I’m looking to work in the fall during the school year, too (that’s what you have to tell everyone if you want the job).

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A photo my sister snapped of me reading The Boston Girl in the Public Garden.

Despite having repeated these details about myself to so many people so many times, I knew almost immediately that this was not what my patient interviewer wanted to hear. At the same time, I didn’t know what to tell her. I don’t consider myself an exciting person yet. I haven’t ever lived in Paris or Rome studying fashion or architecture. I don’t make jewelry or pottery inspired by a service trip to coastal Africa or South America. I haven’t been recognized at award ceremonies or received any athletic achievement medals. I don’t spend my Friday nights at bougie city clubs trying to network with business people in high places. I still don’t know how to evenly cook a boneless chicken breast on my crooked, thousand-year-old stove. I don’t even know what I want to be when I grow up.

When I tell people about my decision to pursue a college degree in Writing, Literature, and Publishing, which I only do when asked, I start to feel a little bit like a turtle receding into its shell. It’s the same feeling I get when I order something way less healthy than my friends at a restaurant, or when my aunts ask about my nonexistent love life. Now that I’m entering the second semester of my senior year in college, what seemed certain four years ago seems much less certain now. Even an Uber driver once said to me, “At least you have publishing experience to fall back on when the writing doesn’t work out,” after I told him the title of my major. It’s not like I want to write the Next Great American Novel; I just want to tell stories like the ones my dad used to tell my sister and me before bed. I want to write stories that readers will hold close to their hearts. I want them to talk about my writing the way my grandma talks about her favorite novel, Gone with the Wind, in a voice so soft you’d think she was spilling secrets. And while I work on that, maybe I’ll edit a few articles or blog posts to earn a living.

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Grandma at Clam Pass Beach in Naples, FL, last April.

As much as I want to defend my choices and say for certain that I will get a good job in writing or publishing, I can’t blame the skeptics. I’m skeptical of myself. Who isn’t? Part of me wonders if I should have gone with nursing or education or something that could guarantee a job right out of college. Maybe I will end up studying something different in the future, but the task of writing a book has always taken priority, and I will do everything I can to reach that goal, even if it means graduating from art school. Now I’ve learned my lesson. When people ask what I want to do after school, instead of saying, “write a book,” I say, “I want to be an editor,” which usually grants me a little more authority. But life is unpredictable and all I can do is grab hold of whatever opportunities come my way.

The more I read and write, the more I realize that it’s going to take more than a few classes and peer critiques to prepare me for writing the first draft of my first novel. What I need is patience, persistence, a better understanding of the publishing industry, and a better understanding of myself (though writing will certainly help to move this part along). I am incredibly grateful, however, for the writing classes I have been fortunate enough to attend to help me improve my skills in a craft I have always enjoyed. My dad likes to tell me that storytelling is in my Irish blood; I think storytelling is in a lot of people’s blood, but not everyone gets around to sharing those stories with anyone but themselves and their diaries. No matter what my future career may be, I hope I can escape both the visible and invisible binds that hold so many back from sharing their interpretations of the world and everything that makes it unique.

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Looking out onto a very green Ireland last July from Thor Ballylee Castle.

I didn’t get the job at Anthropologie, but two weeks later, I was hired as an intern at Cambridge Editors, and two weeks after that, I was hired as a sales associate at an “athleisure” boutique that’s only a ten-minute walk from my apartment. Both places are small and comfortable and everything I could have hoped for after a year of making lattés for the busy personnel at MGH and leisurely tourists of the Liberty and Wyndham hotels. This new Boston life has been filled with good luck, but also with a lot of hard work—not just my own hard work, but my parents’, as well, and everyone I am lucky enough to have in my life. I feel thankful every day to be where I am—thankful for the trendy coffee shops, the happy tourists, the 10% off I get by using my Emerson ID card at select stores, nights when the people upstairs go to sleep early, fresh-squeezed lemonade carts in the Boston Common, the two-hour train ride home, warmer weather, and what few scattered accomplishments that give me the confidence I need to keep going—despite this heavy weight of undergraduate uncertainty and quick surge into the scary, exciting world of adulthood.

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portrait of an idol

In my mind’s eye, six-year-old me is still sitting in the back seat of my dad’s sun-baked, forest green 1998 Ford Windstar. Entranced, I watch as from his coat pocket he produces a shrink wrapped copy of Room For Squares — the first studio album released by John Mayer in 2001. With a smile still untouched by Hollywood hecklers and the heavy burden of fame, then 23-year-old Mayer appears at once enigmatic and blissfully naive, gazing out from behind the tiled cover.

From the moment the disc was loaded in that old stereo system, my childhood would forever be colored by that sound.

Fourteen years and six concerts later, I’m still reeling from the sublime sense of understanding that comes with discovering music that resonates on a profound level for the first time. Throughout all my phases and brief fascinations, my appreciation for Mr. Mayer has never faltered.

Over the next few years, I would log countless hours with him on my pink CD player, totally entranced by his knack for hauntingly hopeful pop melodies. I used to spend whole afternoons sprawled out on the little pink rug in my bedroom, which at the time was big enough to fit my entire body length but now looks closer in size to a welcome mat. I would close my eyes and try to decipher the meanings behind his witty lyrical turns of phrase, which awakened my love of poetry long before I ever decided to become a literature major.

By the time I was seven, I had been vocal enough about my enthusiasm to compel my parents to take me to see him live in concert. A deep, spiritual feeling of inner peace washed over me as soon as that man stepped on stage — a phenomenon that has remained consistent at every show since. There is something to be said for an artist who is able to bridge the musical gap between parents and their adolescent children. Never one to issue records with parental advisories, Mayer embodies what I have coined the road trip phenomenon — one I’ve often spoken about with friends, who remember him for being the only artist everyone in the family could agree to listen during long cross country drives.

I wholeheartedly accredit Room For Squares as having been essential to the development of my soul, both as a human being and an audiophile. Since its 2001 release the album has gone platinum, selling over one million units. In the sixteen years since, Mayer has worked earnestly to expand his musical wingspan to encompass not only the acoustic pop style that rocketed him to fame, but also the genre on which he built his foundation — the blues.

As a teenager, Mayer worshipped at the altar of musical idolatry in much the same way as many would go on to worship him. Convincing his dad to drive him down to the local record store, he would hunt the racks for the discs that would become his greatest inspirations. Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix, and Albert King sat beside our young hero in that twilight dimension in which their spirits lingered just behind the veil. Patiently, they rewinded track after track as Mayer played along into the wee hours of the morning. This is where the blues was reborn, in the small bedroom of a thirteen year old boy in suburban Fairfield, Connecticut, in 1991.

Flash forward to 2017, and Mayer’s standing in the musical world is quickly approaching legend status. Returning to the stage to perform solo after a four year hiatus, his 2017 world tour is well underway. With a devastating new album called The Search For Everything, Mayer explores the depths of love, loss, pain, and the complex process of moving on.

This is where my story comes full circle. Being a super fan, I am signed up to receive everything from Google Alerts to Tweet notifications to official tour email updates. Basically, every time the man exhales, I am notified. When the news came through earlier this year that he would soon release a new album and launch the US leg of the tour, I was ecstatic. As I read the fine print of the email, I caught a small detail that would change my life forever: a select number of VIP meet and greet tickets will be available at each venue of the North American tour. My heart practically jumped out of my chest. Pulse racing, I embarked on a single-minded mission — if there was any way I could make this happen, any way at all, I was going to do it.

Months later, on April 9th, 2017 at Boston’s TD Garden, my father and I followed the twenty-two other VIPs backstage, where we waited in front of a black curtain while security explained how the procedure would go. “No kisses, no piggy back rides, no funny business,” they told us firmly, with a knowing twinkle in their eyes. Tears elbowed their way to the edge as I realized the moment I had been dreaming of since I was seven years old was now only seconds away. I took a deep breath as they waved me through the curtain.

Flashback to July 12th, 2008…and here we have 11 year old me, standing in front of the John Mayer promotional BlackBerry truck before his concert at what is now the Xfinity Center in Mansfield, Massachusetts. IMG_1221Before…

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And after: Nine years later, same girl, same t-shirt, same idol. Some things never change.FullSizeRender (1)

John and I have been through a lot over the years, but I think it’s safe to say we’ve both “glo’d up” since 2008.

There are not enough words in the English language to describe how it feels to have your one actual, literal Wildest Dream come true. Mr. Mayer was absolutely lovely, gracious, kind (and extremely tall). If there is any artist that truly appreciates their fans, it’s him. All I can tell you is that the little girl standing in front of the BlackBerry truck in 2008 would positively die of happiness if she only knew what the future held.

So now, I’ve got some thank-you’s that need issuing.

First of all to my father, without whom I could not have accessed the beautiful music that shaped my childhood.

Next, I’d like to thank the scout from Aware Records who signed a young Mayer after his performance at Austin’s SXSW in 2000. You found him when we needed him most.

Lastly, to Mr. John C. Mayer — no combination of words will ever be able to express just how much you mean to me (and so many others), so we’ll just keep repeating this as long as we live:

THANK YOU.

 

Margeaux Sippell, Intern

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