Busting into Boston: Days 4-6

Backdated to March 8th.

Day 4: Snow and the Conference

On March 8th, Kyley and I woke up to snow, snow, and more snow. We took a slow walk down to the T-station (during which we found drifts where I sank up to my thighs). Kyley was really interested in seeing Chinatown, so we headed that way. Though it was actually pleasantly cool outside of city proper, when we emerged in the city the wind was merciless and the snow was icy enough we kept ducking into alcoves to get shelter from the stinging. What we saw of Chinatown wasn’t too impressive (mostly some shops and a McDonald’s with Chinese on it), but for all I know the cool stuff was buried in the bad weather.

We doubled back, thinking we might go to the gardens to look for the famous duck statues. But the wind was too crazy to make a stroll in the gardens sound like a good idea. We bumped into some (Dutch?) tourists and helped them find the T-station. It was an old lady and her granddaughter, I think, who were frustrated they’d ended up in Boston on two very bad snow days. But they were really sweet, and Kyley particularly loved chatting with them as we got inside the station.


From there, we went back to the conference center. I went to a session on using social media as an author, but no one in the panel showed–no one even announced that they weren’t going to show. It was a bit frustrating. But I talked to the lady next to me for quite a while. She was working on a YA novel about one of her ancestors around the time of the American Revolution. It was fun to chat, though we were both frustrated by the waste of a session.

With the extra time I had, I wandered into the bookfair, which was a properly terrifying place. Lots of noise and people in booths trying to talk to you and universities and lit journals.

I stopped by the Chatham table and had a chat with some of the students and the head of the English department. It was funny because when I said my name, the English department lady said, “You’re Alyssa Hollingsworth! Two people came by today to talk about you!” Turns out my creative writing professors had been by the booth! I left with an armful of new things. (I also forgot my phone on the table, but it was later retrieved.)

From there I went to a sessions called Turning in Their Graves: Researching, Imagining, and Shaping Our Ancestors’ Stories. Here are some notes:

  • “You Can Write Your Family History,” “Good Wives” – book recommendations
    The professional field:
  • Professional writing has changed to writing as a narrative instead of bare bones
  • Genealogy facts are the driving force
  • Factual historical record, clearly defined speculation
  • On-going research as new records surface
  • Creative non-fiction: Creative with the way we write the story, not the facts
  • Artifact: Art, I, Fact = trinity of historical fiction – something always has to give a little
  • Fact:
  • “Trying to stuff a sleeping bag into a thimble”
  • “Wherever you go, you meet part of the story”
  • You become the old one as you research–you know the future, past. They only know their present.
  • Can I write about these ancestors?
  • To research is to trespass on time
  • Requires that you recognize you do not belong there
  • Small archives have small things that get all the attention
  • In the act of wondering about another person, we can come to know them–we can find them through wondering
  • The catch is to stay honest–know how much fiction is going on
  • How we use the facts: Combining art and fact
  • We are a filter through which the facts pass
  • A writer’s work is to reveal
  • Interrogate the past
  • Conversation between ancestors and us
  • How does this mean? Why is this particular thing interesting?
  • Think of people as characters in action, reveal them in action

Next, I went to a session on worldbuilding for YA fiction.

  • A fictional world is not just a place, it is what happens to the character in that place
  • Don’t write about what you know, write about what you feel
  • Specific, in motion, cause and effect
  • Between characters’ inner feelings and outer action
  • The landscape we see is the landscape of our soul
  • Understanding character requires understand the landscape (landscape from the smallness of a fire escape to the wideness of Wales)
  • We understand the power of the first place that made us
  • Place has culture
  • A way of constructing reality
  • Give your character a secret they don’t know

Writing exercise:

  • Fold a paper length wise into 5:
  • Day 1: Write a list of what the story’s about
  • Day 2: Return to list, write more details
  • Day 3: Same as day 2 and add sensory details
  • Day 4: Weather, memory
  • Day 5: Secrets and how to get there
  • Take things in the other 5 days and write the opposite–this can help you find the secret

Other exercises:

  • Write about a safe place. Why is it safe?
  • Write your phone number–one number on each line–then finish the phrase “I am from,” using that number of words per line (i.e. 7 = seven words)

After this, we grabbed dinner in the foodcourt and headed home.

Day 5: Freedom Trail (Part 2) and End of Conference (March 9)

On Friday, we awoke to clear blue skies and lots of snow on the ground. It was lovely out! We set out to find the duck station in the public gardens, which was a little difficult in the snow, but not impossible.

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From there, we hopped on the T and resumed the Freedom Trail at Faneuil Hall Marketplace and Quincy Marketplace. We passed a lot of pubs on one block that really reminded me of being back in England. It was crazy to try to follow the trail in the snow, and often we got a little lost before one of us spotted the brick on the sidewalk again. There were a lot of fair-weather tourists out, most of whom were equally lost and pathetic looking.

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We went by Paul Revere’s house, then up past the Old North Church (we didn’t go inside because right as we got there a tourist bus dropped off about 50 people). We went up to the graveyard at the top of the hill, walked around in the snow a bit, and then headed across the river to see the U.S.S. Constitution.

The ship itself was awesome. It was free to explore and really fun to poke around and take a ton of pictures. It also boasted a nice view of the city skyline across the water.

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When we’d had our full, we went to the U.S.S. Constitution museum. The downstairs bit was really interesting, but the real fun was on the second floor. They’d laid out the floor so that people could pretend to enlist in the Navy in the early 1800’s and go through the stages, from “interviewing” to dressing to pulling up fake sails. We had a ton of fun quizzing each other and playing the games throughout the display.

We stopped off in a little cafe before going to the T-station. We had hoped to get over to Harvard Square, but realized belatedly that we wouldn’t have time. So it was back to the conference center, where I went to search for my missing phone. The course of my search lead me to accidentally getting in the elevator that goes up 50 floors to the tallest skyscraper in Boston. Around the time my ears started popping I realized my mistake. I didn’t stick around at the top, though the view was lovely, because I was afraid someone would figure out I didn’t have a ticket (it costs a lot to go up). Then it was back down the elevator and back to the conference.

I only went to one session that day, which was called How to Keep a Story Alive When All Your Characters are Dead: YA Historical Fiction. It was kind of bleh but here are my couple of notes:

  • Write about on-going struggles–What do we have in common? What is different?
  • Go to the place itself for firsthand research

… Yep, that’s it.

Rather exhausted, we returned to the flat with some dinner and got to packing.

Day 6: Traveling Through GA

We arose bright and early at 5:00AM to catch our taxi to the airport. This turned out to have been a fantastic idea because it was fairly cheap and much easier/faster than the T. We got in okay and settled for the wait. Kyley went to get breakfast, and while she was gone my fiction professor found me and we chatted about the conference. There was that awkward pause that always comes when a prof/student meets out of class in real life, then my professor went to find breakfast, too.

Kyley bravely accepted the window seat on the plane. We happened to be in an emergency exit row, but luckily did not have to use our heroics to save the day. The flight back was uneventful. We landed and had to part ways–Kyley to head back to Rome, and me to catch a flight to CA.

It was a lovely trip, and I’d definitely love to go back to Boston.


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