A new view of a familiar conference, or “because I am a very good assistant.”

Hello, my fellow birds! As publisher of Parisian Phoenix I have made an effort to support as much of the Lehigh Valley literary and artistic community as possible. I was scheduled to volunteer at the Lehigh Valley Book Festival today, as I had tried to be part of the marketing committee for that event organized by Let’s Play Books in Emmaus and held at Bethlehem Area Public Library.

But, as those who read my angelackerman.com blog know, I spent a day in the hospital last week while the doctors tried to figure out why I suddenly have new onset A-fib with RVR. I’m wearing a heart monitor, and most of my recent outings have been limited to physical therapy, doctors, an occasional visit with a friend or publisher’s meeting, and the occasional trip to the gym so my trainer there can truly try to kill me.

I have had two bad falls on stairs in March that required medical attention. One nose dive down the stairs at work that resulted in a badly sprained finger and a visit to my ortho’s office and hand rehab specialists, and a second at home almost but not quite two weeks later that knocked the wind out of me and required stitches.

My A-fib has been controlled with a regular dose of beta blockers, and it took about a whole week for my body to adapt to them. And while I don’t have any official restrictions from my doctor, my family and friends did not want me out at a public event, where there are a lot of stairs and parking that may be far from the venue, by myself.

So I pouted.

Because yes kids– grown-ups pout, too.

And then my dear friend and Parisian Phoenix colleague Joan asked me to be her assistant at The Write Stuff, the annual conference of The Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group. GLVWG has not hosted a conference in-person since 2019, and more so, I have not attended one of these events in more than a decade.

So when Joan promised to babysit me, and asked if I could be her photographer’s assistant I jumped at the chance (to get out of the house). For participants, Joan’s presence offered a great opportunity. We had our own little room where for $40 a writer could have 30 minutes studio time and digital images of various headshots and author promo photos.

And once upon a time, or perhaps twice upon a time, I was president of the group. I served on the board for at least eight years… probably from 2005 to 2013.

The conference organizers were even kind enough to list not just “photography assistant” but also “former GLVWG pres” on my badge. The conference became an unexpected homecoming. And it was fun to see our Parisian Phoenix full-page ad in print.

Now, I spent more than 15 years in the print newspaper trade, so I know a thing or two about photographers, photography, being a test subject and the kind of errands and attention photographers require.

I am a very good assistant.

Yesterday, we scoped out the room, rearranged the furniture and I found every light switch. Then, today, I arrived with munchkins, muffins and caffeinated seltzers in hand. Because Joan might need a pickup and seltzer does not need to be warm or cold, muffins can be nibbled, and our subjects might need some sugar to help them relax. And munchkins bring out a softness in all of us.

And I even went so far as to make a computer work station for Joan and a snack station away from the electronics, a check-in counter and a place for people to stash their belongings.

To which Joan said, “You ARE a very good assistant.

And then we served a delightful group of writers, where I would get them talking, laughing and distracted and Joan would click. Because, folks, head shots and promo photos aren’t hard. What’s hard is getting people you don’t know well to act like themselves.

And what amazed me about the process and the day, was that I got to reconnect with people I hadn’t seen in a decade, connect with new people, and laugh heartily, while knowing that the pictures Joan would capture would do some much to make these writers look and feel their best as they promote themselves in an increasingly strange world.

The keynote speaker was Maria V. Snyder, the author of Poison Study, who had appeared at the conference “back in my day.” I believe she may have done some sessions then. She had a lovely traditionally published career, until the consolidations of the major publishers led to new people deciding they no longer wanted her books even though she earned out her advances and still made her publishers money. So like many traditional authors, she is now exploring her avenues as a hybrid author.

Kathryn Craft, a GLVWG board member from “back in my day” and the person who single-handedly thrust me from simple writer-member to organization president, and the author of The Art of Falling and The Far End of Happy, let slide that she has a craft book she is working on. Pun intended.

The day always ends with a book fair, but I still struggle with how little the prose community supports one another. If you enjoyed a presenter’s session, buy his/her damn book. And maybe just maybe if you start buying each other’s books, you might drum up more support and reviews. Plus, Andy Laties of downtown Easton’s Book and Puppet Company worked very hard to organize and sell the books, so if we, as attendees, don’t buy the books, we’re wasting his time and not supporting our local independent bookseller.

Writers came from as far as North Carolina and Florida, despite the fact that the conference was smaller than usual this time around. The pandemic has made a lot of things change its shape and size I suppose. And for the first time in ages, the conference offered no agents, editors or publishers. I wonder if perhaps next year’s conference personnel should consider reaching out to local presses, local magazines, and corporations with a local presence, which now include Rodale and Hearst.

Joan Zachary and Larry Sceurman

I also pitched the idea to both GLVWG and to Lehigh Valley Book Festival that perhaps the two groups could host a joint mixer Friday night. The Lehigh Valley Book Festival has grabbed GLVWG’s traditional weekend, but the two events have complimentary missions. I believe it would be very fun to mix the readers and authors from Lehigh Valley Book Festival and the writers and presenters from GLVWG.

Toward the end of the day, I did purchase some books, both myself and for Joan, and I helped Joan organize and transport her supplies.

Because I am a very good assistant.

And I also captured a photo of the photographer, in her end of day exhaustion.

Because I am a very good assistant.

Published by Angel Ackerman

Writer, Editor, Traveler, Fashionista, Francophile, Student and Mother Publisher at Parisian Phoenix (parisianphoenix.com) Author of the Fashion and Fiends series

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