By Aaron Palmer
What does Salt Lake Comic Con smell like?
Within the labyrinth of vendors, artists, authors, celebrities and more than 100,000 attendees — all meeting to celebrate everything nerdy — the smell of cinnamon-glazed pecans often scented the air. But I enjoyed something more than the smell.
I did see countless costumed heroes, villains and vehicles (yes, someone dressed as Dean and Sam’s car from “Supernatural”) in congested hallways and standing in lines that stretched around the Salt Palace Convention Center’s 20-acre city block.
But even more than the people-watching, something else pulled me in.
As an English major, I gravitated to the discussion panels titled “Plot Building,” “Humor in Writing and Comics,” and “The Art of Writing for Video Games.” I absorbed the discussions. The advice, grounded from industry experiences, seemed like white-gold. I felt tingly, and not because my foot fell asleep like it sometimes does in class.
As the panelists lectured about well-timed humor and maneuvers to enter the video game industry, I realized how little I knew about the English community and all of its behind-the-scenes action. All my good grades (I use “good” generously here) hadn’t taught me those insider tips for success.
I wondered if I was truly using my education to prepare for a profession? Was my long-term goal solely a diploma for an English career? When did letter-grades become more important than honing my skills and asking my professors the right questions?”
My mind flashed to a writer’s workshop I attended five years earlier. Although no grades were issued, I remembered more from that three-day workshop than from past 1010 classes that lasted entire semesters. Why? I wanted to learn
The most robust form of learning goes beyond the curricular into the extracurricular.
It’s about asking keen questions, finding others with similar interests, and attending activities — going beyond the classroom requirements and syllabus. With this idea in mind, I visited panelist members and booth managers for their opinions about extracurricular pursuits for English majors. Although their advice caters to English majors, the principles are universal.
After a panel ended, I met Corrinne Lewis, a professor in the entrainment-arts and engineering program at the University of Utah.
“Having a big community of people to exchange work with is helpful, and workshops and panels let you meet those kinds of people,” Lewis said. “Everybody needs an editor because writing is not writing — writing is editing.”
Bypassing all the Deadpools, I stumbled upon the Utah Fantasy Authors booth. I spoke with J. Abram Barneck, president and author of the “Trinity of Mind” series, about how to enter the professional English community.
“You won’t be ready right out of college,” Barneck said. “Other authors are your friends. So what you want to do is create a solid base of local and friend authors — people who will read your stuff, tell you what’s good and what sucks, and let you change it — so you can grow together and have the greatest chance of selling and writing good stuff.”
I talked with Lance Conrad, author of the “Historian Tales,” who said successful publishing is built upon a foundation of networking.
“Publishing has become a very personal type of industry, and a lot of it has to do with who you know … ” Conrad said. “Going to conventions to network with those who know the inside of the industry (authors, editors, agents, publishers and publicists) … has become absolutely necessary.”
For English majors who want to succeed, it is vital to take a break from the caffeine and keyboard to participate in writer’s groups. A few groups in Utah are the League of Utah Writers, Utah Fantasy Authors, and Dixie State University’s Sigma Tau Delta. And remember seminars and conferences, too.
I will be attend the Cliff Notes Writing Conference in Boulder this October where poet David Lee and author Craig Childs will be instructing. More information is available at www.boulderheritage.org, and registration is still open.
For students of all majors, take advantage of DSU clubs and associations. DSU offers dozens of courses and clubs such as the Math Club, the Distributive Education Club of America, the Psychology club, the Southern Quill, and many, many others. These extracurricular organizations are invaluable for networking and building skills.
Work toward a career today instead of opening a diploma in the mail and asking, “Now what?”