I think it was James Herriot who said that a true fanatic is irresistible. It made an impression on me because I have also found that to be true. A fanatical enthusiast can dupe you into being interested in something that never interested you before. Once upon a time, there was a man who actually interested me in trigonometry! (The effect wasn’t permanent, alas.)
I bring that up to give you a frame of reference for the weekend I just experienced. The folks at Writers in the Field managed to assemble a group of experts who also happened to be fanatics about their areas of expertise. So what we had was a group of passionate fanatics teaching classes to a bunch of nerdy, fanatical writers who were eager to learn. The result was (at least for me) an explosion of joy and enthusiasm.
Although there were some writing classes, the focus was on helping writers with research by letting them talk to real-life experts. There were so many options for each time period that I had to make some very hard choices. These are the classes I ended up taking:
Introduction to Archery—John Stout
Historical Dances—Caryl Morris
Country Healing and Herbalism—Brittney Volker
History, Customs, and Manners of the Renaissance—William Teel
Archery—Practicing the Basics (observed)—John Stout
Ask Seth Skorkowsky: The Pitfalls of Writing a Series—Seth Skorkowsky
Historical Archery—John Stout
Japanese Archery Demonstration—John Stout
Concert—Plunk Murray, Irish Blind
Exotic Bladed Weapons—Bill Riddle
Court Dancing—Caryl Morris & friends
Historical and Fantasy Armor—Bill Riddle, John Stout
Rapier and Court Swords—Bill Riddle
Strange New Worlds—Keith Goodnight
Fight Dirty—Like a Girl (partial)—Jeremy Metcalf
I have included the presenters’ names because they were so outstanding and I want to acknowledge them. I watched quite a bit of archery—the only P.E. class I ever enjoyed when I was in college!
Both dance classes were so full of information and I took copious notes. The lecture on the Renaissance was so excellent I wanted there to be more of it.
The locksmith was amazing, and adapted quickly once he realized his class was going to be a lot more popular than he had expected! He explained the process so well that it took me less than five minutes to successfully pick my first lock. Not that I am planning a life of crime, you understand. But now if I want to write about someone picking a lock I have a clue how to do it.
The swords/weapons guys were so knowledgeable and entertaining I enjoyed every minute of their presentations. They confirmed several facts that I had already picked up elsewhere. So nice to know your information is accurate!
The herbal medicine presentation was also very interesting to me, especially since I’ve been attending that homeopathy class.
I almost didn’t go to the worldbuilding class, because I’ve taken several other classes on that topic and think I’m pretty good at it—but I’m glad I went. He had a different spin on a couple of aspects of worldbuilding and I can use those insights in my writing.
The live music was a huge bonus too. Saturday night we had wonderful Celtic music, and Sunday we had a “Video Game Cover Band,” a genre that I didn’t know existed. They were great! I love listening to live music, especially in an intimate venue where you can really see and hear everything.
There were also firearms and martial arts experts, historical re-enactors, horses and their handlers, and a wine expert!
Oh, and did I mention that all this took place on the grounds of a Steampunk Faire known as Steampunk November? Wall-to-wall chandeliers and other fancy accoutrements. That’s another reason I enjoyed myself so much—the faire environment is so familiar and comfortable for me. And look what else I found there:
I tried a somewhat new strategy for note-taking “in the field” and am now sold on it. Normally, I take a clipboard filled with unlined computer paper so I can take my “tree and branch” notes. This time, though, knowing I’d be lugging my chair around for two days, plus a bag with a heavy water bottle in it, I decided to be more of a minimalist. I took a little square sketchbook I’d been saving for some mysterious future need.
Here is the notebook I took: Square Sketchbook
It was so much easier to handle since I had to write on my lap. The pages are thick and opaque, meaning nothing bled through to the other side. The square shape meant I could arrange information anyway I liked. Depending on the class, one or two square pages were sufficient to record the information I wanted to remember. And instead of loose pages, I have a nice bound book with everything together. I’ll use this one for writing-related stuff, but I’m already planning to order another one to use for other subjects!