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Last Saturday I had the pleasure of going to the Western Maryland Indie Lit Festival, which was definitely a unique experience for me. It was the closest thing to a writer’s conference as I’ve ever been, though it was nothing like a writer’s conference by any means.

However, there were a few good things that it offered, and I’m glad I went up to attend this and meet new people, and drink a beer with a good friend. Here were some of my favorite aspects:

  • Networking. Until you get me talking, I’m a shy and awkward individual. So I can’t say I networked too much, but I think this opened up a new realm of possibilities for me. There were a few people who I would like to say remembered my name, or at least my face, and a few people who I would like to read their stories and reach out to for a, “Loved it!” note. If I do, of course, love it. It’s a start.
  • Indie presses galore. Indie presses, local reviews, just writers selling their books. There was a definite push to support each other, and I can appreciate that. It was nice to talk to a few of the presses and, largely, just see what they were up to.
  • A window to the other side. By this I mean a lot of these writers and publishers and editors had met each other at the Maryland Writer’s Conference. They had an instant connection from that last time, and they all had an even more intimate connection from being on the other side, with published things and the ability to say, “I wrote a book. What have you done?” None of them said this, of course, but right up close and personal I was able to see how that connection works. I imagine it’s like showing up for a sorority to see if you can join in, and you get the sense of what it would be like to be One of Them.
  • Indie publishing. Being called the Indie Lit Festival, it was no surprise then that indie publishing was discussed, from signing on with a smaller press to doing it on your own. I didn’t learn anything that punched me in the gut with surprise, but I heard a few interesting tidbits and learned about some interesting sites that I’ll want to keep in mind for the future. No surprise, though, that everyone touted the same thing, whether you go Big Six or Indie or Self-Published: Writers market themselves.
  • Further writing opportunities. This was the kicker for me. On top of meeting people, I got to hear about a lot of other great events happening in Maryland and even Pennsylvania (I go up to Pittsburgh a few times a year, so it’s always an option). Among them are a writer’s retreat, a Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror conference for next September, and a writer’s conference in Pennsylvania next June. I have a lot of saving up (and writing!) to do.

Now, those are the general thoughts. Here are some people and presses that stuck out in my mind, and though I haven’t had a chance to read anything yet, they’re on my bucket list. I’ll start with the presses and people I got books from. Read the rest of this entry »

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I want to tell you a story. Or give you a lesson, really, on why you shouldn’t let an eleven-year-old choose their name.

My mother and my biological father divorced sometime when I was young. From what she’s told me, she left him when I was roughly two. We lived with my grandparents until I was four or five. Then we moved in with my mother’s boyfriend, her future husband, my father. My adoptive father, but my father.

I called him “Mike”* for a few years. They got married and he still was “Mike,” not “Dad” or any form of it. I don’t remember when I started using “Dad,” but by the time I was eleven, he was my father and we were going to make it official. He was legally adopting me.

This came with a decision to make. I had three options. I could keep my biological father’s name (a five-letter name, Smith), my new father’s name (McLaughlin)—this was the option my mother demanded I make, or a combination of the two.

This is what I was thinking, at eleven years old:

Me: Can I change my name to Casey?

Mother: No.

Me: I don’t like my options. I don’t like my name. Jessica is bland. You should have named me Casey.

Mother: But I chose Jessica instead. Choose between Smith and McLaughlin, or you can combine the two.

Me: I could use grandpa’s name, Doe. I could be Casey Amber Doe. My initials would be cool. CAD.**

Mother: No, Jessica. Choose.

So I made a decision.

First, I had something against using McLaughlin as my surname. I’m not sure why, as I loved my father, and I had no attachments to the biological father I hadn’t seen since my last memory of me sitting on a bar stool next to him. Maybe I didn’t want to use it because of that mean streak in me, the same one that thought it would be funny to not smile in every single picture at their wedding. I was six at the time and thought it was hilarious. You can see the progression in the pictures as the Maiden of Honor covered her face with flowers and, later, because she couldn’t control herself, stuck her fist in her mouth.

And then, of course, my biological father’s name was five letters long.

I was in the sixth grade and this is back when everything I turned in was handwritten. Jessica McLaughlin felt like too many letters to write in the upper right-hand corner of a page. Jessica Smith, however, was much shorter. Everyone I knew, including my teachers, knew of me as Jessica Smith. They had no problems with me writing only half my name on my papers and my quizzes. My friends knew me as Jessica Smith.

So it was decided. I’d go with option number three, since my mother refused to let me keep only my biological father’s name. Jessica Smith-McLaughlin.

Again, I was eleven. I wasn’t big on thinking of the future. I was thinking about using the AOL chat rooms (they were forbidden) and the next Harry Potter book and still madly in like with my first boyfriend. I assumed I could go through the rest of my life as Jessica Smith.

This lasted through middle school. Or, until I started having to fill out official forms. Until I went to high school. Suddenly, I was writing out 22 letters instead of 12. On every single piece of paper.

What was worse, was my twenty-seven-letter*** name didn’t fit anywhere anymore. The bubble sheets on standardized tests are not made for people with long names. Neither are high school class rosters, as many teachers called out, “Jes Smith-McLaughlin” and “Jessica Smith-McLaug.” One teacher called me, “Justin” because that’s what he assumed when he read, “Jes.”

I realized too late that I should have gone with just McLaughlin. By the time my mom got the papers for me to legally change it, I was on my way to college. Then I turned eighteen, went through college, and got a degree. And by then I’d met my boyfriend, we knew we’d get married some day, and changing it didn’t seem worth it.

So here I sit. Assuming that I will get married within the next few years. With a college degree in one name, and already knowing what my next name will be. It took years for me to get a corrected social security card. I don’t want to do it now and then again when I get married.

There’s the lesson for you. If you don’t want your son or daughter to make stupid decisions, don’t let them make decisions when they’re eleven, at least not ones that will last forever.

This is coming from the girl who, when her parents asked how she felt about a younger sibling, said she would much rather that they adopt an older brother or a dog.

*I made up some of these names except, obviously, Jessica and McLaughlin.

**In reality, using my middle name and my mother’s maiden name, my initials would have been “CDE.” I liked that they formed a string of the alphabet.

***At twenty-seven letters, my name is one letter longer than my ex-boyfriend’s, who has a traditional Spanish name: first name, middle name, father’s surname, mother’s surname

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