Another post on conference lore: riddle me this

I had intended to devote the rest of July’s post to what all of us like best, in-depth discussion of craft issues and self-editing tips, honest. However, I’ve been hearing enough local whimpers of terror about this weekend’s PNWA conference that I think another couple of days of practical, stress-reducing posts for conference pitchers might well be in order.

Oh, stop rolling your eyes, pitch-eschewers; I know that you would rather feed your toes to a starving lion than plop yourself down across a table from a real, live agent and try to convince her that you’re the best writer since Ernest Hemingway and Dorothy Parker had a love child and let Pearl S. Buck raise it for them. Even if you are not planning on pitching your book or attending a writers’ conference anytime soon, I suspect these chats will be helpful: after all, the more successful an author is, the more likely she is to be attending writers’ conferences to promote her book.

And already, a forest of hands has sprouted out there in the ether. “But Anne,” some of you point out, and who could blame you? “The conference I am planning to attend does not provide attendees the opportunity to pitch to agents and editors. Or there are just a few pitching slots, and they’re already taken. Or the additional charge for those pitch meetings is so great compared to purchasing a stamp, printing out a query, and mailing both to the agent of my dreams that I would not even consider conference pitching. So why would attending a writers’ conference be remotely stressful for me?”

An excellent question, forest. Let me see if I can explain via analogy.

A few years ago, in the midst of the test of human endurance and sheer grit known as the Seattle Ring Cycle — four Wagner operas performed over the course of five days, presented by the same small group of singers — I saw something I had never seen before: the orchestra leaving its pit during the curtain call. And very pointedly, too, at precisely the moment when the singer playing the lead in Die Walk?re was walking forward for her solo curtain call.

Why would this very respectable and accomplished body of musicians have done such a rude and unprofessional thing? Were they simply exhausted, as the audience was, by so many consecutive hours of sitting? Did the golden hour of overtime click in thirty seconds hence? Had a swarm of hornets abruptly descended upon the string section?

All valid possibilities, I suppose, but my guess would be that they staged a walk-out for the same reason the audience members in my part of the balcony stopped yelling “Bravo,” sat down, and engaged in barely-audible golf claps when Br?nnhilde tripped lightly to the front of the stage. They felt disappointed.

It wasn’t that the singer didn’t have a marvelous voice; far from it, as she had demonstrated in Act III. Nor was the problem her acting: the lady was — and is — world-famous for playing this particular role. Unfortunately, though, in anticipation of Act III, she had chosen not to sing at full voice in Act II.

So the Valkyrie most closely associated with belting out the top notes was barely audible past the tenth row for a good hour. An hour, alas, that contained the single best-known aria in Western opera, a little ditty that runs something like this: