Thursday, October 18, 2012

An Amusing Experience with My Research Mentor

One thing I miss about being a student is access to research materials. When I wrote SACRED FIRE, I had the nation's second largest campus library at my disposal. Now I'm limited to what I can afford on Amazon.

The most important book for my work-in-progress costs $130 (Ina Fanrich's Mysterious Voodoo Queen). Ugh. The local university has it but only loans out to students and faculty, so I've been going to the library and reading it in the Starbucks on campus.

That's how I met my research mentor. A professor saw what I was reading and stopped to talk to me. Apparently New Orleans voodoo is a hobby of his (the study of it, not the practice) and he hadn't heard of Fandrich's work.

"What class is this for?" he asked.

"Oh, this is for my own study. I went to school at BYU."

"And you're learning about Voodoo?" He shook his finger at me. "Bad Mormon."

I laughed. "Actually, this is for a historical fiction I'm working on about Marie Laveau."

He got really interested and said we should meet to talk about my project.

I was thrilled. I researched SACRED FIRE on my own, but now I had a flesh-and-blood person to talk to! We met in his office and discussed my project, books he recommended, controversies concerning Marie Laveau, etc. 

Somewhere in the conversation, I mentioned a Voodoo festival I was dying to go to - my husband didn't want me to drive to New Orleans by myself and he has work that day - dropping heavy hints that I hoped he knew someone I could carpool with.

"You could take the train," he suggested.

"Sure, but I would be by myself once I got there," I pointed out.

"Nonsense. You have plenty of friends in New Orleans who could go with you."

That was my first clue that there was a misunderstanding between us.

"I don't actually know anyone in New Orleans," I said cautiously.

"Sure you do. You have all the people in your program."

I tried to think of what kind of "program" would be applicable to this situation and came up with nothing. "Program, sir?"

"Yeah. Your MFA program."

Oh dear, I thought. 

It made sense once I pieced it together: first off, I look like an undergrad. No one on my dad's side of the family ages past their mid-20's. (Seriously, I have an uncle who looks younger than I do). There's a theory that we're all vampires. 

Second, when we met I was carrying a bulging backpack and what looked like a bicycle helmet, since I was going roller skating after lunch. 

Finally, I was half-way through reading a master's thesis paper on an obscure topic "for my own research," which most people don't do for fun. I wondered in a panic how he would feel once I told him he wasn't helping a master student, but was in fact wasting time on a civilian.

"I'm not a student here," I explained. My face was probably red at this point.

"Really?" he asked, surprised. "Where are you studying?"

Realizing how lame this would sound, I said, "I'm not studying. I'm just researching. I got my bachelor's degree, but that's all."

He was perplexed. "Then what are you doing here?"

"You guys had a library?" I said with a shrug.

"No, I mean why are you in Mississippi if you studied at BYU?"

"Oh. My husband got a job in Hattiesburg. This is the closest university to my house." 

He sat back in his chair. "I don't believe it. I've been telling people about this master's student I met..."

"Yeah, sorry." I wondered if he would feel like I cheated him and this would be the end of our association.

He went to his computer. "I'm going to print off the university application forms. You have to join the Creative Writing program."

"Really?" This was the last thing I thought he would say.

"Absolutely! The department would be happy to have you. Your Vestal Virgin book could be your writing sample when you apply, and your voodoo book could be your thesis paper."

"No kidding?" I never had any intention of going back to school; all I want to do is make books and babies. But it got me thinking about the things I wanted to do in college but didn't and the things I felt unsatisfied with when I graduated. I don't know. Maybe I'll do it, maybe I won't.


  1. Whoa that's exciting! But, fwiw, it's great to go to cities by yourself, especially if you're researching something. No one to answer to, no one to say "I'm bored." Also fwiw I have a friend who lives in NYC part time. He's a journalist. If you want me to introduce you....

    1. Meaning he lives in NYC part time and New Orleans part time, to clarify.

  2. Wow! Speaking from a place of total inexperience - I think you should go for it! Who knows, maybe it was meant to be and you were supposed to meet that person so that this could happen. And if you don't believe in that kind of thing it could still be an amazing experience that you might regret saying no to. Just saying :)

  3. Lol, I was so confused by the first comment because if I ever go to NYC, I was planning on staying with you! Now it makes more sense. Next time I plan a t trip to New Orleans, I'll be sure and let you know. Thanks!

    1. (this was supposed to be a reply to Kris's comments.)

  4. This is a great story, Teralyn. It reminds me of a similar act of generousity from New Orleans. My completed wip 'Clay Cross' had it's first five chapters based in and around New Orleans and involved voodoo. I emailed the Voodoo Museum and its curator was brilliant in terms of getting back to me with oodles of info and advice

  5. 'all I want to do is make books and babies'

    You may not have intended to, but you speak my heart!

    Also, apply! Go for it! :D

  6. How exciting! If you can spare the time and money, go for it!

    I travelled to New Orleans on my own when I was 24, and I was fine. I avoided certain areas at night and felt perfectly safe. If I were setting a novel there, I would definitely want to go to take photos and do research.

  7. Wow! It was great to be offered to join the Creative writing program because of your interest in research and you also have good thesis ideas. While you are thinking about taking the offer or not can you also consider sharing some insights about how you are choosing topic for your research? Maybe a lot of people would love that. About deciding, just follow your heart.


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