Cookies and Con-versations: Cooking the Books with Rachel Kory

Must remember to be nicer to  agent…

By day (and sometimes evenings and weekends and possibly the wee dawn hours), SGGLiterary agent Rachel Kory encourages and promotes her writers. She’s awesome at it.* When she’s not scouring contracts, Rachel can be found at conventions throughout the country. Here’s the catch about cons: You may not recognize her when you see her, not at first: she’s excellent at costuming too. (Rachel’s been kind enough to share some of her photos below.)

A hint, for those who are lucky enough to cross her path: she’s usually carrying cookies or other delicious foods to share. Curious to find out more? Let’s have a con-versation…

[You know I couldn't leave that pun lying around unused, right?]

Hi Rachel – Thank you for joining us at Cooking the Books! The last time you and I crossed paths at a convention (I think it was Philcon), you were on an amazing pair of stilts, and sharing cookies with con-goers (and a few wedding guests too).  Coolest agent ever. Tell me, what is it about cons and cookies?

Thanks for having me!

For me, the goal of attending a convention is to connect with my fellow fans, pros, and nerds of all stripes. It’s about social interaction and bonding with my “tribe.”

Cookies and stilts are a great conversation starter! Plus there’s just something rewarding about gifting a congoer with a sugary pick-me-up and expecting nothing in return. I like to think my cookies support the con community spirit.

How long have you been going to conventions? What are your favorite conventions? Better yet, which conventions have the best food?

I first started attending cons as a fan not that long ago – my first major one was New York Comic Con in 2011 – but I’d been on the fringes for much longer.

Although Atlanta’s Dragon*Con with all its huge spectacle occupies a special place in my heart, I love the medium-sized cons like Arisia in Boston. You get a mix of book geeks, industry professionals, costumers, gamers, and nerds from every corner of SF/F fandom, and it’s so easy to mingle with all of them. It’s a size big enough to feel busy, but small enough to run into the same new friends over the course of the weekend.

I just went to Norwescon in Seattle for the first time – kind of like the Arisia of the west – and want to give a shoutout to their con suite. When I first started attending SF/F cons, the tradition of the “con suite” was one of my favorite discoveries! It’s a volunteer-run room offering free food like snacks and sodas for all convention attendees. It’s also a relaxing space specifically designed for congoers to take a break and socialize casually. The volunteers running Norwescon’s con suite went so far as to cook entire meals at their homes so they could host taco nights, biscuit and gravy breakfasts, and pulled pork sandwiches. That kind of dedication to fan culture was inspiring.

Can you talk a bit (more) about fandom and community at cons? When did you start costuming?

I’ve been sewing and creating costumes since I was a teenager – it’s always been my creative outlet. I think writers will understand! As an agent I’m involved in the writing world but I’m not a writer myself; costuming is my way of channelling those creative impulses.

I actually started attending conventions because of my costuming hobby. I’m a big Star Wars nerd, and I’ve made replica stormtrooper armor and an X-wing pilot costume. I’m a member of the 501st Legion and the Rebel Legion, which are sister costuming organizations dedicated to spreading the love of Star Wars through charity work and community service. We do hospital visits, fundraiser walks, library events, and more. I first attended New York Comic Con to help man our recruiting booth. That was an amazing experience – I met so many different kinds of fans that weekend. Never looked back.

{Editor’s note: check out this costuming gallery!}

How does your con experience change now when you’re also attending as a literary agent?

There’s a huge crossover between fans and professionals in SF/F publishing, and it’s so fascinating to me. When I have meeting with editors, especially peers my age, so often we’ve stepped into our careers after long histories of being fans first.  We’re blurring the lines. And nowhere is that more obvious than at cons. I can’t separate out my literary agent professional self from my stilt-wearing costume-making fan self, and that’s a normal and wonderful thing.

I will say that my con attendance this year has really stepped up, and that is definitely because my professional role encourages it. It’s been a delight exploring the breadth of cons in my geographical area (and beyond), learning which ones are most beneficial for my job and for my fandom.

What aspect of conventions do you see as most relevant to new authors? Do you have any tips for authors on networking at conventions?

First of all, conventions should be fun. I know that many corners of SF/F fandom are working hard to make cons a more welcoming place for all fans, especially minorities and women, and we have a lot of work to do still. But since cons aren’t strictly necessary for authors, I wouldn’t want to pressure anyone who genuinely does not feel comfortable. If attending a con will be a chore – or worse – that is okay.

That being said, I do have some advice for con-going authors!

I think the best networking happens accidentally: when you have a genuine, open conversation with someone and you have no explicit goal in mind besides “make a new friend.” The secret of the SF/F publishing world is that most of us just want to geek out about our favorite things. Talk to unexpected people. You never know if that short lady stormtrooper might someday sell your book! Talk to writers after their panels, talk to booksellers in the dealers’ room, and don’t confine yourself to people involved in the publishing industry – fellow writers, editors, agents, etc. – because there is a whole spectrum of awesome fans worth befriending. They might buy your book, or they might not, but if you work too hard at the business angle, you’re not going to come off as authentic.

On that note, I’ve found that the late-night parties at most cons are some of the best places to have casual, fun conversations with people. People are relaxed, happy, fed and watered, and done with the business of the day. Definitely try to stay up past your bedtime.

Would you talk about your general philosophy as an agent? What are your favorite agenting moments so far?

I’m in this business probably for the same reason most publishing folks are. Not because it will necessarily make me piles of money, but because I adore books and the wonderful writers behind them. I’m here for my clients and for the agency’s clients (and I want to make them piles of money, of course [Editorial note: YAY]). As an agent I want to be more than that person who checks over your contract: I want to partner with you on your publishing goals, stay on top of developments in the changing digital arena, and advocate for your career.

My favorite moments might sound a little cliché. Selling a book I truly believe in, and getting validation that it deserves an audience. Working with authors I’ve unabashedly adored as a reader. Subverting the status quo from the inside by championing diverse books.

I asked Russ this one so I’m going to ask you as well… would you pair up some favorite SGG books and foods for us?

ASCENSION by Jacqueline Koyanagi (Prime Books, 2013) features a starship engineer, Alana, who stows away on a passing ship, hoping to earn a long-term gig to pay her bills. After she’s discovered, there are some tense (and hungry) scenes before the crew finally relents and allows Alana to eat. Her first meal is a spiced dried meat that I imagine is kin to a special beef jerky. I’ve experimented with making my own beef jerky before, which is fun because you can flavor it with any spices you choose. I’d pair ASCENSION with a homemade beef jerky flavored with something sweet and spicy, just like Alana. Honey and sriracha, perhaps? It’s the perfect starfaring snack.

BORDERLINE by Mishell Baker is coming in 2016 from Saga Press, but I can tease it now! This is an urban fantasy about a cynical, disabled screenwriter who gets recruited to join a secret agency that oversees relations between Hollywood and Fairyland. The secret agency is full of quirky misfits, including one character who loves cooking for the team. He’ll cook everything except Mexican food. But this is Los Angeles, so what better to pair with a snarky protagonist and some equally sassy fairies than a California-typical Mexican dish? I’d pick the fusion “kogi burrito,” which bridges Mexican and Korean cuisine just like BORDERLINE’s secret agency bridges Los Angeles and Fairyland.

Would you share a recipe with us?

My foodie experiments are typified by DIYing what seems un-DIY-able. Here’s a favorite, which incidentally makes a good convention snack:

Homemade Cheez-it Cheese Crackers

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz. extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 4 tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp. cold wate

In a large bowl, mix together the cheddar, butter, and salt. Mix in the flour; dough will be dry and pebbly. Slowly add the water, just until the dough holds together. I like to mix with my hands at this point.

Pat the dough into a disc and wrap with plastic cling wrap. Refrigerate for at least an hour.

Preheat the oven to 375º and line two baking sheets. I swear by my silicon Silpat baking mats.

Divide the dough into two pieces and roll each into a very thin rectangle, 1/8 inch thick or less, about 10×12 inches. Using a fluted pastry cutter, cut the rectangles into 1-inch squares and transfer to the baking sheets. Use the tip of a chopstick to poke a hole in the center of each square.

Bake for 17 minutes or until puffed and golden-brown at the edges. These darken quickly, so watch carefully. Immediately remove to a rack to cool.

You can experiment with different flavors of cheeses here, too!

 

** Bonus recipe: my partner and I have been experimenting with homebrewed wines and meads, but our first step into the world of homemade alcohol was infusions and liqueurs, which require no knowledge of yeast and no fancy equipment. Here’s a fun beverage to share at convention parties!

Homemade Amaretto

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 2 cups vodka
  • 2 tbsp. almond extract
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract

In a saucepan over medium, combine water and both sugars. Heat until the mixture reaches a boil, and simmer for 20-30 minutes. The sugars should be completely dissolved and the mixture should be syrupy, coating the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and let cool.

Combine the syrup with vodka and both extracts. I’ve found you can get away with a fairly inexpensive brand of vodka and this will still turn out delicious. Store in a sealed bottle.


 

Rachel Kory has been with Scovil Galen Ghosh Literary Agency, Inc. since 2011. She is a graduate of Mount Holyoke College, where she studied Classics and played rugby. Her love of violent sports has not waned: she is now an avid practitioner of muay thai. As an agent and digital strategist, Rachel is interested in all things new media; she works to integrate authors into an increasingly electronic world. As a lover of genre fiction and media, she is fascinated by the blurring of lines between fan and professional.

(* Rachel Kory and Russell Galen both represent me at SGG Literary.)

 

Read more Cooking the Books! The full library of interviews is here.

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