Archive for March, 2013

AWP 2013 Dispatch: I Miss You Already

Katie Wudel

When we woke up this morning, it was already over. In line for coffee, we said a few pre-emptive goodbyes—“In case I don’t see you!” We made sure to stop by the bookfair to schmooze and snag free copies while we still could. Our Saturday panels told us to move on, move forward, move up.

My first panel was on best practices for submitting panel proposals—preparing, a full ten hours before this year’s closing keynote, to attend AWP 2014. For the erudite hopefuls among you, here’s what I gleaned:

1) Diverse participants! Gender, age, and ethnic diversity help—but think also about the geographic location of potential panelists, the stage of their careers, and whether they teach at 2-year, 4-year, or secondary programs (if they teach at all—students and amateurs are welcome!). Nobody on your panel should have the exact same thing to say.
2) Be sure to hew carefully to every single guideline. Copy edit your proposal just as you would a submission to a journal. Don’t forget to check with your participants to ensure they’re down with your idea! Phillip Lopate appeared in approximately 72 proposals this year—though even the most beloved writers can only apply for three and appear on two.
3) The justification portion of your proposal should be a bit creative and passionate, and it’s fine to be extensive. Make your case for why your panel should be included: Is this the same panel that’s at AWP every year, or is it something provocative and new? Are AWP members hungry for it?
4) They get too many poetry applications, people. And everyone wants to do a reading. But AWP doesn’t receive enough proposals for playwriting, translations, or the online sphere.

I left “Best Practices” thinking about AWPs to come, instead of this one. Though I attended a smart and generous talk about post-MFA life featuring Lori D’Angelo, Heather Frese, Sandra Marchetti, and Sarah Beth Childers, I just couldn’t cram any more knowledge into my brain. Ron Carlson moderated a discussion of flash fiction this afternoon. Ron Carlson? Flash fiction? Together? I can’t believe I’m telling you this, but I just couldn’t take another amazing panel.

Conference fatigue, man. Total bummer.

Saturday always seems like the best possible bookfair day, since you really need to spend a big chunk of time there. It’s perfect for when you’re absolutely burnt out on panels, since the bookfair’s sort of the opposite of a panel. It’s lively, tactile: You get to hold letterpressed broadsides up to the light, shake hands with today’s most vaunted editors, and munch on lots of free candy.

That is, unless it’s Saturday. At around 3:30, there were more loaded-up dollies and suitcases in the exhibition hall than books and magazines on display. By 4, the line at the convention center Fed Ex flowed out into the hall. Still, by 6, my AWP totebag had grown heavy with free copies of journals, buttons, stickers, and my most treasured purchase—a two-volume set of Ursula LeGuin’s The Unreal and the Real from Small Beer Press.

After a brief stop at a swanky reception for one of my favorite magazines—Prairie Schooner (an open bar and free earbuds!), I headed out for one last dinner with dear friends, shuffling half a mile along haphazardly salted sidewalks for tapas. It felt so good to be out of that convention center! We passed around the Spanish omelet, the chorizo, the pitcher of sangria. We gossiped. We laughed. We did what we did best: We told stories.

Earlier that day, someone had spotted a couple of burly men’s men in the hotel bar. Their unironic beards and Popeye-sized forearms led her to believe they weren’t writers, so she asked what they were here for.

“The fish conference,” they said.

Tomorrow’s the first day of the largest seafood expo in North America. They’re going to geek out for the next three days about lobsters, fishsticks, and something called the “prawnto shrimp machine.” There’re hundreds of exhibitors hawking their wares in booths, plus a variety of educational and entertaining events about prepping, serving, and distributing seafood.

The Hynes Convention Center & Sheraton Boston Hotel were never truly ours, AWP-ers. It’s time now for the fish.

 
 
 


Katie Wudel’s writing has appeared in Tin House, McSweeney’s, Prairie Schooner, Nerve, The Rumpus,and on the Ploughshares blog, and can be heard this spring on NPR’s Snap Judgment. Katie has taught creative writing at San Francisco’s School of the Arts and the University of Nebraska-Omaha Writer’s Workshop, and has been awarded scholarships and residencies from Hedgebrook, the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, and Summer Literary Seminars. In 2011, her story “Tongueless,” which first appeared in Monkeybicycle, was one of Wigleaf’s Top [Very] Short Fictions. katiewudel.com.

 

AWP 2013 Dispatch: Battening Down the Hatches

Katie Wudel

Want to survive AWP with your sanity intact? Take a little time for yourself—no panels, no bookfair, no small talk, no pressure.

. . . Especially if you danced right on past your bedtime the night before with a bunch of other gangly nerds. (At VIDA prom, the geeks are the cool kids! Bookish teenagers, take note: It gets better. It gets so much better.) I spent much of this morning cursing Daisy Buchanan’s too-cheap rum punch, munching a cold egg sandwich from the hotel Au Bon Pain.

Right around 10:40 a.m., a bunch of good literary citizens raved on Twitter about a session called “Whales & Wenches.” I flipped through my hefty program guide and found no such panel! There was one called “Sea Change: Writing Remade Off the New England Coast.” I dashed up the escalator and found it: standing room only, of course. I can only assume the room would’ve been more crowded had it been officially titled “Whales & Wenches,” though I suspect you’re not allowed to present a panel without at least one colon in the title.

In short? This panel was the bomb. Robin Beth Schaer, Amber Dermont, Elyssa East, and Amy Brill had swabbed actual decks (still unclear on what that entails) while thinking big thoughts about class, feminism, and spinning compasses as metaphors for existential crises. Do women have the right “credentials” to discuss a life spent sailing the treacherous Straits of Magellan? Hell yes, they do!

I left the panel with some awesome temporary tattoos, longing to devour Melville, re-watch Jaws, and sign up for a real nautical crew myself. What is life if not battening down hatches and charting adventurous courses by the stars?

My next stop was “Experimental Fiction Today.” (Hey, no colon! So cutting-edge!) It was another rich discussion. We started with a definition that makes this broad topic easier to take in: Experimental fiction pre-supposes an awareness that what one is reading is a work of artifice—the reader will never entirely “escape” into the story. That doesn’t mean, however, that there’s no passion or emotion—you just need to get used to the rules of the world first.

Lily Hoang’s first MFA critique from a professor, in its entirety: “You’re smart, I’m dumb, I’m not reading any more of this.” As an instructor today, Lily tries to make a space for her students to loosen up and try new things. She gives them office supplies and says, “You must build the world of your next fifteen weeks in class. The world can look just like ours, or it can be something entirely your own.” Some students made a mini-golf world and a worm world, in which the worms worshipped an oil king. Their writing came from that.

Alissa Nutting was utterly charming and inspiring. She’s very very pregnant, and said that in this extended period of sobriety, experimental fiction was the only drug at her disposal. Why not transgress, using devices like repetition or magic to induce a literary high in your reader? Our daily lives, she said, are so mundane—we’re doing taxes or waiting for turkey slices at the deli. These kinds of ordinary experiences, she believes, are toxic. Innovative fiction cleanses us.

M. Bartley Seigel, founding editor of [PANK], was a force of nature. Tall and angry (well, angry-ish), he addressed a question from the audience—what makes him a gatekeeper? Why does he decide what’s innovative? Seigel said that sometimes, he goes with his gut and publishes something that—once the issue’s out—makes him say, “Oh, God, Matt, why did you do that?!” But as opposed to more institutional journals that are always okay, with solid (if bland) work, his magazine does sometimes get it wrong. And he’s excited about those risks he takes because sometimes, “the work is really going to blow your head off.”

The population of AWP attendees is larger than the town I grew up in. This convention center is a labyrinth of unmissable seminars and readings—a dozen or more happening at a time. So, yeah, not everything’s perfect. Nearly every panel was full today—I’d estimate that I spent at least three hours on the floor, with one appendage or another utterly asleep. Plus, Alison Bechdel was snowed in! The panel starring Terry Gross turned out to be a panel starring Terry Gross—videoconferencing in from her studio.

But hell, what fun is it if everything goes according to plan? Cancellations and over-capacity rooms mean I had some downtime to explore the bookfair. I loved The Rumpus booth, with its ubiquitous “Write Like a Motherfucker” mugs. Brian Spears, poetry editor, told me that they’re doing this really amazing iBook poetry anthology with mixed media like readings and exclusive video. They’re just giving it away!

With all the false and sweaty bodies crammed into tiny rooms with unflattering fluorescent lights, it’s easy to forget that we’re all here because we love words. We’re so passionate about this stuff that we’re a fire hazard. Pretty awesome.

Read Katie’s next AWP dispatch here.
 
 
 


Katie Wudel’s writing has appeared in Tin House, McSweeney’s, Prairie Schooner, Nerve, The Rumpus,and on the Ploughshares blog, and can be heard this spring on NPR’s Snap Judgment. Katie has taught creative writing at San Francisco’s School of the Arts and the University of Nebraska-Omaha Writer’s Workshop, and has been awarded scholarships and residencies from Hedgebrook, the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, and Summer Literary Seminars. In 2011, her story “Tongueless,” which first appeared in Monkeybicycle, was one of Wigleaf’s Top [Very] Short Fictions. katiewudel.com.

 

AWP 2013 Dispatch: Be On Emma’s Side

Katie Wudel

The crowd filed in for that fairy tale panel, sleepy but very hungry for a discussion about why it is that The Golden Goose and its modern bastard children so endure. 20 minutes before the panel—the first of the day!—it was standing room only. From what I heard, folks crowded outside the door, tilting in their ears to hear what they could. I was lucky enough to score a seat in the front row.

Yes, that is a rubber chicken handbag.

Each of the brilliant panelists—Anjali Sachdeva, John Crowley, Jane Yolen and Kelly Link, in a fabulous pair of earrings made out of disembodied doll limbs, celebrated folklore’s grip on every story we write, even the most realistic. Everyone grew up with fairy tales and ghost stories, right? Yolen: “They’re protean and they’re protein—they fuel us.” Crowley: “You can’t not write fairy tales—they’re in our DNA.” Link particularly loved the bossy voice of fairy tales and how you can work with mythic patterns or retell old tales to create a very original story that operates on multiple levels.

Kate Bernheimer said that when she first started submitting stories, they were rejected because they weren’t logical, things needed to be fleshed out, there was no character motivation, and even that they were too imaginative. But today—as evidenced by the over-capacity crowd—it’s clear these are fundamental characteristics of a beloved and valid art form.

As the talk went on, we heard about why it’s both good and bad to sanitize the beautiful violence and sex of fairy tales for children; how tens of thousands of fairy tales remain untranslated and will never be heard; and what to do with un-PC narratives. It was a very rich and inspiring discussion, and apparently the audio will be posted on Unstuck Books’ website soon. Don’t miss it!

Another highlight of the day was a panel on literary citizenship, with Alan Heathcock, Matthew Specktor, Emma Straub, Julie Barer, and Rob Spillman. Essentially, it all comes down to having good manners and paying it forward. Buy debut novels. Subscribe to lit mags. Don’t be an asshole because people remember—the entire publishing industry is predicated on personal relationships.

The best part of the panel was when Alan Heathcock introduced himself and was promptly interrupted by a phone call. He answered. It was his mom. Into his microphone, he told her he was a little busy and would call her back. Spillman, ever witty: “A good citizen and a good son.”

I especially enjoyed the bit about using social media to network (but in a natural, not-slimy way). Spillman’s hilarious illustration: “[To the left] is Bret Easton Ellis. [To the right] is Emma Straub. Be on Emma’s side.” Emma: “And between us is a mountain of cocaine.” Some concrete take-aways just for you, Monkeybicycle friends!

1) Twitter is not a one-way street. You’ve got to engage with people. Don’t just toot your own horn—congratulate others, share things you like, and be a whole person, not just a writer person. You can talk about your cat, or Beyoncé, or even your cat named Beyoncé.

2) Be consistent with your social media use. Don’t get excited one day and do three blog posts and never do one again, or tweet about your great New York Times review once and subsequently forget your Twitter password. To be visible, try to be on the platform regularly—a good number to aim for is three to five tweets a day (or maybe even a week) so you’re not just disappearing into the ether. Though Matthew Specktor was once told by a social media consultant that a good number is 20 tweets a day! (Which, everyone agreed, is crazy.)

3) One thing the consultant seemed to get right though: Only one out of every 10 tweets should be about yourself.

I’ve dipped my toes into the bookfair, but it’s so vast I need to spend hours there. I’ve thus far encountered one awesome display: Grub Street, based right here in Boston. I’d share my literary fortune with you, but then it won’t come true.

By the way, the Beast from the East storm is more vicious every moment. We’re supposed to get 4-6 inches of “cement-like” snow. But tonight I’ve got three off-site parties to attend, including VIDA Prom—a dance and readings from Cheryl Strayed, Robert Pinsky, Pam Houston, Roxane Gay, and more. Prom attire is encouraged, but I couldn’t fit my ballgown on the bus to Beantown. At least I’ve got a more casual dress that doesn’t entirely clash with wellies. Maybe Kelly Link will lend me those sweet earrings?

Read Katie’s next AWP dispatch here.

 
 
 


Katie Wudel’s writing has appeared in Tin House, McSweeney’s, Prairie Schooner, Nerve, The Rumpus,and on the Ploughshares blog, and can be heard this spring on NPR’s Snap Judgment. Katie has taught creative writing at San Francisco’s School of the Arts and the University of Nebraska-Omaha Writer’s Workshop, and has been awarded scholarships and residencies from Hedgebrook, the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, and Summer Literary Seminars. In 2011, her story “Tongueless,” which first appeared in Monkeybicycle, was one of Wigleaf’s Top [Very] Short Fictions. katiewudel.com.

 

AWP 2013 Dispatch: The Beast From the East

Katie Wudel

It’s dreary here in Boston. The AWP bigwigs must be partial to overcast skies, bone-chilling air—next year, we’re all headed to Seattle; the year after, Minneapolis. They’re calling this gross wintry mix “The Beast from the East.” A lot of folks who were supposed to arrive this morning have been stalled out at airports in St. Louis or Chicago for most of the day. We writers—who tend toward misanthropy even without slush pooling in our dress sneakers—are beating back the crankiness as best we can. Cocktails help. The hotel bar is already over capacity and friends, it’s still early.


(Bingo card courtesy of Daniel Nester)

I’ve kept my AWP bingo card handy today and already, I’ve got “N-G-O” (well, with the free space). Is it like this on the first day of Star Trek conventions? Comic-Con? To horribly misquote Buster Bluth: Man, it’s awkward in here. There are 11,000+ nerds in one place! Most of us are high on adrenaline and righteous anger at the TSA! We’ve prepared hand-outs for our panels and our 30-second book pitches are tight as hell. We. Are. Ready. But registration’s over—we’ve got nametags and this year’s spiffy new totebag, pre-packed with a hefty conference program that looks like—but is not—a phonebook. Now what?

Other than a few private gatherings, there’s a whole lot of nothing on the schedule for this evening. I’ve decided to use this spare time to wrestle with my inner demons: I am an introvert, yet I yearn so desperately to connect with my fellow man! I am accursed! I’ve donned my convention costume—unlike the Trekkies, it’s just a cardigan, a pair of specs, and a glass of wine. The first page of the schedule for tomorrow morning contains only 10 of the 17 events slotted for 9:00 AM, and already there are four I can’t miss.

But then—I spot it. The One. “Modern Fairy Tales and Retellings.” A panel! There’s a “need for fables in modern society and the literary marketplace,” it says! Kate Bernheimer! Kelly Link! Is it, like, super nerdy to get this excited about a seminar at nine in the morning? It is, right?

Read Katie’s next AWP dispatch here.

 
 
 


Katie Wudel’s writing has appeared in Tin House, McSweeney’s, Prairie Schooner, Nerve, The Rumpus,and on the Ploughshares blog, and can be heard this spring on NPR’s Snap Judgment. Katie has taught creative writing at San Francisco’s School of the Arts and the University of Nebraska-Omaha Writer’s Workshop, and has been awarded scholarships and residencies from Hedgebrook, the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, and Summer Literary Seminars. In 2011, her story “Tongueless,” which first appeared in Monkeybicycle, was one of Wigleaf’s Top [Very] Short Fictions. katiewudel.com.