Posted By admin / 28th February 2014
My day kicked off early with the Melville House 12th Anniversary reading. But before I get into that, I have a confession to make. I have a total crush on Melville House’s Twitter feed. Here are some recent tweets: “We always root for the whale.” “I will not make jokes about the erotic publishing house Dark Hole Press. I will not make jokes about the erotic publishing house Dark Hole Press.” “Sales tip: To increase a book’s sales by 500,000% pretend J.K. Rowling didn’t write the book and then reveal she did.” So I was excited to see what their reading was all about. And lucky for me, it exceeded my expectations. Jeremy Bushnell read a hilarious section from his new Melville House Book The Weirdness, which totally reinvents the “make a deal with the devil” genre. Christopher Boucher, author of How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive, read a selection from his novel-in-progress featuring a POV Piano. A POV Piano? You know, it’s that thing where every time you press a key on the piano the point of view in the novel shifts.
Founders Valerie Merians and Dennis Johnson were utterly charming as they introduced the press, saying things like, “We still think it’s important to create books that are beautiful objects,” and “How do we approach digital markets? Very cautiously, like a cheetah approaching a wounded gazelle.” Melville House is an increasingly rare breed in publishing, a trade publisher willing to take a chance on gutsy fiction that no one expects will sell 100,00 copies. I was sold enough to stop by their booth later in the book fair and pick up copies of The Weirdness, How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive, and Tao Lin’s novella Shoplifting from American Apparel.
Next up was a panel titled “How Many Readers Is Enough?” which featured UA Press author Alison Adelle Hedge Coke. It explored interesting questions such as “Has there ever been a writer who felt sufficiently read, published, appreciated?” And “If a novel doesn’t have any readers, does it event exist?” But one thing I don’t understand about AWP is this habit the panelists have of getting up and reading a prepared statement without looking at the crowd. Whenever anyone breaks form and improvises, as Allison did, the effect is electrifying. Allison argued convincingly that if our writing has radical activist motivations, sometimes it’s more effective to stay mid-list.
After that I dipped my toes into the book fair and finally got to face-to-face meet one of my favorite UA Press Authors, Tim Hernandez. His book Mañana Means Heaven retells “The Mexican Girl” chapter from On The Road, taking the point of view of Bea Franco, the real woman behind Kerouac’s fictionalized Terri. Tim is an incredible writer and we’ve been emailing back and forth for over a year so it was a thrill to finally get to meet him.
Next up was a panel titled “Literary Politics: White Guys and Everyone Else,” with Roxane Gay and Mat Johnson, among others. The room was packed to the gills, and the panelists were engaged and funny. Mat told us that the depressing VIDA numbers aren’t “a problem of men not buying the right books, because men aren’t buying that many books compared to everyone else.” Roxane told the crowd “you have to be relentless, you have to never stop,” and Mat went on to say, “you have more freedom than you think.” I left the panel feeling encouraged about my future as a non-Whiteguy writer.
My final panel of the day was “Designed Instability: Open Endings in Short Fiction,” where moderator Edward Porter gave us this gem: “Open endings are the author saying you don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here.” Thanks, Edward, for getting Semisonic’s “Closing Time” stuck in my head for the rest of the day.
Rounding out a day overflowing with literary goodness (panel fatigue is a real thing y’all) was the AWP 2014 Keynote Address by the one and only Annie Proulx. She was every bit as charming and dryly funny as you’d expect, covering everything from the how Amazon and other corporate interests have changed the book business to how writing is a sort of “addiction to beauty.” As one @AdrianXTristan said on Twitter: “Just listened to keynote speaker, Annie Proulx, on why writers write. Definitely not 140 characters or less, but loved the adventure #AWP14.”
Interestingly, all of us here at #AWP14 were responsible for making that the top trending hashtag on Twitter today, which just goes to show how powerful all of us introverted scribblers and keyboard tappers can be when we get together and decide to do something. Like tweet. Speaking of which, you can follow me @lscottmacneil.
Now I’m off to quickly stop by the official AWP party before pouring myself uptown and into bed.
Read the Day 1 dispatch here.
Lela Scott MacNeil was born in Los Alamos, NM, same as the atomic bomb. She is the Sales Manager at the University of Arizona Press, teaches at the Writers Studio, and her work is forthcoming from Gertrude and Gutter Books.