Well, AWP was a tornado, as always. I feel like I went through an entire graduate class in three days and somehow lived to tell about it. I now understand the word bleary. It took me a week to recover. But, as with every year, it was a good way to network, reconnect, learn, and gain renewed energy toward writing.
Here’s how it went:
I learned that when writing about members of your family, it can be easier if they’re dead because they can’t argue with you, but you also can feel an obligation to get it right because they can’t tell their own versions of the story.*
You have to make a list of the people you’re willing to alienate and the ones you’re not.*
Often it’s best to show up and shut up; when you stop talking, people will talk to fill the silence.*
If you’re at a nonfiction panel, and one of the speakers hands out several flyers in different colors, all of which promote books of poetry of hers, that’s a sign you should probably leave.
Also if you’re hosting a panel titled “Recent Trends in Creative Nonfiction,” you should probably not start with “I got my M.F.A. in 1975” and work backwards in time through women’s suffrage to the 17th century and Montaigne. We’re at a panel entitled recent trends in CNF: we don’t need to know about its origins.**
Some people appear to be better at writing panel proposals than they are at planning and executing a panel. I only left one panel early this year, but there was another that I should have probably left. And Q&A time often leaves a bad taste in my mouth, even if the panel is good.***
Always, always go with your gut.
Find a penny, pick it up, all day long you’ll have good luck. – Old Saying
Find a quarter, pick it up, 20 minutes later someone will need it for the tampon machine in the women’s room. – New Saying
Sometimes the best connections you’ll make with people are over non writing-related things. For example, I was in a panel for writing about celebrities (even though I don’t think I have any celebrities in my book). Sue William Silverman was on the panel and she mentioned she had a crush on Crow T. Robot of MST3K fame. Well, of course I had to go up afterward and show her photos of my costume. Sue was so generous in her response and even if no writing connection is made, it was nice to relate to someone about an outside interest. And Crow appreciated the attention as well. You should check out Sue William Silverman’s latest book, which is in my queue, The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life As An Anglo-Saxon Jew, or her other books: Love Sick (which I’ve read and recommend) and Fearless Confessions, which my friend Gail swears by.
This past week I was able to make it to the live viewing of MST3K’s episode devoted to Manos: The Hands of Fate. Tom Servo joined me, of course, as did my brother-in-law and a friend from work. It was amazing. As luck would have it, the only other Tom we saw there sat directly behind us. His was purchased, however, not artisanal. I wish I had gotten a picture of the two Toms shaking hands, but I was so caught up in the moment.
Of course, there were technical difficulties. We ended up watching it on YouTube through someone’s iPhone–Oh the wonders of modern technology! That would never have been an option when the show started. At any rate, it’s been a good week and a half. I hope you’re having a good week, too! Stay tuned for exciting publication news soon.
*Those are all from Justin St. Germain during the “More Than a Family Affair” panel. It was a great panel, and it included my literary friend-crush, June Melby. I found the one about silence to be true when I was an investigator; not saying anything or asking another question often left room for people (especially cops) to tell you more than they originally might. Of course, the cops’ reps never wanted them to say more, but often it was to their benefit.
**That would be for a different panel entitled “Origins of Creative Nonfiction,” see?
***Non-question questions are the worst. So are two-part questions. And moments of self-promotion.