Through the Rearview Drunkenly, Part Two
A Brief Recapitulation of the Dramatic Events as They Transpired at AWP 2011
My head is full of soggy cotton and there’s a strange buzzing circling my ears. It’s more the lack of sleep than the couple drinks, but they’re not helping. The hotel coffee isn’t very good, nor is there enough in one room to supply three writers. Some stereotypes are just accurate, okay? I drag on some clothes and descend.
The first panel is about writing monsters and myths with Laura van den Berg and Hannah Tinti and two others I can’t remember. The two were very well-spoken and had excellent points, but I have an awful memory and left the program book at the hotel so they remain nameless. Laura lives in Baltimore too, and I’d normally expect someone with her massive amount of talent to be a massive jerk. She is a very sweet person, though, and her book, What the World Will Look Like When all the Water Leaves Us, is stunning. I’ve never heard of Hannah but the name of her book–The Good Thief–makes it to my ‘I need to buy this’ list. Hannah reads a great anecdote of a childhood experience in a graveyard in Salem, MA, illustrated on post-it notes. Laura talks about reading Murakami and it opening her eyes to a whole new experience of writing. I love listening to people intelligently discuss things like monsters and shapeshifters, not in the way that Tarantino dissects things but how our–people’s–shortcomings manifest in monsters. I raise my hand to expand on their points and ask about Matt Bell’s Wolf Parts, but am never called on.
What I learn from this panel: We as writers should keep our souls open to all experiences in order to be honest with ourselves as writers. It’s one of those things that seems obvious in hindsight, yet revelatory at the moment. I think I write this down.
I head down to the bookfair, to the Otherworld Publications table for my first book signing. I don’t sign any books but I meet another label-mate, Thomas K Matthews, as well as the publishers, Lynn and Eric Calvert. As I’m shaking their hands, it occurs to me how odd an age it is that we live in, that I entrusted two years of my life (my book) to two people I’ve never met. A bunch of people come by the table, some I see in Baltimore a lot, some I haven’t seen for a while, some I’m meeting for the first time. Sitting behind a table, I realize for the first time how many wide-eyed people there are milling about. I wonder if I look the same way to the others behind tables, then tell myself to shut up because I don’t really know what I’m doing anyway.
I catch up with Caleb and Brandon who fill me in on the Book Review panel. One of the panelists (BOMB, maybe?) made a comment about ignoring the parts of books she doesn’t like. Someone in the audience takes issue with that. Apparently he smelled of old vodka. She said she misspoke, that what she was saying was she sees no point in reviewing books she doesn’t like, that bad books won’t be talked about and will in turn die their own death. I agree with her sentiment and try to follow suit in my own reviews. The time spent trashing bad books could be better spent praising good books. We do something after this but I can’t remember what it is, maybe eat lunch. I saw a bunch of Ethiopian restaurants driving in and have been craving it. Caleb is convinced all Ethiopian food has raisins in it and he hates raisins. Brandon is a big advocate of chicken tenders. My crave goes untended.
Due to a last-minute cancellation, Caleb was asked to sit in on a social media panel with Jane Friedman, TheBookMaven and TheWriterMama. This is one of those random things I love about AWP, that all these random occurrences add up into a serendipitous scenario. Technology has, frankly, always scared the crap out of me. My phone does little more than turn on and off and take crappy pictures. I don’t like e-readers, I don’t like Twitter, I’m not much for Facebook. I did them mainly in the name of my book. Then I sat in on this panel. Two days later, I’m eating dinner with my wife (who is equally as tech-phobic as I) and mention smartphones and she agrees that yes, they are pretty amazing and we might want to look into them. This reinforces my belief that she is my soulmate. Back to the panel: I can easily dig in my heels and ignore all the technology that is infiltrating literature and I will probably be fine. Equally as much, I can embrace this technology (by the way, I hate that phrase, but it is so apt a description) and, as Caleb said, ‘make it easier for potential readers to find our work.’ This panel, coupled with the Transmedia one I’ll talk about tomorrow, are easily the two most influential I’ve attended. Caleb also talks about the advantages of Twittering while on the toilet and does us proud. As he makes excellent points, Brandon tweets about @CalebJRoss and his ass, which displays on the large screen behind the panel. This also makes us proud.
What I learn from this panel: Technology is not a dirty word and, similar to the monster panel, we will gain nothing by remaining closed to experience that does not fit into our box of what is acceptable or normal. There is more to speak about this panel, but it will be posted on The Velvet’s podcast soon. They do a better job than I do, so I’ll let them do the talking.
We get pizza from across the street. Mine has roasted eggplant, goat cheese and rocket (arugula) on it. It is exceptional. Brandon and Caleb tweet and Facespace while waiting for food and I feel a bit behind the times. I find it interesting that I can remember the handles of the panelists, but not their names. I feel like I’m watching the implications of the panel unfold over me.
Back in the room, I nurse a drink while melting into the armchair. AWP is growing every year, which is fantastic–assuming that growth in attendance is indicative of the growth of interest in literature–but it also means that there are 7,284 readings, most of which we want to see. Three other events are scheduled at the same time as ours. I plot out the locations, seeing if we can cab between them. We gather our stuff then hail a taxi to The Velvet Lounge for our reading.
The Velvet Lounge is full dark, no stars. Caleb and Brandon use their phones for recon while I have a heart attack and throw up in my mouth a bit. Turns out the place normally opens at 8PM and was opening early for use, negating the heart attack. Michael Sonbert, his girlfriend Gina, Jesus Angel Garcia, Jillian Weise and her parents arrive in a flurry of taxis. Brandon’s agent shows up for support. We have pints in the bar next door and catch up. This is the first time many of us have met in real life but the conversation never lags, another testament to the weird way that social media is bridging our lonely peninsulas. I take a picture of our glasses and send it to Richard Thomas, our friend who had to cancel at the last minute.
Brandon starts with story from his upcoming collection about a cold sore with luxurious tastes who has the misfortune of being stuck with a loser pilot. It’s funny and gross and satirical and he reads the shit out of it. I follow him and mumble some stuff into the microphone. Michael owns it with a selection from We Are Oblivion, his novel about an ex-boxer and his disease-ridden, pregnant hooker girlfriend. Caleb gives us the first chapter of his novel Stranger Will, then revises it for humor, replacing the bums Will sees everywhere for horses. Will ends up in bed with a horse. Yeah, it’s that great. Jillian Weise does a poem that features Skype, Lucero and Bruce Springsteen and the opening of her novel The Colony. She’s only the second person I’ve met that equates Lucero and Bruce Springsteen. This makes me happy. Jesus Angel Garcia destroys the joint with You’ve Got to Get Naked to be Clothed in the Lord: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Reverend’s Wife, a selection from his upcoming novel Bad, Bad, Bad. His performance is what every reading should be (more on that later, too.)
After the reading we retire to a gay sports bar, which is as awesome as it sounds, for a while. We never make it to the other reading but a few hours pass without any quiet. I find that Michael used to get pierced with the singer of a band I loved when I was sixteen. It is a small, small world. We take cabs back to the hotel and close out the night at Murphy’s again. Tomorrow will come too soon.
Tomorrow: Day Two