A Brief Recapitulation of the Dramatic Events as They Transpired at AWP 2011
Ironic post header. Photo by Caleb
The buzzing has returned and coffee evaporated. I blame Michael Sonbert and his affinity for Jack Daniels. At 9.00, there is a panel on the small press keeping short story collections afloat, but that’s not really happening at the moment. We mull around the room for a while, Caleb editing sound from the Live Nude Words reading, Brandon snoring, me sipping lukewarm cranberry juice and generally staring out the window. At one point, it occurs to us that perhaps people thought the reading was an actual strip show, or took place at a strip club. We laugh it off but the room falls oddly silent afterward.
Our first panel is Authors and Agents Falling in Literary Love, or something to that effect. Although we don’t really learn anything in particular, it’s a good contextual panel, in that they outline the agent-author relationship. This is great for those of us trying to keep our desperation for representation under control, for providing guidelines as to what to seek in an agent. In a weird bit of Smalltimore, one of the agents on the panel represents Rebecca Rasmussen, whose mother Betsy I worked with at Whole Foods in Massachusetts. When Betsy found out that I wrote, she asked for advice to give her daughter, Rebecca, because she was on the hunt for an agent. It appears I should have asked Rebecca for advice.
What I learn from this panel: The author-agent relationship is similar to a marriage. As trite and cliche as it is, this is a revelation for me, and reassuring that there is someone out there who likes what I do. An agent should not make the author feel uncomfortable or belittled. An author should have realistic expectation of the agent. Simple, but important.
I forget to eat lunch again and we hurry to the next panel about authors and publishing in a transmedia world.
This treads similar ground with the social media panel from the prior day, and shares two panelists in Jane Friedman and The Writer Mama, but veers in a different direction. They talk more about the application and delivery of literature than the publicizing of said literature. The publisher of Electric Literature speaks about the various media to find his magazine, including a pretty amazing app. When you download the issue, you’re able to highlight passages you like, and it will automatically post them to your Facespace page, which provides a link for other people to read/buy the issue. Crazy, yeah? The panel speaks more about Twitter, iPhone/iPad apps and other services that help to deliver your material. A lot of it blends together inside my skull, as information at AWP tends to do, but I leave the room as invigorated at the prior day. Caleb makes a comment after the panel about how we are becoming content producers alongside writing stories. This concept is interesting and a bit scary, as I’m new at the whole social networking/technology thing. He also mentions something about writing for SEO (Search Engine Optimization) but he’ll talk about that during his blog tour, so I won’t ruin it.
What I learn from this panel: Many of the same concepts I picked up during the social media panel, but relating more to getting my work and others’ out through a number of channels. The most important thing, according to the panel, is consistency of voice and frequency with the channel. This is good because I can’t do anything without a deadline.
I know I had a point in there somewhere. Photo by Brandon
We head back to the room for a few. I grab a granola bar and Caleb and I leave to do a follow-up podcast with Jane Friedman, related to the two panels she moderated. I’ve never met her before, and am surprised (given my own preconceptions of editors at large houses, not by anything she’s done) at how giving she is. She’s a very intelligent woman, and it’s fascinating to see people talk about a subject that completely enthralls them. You can actually watch the person recede into themselves as they get more excited. This podcast will be posted soon at The Velvet, so I’ll provide a link then.
After Jane’s podcast. we grab Brandon and walk to Bourbon, a bar in Adam’s Morgan. Brandon is constantly pointing out McDonald’s. I drop not-so-subtle hints about Ethiopian food. Neither of us win. The plan for the evening is to meet Ben Tanzer and Ryan W. Bradley (Artistically Declined Press) get a drink and do a podcast, then head to the Vermin on the Mount reading, then follow that with Literature Party at the Black Cat.
On getting to Bourbon, we realize there is an Atticus reading happening upstairs. I also realize that a granola bar is not an adequate lunch nor dinner nor both. After a bit, we track down Ben and Ryan and find that they are part of the aforementioned reading. We go upstairs, get some food and drink several cans tasty Moo Thunder Stouts. Good beer in a can is a delicacy. In another occurrence of Smalltimore, I meet Eric D. Goodman, a crime writer from Baltimore. He actually lives five minutes from me, and will be reading at the February edition of Last Sunday, Last Rites. Weird, yeah? Ben gets to read but then there’s some kind of miscommunication with bar management. The music turns loud, the people come in and the reading is pretty much over. Unfortunately, five or six readers–including Ryan–get bumped. Also unfortunate is how often these things happen at readings.
We find a nice little cove upstairs to do the podcast, appropriately about live readings. This will be posted at The Velvet, too. The main point is to make readings entertaining. I compare it to the CD versus show idea: When I see a band, I want them to be drunk and flailing and breaking strings and hitting wrong notes and making me sweat. If I wanted to see them play the songs properly, I’d listen to the CD in my living room, where the drinks are free and I can sit with my wife. The same applies to readings, for me. Jesus Angel Garcia is a great example of this, though he memorizes everything, making it all the more impressive. Brandon makes a great point: ‘Offend me, disgust me, piss me off, make me laugh, just don’t bore me.’ I’ll post a link to the podcast when it’s live.
Charming men or Vermin? Photo by Brandon
Two cabs later, we’re walking into the in-progress Vermin reading, at Mie n Yu, one of the swanky Thai bars that are sprouting throughout Georgetown. I wish I would’ve booked a reading on The Exorcist steps. The first reader we catch is Nicolette Kittinger, who reads a haunting story about losing your virginity. The losing isn’t the haunting part, but the context surrounding it. Next is Al Heathcock, who reads from his collection Volt. I write this down on the back of my hand so I can buy it the next day. I don’t remember the order from here out, but Roy Kesey dispels more greatness as he is wont to do, Amber Sparks reads something I can’t remember, but I know that it made me wistful in a good way, Mary Miller–filling in for the snow-bound Kim Chinquee–airs her grievances in letters to the editors of McSweeney’s and Lindsay Hunter is the perfect example of our podcast come to life. She owns the stage for the few minutes she’s up, and levels the place. Her collection, Daddy’s (Featherproof Books) is astounding. I reviewed it for The Collagist, which should be up shortly. For me, the real high point of the evening, which is saying a gigantic amount, is Scott McClanahan. Ben Tanzer talked about him earlier in the night. Scott writes words that are meant to be read aloud. He performs a piece about a small boy and his mother, who has just been diagnosed with cancer. Incorporated are singing, magic tricks, and some type of koan. I need to ask him to read at Last Rites. Need.
We are tired after the reading and decide to forego the Literature Party. Mary Miller is standing on the sidewalk beside us. It’s always nice to meet someone whose work you adore and find that they are just as lovely in person. Stephen Graham Jones is like this, too. Mary asks to come with us and we tuck into a restaurant that is one part pub, one part fine-dining and one part middle-age coke party. Lower-case c. Yeah. Anyway, the night passes in fits and starts. If we were thinking, we probably should’ve podcasted our dinner because there is some really insightful conversation bandied about. I leave thinking that I really want to have something published with Artistically Declined.
Outside, we part ways, Ben and Ryan to their hotel, though they can’t remember where it is, and Caleb, Brandon, Mary and me in a cab back to the hotel. We discuss depressing singer-songwriters and country music and it all feels like I’m watching the scene from above, like our evening has been directed by Zach Braff. I mean this in a good way, though. We don’t close out the night at Murphy’s because we realize we didn’t tip the waitress enough the prior night and feel very guilty about this. In the room, we’re quieter than earlier nights, knowing that flights and drives home loom before us. If we whisper, maybe they won’t hear and real life will forget about us for another day or two.
Tomorrow: Day Three and home.