The madness that was AWP: Day 1

In case you didn’t know, AWP stands for Association of Writers and Writing Programs, and their conference is one of the biggest in the U.S. This year they had their highest attendance ever with 10,000 people. Overwhelming? Oh yeah.

Day 1

How did I spend my first morning of AWP? Sleeping in. Which meant sleeping till 7:30 with no intention of making the nine AM sessions. There was a Starbuck’s in the basement of the hotel so that was where I headed when I rolled out of bed (MB was still asleep). But what did I find but a HUGE line. All the AWP attendees were arriving then and getting their caffeine fix. I didn’t know where else to go so I stood in line too.

It actually moved pretty fast. I got a grande coffee and coffee cake. Expecting the coffee to be bitter and strong, I added half and half and sugar, which I never do. Guess what: the coffee was neither bitter nor strong. It was basically like coffee-flavored water that I had added half and half and sugar to. It was disgusting. Still, desperate for caffeine, I drank it.

Around 10, we headed over to the other hotel. So many people! We got registered, sat for a while in the very crowded hotel cafe, and headed to our first session, Women in Jeopardy: Crime Fiction.

The session was interesting in that I know little about that genre. I loved hearing about the cozy, crime fiction with a domestic hook like knitting, cooking, or the like. The murder mystery I worked on years ago is basically a cozy, with the “female” hook being the secretarial life. (I’m really want to rewrite the novel using the Anatomy of a Story method, but first I have to finish this current novel I’m working on.)

The one thing we both thought was weird about the session was how anti self-publishing some of the panelists were. Like if you do it wrong, you can ruin your career. I really don’t think this is true. Even if you do a shitty job, you can just take your book down. Because you don’t go and print 1000 copies, it’s not really “out there” once you take it off Lulu or whatever. Of course you should make an effort to produce the best work you can when you self-publish, but I don’t think it’s a career ruiner if it’s not great.

After that session we were hungry and had the lunch buffet at the hotel restaurant. For $16 it was pretty mediocre. But that’s what you get for convenience.

MB and I went our separate ways at this point. I went to a Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Reading, during which I realized I’d probably get more out of the readings and being inspired by good writing. Not that I’m some sort of big expert, but I now generally find the “how to” sessions of writing conferences to be too beginner for me. The sessions that weren’t readings or how to were too writing program related or academic.

Anyway, of the Houghton Mifflin readers, I particularly enjoyed Peter Mountford‘s essay on how he used to work in a fancy furniture store in L.A. and would wait on celebrities. I would totally read his memoir.

After that, I really felt the need to exercise. After sitting for two and half days on the train, then half a day in session, I needed to move my butt. So I walked back to my hotel (not a bad walk, less than a mile) and hit the fitness center. I ran just three miles but it made a difference.

Later MB and I attended a 4:30 session together, Cross-Country Collaboration: How Tin House and the Normal School Make Real Publications in Virtual Offices. It was interesting to hear the ins and outs of both working via virtual offices (which reminded me of my own workplace) and the submission/editorial process. It seems a lot of journals use Submittable, formerly known as Submishmash.

After that we chilled in our room for a while, then headed out to dinner. I had wanted to go to Wow Bao, but it was a little far away, and we needed to get to the Roosevelt University Auditorium in time to hear Margaret Atwood (squee!) give the keynote. So we ended up going to this Asian place, Hot Woks, Cool Sushi, right around the corner. The food was good enough though not amazing. I had a chicken in peanut sauce though the sauce was more like peanut butter. Still, you couldn’t beat the price at less than $10 an entree.

The RU Auditorium is conveniently located between the two hotels. It was packed. By the time we got there, we had to go up, up, up, which I didn’t mind, though my legs did feel a little jell-o-y as we sat there.

Needless to say, I loved Atwood’s keynote. Ever since I read an excerpt of Cat’s Eye in Seventeen magazine – and have reread the novel a zillion times since then – she’s been my favorite author. I love that she walked on stage with her giant purse. I love that she said hi to all of her Twitter pals. (She retweeted one of my tweets a while back; I almost died.) I love that she kept cracking herself as she gave her talk. I love that in the middle of her talk, she gave several gold nuggets (paraphrasing from memory).

Blockage is a problem of voice or structure.
If it’s voice, try changing the tense or who’s speaking.
If it’s structure, try changing the first scene.
If neither of those work, go to the movies.

I love that her talk wasn’t too long. And I love that afterward, she took the ASL interpreter’s hand and made her bow with her like they were on Broadway.

We were out by about 9:15 and had a leisurely though chilly walk back to our hotel. I grabbed some tea along the way, and back in our room, we loaded up on Hulu.

Whew! That was just day one.

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