Feb 17

AWP 2017, D.C. Style

It’s been a couple of years since I last went to AWP. So I was glad this year to have the opportunity to attend, thanks to one of my freelance clients, and that it was in D.C., a city that’s relatively easy for me to get to and where one of my dear high school friends lives.

Getting there

The day of my departure a snowstorm was scheduled to hit. This got my mother worried, prompting her to call me the night before.

Her: “There’s big snow coming!”
Me: “Yes, but the subway’s only a five minute walk.”
Her: “But you’ll walk in the snow!”
Me: “It’s only five minutes.”
Her: “But you have your suitcase!”
Me: “It’s only five minutes.”
Her: “But! But!”

If I wasn’t worried about traveling in the snow before her call, I certainly was afterward.

But of course getting to the subway in the morning was perfectly fine. I left so early, there was hardly any snow on the ground, and the train wasn’t even delayed. Even lovelier: I had a whole row to myself as I enjoyed my breakfast, worked on my novel, and daydreamed. There was no snow in D.C. although it was quite windy.

The sessions

Since I’ve been to AWP several times, I don’t really get too much out of the sessions. However, there were a few that I liked.

One was about university teachers using multimedia to teach writing while another was about running grassroots literary conferences. There’s one in Lancaster that sounds really cool, but its focus is creative nonfiction while I’m primarily concerned with my novel right now.

The one big session I went to was with Ta-Nehisi Coates and Chimamanda Adichie, as moderated by E. Ethelbert Miller. It was packed. Luckily I got there early. The reading and talk were interesting, especially in this day and age.

Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery

In between attending sessions and doing work for my client, I had the chance to visit the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, which was walking distance to the convention center. (It’s also free so I went twice, catching up on sections I missed the first time.)

Near the front of the National Portrait Gallery is a painting of Donald Trump. It had its own rope and security guard. I asked the guard, “Are you here to make sure no one does anything to that picture?” He just laughed and shook his head like “no comment.” I wanted to take a picture but chickened out.

The portraits part of the museum was a little boring, but upstairs they also had other kinds of American art, including this “Dreamers” exhibit, which was very cool:

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There’s also a beautiful courtyard.

Smithsonian American Art Museum

This museum is attached to the National Portrait Gallery so it was easy to visit (and again, free). It had a wonderful Isamu Noguchi exhibit:

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Where I ate

Needless to say, the convention center food was pretty limited. There were one or two places at the main entrance, and almost always they both had ridiculously long lines. On the convention floor there was a Jamaican stand that had pretty good curry chicken, but at $11, it was overpriced.

Luckily, Chinatown was in walking distance. Twice I ate at ShopHouse (which, sadly, has shuttered its doors). It was Chipotle for southeast Asian food. Literally. It was owned by Chipotle. I thought it was really good. The bowls were tasty and less than $10.

One night I was craving a burger, and got takeout from Fuddruckers. Again, very good. Another night I got delicious koobideh from Grill Kabob. It was overpriced but the place was full of Aghani people so at least it was probably authentic.

Catching up with a friend

My last night I had the chance to have dinner with a good friend from high school. I hadn’t realized how long it had been since I last saw her. I kept thinking five or six years but it’s more like 10! Too long. We had a good long chat over Asian food and then a nice walk back to my hotel.

Next year

AWP 2018 will be taking place in Tampa. Party in my hotel room?

Mar 14

AWP 2014 Index

And I’m back from yet another AWP! While this year doesn’t compare to the blast I had last year, I still had a good time. Plus I got to see Seattle!

  • Number of hours my flights were delayed compared number of hours I was in the air: 2.5 : 3
  • Number of hours I was in the airport compared to number of hours I was int he air: 6.5 : 3
  • Number of times I was in the very back of the plane compared to number of flights: 2 : 2
  • Number of “preferred guest” rooms I received because I got to the hotel so late and all the regular rooms were taken: 1 (yay!)

The view from my hotel.

  • Number of hours of sleep I got that first night: 3
  • Number of runs I got in over 2 days: 2 (four and three miles, respectively)
  • Number of hours I spent in my room compared with number of hours I spent at the conference on that first day (not including sleeping hours): 8 : 4
  • Number of old writing teachers I saw and almost didn’t say hi to but then I did and I’m so glad: 1
  • Number of times I forgot said writing teacher had blurbed my memoir: 1 (I’m such a dumbass)
  • Number of online friends I met in real life for the first time: 2
  • Number of three-minute stories I wrote on an old manual typewriter: 1
  • Number of times I avoided eye contact with book fair participants: 100
  • Number of hours I lasted at the book fair: 1

Tweeting the live-tweet of someone tweeting a panel about tweeting.

  • Hours last week I spent looking for a new outfit for my reading: 2
  • Number of new outfits I bought: 0
  • Number of cute outfits I forgot already had: 1 (cute little black jacket, white button up blouse, jeans, boots, cool necklace, in case you were wondering)
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how nervous I was for my reading: 11
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how fun the reading turned out to be: 10
  • Number of taco salads I inhaled after my reading: 1

Post-reading taco salad.

  • Number of sips of straight whiskey I was able to handle at the book fair: 3
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how happy I was to visit the Seattle Public Library: 11

Hammering Man at the Seattle Art Museum.

  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how happy I was to run into the Gourmet Dog Japon cart: 11 (I got the Samurai)

  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how happy I was to have some alone time in my room with my Samurai dog (don’t be dirty) and some stupid TV: 1,000,000
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how happy I was to have brunch with an old college friend: 1,000,000
  • Out of five stars, how yummy the food at Steelhead Diner was: 5+
  • Number of days it rained out of 1.5: .5 (It was beautiful but chilly on Friday, and only a little drizzly, though cold, Saturday)
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how happy I was when I was finally back home: 1,000,000
  • Number of hours it will take this introvert to recover from all the socializing: 24



Mar 13

AWP 2013: Writers, friends, and snow

Last week I was at AWP and had a blast.

I actually had more fun than last year, which was overwhelming and lonely since I was there as an individual writer. This year I went to work the book fair for my company, which I really enjoyed.

Tuesday, March 5

Set-up for the fair was on Wednesday, but I didn’t like the idea of getting in late and feeling rushed so I flew in on Tuesday.

That night I crashed with my friend ES. Getting to her house via public transportation was pretty easy, except for the fucking weird guy on the Silver Line (which is a fancy way of saying “bus”) who kept staring at me. At one point, I stared right back him, which was probably not a good idea, but, as I often do nowadays, I had assessed that I could take him in a fistfight so stare back I did.

I ended up getting off a couple of stops too early, and didn’t have to deal with in for much longer anyway.

ES had yummy food waiting for me when I got to her place: pasta with turkey sausage and broccoli rabe. I pigged out and we chatted and watched TV until two AM, ES because she’s a night owl, me because I was on darned Pacific time.

Wednesday, March 6

ES and I spent the day working together, and eating more of that tasty pasta. Then I was off to the hotel. “Set-up” for the book fair comprised of checking to make sure our giveaways had arrived (they had), and then I was free as a bird.

I was also starving. I dropped in a Wagamama and had their chili ramen. Delish!


View from my hotel window

By this time the weather had turned crummy. When I arrived on Tuesday, it was dry and in the 40s. Now it was raining and snowing. Blech. Luckily I didn’t have to go outside to get to the train station so getting back out to ES’s wasn’t too bad. We grabbed some southern food for a late dinner, and then I was back at the hotel.

Thursday, March 7

My first full working day.

My hotel was a 15 minute walk to the convention center. However, since I walk fast, it was more like 10 minutes for me, and it was all inside. It’s connected to a mall, which connects to another mall, which connects to two other hotels and finally the convention center.

What with the snowstorm, I didn’t leave the complex for three days.

The first thing I noticed at the book fair was how fancy some people’s booths were. They had furniture! art! beautifully displayed books! Our booth was, shall we say, streamlined in comparison. All we had were our giveaways, these adorable little notebooks with hearts on them. Then I got the brain storm to place them like this:


I didn’t think it was a big deal, but a couple of people said they loved how the notebooks looked, and that our schwag was “the best at the conference.” Wow!

I had a lot of fun talking to people. I told them about our site and our contest: give us your favorite word and you’re in the running to win a random drawing of some pocket-sized dictionaries. As for the little notebooks, I think people assumed they were for sale, so I had to yell, “Free notebooks!” often. Several people made 180 degree turns when they heard “free.” It was funny.

My neighbors at Red14Films were also super-nice. They were fun to talk to and shared their chocolate.

That night ES and I had plans to see a play, but the weather was so bad, our plans got canceled. I actually didn’t mind. I was spent. I went to the gym and ran three miles, showered back in my room, then wandered the mall for food. It was after seven, but a lot of stores were still open, which for some reason delighted me. I didn’t want to shop but I liked knowing that I could if I wanted.

I felt like having bad Chinese of all things, and got myself a plate of Panda Express. It was pretty good! The vegetables were fresh and only lightly cooked with no sauce, the way I like them, and I enjoyed orange chicken. Then it was back to my room for some herbal tea and television.

I watched a terrible movie with Robert Pattinson. From the movie, I realized that a) Robert Pattinson is a kind of weird-looking dude, and b) he can’t act for shit. Christina Ricci was quite good though. In their scenes, she seemed to force Pattinson to tone down his overacting.

Friday, March 8

Another day at the book fair  and lots more talking. I had plans with my friend PL in the afternoon. I hadn’t seen PL in years, since before I moved to San Francisco, and was glad to learn that she’d be at AWP with her magazine – and her nine month old.

I was yakking with someone when all of a sudden a woman with an adorable baby walked up to our booth. It was PL! Her son is soooo cute. He’s very chubby and smiles at everyone. I wanted to kidnap him and bring him back to SF.

After I finished working, I went up to PL’s room and hung out. It was so great catching up with her. It had started to snow a lot earlier in the day, which was a good thing because PL and her sister (who had come along to help with the baby and for fun) ended up staying that night instead of leaving during the day, which gave PL and me a chance to have dinner with ES too, who would be staying with me in my room, as well as a couple of PL’s friends/colleagues.

None of us really wanted to go outside so we ate at PF Chang’s. It was pretty tasty, though quite salty. I found out one of PL’s colleagues, who’s a writer/editor now, used to be an actress and had a small but pivotal role in one of my most favorite shows ever. I forced myself not to act like a stupid fan girl and limited my questions to half a dozen. She was super-nice about it.

Saturday, March 9

I was really tired on this day since I didn’t sleep well the night before. I slept well all the other nights, at ES’s and at the hotel. But the night ES stayed over, we stayed up very late, past two AM, and I got stressed about getting up in time to work the fair and to pack my stuff and check out. I got maybe two hours of sleep. Ugh!

But working the book fair was fine. With lots of coffee and adrenaline, I was able to power through it. I was, however, worried about having a lot of leftover notebooks to ship back.

PL and her sister (and the baby!) came by, and I complained to them about my plight. They told me to go ahead and use the bathroom if I needed to, and they could watch my stuff. When I came back I saw that they had totally taken over the booth and were giving away notebooks like crazy: “Free notebooks! You know you want a free notebook! Yeah, you do!” They were so awesome. They had heard my spiel several times so they could repeat most of it. I got to show lots of people the site and we had a ton more entries in our favorite word contest (the results are here). That day the fair was open to the public so ES was there too. It was loads of fun.

After we were done, we grabbed a late lunch at the food court, and then PL and her posse was off.

ES and I schlepped back to her ‘hood to head out to a cooking party one of her friends was hosting. Luckily the weather had improved tremendously so getting around wasn’t too bad.

Since I was dead tired and am not a confident cook, I sat around like a bum while everyone worked to make delicious crepes. (Crap, I should have taken some pictures.) The crepes were delicious. ES made a layered dish with spinach, lots of cheese, and, well, crepes. It was so damned good.

Sunday, March 10

My last day in Boston! ES and I had every intention of seeing a movie, but ended up yakking the day away and missed the start time. I was just as happy to walk around and enjoy the nice weather.

In the late afternoon, we went to a town that’s on the way to the airport and had an early dinner of yummy Korean food. The restaurant was very modest, but I knew it had to be good because there were Korean people eating. And good it was. I had duk mandu gook, which is a clear beef soup with beef dumplings, rice cakes, glass noodles, and egg. I want it now!

Then we were off to the airport, and I was catching my flight to Newark. Since it’s only an hour in the air, the plane was quite small. One row of seats were singles, which felt totally luxurious, especially since the flight was half empty. I had to a wait a while for the train from the airport to my parents’, but the ride felt fast, even full of drunk college kids on their way home to Rutgers. Then I was at my ‘rents’.

~ ~ ~

The time with my parents was nice. I got to catch up on sleep and work, and eat my mom’s good cooking. I also got to see another college friend for lunch. Inevitably my parents started to get on my nerves, and I was very happy to head back to SF. I’m currently still on east coast time, which means early to bed and early to rise, but I like that anyway.

Mar 12

The madness that was AWP: Days 2 & 3

Here’s AWP Day 1 and my train ride from SF. Oh yeah, and AWP stands for Association of Writers and Writing Programs.

Day 2

On my second morning I got smart: I skipped Starbuck’s and went next door to the Corner Bakery, where there was a very short line. Plus the coffee was about a billion times better.

During the different sessions, I thought a lot about my own writing. There’s one novel I worked on for 10 years. Set in the late ’60s, it’s about a tough Asian American girl who drops out of high school to run off and look for her long-lost grandfather. Much of the novel is her driving alone through the desert, meeting kooky characters. I could never get the novel done, at least not to my satisfaction. Once she got to her destination, it got totally messed up.

Anyway, I was sitting in a session and all of a sudden thought, What if there were zombies? What if, while this character was going through her own shit, the world was going to shit. People were getting sick and turning into zombies, and while on the road, she has to fight them?

That got me interested in attending a morning reading, Apocalyptic Literature. It was very good, especially Pinckney Benedict, who read from a short story about an apocalypse that involved people turning into dogs, and vice versa. I totally want to buy his book of short stories now.

That afternoon, I hit the book fair again. I realized that a couple of my workplace’s Twitter friends (Poetry Foundation and Electric Lit) had tables, and I wanted to be more social, so I introduced myself and gave away notebooks.

Then it was time for a tour of the Roosevelt University historical buildings – woot! – free for AWP attendees. It had nothing to do with writing, but it was my one of my favorite parts of the conference. Especially cool was going into the auditorium where Margaret Atwood gave her keynote, and standing on the stage.

Then I skipped all the afternoon sessions and worked out again.

That night The Nervous Breakdown was sponsoring a reading at Beauty Bar. To tell you the truth, I almost didn’t go. It was fucking cold, raining off and on, and like a dummy, I hadn’t brought my winter coat. But MB encouraged me to go.

It was fun to meet a couple of TNBers in person, namely Gina Frangello and Jonathan Evison (and I introduced myself to someone who looked like Nick Berlades but was not), but unfortunately we didn’t stay too long for the reading. The reading before it ran over so we got a late start, and then these people in the back wouldn’t shut up. They just kept talking talking talking while people were reading, even when others kept shushing them and yelling, “Be quiet!” Even after Jonathan went up and told them multiple times to shut the fuck up. It was so annoying we had to leave after that.

The downside of having a reading in a bar.

Day 3

The last day of the conference! Again no nine or ten AM sessions for me, just a strong cup of Corner Bakery coffee and some work. Then MB and I got breakfast at this diner on the way to the other hotel.

The first session I went to was called Ethos, Logos, and Pathos: Or, Who’s the Speaker Here? I had no idea what it was going to be about and took a chance. It was somewhat interesting though a bit academic. The speakers analyzed a couple of poems in terms of the speaker. But it ended up being too academic for me so I left early and popped into the end of Making Room for the Graphic Narrative, ie, comics and graphic novels. It was actually pretty interesting. I came in during question and answer, which I normally hate, but people asked real questions, even if with overly long pontificaty intros. Also, I haven’t seen so much plaid in one place since the ’90s.

My next session was The Poetics of the Essay, my favorite of the whole conference (it was also packed to the gills). The speakers talked about the art of the essay, and each analyzed a particular one. My favorite was the one about Joy Williams and her essay/rant, “The Case Against Babies” (by the way, the first Google hit for “joy williams case against babies” is the Church of Euthanasia – weird!). The essay was first published in Granta back in the ’90s which means I probably read it, but I can’t remember and want to dig it up again. The speaker talked about that while personal essays are supposed to be, well personal, many of Williams’ aren’t, defiantly so.

Speaking of rants, here’s one about the place where I grabbed a mid-afternoon snack:

After The Poetics of the Essay session, I was hungry so I went outside looking for food. Big mistake. It was freezing, windy, and snowing, and me without my winter coat. Finally, I found a place, Tamarind Sushi, that looked pretty good.

And it was. I had the spicy beef noodle soup, and while it wasn’t spicy at all, it was still delicious and only eight bucks. After I finished my meal, I was in a great mood.

Then the bitchy waitress ruined it for me.

The restaurant was crowded and service was a little slow, so when I got my check, I just left the tip on the table and went to pay at the register. Apparently, this was “wrong.” The guy kept saying, “I can’t ring you up here,” which really confused me because there was a register right there. “You have to pay your wait staff.”

“Oh,” I said, thinking I had to weave my way back to the table and sit there and wait for who knew how long although I was standing there with my money.

“I can give you change,” he said, and I thought he meant he was going to process my payment but instead he gave me four fives for my twenty. Um, how does this help me?

Meanwhile, the waitress (who looked like a Chinese transvestite) was standing there looking pissed off. She picked up the tip, I gave her some money, and she gave me a dollar, which was correct change but I was still just confused by the whole situation.

“Do you want a dime?” she asked sarcastically. My bill was $8.90. “You want a dime?”

Finally, I understood, said no, tweeted about the experience, then left.

I’ll say it again: the bitchy waitress at Taramind Sushi in Chicago ruined what otherwise would have been a lovely dining experience. I recommend that you NOT go there, unless you don’t mind a total bitch of a waitress.


The last session of the conference was Literature and Evil. I really wanted to like this session, but it was boring. I heard a couple of somewhat interesting things, but it wasn’t like the Poetics of the Essay session, or even Apocalyptic Literature. I left early.

For our last night in Chicago, we went to an Italian place, picked mostly because it was nearby. I think it was a good choice. The food was a little expensive but very good, and the service was excellent (unlike at Tamarind Sushi).

Then we were total hermits and hung out in our room for the rest of the night.

To sum up

Overall the conference was fun and interesting, but I don’t think I’ll go again unless for work or to participate on a panel. I think by now I’ve gained experience that I’ve crossed over from neophyte to (kind of) expert.

But it was a good experience. It was the first time I traveled for a writing conference. The only writing conferences I’ve been to were in New York while I lived in New York. It’s a very different feeling to be in a hotel. In New York, I could go home whenever I wanted.

It was also, obviously, very different from conferences and meetings from my previous jobs. Those sucked. They were stressful and boring and I always had to be on. If you got caught in your workout clothes while sessions were going on, you got dirty looks. I felt like I was always sneaking off and playing hooky. This in comparison was fun and relaxing. It was a vacation.

Mar 12

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.