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Going to AWP Without Really Going to AWP: A Post-AWP Report

2 Apr

This past weekend was my sixth time attending the AWP conference. My first was in New York in 2008, an overwhelming affair of 8,000 writers crammed into a couple Midtown hotels. That year, I sat on the floor beside a woman from Texas Tech who thought my plan to wait five years before getting an MFA was absurd. The next thing I knew, I was working as a paralegal to save money for graduate school, and by August 2009, I had a full ride to the University of Washington and Michael and I moved cross-country to Seattle. You could say that AWP changed our life pretty radically.

Over the years, we went to a smattering of conferences, but each year I went to fewer and fewer panels, as they tend to repeat and I learned you can only soak up so much information. In 2015 in Minneapolis, I mostly had lunch and dinner with friends, a most pleasant experience, but I’d realized the conference fee had been a waste. Next time, I resolved, I would go to AWP without going to AWP.

Last year in Tampa, with my novel just out, I didn’t get to do that. But *this* year, in Portland, it finally happened, and I highly recommend it to folks who’ve been around the AWP block. I was more relaxed. More hydrated! I had time to stay on top of my online teaching, so less stressed.

Now for some highlights:

Wednesday night, we started at The Old Portland, a wine bar owned by Courtney Taylor-Taylor of the Dandy Warhols. They only serve old French wine; I misheard the description of the Corsican rosé as “foggy” and enjoyed it very much; Michael enjoyed a ten-year-old red Bordeaux. Then, the very Portland-y (more stoner than twee Portlandia) bartender said, “Yeah, we don’t like advertise or anything,” and showed us the Odditorium, the band’s 10,000-foot “clubhouse,” where they rehearse, record, film music videos, and the like. It was cavernous and quiet. Michael, a big Dandy Warhols fan, was in heaven.

“Ice Cream,” the mono-print I made at VSC when I was sad that the ice cream shop had closed and there was no ice cream to be had.

Thursday afternoon, we went to the Vermont Studio Center alumni happy hour. I’d finished a first draft of Daughters of the Air there back in 2007. Three former literary staff read poetry from their recent releases. A line from Nandi Comer’s American Family: A Syndrome: “If there is blood, the artist has chosen to omit it.” Ryan Walsh spoke of the connection between visual art and writing at VSC (I still cherish learning how to make a mono-print there) and vegetable poems. Zayne Turner read from “Her Radioactive Materials.”

Most of the other readings I attended featured numerous readers, so, forthwith, more of a collage:

Reading “Cauliflower Tells You

At Strange Theater: A Fabulist Reading, there were spiders and trousseaus and swans roasted in revenge and Japanese monsters and red rooms and porcine men and tyrants and cauliflower-fueled murder. A doll’s head was raffled off, among other trinkets; I offered a rare talisman of Cyndi Lauper’s trip to Yemen.

Friday, we went to the PageBoy Magazine Happy Hour, featuring 17-word poems and prose. It was a fun afternoon of zingy one-liners and dreamy experimental works and Gertrude Stein jokes. Then we were off to Literary Bingo with Lilla Lit, a new Portland-based reading series; it was fast and furious with four-minute readings (a loud buzzer ushered off writers going over). Chocolate was pelted at every shout of “bingo!”; I caught a peanut-butter ball overhead with my left hand and won a copy of Jennifer Perrine’s In the Human Zoo. I also read a poem and someone won a copy of Daughters of the Air. All readings should have strict word and time limits and buzzers and prizes!

Saturday, we paid $5 to get into the convention center book fair. I had a lovely time chatting with Chicago-based folks in advance of our move (yes! big news tucked away over here; more on that in a future post), signing books at the Lanternfish Press table, and seeing fellow LFP authors Charles J. Eskew (Tales of the Astonishing Black Spark) and Andrew Katz (The Vampire Gideon’s Suicide Hotline and Halfway House for Orphaned Girls). It was also super cool meeting Carmen Maria Machado, who signed Her Body and Other Parties and Carmilla, an LFP reprint of a lesbian vampire romance that predates Dracula, with a Borgesian introduction and footnotes by Machado.

Fun!

We also picked up a whole slew of poetry in translation (from Romanian and Hebrew), essays on art, novels, short story collections. I can’t wait to read it all! Our last stop was the Northwest Micropress Fair at the Ace Hotel, where I signed copies of Sugar, my chapbook from Chin Music Press, and hung out with regional small presses, which felt like a special little send off before we leave the Pacific Northwest.

I heard that the conference had ballooned to 12,000 (15,000?) attendees. Amazing! Perhaps, perhaps, we’ll be in San Antonio next year, and if not San Antonio, Kansas City, and if not Kansas City, Philadelphia…?

Bright Spots of 2016

21 Dec

della_tramutatione_metallica_sogni_tre-a184

From Della tramutatione metallica sogni tre by Gio. Battista Nazari, 1571

Dang it. Despite world affairs being horrendous, I’m going to relish some good things that happened in 2016. First, I achieved my goal of obtaining 100 rejections (106!). If you’re not getting rejecting 90% of the time, you’re not aiming high enough–so goes the wisdom from Creative Capital. The fruits of this labor paid off with eight publications. Here they are, plus other goodness. (Find the zoetrope!)

 

My plans for the holidays including gorging myself on kreplach, cholent, pizza, and rainbow cookies and devouring Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and Paula Fox’s Desperate Characters. Happy winter solstice!

Interview in Ordinary Madness #76

9 Mar

Yesterday I had the pleasure of chatting with Steve Barker for the 76th edition of Ordinary Madness, his Arts & Entertainment podcast. We talked about novel writing, rejection, The Furnace, the effects of winning awards, and a bit about my time at McGill University in Montreal. I also read two short-short stories, one of which is quite new. Fun!

Video and photos from Pay Dirt, a literary evening on art, money, and desire

17 Dec

Many thanks to Samudre Media for documenting Pay Dirt, the event culminating a year + of work on my novel PARALEGAL, thanks to an Art Project grant from 4Culture and a Jack Straw Fellowship. The Samudres do beautiful work in the Seattle arts community.

 

Pay Dirt: A Literary Performance on Art, Money, & Desire

12 Nov

Pay Dirt, an event supported in part by an award from 4Culture and the Jack Straw Writers Program, features fiction and poetry on topics of art, money, and desire, by Anca L. Szilágyi, Bernard Grant, Emily Bedard, Martha Kreiner, and Matthew Schnirman

On December 3 at 7 pm, I’m reading from my novel PARALEGAL at the Jewelbox Theater in Belltown. This performance culminates a year+ of work on a project whirred forward by support from 4Culture and Jack Straw Cultural Center, for which I am very grateful. I’ll be joined by four fantastic Jack Straw Fellows whose work intersects with mine, on the topics of art, money, and desire: Bernard Grant, Emily Bedard, Matthew Schnirman, and Martha Kreiner.  Please come!

Audio Excerpt from Paralegal

17 May

Jack Straw logoFriday’s reading at Jack Straw was utterly lovely. Matthew Schnirman read poems brimming with desire and loss, such as “American Shot” :“When I remove my clothes, I want the wood floor to blush.” L.J. Morin read from her fascinating series about the lost language of the Atures, discovered by Alexander von Humboldt on his journey to Venezuela in 1800, his desire to catalogue and measure characterized as “a mine shaft down the middle of him, an inexhaustible need.”  Linda Andrews, who won the Washington State Book Award for Escape of the Bird Womenread a fabulous story about a strutting hen: “Any female with that authority would feel ready for the world. Go on. Fold your wings back and see if the body doesn’t tell you something. CUTO an old friend called it. C-U-T-O. Chin up, tits out.” And I read an excerpt from my novel-in-progress, Paralegal, introducing the protagonist Binnie Greenson’s parents, Albert and Arlene, in their Ocean Parkway co-op in Kensington, Brooklyn. I took particular pleasure enunciating the phrase “glops of rummy yam” and the word “trapezoidal.” 

We, along with the rest of the Jack Straw fellows, all have work in the 2015 anthology, available at our readings all year, which will be at Folk Life on May 24, and at the the University Bookstore, the Seattle Public Library, and elsewhere in the fall. Kevin Craft, the 2015 curator, did such a fantastic job grouping each of the readings and introducing each of the readers.

I was really happy with how my reading and its recording turned out. The voice coaching from Christine Brown and performance coaching from Elizabeth Austen were both excellent and super helpful. I’ve uploaded my reading to soundcloud. Podcasts from everyone’s author interviews (conducted by Kevin Craft) with excerpts from our readings will be released in the fall here.

Without further ado, an excerpt from my novel-in-progress, Paralegal:

Working Backwards

28 Jan

View of Elliott Bay from Lower Queen Anne.

View of Elliott Bay from Lower Queen Anne.

I haven’t posted story snippets to this blog in a long time, but I had such a wonderful time this morning at a generative workshop for the Jack Straw fellows, I wanted to share one here. We discussed our writing concerns and what we’re dwelling on now, and the general theme among us all had to do with connecting dots and making leaps. Kevin Craft, our curator, then offered this concept he learned from Heather McHugh about hypotaxis and parataxis–the causal-oriented and the free associating, waking logic and dream logic.

Then he pitched the Story Spine exercise, which originates from improv. It’s a basic exercise offering a rigid structure for a story that is then written quickly, using free association. The stakes are low. I used the basic plot of the novel I’m working on now, which made the exercise feel somewhat mechanical, though the final step seemed to open up for me a more expansive way of seeing the ending–something I will continue to ruminate.

Then Kevin asked us to do the exercise in reverse. I decided not to write from my novel and just let myself go. This version of the exercise was very fun. And I can see why you need to go forward first, to feel the mechanics of an unfolding story, and why thinking backwards can allow the writing to get wilder. Here’s that backward story I wrote:

And ever since that day, she held that stone in her mouth before bed, as a reminder. Finally, she chose a slick green stone on a rocky beach strewn with sea vegetables. And because of that, she went to the coast, to look at something wild and open and to fill her lungs with salt. Because of that, she felt all tied up in a box, a sensory deprivation tank. Until one day she crouched in on herself into the tightest ball. And every day she tried to be smaller and smaller. Once upon a time, she didn’t want to be seen.

One month into this program, and it is already so helpful and generative and amazing.

Jack Straw Writers Program

10 Jan

I’m very happy to have been chosen for the 2015 Jack Straw Writers Program by curator Kevin Craft. This is a great program in Seattle (though folks from Portland; Vancouver, B.C.; Olympia; Walla Walla and elsewhere in the region have participated) giving writers training and experience with recording, presentation, and author interviews as well as encouraging the development of new work and providing new venues for sharing their work with the public.

I’ll be using the program to continue developing my second novel, which I’m calling Paralegal for now, though that might change. We had a very nice orientation last night, and it was really lovely to hear snippets of poetry and fiction from each of the eleven other fellows! Stay tuned for the public readings (starting in May and continuing through the end of 2015) and a podcast featuring excerpts from my reading and author interview.

On the Docket for 2015

2 Jan

A partial reading list for Novel #3.

A partial reading list for Novel #3.

In 2014, I focused my blogging attentions to 16 posts on writing prompts for PloughsharesNow that the series is done (though stay tuned–I have plans for them), here’s a little update on what I’ve got on deck for 2015.

What are your plans for 2015?

Thank You 4Culture!

5 Jun

4culture_colorI’m so honored to receive a 2014 Art Project grant from 4Culture for my novel Paralegal.  Thank you, 4Culture, for all that you do in King County!

Stay tuned for more news on this / upcoming events. In the meantime, here is a short snippet about the novel from an interview I did on the Hugo House blog in March (skip down to “What are you currently working on?”). Hooray!

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