Friday, March 15, 2013

Five Days in Beantown -- Day 4

The blue sky of Saturday morning is almost blinding, and it's such a relief from the constant snow of the days before. 

I'm trying very hard not to upload a video of "Here Comes the Sun". This would be so cliché, so predictable, so . . . Damn, I did it anyway. But I've found a beautiful version of the song with three amazing singers doing George Harrison's song. It's worth the slide into cliché for a moment.

Well, it is an emotional experience when the sun finally comes out after a blizzard. It's like God and the rainbow sort of. Without the rainbow.

Here's Paul Simon with David Crosby and Graham Nash. Their three-part harmony slaughters me and puts me back together again. It's healing in that way. My father loves this song. Daddy, if you're reading, you'll love this.

We wake up at 4:45 a.m. so that Lori can catch her ride back to NYC. You might think that I, after the hugs and kisses good-bye, would go back to sleep, but oh no. I get dressed for a walk around Boston. It's sunny, and I'm not going to miss it.

At the reception:

"Good morning!" I shout, still humming "Here Comes the Sun" in my adorable head.

The guy at the reception desk laughs at me, but he's pleasant enough for 6:00 a.m.

"If I wanted to walk to the old stuff, you know the buildings made of bricks made from straw and camel dung by Egyptians--that kind of stuff--which way would I walk?" I smile. I shine actually.

"Well," he says, eyeing me suspiciously. "It'd take you a long time to walk there."

"How long are we talking about?" Still smiling. "Three hours? Six?"

"Forty-five minutes?"

"This is chicken feed. Which way, compadre?" This is not a racial slur. He is not Mexican.

He points. "Down Boylston until you can't walk any farther."

He doesn't know me. I can walk forever. It takes me all of twenty minutes to reach the Boston Commons, which, in my adorable ignorance, I think is the end station for old stuff. It's not of course, but I won't find this out until tomorrow. Still, it's a good morning stroll if you can maneuver the icy patches on the sidewalks. The sun might be out, but the sidewalks are still as slick as an ice-skating rink.

The treacherous bridge between my hotel and Dillon's

Boston Commons

I get back to the hotel in time to pack up and move to my new hotel, the Westin, before I make my way over to the book fair. I've decided to skip the first round of panels this morning since nothing really ticks a box until 10:30. I wonder as I wander, like in the song, if participation in this book fair actually helps these literary journals and MFA programs. They all look so hungry. They grin at you as you walk by and greet you so enthusiastically. They hold out free stuff and beg you to take it.

I don't know these people, so I apologize for your prominence in this photo. Bald spot: sorry.
"Hi!" someone says to me from one of the tables, a literary journal known to me and a lot of people reading this blog.

"Hey," I say lazily because I'm cool, much cooler than the person saying "Hi!" to me. Or at least this is the persona I've donned for this greeting.

"Do you know about XXXX?" she asks. The journal. Of course I do. Most people do.

"Yes," I say, "You've rejected my work three times." While this considerably reduces my cool factor, it does succeed in wiping the grin off her face.

"Wanna pen?" she says. I take the pen and move on. By the time I leave for my first panel, I've scored eleven pens, three blank journals and six books/chapbooks/literary journals and, thankfully, a totebag in which to carry all this stuff. Books are heavy. My first panel . . .

Breaking Bones: 
Traditional and Nontraditional Structures in the Novel

This panel turns out to be inspiring, informative and entertaining. I find myself taking quite a lot of notes and also working out some structural elements/problems of my current manuscript. Here's a bit of what I learn:
  • A good story teaches the reader what to expect (in terms of structure) early on. Each good story has structural rules that it follows, and the reader should get them as soon as possible.
  • Every element of the story (scenes, chapters, characters, etc.) need their own arcs. This sounds cliché and formulaic, but it actually makes sense to me in a fresh new way when I hear it here coming from the mouths of award-winning novelists.. 
  • Let character define structure, not the other way around.
  • Find the backbone of the story: the thrust of forward motion.
  • A good story teaches you how to read it...and how to WRITE it.
  • Always write for understanding, like a scientist searches for the answer rather than knowing it from the beginning.
Dozens of people sat on the floors and crowded the doorways to the panels.

All of these points make me see my stories in different ways, so I'm glad I elbowed my way into this panel. Again, at AWP 2013 the panels are almost always overcrowded, the rooms are mostly too small, and I'm sure there are a lot of frustrated attendees who end up browsing the book fair aimlessly, collecting pens.

At 4:30 p.m. I go to hear a friend read his poetry at the

Cervaná Barva Press Poetry Reading

I arrive early and meet Bill Yarrow, the friend who's reading, outside the conference room. We talk--or mainly I talk--for a good long time about teaching English, my previous life as a singer, grammar, our parents, and punctuation--all monstrously entertaining topics. I'm gabby because I had nachos for lunch. Nachos always make my gabby. And I ordered the extra-hot salsa, so I am all the more gabbier. Bill Yarrow is an exceptional human being. He's a great poet and a great listener.

To end my Saturday at AWP, I go shopping. Shhhh. Yes, I go shopping. See, my nephew and his wife gave me a Kiehl's card for Christmas that I haven't been able to use outside the US, so I have to snatch this chance while I'm stateside. The Kiehl's store, I'm told, is just down Newbury a few blocks. Upshot: I am now in possession of the fountain of youth. Shhhh.

Day Five of Five Days in Beantown tomorrow . . .

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an absurdist satire deconstructing gay identity in America, available from Amazon Anything (paperback and Kindle versions) for not much money at all.