Monday, March 25, 2013

The First Annual Travel Essay Contest at I Must Be Off!


If you are looking for the current contest (2015) guidelines, go HERE

I Must Be Off! wants your travel essays. They could be informative, humorous, compelling, or thought-provoking. Or all of the above. They should grab the reader and take them on a journey to a place you love or hate or at least feel passionate about.  Here are the guidelines:

  • Maximum 1000 words
  • Edited to the best of your ability for spelling, grammar and punctuation
  • Up to three photos may be submitted with your entry (photos NOT necessary to win, but pretty)
  • Previously unpublished essays only! Blog posts are considered published.
  • No entry fee. Yes, that's right. But may we suggest that you join the site and encourage your 5000 Facebook friends to do the same? Also NOT necessary to win, but very pretty!
  • Open to anyone worldwide, but you need a PayPal account 
  • One entry per person
  • Deadline for submissions: May 31, 2013 
  • Send entries with a 50-word bio to with the heading TRAVEL ESSAY CONTEST 
  • Word doc files only. NO docx or open office files can be accepted.
After May 31, 2013 I Must Be Off! will begin posting entries, two a week until all the entries have been posted--at which time I will announce the winners. Comments on the essays will of course be possible and appreciated. Constructive criticism is welcome as well but will be carefully monitored for sweetness. 

Two winners will each receive $50 and of course the honor of winning the First Annual I Must Be Off! Travel Essay Contest. Two runners up will receive Dorothee Lang and Smitha Murthy's incredible book Worlds Apart.

If you have questions about the contest, please send I Must Be Off! an email at the address above.

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), available from Amazon Anything in paperback and Kindle.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Expat Author Interview with Kathy Fish

Author Kathy Fish
Kathy Fish’s short fiction has appeared in Indiana Review, The Denver Quarterly, New South, Quick Fiction, Guernica, Slice and elsewhere. She was the guest editor of Dzanc Books’ Best of the Web 2010. She is the author of three collections of short fiction: a chapbook of flash fiction in the chapbook collective, A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness: Four Chapbooks of Short Short Fiction by Four Women (Rose Metal Press, 2008), Wild Life (Matter Press, 2011) and . . .

Together We Can Bury It now available from The Lit Pub!!


IMBOKathy, welcome. I had no idea you'd lived in Australia for five years. Where and why? And wow! Australia.

FISH: Yes! We actually lived in
Australia twice. I accompanied my husband with our two very small children (3 yrs. and 1 1/2 yrs.) when he was working on a contract in Canberra. This was 1990. We were supposed to be there six weeks and it ended up being a year. 

Always wanted to go back, so in 1995, my husband took a job in Sydney and off we went. We lived outside of Sydney for five years. 

IMBO: I love
Sydney. I love The Rocks and all the harbors. What do you love about Sydney? Describe your home there for us. And would you want to go back now?
FISH: I love Sydney too. A lot of people compare it to San Francisco and I think that's apt. It feels youthful, alive. I loved the laid back feel of the whole country. We actually lived out in the 'burbs, in the Northern Beaches area, in three separate houses over our five years there. My favorite house was a tiny, one level brick home with a wide verandah that opened into a walled courtyard. The place was overrun with flowers and trees. I'd painted the whole interior of the house for a break on the rent. At that time I had a toddler and was pregnant and I have this strong memory of standing on a folding chair painting, a summer breeze coming through the open windows, my son playing nearby and the sound of a kookaburra, that maniacal laughter. More exciting things happened while we lived in Australia but for some reason that moment stays with me. 

I'd go back for a visit in a heartbeat.

IMBO: Tell us about your first encounter with literature. Is it even possible to remember something like this?
Fish: I actually associate Australia with my first encounter with literature, though that's not exactly true. Like everyone, I read the usual books and authors for high school and college English classes. I read the bestsellers. And I always enjoyed writing, even as a child. But it was in Australia that I took my first creative writing workshop and it was in Australia that I first read the Best American Short Stories. That's what fueled my excitement for literary short fiction and made me really want to pursue writing. 

IMBO: Tell us more about that Aussie creative writing workshop. How fortunate you were to live in a country where English is the official language! 
Fish: The creative writing workshop was held above a health food store in Bondi. By this time, I had four children, two school-aged kids, a toddler and an infant, and I was going slightly crazy. I adore my kids, but I needed a break, some mental challenge, some fun. That class was an absolute blast. All the other people in the class were much younger and hipper than I was. It would be a few years before I actually even considered writing seriously, sending work out, etc.

IMBO: Can you tell us something valuable you learned from this class and these people?
FISH: One rule of the class was that we could only give positive feedback for each other's stories. No critique. I found that set-up absolutely perfect for beginning writers. You need all the high fives you can get to keep at it, to get excited. And I'm so glad it was this particular group of people that I started writing with because it was such a youthful mix and I was exposed to really quirky, fresh, original stuff. I learned that writing could be a blast and it was. 

IMBO: Very cool. And I think I’ve just broken the 11th commandment: “Thou shalt not covet thy writing compadre’s creative writing workshop.” Let's turn to the place where you grew up. How do you see this place in terms of your writing? 

FISH: I grew up in the Midwest, in Iowa, in a city called Waterloo. It was a thriving place when I was growing up. There is a John Deere tractor plant there which at that time anyway was the largest tractor factory in the world. My dad worked there and some of my brothers, too, when they got older. A river divides the city and there are all these bridges spanning it. It was at that time a very racially divided city, black people lived on one side of the river and white people on the other, and there was some racial strife in the 60s there. It was also a very Catholic city, with several Catholic parishes and each had its own school. So I was very much a product of this environment, a working class, Catholic girl from a large family. I draw on that experience so much in my writing. I guess, like most people, I didn't realize there was anything particularly unique about where I grew up until I got older and moved away. I see now there is a feeling and a flavor to the Midwest that is unlike any other place and yeah, it's in me, in my writing, though I've now lived half my life in other places. I feel compelled to write about it, often. 

I didn't realize there was anything particularly unique about where I grew up until I got older and moved away.

IMBO: And I think this feeling and flavor of the Midwest comes through in your collection Together We Can Bury It (Read my review HERE). It is a fantastic gathering of characters. What is your favorite story from this collection? Can you tell us a bit about when and why you wrote it?
FISH: Thank you, Chris! I've never been asked that question and it's a hard one to answer, but I'll say that my favorite is "The Hollow" because I remember so vividly writing it. Few stories have ever come so easily and quickly to me as that one. You know, it was like that holy experience that writers dream about and that rarely happens. I was sitting in the coffee shop at a Barnes & Nobel with my headphones on, just looking around and I saw a woman in "black polyester pants, kitten heels, and a tailored blouse" and this weird, sad story just sprang up around this woman and her two daughters. I've never typed so fast in all my life.

IMBO: I’m so glad you’ve chosen “The Hollow” because it gives me a chance to discuss your work from a few angles. The first: point of view. This story is written in third person plural actually—not your typical POV. The consciousness of the two little girls is never separated, which I think works so well in this troubling story of failed, broken parents . . . and strong, impervious kids.

FISH: I find I often slip into a collective POV when I write about children and siblings. Siblings have a collective consciousness and a culture and language of their own, especially if they are close and if there is some strife they are dealing with together. When I was growing up, I had a strong sense of “we”’ with my seven brothers. Childhood was a collective experience for me, so it comes naturally to write about “we” and “they.” Also, I just like the way it sounds. It is a challenging POV to write fiction from however. It gets blurry. It’s one of those things you can do fictionally that is very limiting and yet liberating at the same time.

IMBO: The first third-person plural narrator I remember reading was in Jeffrey Eugenides' The Virgin Suicides. Children again: the neighborhood boys. You have a point there, and there's probably an essay here that needs to be written. The second aspect of this story I’d like to discuss is the role of the father. It’s as if his entrance into the story provides an ah-hah moment, as if the reader says, “Ahhh, yes, there’d be a broken father too, wouldn’t there?” And the simple line from the security guard: “You’ve been told.” This tells the reader so much. (I realize, dear IMBO reader, that you do not have this story in front of you. I hope you'll have this story in front of you soon--as soon as Together We Can Bury It is rereleased.) 

FISH: I like that it felt that way for you as a reader, Chris. I did intentionally bring in the father late to the story to add another layer. Oh I always think of it as a Polaroid developing, the picture slowly becoming clearer. And I didn’t want a big chunk of exposition there, just a few insinuating details.

IMBO: The details say it all. And the description of character of course, which brings me to my third point: your kick-ass similes. You say this story gushed from the sight of a woman in black polyester pants, kitten heels, and a tailored blouse. Did the simile “like the thorax of an ant” come immediately as well? Or was this added later? Your similes challenge me to be a better writer.

FISH: Oh thank you! I will say that any simile, in any story of mine, just came to me in the act of writing. I’ve never said to myself what would be a good simile I can put in here? And then sat and tried to think one up because I’m lousy at that. So yeah, that simile you point out just happened as I was typing and I like it too. In revision, I never add similes. More often than not, I end up taking a few out because similes can start to compete with the reader’s attention.

What’s interesting about similes is you’re getting a taste of the writer’s subconscious associations (at least I’m thinking for ones that arise organically from the writing and are not conjured up and labored over). Maybe that’s what makes them challenging at times.

IMBO: I’m so glad they happen naturally. They sound natural. OK, so I always ask my interviewees to recommend another expat writer, tell us a bit about this person and why we should read him/her.

FISH: Happily! Avital Gad-Cykman is a writer I’ve known for many years. She was born and raised in Israel, then moved to Brazil in her late twenties and has lived and worked and raised her children there. Her writing is incredible; magical and deep and gorgeous. It is easy to find her work by googling her name, but I’ll point out a couple here: “Changing Winds” which appeared in a journal called Pig Iron Malt and “The Future of Color” which appeared in Salon. I hope she publishes a collection of her stories someday. That would be a gift.

IMBO: Beautiful, challenging prose! Thank you, Kathy, and thank you so much for chatting with me. It’s always a pleasure.

FISH: Thanks, Chris. I’ve really enjoyed talking with you!

I must be off,

To continue with I Must Be Off! A-Z, go to Y is for Yalta.


Kathy Fish’s short fiction has appeared in Indiana Review, The Denver Quarterly, New South, Quick Fiction, Guernica, Slice and elsewhere. She was the guest editor of Dzanc Books’ “Best of the Web 2010.” She is the author of three collections of short fiction: a chapbook of flash fiction in the chapbook collective, “A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness: Four Chapbooks of Short Short Fiction by Four Women” (Rose Metal Press, 2008), “Wild Life” (Matter Press, 2011) and “Together We Can Bury It” forthcoming from The Lit Pub

Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), available from Amazon Anything.  

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Five Days in Beantown -- Day 5

The Statue of Paul Revere with the Old North Church behind
The AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) is over, so today I'm going to be a tourist. I'm going to be an American expat exploring my country's history. I'm going to wander back to the first hours of my country's life when Paul Revere cried, "The regulars are coming, the regulars are coming!" And to this end, I'm going to glide right down from the 33rd floor of the Westin right now and ask the concierge where the hell I am.

See, orientation has never been my strongest or longest suit. Without Peter the Giant Caterpillar Pedicurist here to lead me around, I'm a bit lost. As you know, if you've kept up with my travels for the last five years, I'm mainly in charge of being adorable. While I've managed quite well in this regard on my trip to Beantown, I've walked the wrong way more than a couple times. Unfortunately, today will be no different.

ME: Good morning, delightful concierge. Ah, Marise. Pretty name. From Brazil?

Concierge: You are so adorable.

ME: I try. Marise, I would like to go on a walking tour of Boston that will plumb the depths of my formative childhood years spent folding colonial hats out of newspaper and pressing copper imprints of Liberty Bells and Benjamin Franklins.

Concierge: I have no idea what you just said.

ME: Sorry. I want to go on a walking tour of all the historical stuff.

Concierge: You want the Freedom Trail.

She pulls out a map and shows me the Freedom Trail, a red line zigzagging through Boston, after the Commons. I've already hiked to the Boston Commons, so I have a pretty good idea where it starts--but I'll never be able to follow this route with its twists and turns, zigs and zags. I can't read maps.

ME: Looks complicated.

Concierge: Oh it's not. It's made for people like you. See, the route is marked on the ground. All you have to do is follow the red line.

The end of the Freedom Trail at Breed's Hill
ME: If only life were this simple.

Concierege: True.

ME: Obrigado.

As usual when I travel, I'm pretty darned clueless when it comes to what will come. I know the walk from the Boston Commons to Breed's Hill and back will be 5 miles--an acceptable Sunday morning stroll. I do not know that the Freedom Trail was invented by William Schofield, a veteran newspaperman working then for the Herald Traveler; nor do I know that the Freedom Trail connects 16 historic sites (Wikipedia lists 17 actually) or that its original name was not Freedom Trail but Freedom Way, with delightfully alliterative, yet unsuccessful, trial names such as Puritan Path and Liberty Loop. I'm also blissfully ignorant that the Freedom Trail became a reality in June 1951 and that its distinctive red--sometimes paint, sometimes brick--stripe wasn't added until 1958 (I could be wrong about this last part, so if you're in junior high don't go citing me in a research paper--unless you say I'm adorable).

At Boston Commons, the trail leads up to the Massachusetts State House, which I've already seen from the day before when I walked to the Commons--so I skip it and head up the street, careful to follow the red stripe on the sidewalk. My first stop on the Freedom Trail is a building that is apparently on fire--yet there's no fire to be seen. There are dozens of fire fighters and at least four fire engines. So I stop and watch with lots of other curious Freedom Trail tourists. It's directly across from Park Street Church where William Lloyd Garrisons gave an important speech condemning slavery, which is a real stop on the Freedom Trail. It's closed to tourists on Sundays during services, so that's why I'm standing on the sidewalk, waiting for this buidling to the left to burst into flames. .

My next stop is The Green Dragon Tavern. It's lunchtime. Give me a break. I'm positively surprised by how reasonable the prices are here in this quaint pub. They have Magners cider on tap and an interesting menu. The burgers are all named after founding fathers, so I feel justified in stopping here. I allow myself the 'freedom' of having a rare burger and Freedom fries, free of a bun of course (so gluten-free). And another cider--because I'm feeling free. I also notice about five minutes after leaving The Green Dragon that I've forgotten my backpack. Thank God for sweet people.

The Green Dragon Tavern, a traditonal Pub in the Haymarket area of Boston

The next stop on the trail--if you walk right by a few historically important sites without seeing them as I do--is Paul Revere's house. This attraction will set you back $3.50 if you are an adult--again, you junior high kids should probably be reading something a bit more reliable--but it's well worth it. To learn the most from this four-room house, you need to ask questions. I did, and I learned so much about how the family cooked, who lived in the house, how many times the house was renovated, the living standards back then, etc. A lot of history is jammed into these four rooms. And, yes, I realize I haven't actually shared any of it with you.

Paul Revere's House

The inconspicuous Entrance to Paul Revere's House

The most interesting stop on the Liberty Loop is without a doubt The Old North Church. What a wacky place this is. First of all, there are no pews but boxes with chest-high walls, which families rented and decorated any way they wanted. I reckon there were no posters of Shakira in these boxes, but I'm sure the colonists made themselves comfortable. I hope I'm right in assuming this construction was meant to help keep the congregation warm. Or it might have served to keep them separated, much like junior high school kids when they're talking too much or fighting.

A box as it was decorated way back when

The sanctuary of the Old North Church (Episcopal)

The somewhat obstructed view from inside a box. Maybe Bostonians were taller than I am?

The tower of the Old North Church

By now, I'm having flashbacks of fourth grade American history. I'm hearing Mrs. Duncan scream "One if by land, two if by sea!" which apparently no one screamed on April 18, 1775. While I'll always hold a soft place in my heart for Mrs. Duncan, I have since learned that if Paul screamed anything, it would have been "The regulars are approaching!" which seems like a mouthful to me. He would never haved shouted "The British are Coming!" since he himself was British.

The Bunker Hill Monument on Breed's Hill
The Freedom Trail ends at the Bunker Hill Monument, which is actually on Breed's Hill. Bunker Hill, a few steps away, was the site of the colonists' heaviest losses. The battle itself is considered a Pyrrhic victory for the colonists, which means, although they technically lost the battle, the enemy's losses far outweighed its gains. The significance of the battle was that it showed the will and the passion of the colonists. I guess you can put this in your research paper. Be sure to site it in the following way: "Five Days in Beantown -- Day 5". Christopher (Adorable) Allen.

The walk has been pleasant but nippy. I do feel as if I've come a bit closer to my country's history. I have a couple of blisters and few more wrinkles in my brain. 

If you are a writer and you're thinking about attending the AWP Conference (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) in Seattle, check out the first four days of this trip, which focus mainly on the conference.

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author of the absurdist satire Conversations with S. Teri O'Type, a scathing parodic pastiche about how our TV culture creates gay identity in modern America. Available in paperback and Kindle from Amazon Anything 


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.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Five Days in Beantown -- Day 3

Second morning, Beantown Blizzard, from hotel window
The snow is not going anywhere but in our faces. The area around Hynes Convention Center has become so dangerous due to the snow that people all around us are falling on their, um, keisters (I think that's the word up here in the Northeast, right?). I have not fallen on my adorable little keister, but give me time. There's about a foot of snow on the ground now, and it's still coming down. I'm a little bummed today because I've seen almost no one I can here to see. It's the lost puppy feeling. 

Lori and I get up a bit earlier today so we'll have time to eat a leisurely breakfast before our first panel and also browse the book fair. Finding something gluten-free for me is easy-peasy. The semi-fast food restaurant Tossed offers a "scramble" of around 20 eggs--really, it's almost too much for one person--with various additional ingredients, like smoked bacon, black bean salsa, cheeses, mushrooms, baby spinach, onions, ya-de-ya. Two ingredients are lincluded in the price (around $5), which beats the breakfast at the hotel for $45,000, which--I'll give them this--includes coffee.

Our first panel promises lots of empty chairs due to its off-putting title:

Progression by Digression: Multiple
Narrative Lines in Creative Nonfiction

--the story of my life actually. And the panel is packed with fifty people hanging at the door. This is a theme of AWP 2013: overcrowded panels, levitation room only. Seriously, if anyone had to get out of these rooms in a hurry, someone would be trampled.

The panel opens with a delightful analysis of Tristram Shandy and then, um, digresses. Not really. I just wanted to say that. It's useful. I settle quite a lot--or, better, I put a few niggling ducks in a row that have been aimlessly duckwalking around--in my head about the novel I'm working on right now, which has multiple narrative lines. I'm not sure why this panel has "creative nonfiction" in the title. I'm pretty sure we speak about fiction much of the time. 

Since Lori and I are now seasoned veterans when it comes to these AWP panels, we leave before the QandA and head to the next panel (again, if you don't do this, you probably won't get a seat): 

The Art of the Ending

This is the panel that I really really really really really--you get the idea--wanted to hear. For years, in my own writing, I have struggled with my stories' endings: how to hit the right resonating note, how not the hit that note too obnoxiously, how to end without screaming THE END. When we get to the room, a police officer--a police officer!--is letting folks in three or four at a time.

"Fire hazard," he says to the gathering crowd at the back door. The room is enormous, and it's not even full yet. He is about to let me in, but Lori is standing a couple people behind me.

"She's with me," I announce in my best dance-club-queue voice. 

"Well, then you'll both have to stay outside," he says but then exchanges a couple of mouthed words with his police officer colleague at the front door to the conference room and says, "Sorry, this one's full."

"But there are empty seats over there." I point to a row of empty seats.

"Sorry. Fire hazard."

"We were in a panel yesterday morning where a hundred people were covering every inch of the floor and crowded around the back door." My voice rises and rises. "And there are empty seats in there. Come on, Lori." I take the reins. Edgar the East European Antelope Whisperer would be so proud of me. We dance around to the front of the conference room to try our luck with the other police officer.

"Fire hazard," he says as we approach the door. The crowd has already given up and gone away. 

"But there are empty seats at the back. Really. I promise. A dozen of them."

And, as miracles do happen, the officer opens the door and lets us in. So--and I can't help making the pun--all's well that ENDS well. The panel is interesting--not the end-all of panels but interesting. The speakers are good and the 90 minutes gives me a chance to think about my own endings from several new perspectives. Again, we rush off to the next panel before the QandA.
We're silly. Mel is the taller one. Everyone's the taller one.

And then it happens: a smiling, familiar face walks past. We hug, we laugh, we remember the good old days--briefly because we've moved on, but we do remember. It's the exceptional writer Mel Bosworth, whom I met in an online writers' workshop in 2008 and who read a lot of my writing then (and I his). Since then, we've published several of his stories at Metazen. And this is the first time we've met in the flesh--before we continue running off to our next panel.

The Urge Toward Memoir

Writing about your own life means having to write about the lives that intersect, influence, damage and complement your own. It's not an easy situation at all for a writer worried about hurting people. I suppose for writers who don't care about this, memoir is a sunny walk in the park. The upshot? You might have to wait until the person dies if you're so worried. One panelist had to wait for his father to die before he published a book of fiction in which the father character was too close to his own. I think I'm just going to tell my parents they might see themselves in a couple of characters and, well, to get over it. I see myself in some of my characters--and I got over it. 

Tania Hershman and my cheeks
And then comes a TWEET from Tania Hershman telling me where to find her at the book fair. You might remember my interview with Tania. We met in person last year at the KGB reading in NYC. One can never get enough of Tania Hershman. She is a delightful conversationalist and beautiful person. So we had lunch. I made Tania and Lori eat at a bakery that offered gluten-free bread, but when the salesperson explained that the gluten-free bread was a dollar extra, I decided to have a salad. Both Tania and Lori squinted evil eyes at me. Sorry! But it's the principle here--and I'm such a man of principle! Restaurants need to stop punishing people wioth Celiac Disease.

I'm going to wrap this post up soon; I promise. Next, we head off to the off-site reading HEAT. Meg Tuite graciously got me in to read at this one. Thank you, Meg. I was planning to attend this reading anyway since so many of my friends were reading and I'd entered the AWP HEAT flash fiction contest (the winners were going to be announced at 4:00 p.m.) This reading is one of the highlights of AWP for me, not only because I end up winning the contest (together with two other writers) but because I get to spend a little more time with, and meet, several more of my writer-buddies: Robert Vaughan, Gay Degani, Sara Lippmann, Len Kuntz, Bill Yarrow, Stephen Hastings-King, Alex Pruteanu, Timothy Gager and Teisha Twomey, Karen Stefano, Tania Hershman, Dora D'agostino, Neil Serven, Jane Carman and Laura Bogart: some old friends and some new friends. It was also a pleasure to meet the judges of the contest: Bonnie ZoBell, Cliff Garstang and Shaindel Beers (I met Shaindel later at the book fair).My winning story, "This Baring Daylight", will appear in Prime Number Magazine in the near future.

Robert Vaughan

Sara Lippmann

Bill Yarrow and his cool boots

Gay Degani
Antonia Crane with Bonnie ZoBell back there

After this hugfest of authors, Stephen Hastings-King and I move on to Bukowski's for more beverages and more interesting conversation about music, electronic music, the physics of creating experimental music. We could talk all night, but Jetlag Man is beginning to burst through my clothes in a big green way.  Still, I do have vague memories of Lori and me dancing somewhere later in the evening, but you'd have to discuss the details with Jetlag Man. Red Wine Man might also know some of the facts.

Day 4 of Five Days in Beantown tomorrow when . . . the sun finally comes out. 

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the auhor of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an interior dialogue about the creation of gay identity in modern America, available in paperback and Kindle from AMAZON.