Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A Bang and a Smoke -- AWP Seattle 2014

Stephen Graham Jones
It was one of those nights. I hadn't slept in 72 hours, and I had to read at an event miles away from the convention center. AWP Seattle 2014. I wasn't sure how this night would end up. Would anyone come? So far removed from the action? Would I fall asleep on stage? Would I have to read last? I'd been scheduled last the two previous evenings, which meant I hadn't been able to drink alcohol at all. I was very sober and very sleepy. I was a cliché: sleepless in Seattle. The allusion was dogging me around the city. "You look tired." "Yeah, I can't sleep." "Ah, sleepless--" "--in Seattle, yeah, I know. I get it. Hahahahaha. Shut up." 

We were early. Gay Degani, one of the SmokeLong Quarterly editors, and I traveled to the event together. It was a joint affair, celebrating SmokeLong's INCREDIBLY GOOD 10th anniversary anthology and Dave Clapper's HYSTERICALLY FUNNY improv group--one of the actors talks just like my cousin Lynnette, so it was a special evening for me.

Christopher Allen and Thaddeus Gunn
The writers were asked to show up early. When I'm asked to show up on time, I show up early. Needless to say, we were really, really early. I sat and talked to Thaddeus Gunn and Stephen Graham Jones for quite a while apparently, but due to my jetlag-induced stupor I have no idea what we talked about. We look like we were having a great time, though.

The concept for the event was to combine the literary readings with improv. The actors would weave the elements of our stories through their vignettes. My abdomen got a workout from laughing. All. Night. Long. (No allusion to Lionel Richie intended)

The space was Atlas Theater, the back room of a secondhand clothing shop. The stage was simple, functional. The bar had cider. I begged to read first. And I just have to say at this point, I had no idea what an incredibly entertaining evening this would be. I'm so glad I read first. I wouldn't have wanted to read after any of these intimidatingly talented writers. What a list:

Christopher Allen (humbled to be a part, very grateful to be first)
Michael Czyzniejewski
Sherrie Flick
Thaddeus Gunn
Stephen Graham Jones
Sean Lovelace
Pamela Painter
Ellen Parker
Adeena Reitberger

And the group of wildly talented--funny, quick-witted--actors from Interrobang?! Improv :

Britney Barber
Becky Bartlein
Dave Clapper
Derek Kavan
Phoebe Richards
Bryan Sullivan

As with many theater sports (improv) events, the audience is asked to choose topics; so when Dave Clapper asked editors to name the story themes they hated the most, I enthusiastically threw up my hand, but I didn't answer truthfully. I'm going to tell you the whole story: I edited my response to Dave's question. I just couldn't say what I really hated as an editor. I wonder how the evening would have gone if I'd answered truthfully. I said "ghost stories" because I'd just finished judging a contest for Press 53--together with Shaindel Beers and Bonnie Zobell--that had elicited a lot of them, but what I was really thinking was scatology. Metazen, the litzine I edited until very recently, is a zine that takes lots of chances, so we get a "variety" of submissions. I will miss many things about Metazen, but I won't miss writers talking about their bowel movements. The story I read from SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology--"When Chase Prays Chocolate"--might have been interpreted differently if I'd blurted out scatology! I'd still like to see this alternate reality at some point.

But ghost stories it was--not poop. I hope everyone who was present that night is happy with my choice. And by the way, there were many present. Every seat in the house was filled. At one point, I didn't have a seat anymore. I was up and down taking pictures the whole evening anyway.

I have rarely laughed so much on one evening. Rarely have I enjoyed listening to such challenging and entertaining writers. Rarely have I been able to drink at a reading. I did indeed get to read first. Yay. Each of these writers' stories was memorable. I was so fortunate to read with them. And we were all fortunate to have our stories woven into Interrobang?! Improv's performance. It was the absolute highlight of AWP 2014 for me. Here it is. Watch it. Laugh. Enjoy. Oh, that's me in the first video.

I must be off,

Have you entered the I Must Be Off! Travel Essay Contest? Deadline June 30, 2014! No entry fee! Click HERE for the guidelines.


Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in Indiana Review, Quiddity, SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, The Best of Every Day Ficton, PANK, Necessary Fiction, Word Riot, Bootsnall Travel and Chicken Soup for the Soul. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice.