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.
Bill Yarrow and his cool boots
Gay DeganiAntonia 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.