I flew out to California Wednesday morning for AWP LAWP. For the uninitiated, AWP stands for the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. It was in Los Angeles, so LAWP.
It’s your typical conference format: hundreds of booths and panels on various subjects. In this particular case the booths were for magazines, small presses, and some strange things that only writers could possibly be interested in. (For example: a company that sold fragrances based on dead writers.) The panels are even more specialized, with about a third catering to pedagogy, and the other two-thirds for writers trying to get the hell away from pedagogy. What really separates the conference is that everyone there is a writer, editor, a writing teacher, or a person who was looking for the jewelry and makeup convention next to ours transported into what could only be their personal hell. Writers and style don’t typically mix.
Writers also make for interesting people watching and bad small talk. I worked the Redivider booth, where I’m a fiction reader. We got more than a few people letting us know that we’d rejected their work. I’m not sure what those folks hoped to gain. The best case is we don’t remember their name. The worst is we blackball them from our publication for being whiney. To reiterate: the best that could happen is that we forget about them quickly. No editor will ever publish a person because they confronted them over a rejection.
There’s also a lot of writers, me among them, attempting to small talk their way into friendships with prominent editors. There are people who can do that, but this being my fifth AWP in a row, and having put my foot firmly into my mouth while talking to an editor who’d published some of my stuff last year, I’m fairly confident that I am not that type of person.
I did, however, get some incredible swag!
The best being from Barrelhouse, who run a great magazine that runs wonderful pop culture essays and fiction that is at times laugh at loud funny and other times hide your tears from the other people on the train sad. They gave me this:
which I will cherish forever and ever amen.
And my friend and old professor T bought me The Girl Wakes by Carmen Lau from Alternating Current Press, which came with a flask and a shot of whiskey to remind me why breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
Lazy Fascist Press had a pretty sweet 3 for $20 deal, and with the books came a sense that maybe I can actually put together a life as a writer, because these books are the kind of books that I’ve always wanted to write but have never found. Seeing them in print is a near spiritual experience.
Rose Metal Press, which is run by an alum of Emerson College where I’m getting my Master’s, sold me The Voyager Record by Anthony Michael Morena collection of flash fiction/prose poems about the Voyager Landing. I reviewed Liliane’s Balcony, which I hadn’t realized was associated with Emerson for Redivider a few years ago. I love the format of flash fiction building on more flash fiction though.
I also got Age of Blight by Kristine Ong Muslim from Unnamed Press. I read it on the plane back and it had some pretty cool reinterpretations of famous psychology experiments. It really underlined how much of the knowledge that we have comes from cruelty and made me feel kind of icky.
These came from my friend Zoe’s room. She was getting rid of them. She runs this awesome hockey blog, which you should read if you have any interest in hockey whatsoever. Her family kindly opened there home to my roommate Chris and I.
Last but not least, I got a shitload of magazines. Do not ask how much I spent, especially if you’re my accountant.
That’s a joke. I can’t afford an accountant.
-The DJ at the dance party looked so sad. There were free drinks and everyone there was a writer. It could very well be the worst dancing he’s ever seen.
-After my second flight, the jetway broke. The pilot came over the intercom and, very calmly explain the situation. The jetway was four feet away from the plane, and the crew was working on extending it the rest of the way but they’d gotten the wheels turned around. From my window seat, I watched them move the jetway back and forth for about five minutes while everyone else was gathering their stuff. The pilot pinged again, and exasperatedly told us that the crew was working their hardest and we’d be getting off the plane real soon. A man went to the bottom of the jetway, where the tractor-trailer sized wheels weren’t cooperating, and I swear to God he hit them with a hammer, as if that would help. The man next to me (who’d eaten a slice of pizza, a meatball and pasta dinner, a thai wrap, a box of pringles, and the airplane zesty ranch snack packet since I first saw him in the terminal three hours earlier) said his girlfriend said the crew was on strike. The captain came back on the intercom and near yelled that if the crew couldn’t get it figured out in the next ten minutes that we’d need to ferry to the next jetway over. I took out my book. The people standing in the aisles grumbled. The jetway went four feet further away from the plane but couldn’t get any closer on the way back. It did this again and again so I decided to finish my book. We disembarked at the next jetway.
-A hundred-and-fifty years ago a trip to LA would’ve taken grueling months and been underlined by dysentery and death, yet I complain about cross-country flights.
-I must’ve thrown out an entire tree’s worth of pamphlets people insisted on handing to me.
-One of the magazines organized a toiletry drives for the local homeless community, asking attendees to donate the extra stuff that their hotel gave them, which I think is wonderful and if I’d been staying at a hotel I would’ve loved to have been a part of it. I wish I could remember who it was and give them the credit they deserve.
–Women Who Submit is an awesome organization.
-So is VIDA and I’m finally on their mailing list.
-I may have heard the worst panel question of all time. After an hour or so long panel on how to find balance when writing a novel and short stories at the same time, this poor young woman rose her hand, and explained that one of her professors had told her class they had to write literary stories for his workshop. She finished, “So what’s a literary short story?” I feel a deep well of sympathy for her. Professors, especially in introductory classes, should accept and talk about genre fiction. A story is a story, and you can critique characterization, plot, setting, et. al without being a genre expert, especially for beginning students. What must this professor have said so that his student felt safer asking a panel full of strangers what a literary story was than him or her?
-There is a Horror Writer’s Association and I’m going to join it as soon as I save up the $69 fee.
-Real Mexican food is amazing.
-I’ve now completed the West Coast Hat Trick, having been to California, Oregon, and Washington.