Day 3 AWP Conference

Saturday March 1

  • 9 am.  “What the Dog Said: Writing in Unusual Points of View.”  Panelists: Lydia Ship, Anthony Varallo, Amina Gautier, Cara Blue Adams.  This panel addressed the way that unusual points of view can be used, such as writing from the pov of a dog or an unusual character.  Amina Gautier read from her story “Push” in which she writes from the pov of the bully, not the victim.  This choice allowed her to create sympathy for both characters rather than the sentimentality that often comes from writing the victim’s story.  Tony Varallo read from his story “Family Debates,” an almost script-like short story which is incredibly hilarious.  One key point was that the choice of point of view must be in service to the story, not the other way around.  That is, don’t write from 2nd person point of view because you think it’s kind of cool and wonky (it is), but because this point of view reveals something that would otherwise be hidden.  Write from the point of view of the dog or the ant or the used tea-bag when it reveals something in the story that could not have been revealed another way.  When we use point of view as a catchy look-at-me device, readers see through it.  “Point of view is a writer’s first and last choice.”
  • 10:30 am.  “So You Want to Build a Platform: But What is it & Why Do You Need One?”  Panelists: Shelia McMullin, Molly Gaudry, Rosebud Ben-Oni, Sheryl Rivett, Arisa White.  This panel was largely directed toward women writers, and “platform” here is more of a societal construct than a writerly one – i.e. building a place for women writers to build a community around their particular “issue.”  My own thinking of this was “platform” as in “the place for a writer to showcase work, provide a C.V., and generally promote one’s self as a writer.”  Both were covered.  WordPress was commonly showcased both by Molly’s personal and theLitPub.com website.  Blogspot, though connected to Google and thus more likely to get a high placement, is considered to be on the way out.  The idea of being a good literary citizen appeared once again when Molly Gaudry pointed out that a blog is not really a place for you to talk about you – but to talk about what you’re reading, what events you’re going to, to post reviews and suggestions, etc….and then maybe a little about yourself.  Feedly.com was offered as a place to compile your blogs so you can quickly access the ones you want to read.  Statcounter.com was also offered as a site that will tell you minute data about your blog – how readers found you, where they clicked to next, how long they spent there, etc.  LinkedIn was not widely used by the panelists, but attendees noted that they’ve had some success by participating in groups.  The question was raised – do I need multiple platforms (sites) for my different voices?  The answer was no – you can put all that in one place – even if your range is from the everyday, to humor, to family tragedy/memoir.  Some writers, such as Roxanne Gaye, do in fact maintain multiple sites that deal specifically with different ideas, topics, or voices; but largely, writers are putting this all in one place.  Many panelists made this distinction: Facebook for family and friends and brief updates; Twitter for humorous one-liners and non-sequitors (and when drunk); a blog for lengthier posts as well as showcasing work.  When one upgrades to WordPress premium, the ability to archive and organize work becomes much easier.   A recommendation was also made to keep to a schedule – once a week is usually sufficient.  Also, be picky about what you post.  If you post too much drivel, readers will un-follow you.  And again – for every 1 post about yourself, post 10 more about other people.  When I came home, I immediately looked into how to go premium with my WordPress and the price tag of $99/year seemed a little high when I could get my domain name from godaddy.com for $13.99 for two years.  However, a writer friend then said “Oh noooo,” when I told her I’d gone with godaddy.  WordPress is a place for writers.  There’s something to be said for community, remember?
  • 12 pm.  “Amazon for Authors.”  Panelists: Jon Fine, Jason Ojalvo, Phillip Patrick.  This panel highlighted the various options for self-publishing on Amazon.  Also, and very importantly! Amazon has launched multiple imprints.
    • 47North – for sci-fi, horror, and fantasy
    • Thomas&Mercer – mystery and thriller
    • Montlake Romance – romance
    • Amazon Crossing – translations
    • Amazon Encore – reprints
    • Little a – literary fiction
    • Story Front – short stories
    • Day One – a literary journal
    • Kindle Singles – 500-30,000 words for those hard-to-place works

Kindle also offers many resources for writers in terms of developing their online and Amazon presence.  Definitely worth checking out.  I personally have the first of my sci-fi/fantasy novels on kindle (under Avery Meyr – warning! (or should I say hooray!)  adult content).  Once I’m finally done reliving the glory days of AWP, that’s my next stop.

  • 1:30 pm. “Rethinking Linking: Stories and Novels, Structure and Beyond.”  Panelists: Anne Sanow, Clifford Garstang, Mary Akers, Dylan Landis, Imad Rahman.  Linked stories can pose a problem for writers and publishers – is it a novel or is it short stories?  How can it be both?  In this panel, writers addressed the difficulties which required them to, at times, either not call it anything, or call it a novel when it is in fact short stories.  Linked short stories work much differently than the novel.  Each story must stand on its own in a novel-in-stories, while chapters are part of a whole.  Mary Akers defined a novel as having a narrative arc whereas the linked stories have a “through line.”  Since we still talk about stories having an arc, I picture this as a kind of straight line with arcs that rise and fall, leaping off from that line but falling back to meet it at the conclusion of each story.  Some pitfalls of the linked stories is often the disappearance of a character.  Dylan Landis related how the beginning of her work opened with a character who then disappeared for the rest of the book.  Repeatedly, she was asked what happened to Rainy?  Ultimately, her next book of linked stories, which she has called a novel, focuses on Rainy’s story.  There was also the question of chronology – some panelists used chronology and some did not.  Clifford Garstang noted that some readers reported they’d read the last story in his work What the Zhang Boys Knew first, a troublesome thing because though each story stands on its own, they are meant to be read in order.  Imad Rahman noted the opposite – his stories can be read in any order.  Some writers wrote out of chronological order when composing the book, but ultimately put the stories in chronological order because it just happened to give the book the proper shape.  How do we link?  This idea of linking is very nebulous: what is a linked collection to one is just a collection to another.  However, Mary Akers’ point about the “freighted object” reflects that linked short stories, though independent of one another, need to have that “through line,” and this is most often created through an object.  In Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine, the freighted object is the car – first the legitimate son inherits money and buys a car; then, in his grief, he beats the shit out of the car; finally, the legitimate son loses the sports car to his illegitimate brother, thus lending a kind of legitimacy and inheritance to the hushed-up child.

 

And this wraps up my AWP event!  I had one more panel I’d wished to see, but my brain was full and soggy and rather angry at the rudeness of two people who sat by me during the last two panels (a blog on AWP etiquette may be forthcoming).  I returned to the bookfair to catch a few more booths – ultimately, I did not see everything, but I did come home with about 40 lbs. of given-away and purchased journals, collections, and craft books.  It was a wonderful time, and I was glad to both go and go home.  I love all 14,000 of you who attended AWP and I also loved driving away from you and home to my wife and daughter, who, when I entered the house, jumped up and down on the couch screaming “Mama! Mama! Mama!” at the top of her voice and then hugged me for five minutes straight – a lifetime to a two-year old.  It will feel like a lifetime until AWP in L.A. in 2016, and I look forward to reading the blogs of those go to Minneapolis (brrrr) in 2014.

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