Writers Respond: What I Learned At AWP 2012 [3/3]

As anyone involved in the lit world knows, this past weekend was the annual AWP conference. Unfortunately, I was unable to find my way to Chicago for the event. Luckily, many gracious writers, editors, and publishers did go, and I asked them one question:

“What did you learn at AWP 2012?”

They gave me some great responses, which you can read below.

[Note: This is part three of a three-part series. You can read part one here, and part two here. For more features like this, subscribe via RSS or email.]

I learned that the best chocolates are not at the biggest booths, the best beers are not in the hotel bars, and the best panels are not the ones you attended.

Daniel Grandbois, author of Unlucky Lucky Days

This year I invented giving away books at the bookfair — Broder, Mullany and Sirois gave away dozens of signed copies — which was made affordable thanks to not registering for the conference, and was made necessary thanks to how badly it hurts my soul to try to sell books I love to disinterested, eye-glazed strangers.

Adam Robinson, founding editor of Publishing Genius Press & author of Adam Robison and Other Poems

I’m not a writer by trade, only by hobby, or, I guess more accurately, by
passion. So It’s really only once a year that I get to go be surrounded by writers, by readers, by books – that I get to just IMMERSE myself in literature. It was my second AWP, and every bit as awesome as the first. I hated to get out of the water on Saturday.

Amber Sparks, author of A Great Dark Sleep: Stories for the Next World [Shut Up/Look Pretty]

Learned from Kyle Beachy what a real Chicago hot dog involves, which is pickle spears and celery salt. Learned from a cab driver that Makhtumkuli was one of Turkmenistan’s greatest poets. Learned from another cab driver that one bad turn in the stock market means you don’t get to go to Puerto Rico with your girl. Learned that just because a blue train says THIS IS CALIFORNIA doesn’t mean it’s actually California. Wish I could keep all my snazzy friends in the same barn all year long, but then they wouldn’t get any of their snazzy work done and our livers would turn to tiny walnuts.

Mike Young, author of Look! Look! Feather & We Are All Good if They Try Hard Enough

I learned that there are real people behind the thumbnails and they are often more awesome than their online “persona.” I learned that people are genuinely excited about books and writing. I learned that when you wear the wrong shoes for long periods of time your toes can go numb. I learned that reading on a stage into a microphone is less petrifying the more you do it. I learned that computer friends can also be real life friends. I learned that if you want to have an actual, longer than four minute conversation with anyone, it’s best to go out to dinner. Oh, and I learned that J.A. Tyler IS a real person, no robot circuitry whatsoever!

xTx, author of Normally Special

What I learned most I probably knew before but just needed to see it displayed before me to get it, which was that I can learn as much, if not more, about writing just from sitting around and talking to other writers. And listening. Twitter, Facespace, RedRoom and whatever else be damned: Nothing will show you so much about story as just sitting and really listening

Hope that doesn’t come across as too pseudo-esoteric. I figured it was better than ‘I learned that my blood should be comprised of old-fashioneds.’

Nik Korpon, author of Stay God & Old Ghosts

I learned that I was not prepared to interact with a lot of fans at once. Feel like a few of the interactions turned out either bad or really freaking weird.

Noah Cicero, author of The Human War & Best Behavior

I’ve been to about 6 AWPs and what I’ve finally learned is that it’s possible to have more fun off-site than on. The camaraderie, the conversation, the drinking and laughs, that’s the sort of stuff that makes writing during the remaining 362 days of the year truly special (as if the writing itself wasn’t special enough). I didn’t register this year. I knew that in years past I had been drawn away from the conference proper by the promise of alcohol with strangers. This year I embraced that temptation before even booking my hotel, knowing it was bound to happen anyway. This isn’t to say that everyone should abandon registration; just those who haven’t yet learned the better academia might just come from shared rounds at a pub.

Caleb J. Ross, author of Stranger Will & As a Machine and Parts

I learned that Chicago hot dogs are overrated, but the Mexican food isn’t. Otherwise, this AWP was very like other AWPs, great and exhausting and fun and awful and too quickly done for. But not really.

Robert Lopez, author of Asunder & Kamby Bolongo Mean River

I learned something incredibly important this year at AWP–that if I had to choose between selling books or socializing, I’d choose, without hesitation, selling books. After many months of preparation and expectation about revealing and releasing seven titles in Chicago, it was a major setback to experience a nausea-inducing double vision on Thursday afternoon. It was alarming enough that I immediately consulted with an on-call nurse at my eye doctor’s office, who insisted I go to the ER. I did not, and maybe that was a mistake, but I felt obligated to read that night at the Propaganda event hosted by Sam Ligon and Robert Lopez. I showed up just in time for the reading and left after the last reader finished, and I cabbed it back to my hotel room to hot-compress my face for the rest of the night. First thing Friday morning, with no improvement, I consulted with my eye doctor who puzzled over my description, which she diagnosed as extremely rare monocular diplopia–double vision in each eye. Apparently this is almost a medical impossibility, and it is rare enough that she consulted with other doctors in the clinic and also called my childhood eye doctor who knew more of my history. Ultimately, without seeing me, they concluded that it was stress-induced. I acknowledged that this was probably a good assessment. She told me I would have to rest as much as possible. I knew then that I would not attend any evening events, and that I was going to have to maintain as well as I could for the next 2 days under those awful book fair lights, severely impaired, and literally unable to focus. Metaphorically, however, I focused my ass off. AWP, you will never get the better of me, or my authors, or their books. It was, because of this learning moment, an emotional AWP, but worth every minute I had at that table.

Molly Gaudry, author of We Take Me Apart & founding director of The Lit Pub

I learned that Adam Robinson is not only a Publishing Genius, but also a breakdancing genius. Also, I learned about Pizza-in-a-cup, which Amelia Gray invented behind the Featherproof table.

Zach Dodson, founding editor of Featherproof Books

At AWP 2012, I learned how precious every day is and how unique every snowflake and how when I thought I was walking alone on the beach I was actually being carried by this gigantic invisible–I don’t know–force? and how everything does in fact happen for a reason but that no one will ever know what the reason is except for this one poet who lives somewhere around — I can’t remember — Philly? Passaic? I don’t know. Somewhere around there. I had the dude’s card but lost it.

Samuel Ligon, author of Drift and Swerve

At AWP 2012 I learned that even if I delete emails on my iPhone while hanging out in the book fair, there will still be 334 messages in my inbox by the time I finally get back to my office computer . . . but that none of them will be from my literary friends, since I was seeing them all at the conference, so these particular 334 emails will be much less enjoyable than normal to read.

Gina Frangello, author of Slut Lullabies

I learned that it was very easy to get lost in the Hilton’s basement hallways. But I also learned that despite the potential for a little social weirdness, seeing so many old friends and colleagues in such a short amount of time really is an odd and pleasant magic.

Patrick Somerville, author of The Universe in Miniature in Miniature & This Bright River

It’s easy to get around without a lanyard. Having a book fair table is a nice home base. I ought to read a whole Dan Chaon book. I ought to make plans to hang out beforehand and not leave so much up to chance. Aquariums are more immediate and alien than zoos. One of the goals of writing and writerdom, is to put myself in community. These are my people. I ought to claim them.

Gabe Durham, editor at Dark Sky Magazine & author of FUN CAMP

I learned not to buy a sandwich at CVS. It’s pretty much a guarantee for food poisoning. I also learned you can sort of sing karaoke when you’ve lost your voice, if people help you, that cheap beer is bad beer, and that AWP is what you make it. People are as nervous as you. Really. Say hi. At least to me. I will say hi back and probably hug you. Whether you want it or not.

Lauren Becker, author of Things About Me and You [Shut Up/Look Pretty]

People are how they are on the Internet.

Gene Morgan, co-founder of HTMLGIANT

As an AWP attendee and newly minted Chicagoan I learned that deep dish tastes better with friends who are having it for the first time. I learned that most writers are generous, incredible people who will brave windy streets and unfamiliar transit systems to support a friend. I learned that, no matter how good they are, three panels in a row might melt your brain. And I learned that as many times as the word “overwhelming” is used, and people swear they’ll be taking a year off, AWP keeps drawing writers from all over the world for three full days of friendship, learning, and okay, more than a few drinks.

Eugene Cross, author of Fires of Our Choosing

I learned that AWP may as well be in Wichita, for all the advantage I took of the Chicago setting. I learned that there are still bars out there selling Diet Rite; which really creeped me out. (“A rum and Diet Rite, please” just isn’t something a person should say, ever.) I also learned to never again stay in a hotel embroiled in a nine-year-long labor dispute with its kitchen and housekeeping staff. Because shit gets nasty.

David Duhr, fiction editor at The Texas Observer & managing editor at Fringe Magazine

I learnt that people are nice.
I didn’t learn what conceptual writing is.
I learnt Four Loko is disgusting.
I learnt that writers will comment on your height just as much as non-writers.
I learnt that I am a good dancer.
I learnt that Blake Butler is in his element in a bathroom with a bullhorn.
I learnt that everything is fantastic.

Jackson Nieuwland, blogger at Everything is Fantastic

Editors are writers who are publishers who are friends who are drinkers who are huggers who are lovely people, of which most of them are rooting for you on your search for capturing something fantastic.

Brian Oliu, author of So You Know It’s Me & Level End

I learned that a roomful of people who have intentionally written and are intentionally reading bad writing makes for a pretty great party. (This is a shout-out to the Happy Dog Mom crew, who have somehow managed to remain anonymous, even though they held a reading.)

James Tadd Adcox, author of The Map of the System of Human Knowledge

I learned that sometimes hotels randomly upgrade people (my good friend, not me) to absurd six-room suites with fireplaces decorated with a collection of servant bells and wall art of bankers smoking cigars and looking at paper airplanes, Chicago “pizza” has nothing on NY pizza, and, amazingly, there are still some people left in the world who enjoy buying and reading magazines and books.

Lincoln Michel, founding editor of Gigantic

You just read part 3. Don’t forget to check out part 1, and part 2.

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