Category Archives: AWP

Two first-timers talk about attending #AWP16

The Association of Writers and Writing Program’s annual conference and bookfair is a very exciting industry event. It inspires. It disappoints. It overwhelms. It builds. It agitates. It connects a bunch of the diverse people who are in this writing biz. Even though there is no shortage of media posts surrounding this event, I feel compelled to add one. I interviewed two colleagues who attended the event for the first time this year.


Gary is a long-time psychotherapist in private practice. He has two graduate degrees, one of them in literature, but has never formally studied creative writing until he became my client. He writes linked and unlinked fiction, and had never heard of AWP until I suggested he attend the bookfair this year. So far, he only writes privately.


Jen is an emerging young creative nonfiction writer, who has a MA in Creative Writing and three children under 6 at home. Her work has been published in a number of places whose names you would recognize. Jen has a website where you can learn more about her:

TSP: Why did you attend AWP in LA this year?  

Gary: I attended AWP LA to browse the book fair, make connections with other writers, editors, and publishers—and with you, of course, since we had never met in person. Also to catch as many panel discussions as possible that would 1) contain didactic content, especially in the areas of short fiction, LGBTQ fiction, memoir and other forms of nonfiction, and 2) provide guidance and information about getting my work in print, particularly in LGBTQ-friendly publications.

Jen: I had wanted to attend AWP since I first learned about it in grad school, but due to financial viability and familial obligations, was unable to do so until now. For years, I was the person stuck at home, following Twitter feeds, and reading AWP blogs. This year, everything came together. It’s nice to join the larger writing community as a sentient, flesh and blood person, rather than simply words on the screen. Computers are great, but do not replace a smile, an embrace, or thoughtful conversation with a stranger. 

TSP: What were you hoping to learn at the conference?

G: I was looking to make personal connections, learn of more LGBTQ-friendly publications, and benefit from the panel discussions.

J: I recently started a large essay project, so I hoped that the conference would help kickstart my project and motivate me to get some real work done on it. Listening to and discussing writing with other writers creates a sort of delicious frenzy that I wanted to take advantage of. Plus, there were must-attend panels and amazing keynotes. I also wanted reconnect with friends I hadn’t seen in a long time, meet the writers I’d corresponded with online, and thank the journals and editors that had published my work.

TSP: What were your favorite panels (please tell me about up to three) and what did you enjoy about them?

G: Reimagining Literary Spaces [F199] and Story as Survival [F235]: I liked the information about current LGBTQ fiction and nonfiction, LGBTQ-friendly publications, and the political/diversity challenges within the literary/publishing world encountered by authors, and also by publications open to diverse voices. In addition, I learned more about memoir-writing from an LGBTQ perspective, and grew increasingly interested in that form of writing, as a result. Also, Linked and Unlinked, Reimagining Story Writing [S198]: This panel was very helpful to my process of writing linked short fiction.

J: Stories By Design: Visual Narratives [R123]: This was the first panel I attended, and one of my favorites. Hybrid writers are pushing form and language, playing with different medias. Some of the writers were using images, design, maps, drawings, video games and other forms. I think there’s so much exuberance and inspiration to be gained from attending those kinds of panels. You never know how they will enrich your writing. Literary Orphans Presents the Importance of Writing Essays That Change the World [R138]: Writing an essay that can ‘change the world’ seems ambitious and maybe impossible, but I liked the idea that it’s important we try. The all women panel was moderated by Anna March. Some of the things discussed: how personal story can become larger than yourself, writing from a place of authority, and owning your story. I came away from the panel inspired and motivated.

TSP: How much time did you spend at the bookfair? What table/booth at the bookfair was your favorite, and why?  

G: I spent less time than I would have liked, but I visited fifteen booths or more and browsed many others. Favorites: Under the Gum Tree, Narrative, LA Review (The Offing), Solstice, Slice, Lambda Literary, James Franco Review, Ascent, and others.

J: I probably spent three to four hours in the book fair each day. And it was time well spent, despite always thinking, “Oh, I’m missing this panel or that reading.” But there’s so much awesome at AWP, the feeling is inevitable. I couldn’t pick a favorite, though I did enjoy the Iron Horse booth which had a cool little horse race you could compete in for prizes. My favorites were the ones where I knew the people behind the table, and the journals that published my work. It was great being able to say, ‘thank you.’

TSP: Did you make any direct connections in support of your writing and/or publication?

G: I did make several good connections. I had a great chat with Paul Lisicky. He is very accessible and down to earth. He told me to reach out to him for possible submissions to his short fiction review.  As to publications on my list, [I’ve added] Solstice, Narrative, Slice, The Offing, and Under the Gum Tree. Others, too. I also have a better idea of which stories to submit, which to continue revising, and which to skip for now. They are all my babies: which to chose, which to neglect?

J: Yes, I did receive some offers to submit my work to places, and that of course, was appreciated–if you can differentiate yourself from the slush pile in any way, that’s handy. Still, I try to keep in mind that when it comes down to it, a successful writing career has less to do with networking and more to do with the work I create. You can shake every hand at AWP, get invitations from every editor, but if the writing isn’t good enough, it doesn’t matter. That’s why when I do meet people professionally, I’m more interested in connecting with them as individuals. It’s difficult to do, and I know not everyone has the time, energy or the inclination, but that connection is much more worthwhile to me.

TSP: If geography and resources came together right, would you consider attending a future AWP?

G: I would certainly consider attending in the future, but would try to arrange to be there for the entire conference.

J: Absolutely. Professionally, the opportunities the AWP conference provides are unlimited. You might find a publication or press that would be a great fit for your writing, or meet someone you want to collaborate on a project with. Writing can be a lonely business, so it’s wonderful to have a reason to gather now and again with the writing community, if only for support and encouragement.

TSP: What do you know now about the conference that you wish you’d have known going in? 

G: That there is too much to do and learn, and too many folks to meet, in two days!

J: Although countless blogs warned me, I wish I had known how mentally exhausted I would be by the last day of the conference. The first day, I shook hands, smiled, made witty conversation. By the last day, I wandered around the book fair, numb, and struggling to engage. I was zoned out at the booth of a well-known publication (I won’t say which one) when a man said my name in greeting. It was the editor for said well-known publication. We shook hands and he introduced himself. With poor eye contact, I mumbled, “I know who you are,” and kind of wandered away. My prepared canned response should have been: “I’m a subscriber. I appreciate your publication and the work you do. Thanks.” Exit. 

Thank you so much for your thoughtful responses, Jen and Gary. And, hey—no regrets! There’s always next year.

#AWP15 Rundown & Wrapup

No #AWP attendee can do a rundown of the event without talking about the goings-on outside of the conference center. Offsite, I enjoyed the company of crowds at The Loft party, had a terrible drink but was in good company at the Rain Taxi party, thoroughly enjoyed our successful Under the Gum Tree reading at Mason’s Barre (with at least 40 attendees!), and finished up with Phantom Drift’s fabulist reading. Phew! What a whirlwind. Can’t wait for LA 2016.

#AWP reading
UTGT writers at the AWP15 reading

But now it’s time to get back down to earth, where I am working with some amazing writers doing revision.

Rebecca McClanahan, during panel S236: Narrative, Lyric, Hybrid: Crafting Essay Collections into Books, talked about the process of “deep and violent revision” that must happen for writers when they are designing a book. I noted that phrase, because it illuminates the pain and difficulty of the process of making something ready to go out and stand on its own in the world. (The panel also featured Renee D’Aoust, Peter Grandbois, Patrick Madden and Phillip Lopate, each of whom talked about how they assembled their collections.) Her phrase brought to mind being under the earth, where the roots of living things are.

In my capacity as editor, I know that working in our own pieces can sometimes feel like ditch-digging. Having an editor point out areas to be mined can feel like too much. I am always working towards making sure my writer-clients feel as little pain as possible during the process. To this end, we read other writers’ work and have conversations within the framework of those branches, listening to the rustle of the leaves/the language. And it is through the eager consumption of the sweet fruit other writers have borne that our own growth becomes less bitter.

Back to it.

#AWP15 Nonfiction panel

#AWP15 Rundown, part 2: Nonfiction

Janna Marlies Maron, the Executive Editor/Publisher of the literary non-fiction and visual arts magazine Under the Gum Tree, and I (Senior Editor) attended and stopped by to chat with the many writers and publishers of creative non-fiction at #AWP15.

#AWP15 Nonfiction panelWe attended panel F119: Do you Believe in Magic? Truth and Illusion in Creative Nonfiction, with Sy Safransky and Krista Bremer from The Sun, Stephen Elliot, Patricia Foster, and Lee Martin, each of whom brought his/her own way of looking at the issue of that invisible line between fiction and creative non-fiction. My takeaway from that panel? This genre is unique in its moral complexity. “Truth” is a personal matter; take any event and listen to five different participants’ versions of it, and you’ll know this to be a fact. We rely on a fallible memory to say what is the truth. We bring certain facts to the truth and we interrogate these facts in order to find our personal truth. This distinction is important, to me. Because a lot of what I see in the Gum Tree queue is marked by the writer’s inability to actually know what the story is beneath the story- they have put up “facts” of an event but failed to see their “truth.” They have that dislocation of emotion, have been unwilling to see what is really going on. And that examination and what happens when a writer realizes the truth of his or her experience is what I want to read about when I read #CNF.

But there are some things that a writer is not allowed to exaggerate, conflate, dramatize. And depending on the sub-genre of nonfiction, the contract the writer establishes with the reader looks different, has different rules. The reader expects these rules, however established, to be followed.

#AWP15 Hybrid nonfictionAlong the same lines, I attended S119: The Bump and Grind of Meaning: Intuition and Formal Play in Hybrid Nonfiction, a panel assembled by the staff of Passages North, Northern Michigan University’s yearly lit mag. The contributor/panelists talked about textual play, an “interpretive funhouse.” Caleb Curtiss said, as writers, they have “done something with language to tell about something real.” It was non-fiction but not at all essay. In a highlight, Jenny Boully read “Totally,” her piece unravelling music videos. It wasn’t quite flash fiction, not quite prose poetry. What was it? This panel argued that it is okay not to quite know.

At Panel S286: The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing but Your Speculations: The Use of Speculation and Other Imaginative Techniques in Creative Nonfiction, I was reminded of some important stuff, including the fact that to speculate means to examine, so much of the evening news is informed speculation, and we live in a state of constant speculation in order to live our lives. Any story a writer writes is created because whatever pre-existing version of the event the writer is writing about is somehow insufficient. This drives the narrator and it focuses the narrative. It is built on the speculation that there is something else to be learned from the story. This was the last panel of the conference, and I confess, I didn’t make it through all the way to the end.


The #AWP15 Rundown part 1: Small Press Publishers


The first year I attended the conference of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, I went as a writer. I was really focused on improving my own writing and hearing amazing authors read their work. That role for me has gradually morphed, and this year I identify more as an editor, and attended the conference as the Senior Editor of Under the Gum Tree #telltruestories. My attention was split between panels and readings that would promote and inspire the literary magazine and those that would help me support my freelance editing clients.

Man, it was a good mix.

At their annual pre-conference meeting, CLMP‘s Jeffrey Leppendorf and SPD‘s Brent Cunningham discussed their respective non-profit service orgs–here to support small presses. They also announced their Firecracker Award winners, which included our friends at Etruscan Press, publisher of Renee D’Aoust‘s Body of a Dancer and Peter Grandbois’ Nahoonkara, two books I often use with my clients and refer back to again and again when I want to be moved by language.

Small presses are so important to today’s publishing landscape, and this was illustrated at panel R154: Small is the New Big: Working with Independent Presses to Build a Literary Career. Two agents from Folio Literary Management (Michelle Brower and Erin Harris), the executive editors of two mid-size presses (Coffee House’s Molly Fuller and Greywolf’s Ethan Nosowsky), and the executive editor of Harper Perennial (Cal Morgan) talked about the role of small presses. The big takeaways:

  • Some agents will shop your work to small presses if they believe they are cultivating the career of a writer at the beginning of his/her career arc, even though small presses don’t pay large (or any) advances.
  • A smaller press might be the best fit for your less commercial book because of the opportunity it provides an author to acquire cultural capital, as well as the small press ability to maximize the possible audience. You will be the big fish in their small pond rather than the other way around.
  • Small presses with good reputations are scouted for talent. Even the execs at the Big Five know that small presses have the most creative, most adventurous writing. They read Greywolf books. They read Coffee House Press books. They even read Nouvella, Rarebird, Semiotext.

Gotta love it.

University Presses are considered small presses, and quite a few panels at #AWP15 were inspired by University Press publications. Like this one:

Published by the University of Nebraska-Gender Programs, the anthology Being: What Makes a Man, was the catalyst for panel R274: Tender Moments: The Role of Tenderness in Men’s Narratives. Kevin Clark, Lee Martin, Dinty Moore and James Engelhart were assembled by Jill McCabe Johnson to have a conversation. No conclusions were drawn, other than the fact that there is a subtext of great tenderness in nearly all of the most admired writing by men. Even Hemingway, Richard Ford. Think about it. My takeaways:

  • Tenderness appears in the moment where the façade we create can’t stand any longer. It is woundedness. It is when the writer is open to his own pain and is able to transcend self-pity. It is when he is aware of other people, when he has empathy for the human conditions.
  • A good writer of any genre and of any gender will focus on language to avoid sentimentality, and as I believe it was Lee Martin said: “Earned sentiment is found in the furniture of the world.”

#AWP15  #underthegumtree  #CNF

It’s AWP time! #AWP15

Well, it’s time for the annual conference of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP), and this year it is back on the eastern side of the US. Minneapolis, to be specific. So Janna Marlies Maron and Kate Asche and I are packing the winter clothes that we haven’t worn at home pretty much since January, and flying out to staff a table for Under the Gum Tree.  We’ve got swag. We’ve got love. We’ve got very grand intentions (as always for this fab conference!).

In addition to sharing the love of creative non-fiction and our full-color lit mag (releasing issue #15!), I plan on attending some panels that will help me work with my clients. I am looking at a few that talk about publishing with small and academic presses. I am looking at a few that will be discussing vulnerability (a theme of particular interest to me lately), and writing about the body, through injury, and hybrid nonfiction. Also, there is a panel about assembling a collection from a selection of pieces that sounds really great.  So I’ll try to get to those. And others.

Looking forward to seeing friends and colleagues from programs all over the US.

Fun times. #utgt #underthegumtree #CNF #telltruestories

two years ago, in Boston, with Janna and Peter.
Two years ago, in Boston, with Janna (Under the Gum Tree Executive Editor) and Peter, (Boulevard and Phantom Drift).
Spuyten Duyvil, Robin Martin, Nava Renek

Released: Wreckage of Reason II

I am very pleased to announce the release of publisher Spuyten Duyvil’s newest collection of experimental prose by women, and proud to say I am included in it with my story “The Room is Glass.” I recommend you pick up a copy, not because it supports me but because you’ll find some damn good writing in there–Karen Lillis “Guide to New York City (circa 1992)” and Melanie Page “Metal Eye Drifter” among my favorites.

WoRII cover
“This anthology provides a much needed venue to spotlight women writers engaged in serious creative writing projects chronicling and responding to our current culture.”

The editor, Nava Renek, and four contributors (Aimee Parkinson, Alexandra Chasin, Cynthia Reeves, Brooke Wonders) produced a panel at Seattle’s AWP conference, in which they discussed what makes prose experimental, which I really enjoyed because I don’t think my work is clearly experimental. By that, I mean I feel my work is still very accessible. Perhaps I like the term innovative writing better. Innovative writing has a smaller audience in mind, no pre-determined formula, and exists outside of easily defined narrative conventions.

Aimee Parkinson said, “innovative female authors constantly push boundaries of written expression, finding new ways to express diverse experiences and the diversity of their visions in an ever-transforming world.”

Alexandra Chasin notes that as women, we’re shackled by the knowledge that we are in danger, and our mobility is inhibited by this knowledge. Chasin advises a young woman to unshackle her mind and just “write like a fucking human being.” This, in and of itself is post-structuralism, she says, “the end of the Master narrative.”

Oh there’s more, so much more good stuff. Just click on any of these links and rock your world. I’m honored to be in the company of these brilliant women.


AWP Boston 2013, take aways from the panels

Using Careless Speech for Careful Writing. Peter Elbow’s new book, Vernacular Eloquence: What Speech Can Bring to Writing, was the impetus for this Day One 9 am panel. Elbow talked about intonation units in speech and how the musicality of these intonation units can be harnessed to create beautiful and effective language. Intonation units, he explained, can be used during the late revision stage to “produce strong careful prose.” This strategy is presented on his handout:

Take every sentence or longer passage and read it aloud well, lovingly, but looking for how to improve it. Keep fiddling with it till it feels right in the mouth and sounds right in the ear. In short, don’t use any conceptual knowledge about what makes for good sentences. Use only the mouth and the ear to guide you.

Strong writers, he concluded, harbor no prejudice against spoken language; on the contrary— they are able to hear and feel (in the mouth) the frequent superiority of spoken discourse over written.

Application:  For me, this rang true and played well with several conversations I have been having with myself and others. I am working with a woman on her memoir, and we are maintaining much of her African-American urban patterns and vernacular. It is her story, her life, and while my intern and I were careful to “clean up” anything that might be embarrassing to her on a “correctness” level, it is important to the integrity of her story not to clean it up too much.  Also, I recently began reading Neil Young’s autobiography, which I obtained from a friend (not in the business) who insisted that the musician had no editor.  Well, that speaks volumes for whomever over there at Penguin’s Blue Rider Press had that task, (I know it was someone!) which, based on the beautifully circular, occasionally stream of consciousness design of this work, was extremely complicated.  That Young’s voice- or what the reader could believe was his voice- was maintained throughout, is a thing of beauty.

Thursday night was the VIDA prom at Daisy Buchanan’s on Newbury Street. If you don’t know VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, you should. Cheryl Strayed (and others) read, but the audio was terrible at the bar and I couldn’t hear a thing.

On Day 2, I attended Purpose and Practical in Historical Writing at 9 am, with Zachary Lazar, Emily Barton, Peter Ho Davies, and others. This was a wonderful panel and I learned a ton, not the least of which is that I must read Sway, Lazar’s 2008 Little Brown release. Writing historical fiction is all about creative acts of imaginative empathy, the panelists emphasized. As writers, we must find a personal route into the character, make them feel more available, and like all writing, it is about occupying the other. So how true to the historical record need you be? True enough so as not to remove the reader from the fictional dream. The verifiable facts combined with the imagination make the character come to life for a reader. If a reader knows the rules you’ve created, then you can play fast and loose with the facts.

Day 2, at 1:30 I found myself at Editors as Readers as Writers~ a different kind of reading presented by Fourth Genre, an uber cool non-fiction magazine. The magazine’s editors read their own written responses to the pieces they had acquired for the magazine. It was here that I heard and fell in love with “the taco-Tuesday guy,” Michigan writer Richard Hackler. His voice and pacing and of course the attention to language, the effective way he used repetition… very impressive. I did not flinch paying the special AWP rate of $18 for the fall 2012 issue that contains his piece “Come with me to Taco Tuesday.” I hope I’ll be seeing more of his work. If non-fiction is his bag, perhaps he’ll submit to Under the Gum Tree.

The last panel I attended on this second day was Write Short, Think Long: Exploring the Craft of Writing Flash Nonfiction: a panel with Brevity’s Dinty W. Moore, the wonderful Sue Silverman (who I first heard at AWP Denver 2010), Judith Kitchen, who literally wrote the books on flash non-fiction, and others. It was inspired, at least in part, by the release of Rose Metal Press’ new release, edited by Moore, The Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction. What does digression, so important to a longer piece, look like in a piece that doesn’t go much longer than 750 words? There must be associative connections, a double exposure in each sentence— the voice of innocence and the voice of experience compressed. The images must convey the totality of experience.  I enjoyed the discussion of the second person in a flash non-fiction piece: It is a disguised I, also an epistolary form, a way of addressing the reader, and this is what I found new and interesting— a way to avoid sounding like you’re delivering a eulogy of the subject.

At happy hour, I cruised over to Bukowski’s for a Belgian beer. The beer hit the spot and seemed an appropriate venue but, honestly, I don’t think the man would be caught dead at the place. Dinner at the Trident Book Store and Cafe… what’s not to like? Well, the falafel (it was rather like a hockey puck), but it’s a cool indie bookstore (the breakfast was better).

Creative Nonfiction Editors Explain Logistical Challenges, at 9 am the final morning, helped to remind me that an editor is a mediator who helps the writer put his or her best foot forward. The reason a non-fiction editor includes fact checking as part of a copy edit is because they want both the writer and the magazine not to look foolish. You don’t want to jolt the reader out of the experience.

In Changing the Sheets: How Best to Get Sex on the Page, four writers read sex scenes from their books. They were very different from each other, and after a Bloody Mary lunch, extremely entertaining. How often is a sex scene really about sex? When does vulgar make sense? All of these questions were raised, and no clear answer was ever given, as it seemed the panelists intended to have us answer them for ourselves. I most enjoyed the “panel’s designated prude,” Chris Bachelder.  His theory was that guilt and shame are the existential bits of sex, and the aim should be to defamiliarize the action, to complicate it. In literary fiction, there has to be a balance between psychology and anatomy so that it isn’t sentimentalism and it isn’t porn. The stifled want is way better than the sex in a literary work, they suggested. A takeaway message: A sex scene must always advance a plot. And panels are better after a Bloody Mary.

Shadow Show: The Influence of Ray Bradbury, during the last session of the final day, was a panel inspired by a new anthology of the same name produced by panelists Sam Weller and Mort Castle. Alice Hoffman was also on this panel, and she delivered some lovely one-liners, including “Stories are really the only thing that matter,” and the recognition that “stories can save readers.” The panelists reflected on how Bradbury influenced them and other writers and how he fought against category and crossed genre. He “refused to be bound by the sales department.” He is credited for telling other writers: your first audience should be you. My take away:

Jump off the cliff and build your wings on the way down.



AWP Boston On Your Mark…

You might think I’m exaggerating when I say I spent two hours reviewing the AWP events schedule to decide what I want to try to get to–on Thursday. But I’m not. I figure at this pace it will take me six hours just to settle on where to be over the three days at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston. Two hours down, and I still haven’t figured out when I’ll have time to eat and when I’ll be hanging out at the Under the Gum Tree table in the exhibition hall (come look for me!).

It’s damn hard to decide! Writing craft with Peter Elbow, writing craft with Debra di Blasi, writing craft with Carole Maso? Or publishing with JA Tyler? A reading from Georgia Review or A Capella Zoo?  Incredible variety. Do I have to pick an iteration of myself? An identity for the duration in order not to feel schizophrenic?

Have you writers seen this short fiction contest?

I get The Kenyon Review on my Kindle and think it’s a really cool lit mag. This is a group of folks I’m hoping to connect with at AWP in Boston because they’re doing some innovative and inspiring things, like sending Weekend Reads so I can re-read stories they’ve sent me before or read ’em for the first time if I never got to ’em. They have beautiful covers and photographs, not unlike Under the Gum Tree, but they have fiction and poetry too. And they have stories read out loud, a lot of them, on KR Online. And the magazine has seventy four years of storied existence. Ha.

For you readers out there, you should grab an issue and read it. For you writers out there, you should grab a copy, read it, then consider submitting a story to this contestKR Logo