AWP 2016: Day 4

So here we are at the end of AWP.

The first panel of the day – I actually got up early for this one! – was on publishing without agents.  If you think this panel lays out the road work for getting published without an agent, you’re wrong.  There’s no real path to publication anyways, with or without an agent.  It doesn’t just happen out of the blue, but it’s not as established as the career path of a physician either.  Sort of how the lit crawl panel a couple of days earlier was a series of fond recollections, this was four authors telling you how they did it and leaving the takeaway up to you.  It also included a very in-depth look at a writer’s relationship with the agent and encourages a breakup if it’s not working out.  It’s a business partnership, not a marriage.  All the panelists were great, including Wendy Ortiz who I’ve known since I was a grad student at Antioch.  You guys should read her work.  It’s got the smooth rhythmic hum of a Depeche Mode concert, and reaches out and touches you like Personal Jesus.

The next panel I attended was on the influence of Los Angeles in writing.  This was the only craft-y panel I attended at AWP.  Everything else was on sustaining work, giving it momentum, and nourishing your community.  I grew up in LA, and as much as I hate the heat, the traffic, and the hundred thousand doe-eyed wannabes who are all going to make it (seriously, guy, ALL of them), it’s home and I can’t imagine growing up in San Francisco, Houston, or Denmark.  I also grew up in a fairly sheltered suburb of the city and always try finding a way of giving my stories a sense of small-town intimacy, not easy considering this is the second most populous city in the country.  But the interesting thing about LA is that there are so many culturally distinct neighborhoods that you can life totally separate lives in Venice versus Pasadena versus Los Feliz versus Beverly Hills.

The last panel I went to was on alternative careers for creative writers.  Of all the panels, I wanted to go to this one the most because despite all the work and revisions and submissions (with occasional acceptance), I still struggle to make ends meet off of a skill that I love and am good at.  Teaching has been the default option, but there are only a handful of colleges you can apply to in LA, and you need special certification to teach high school.  This panel exposed a variety of avenues demanding the skill of a creative writer: slush pile reader, proposal writer, ghostwriter, copyeditor.  Most of the panelists agreed that tenure-track teaching positions aren’t just wrong, they’re immoral.  Jesse Waters was one of the panelists.  I’m not going to say you should read his work (because I haven’t read it either), but you should just sit down and chat with the guy.  He had a terrific no-bullshit attitude, and if you have to write lyrics for commercials or children’s poetry about how the US Forest Service works, he’ll probably be the first one to encourage you on it.

That was virtually it for my final day.  I spent a little time in the book fair between the panels, but after the last one, pretty much everyone at the fair was dismantling and getting set to go home.  There was a run for the Red Hen Press table when their books were all marked down to a dollar.  I helped a couple of friends pack up at the Zoetic Press table, got dinner with an Antioch alum who came out here from Tennessee.  Then I went home, looked forward to my one day off this week, and passed out.

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