Next week, I fly to Boston for the annual Association of Writing Programs conference. Dear readers in America, if you will be going to AWP next week, I would love to say hi.
The conference is a crazy few days of panels, readings, and a giant bookfair of literary magazines, small presses, and writing programmes. Last year, my AWP was particularly intense, as I was running Story Quarterly's table as well as meeting the directors of different PhDs, and my visa was days away from expiring.
This year, I will actually enjoy myself, I think.
Here are some exciting-sounding panels. This is, by the way, a tiny fraction of the events planned. And AWP, too, is a relatively small conference.
R135. Keeping Track of Your Book. (Mary Kay Zuravleff, Hannah Tinti, Bich Minh Nguyen, Porter Shreve, Lan Samantha Chang) How do you chart plot and subplots, the passing of time, point of view, characters, and structure while working out a book? Participants reveal what methods they have devised, if any, to keep themselves on track. They will tell tales of the seven-foot outline, the illustrated injury map of a character, and other attempts to visualize the arc and architecture of a novel, memoir, or story collection.
R174. Being Crafty: The Art of Writing Textbooks and Other Books on Craft. (John McNally, Ned Stuckey-French, Eileen Pollack, Janet Burroway, David Jauss) Every year, publishers send around catalogs to creative writing teachers, hoping to entice them to try their new books on craft. Who’s writing these books? Why are they writing them? What are the nuts and bolts of selling one? Can a book on craft also be a work of art? What are the craft books that have influenced writers of craft books? This panel, comprised of craft book authors, will attempt to answer these and other questions.
R244. Alice Hoffman & Tom Perrotta: A Reading and Conversation, Sponsored by Grub Street. (Christopher Castellani, Alice Hoffman, Tom Perrotta) Internationally best-selling writers Alice Hoffman and Tom Perrotta, authors of over thirty books between them, read from their recent fiction. After the reading, Grub Street artistic director and novelist Christopher Castellani moderates a discussion that focuses on how these authors continually appeal to wide audiences with novels and stories of great depth, subtlety, and cultural relevance. The discussion will also touch on how these authors use humor and magic in their work, the creative roles they’ve played in their film adaptations, and other topics related to the craft of fiction.
F110. Purpose and the Practical in Historical Writing. (Anna Keesey, Peter Ho Davies, Zachary Lazar, Emily Barton) Fiction writers go to historical sources for many purposes: to recover the past, to speculate upon its lacunae, to revise it, and so on. These purposes create practical questions the writer must answer, such as how time, consciousness, and character should be represented; how dialogue should sound; and whether the action should cleave to verifiable events. In this discussion, these writers elaborate on their own purposes and on the practical choices demanded by historically-sourced writing.
F129. Knowing Nothing: What Novelists Figure Out Before Page One. (Sheri Joseph, Tom Perrotta, Lauren Groff, Alix Ohlin, Michael Lowenthal) A novel creates the illusion of a broad, complicated, history-laden world by showing only a portion of it (famously: the top 1/8 of the iceberg) and implying the rest. But how does the writer locate the rest? How much iceberg construction must precede the confident omniscience of page one? Five accomplished novelists share some of the research, drafting, or dreaming tactics that go into gathering the novel’s material, used and unused, before it begins.
F205. A Point of View on A Point of View. (Daniel Menaker, Amy Hempel, Bret Anthony Johnston) Point of view is the lens through which a writer conveys the vision of a story. But what is it about point of view that makes an editor pick an unknown writer out of a pile of unsolicited submissions? And what is it about point of view that makes a series of short stories cohere into an original and memorable collection? In A Point of View on A Point of View, distinguished editor Daniel Menaker and much-anthologized writers Amy Hempel and Bret Anthony Johnston turn a lens on the lens itself.
F266. Bring Out Your Dead: Writing Ghosts (and Zombies) in Literary Fiction. (Rebecca Makkai, Tea Obreht, Lauren Groff, Tim Horvath, Alexi Zentner) The ghost story thrives in literary fiction as well as the oral tradition, defying genre. How do we keep these compelling tales fresh? How do we frighten without resorting to cheap tricks? How do we navigate the borders between spirituality, science, doubt, and a reliable narrative voice? And why are we drawn to these themes again and again? Five writers introduce you to their ghosts and tell you how they summoned them.
F276. Style and Story: Balancing Form and Content in the Short Story. (Steve Woodward, Ted Sanders, Susan Steinberg, Jessica Francis Kane, Joshua Cohen) How you tell a story is just as important as the story being told—but how do you balance the often opposing demands of form and content to make a compelling narrative? How do you find the right structure and style for a story? What leads to stylistic and narrative coherence in a collection of stories? Four Graywolf Press short story writers with diverse writing styles share their own approaches and discuss how they’ve achieved balance in their own work.
S257. Love Thy Neighbors: How Secondary Characters Can Save Your Work. (Cynthia Reeves, Steven Schwartz, Robin Black, Edward Porter) Secondary characters are often characters of convenience: sketchily drawn figures who serve only the direct needs of a story’s protagonist and central conflict. This oversight may stem from fear that a too-vivid supporting cast might be distracting or worse, irrelevant. Panelists will explore the frequently overlooked power of secondary characters to deepen a too-tidy work by reimagining them as forces of transformation, creators of world and metaphor, and arbiters of a story’s obsessions.
Let me know if you're going too.