AWP 2023 or I thought I didn't like Seattle but it was actually very nice
I had high hopes of writing this week’s ten pages while at AWP. I know! Cue laugh track! But I did actually knock out a couple of pages on Saturday morning. I was sitting in the hotel lobby trying to cram them in before the day began when a friendly stranger said, “My friend and I are going to be writing at this table until eight if you want to join us.” We exchanged a bit of small talk but then got to work and I only realized as they were getting up to leave that the person who had so kindly invited me in was none other than Rachel Mans McKenny, because AWP is full of all the people you know only on Twitter.
While I barely wrote, I did do some thinking about the novel — both novels, actually — while listening to panels. Highlights:
A panel on the “weak novel,” which then led me to Lucy Ives’s essay on the idea. The panelists discussed the type of novel that has weak ties to genre and form, that asks for interpretive contributions from the reader, that begins not from a strong stance of knowing but from a more vulnerable place of curiosity. They described the novels I love best, and if you also love novels that “cause us to attend to fiction as strategy rather than as entertainment” then I would recommend the essay and also stick around for a few years because have I got a novel for you…
A panel on cinematic writing and film’s influence on literature in which Tara Stillions Whitehead said something that helped me see why some of my pond novel chapters aren’t working. I won’t quote her directly but what I scribbled in my notebook is that some people think cinematic writing means just following a character around with a camera, but at that point you may as well write a screenplay, and a screenplay exists to be interpreted by a third party, whereas literature’s strength is portraying interiority, so don’t make the mistake of forsaking interiority in order for a scene to feel cinematic because it will just be bad writing. I haven’t been consciously trying to write something cinematic, but I have been fumbling around in this unfamiliar territory of the omniscient third person, and I definitely need to figure out how to “do” interiority in this place.
My friend Sara Lippmann’s panel on persistence, during which Leland Cheuk, Christine Sneed, Robert Lopez, and Steve Almond made us laugh, made us cry, and were incredibly generous with their encouragement and tough love. The big takeaway for me was: figure out what it is you want from your writing (a big book deal, a certain kind of fame, a fun weekend hobby, etc.) and make your peace with it. I have already done this, but that’s a topic for another newsletter.
Some of the panels I wanted to attend were full, but it was fine because I spent the rest of the time seeing non-AWP Seattle friends, hanging out with writer friends new and old, eating lots of dumplings and curries and tacos, going to off-site readings, and — my favorite part — wandering the book fair.
If you need me, I’ll be over here reading.