Weather continues to be the story here in Boston. Well, weather and illness. Yesterday, the snow, which was supposed to taper off and be gone by mid-morning, raged throughout most of the day, and the streets in the city were all but impassable. It was so bad that Bostonians were furious that the Boston Public Schools had remained open. If snow is enough that Bostonians want to stay home, you know it has to be bad. (Apparently, the Boston Public Schools always makes their open/closed decisions the night before. Given how conditions--no matter what the city--often change, either for the better or for the worse, this seems like a pretty dumb policy.) In any case, the weather finally affected our grad students, who were snowed in two hours away. I can only hope they manage to get in today for the last round of this year's AWP. Sickness is taking a toll as well. We were supposed to meet our friends from graduate school for dinner last night but they had to remain holed up in their hotel room. My wife was supposed to meet a colleague for breakfast today but the woman canceled: sick; so sick she felt obliged to leave the house of a friend, where she'd been staying, and take a hotel room. As I write this, Boston is peaceful, and the sky is wonderfully crisp and clear. It's supposed to remain that way.
Despite the sordid winter weather yesterday, the conference picked up. The Book Fair halls were jammed, and many conference sessions proved hard to get into, even sessions book for large-sized rooms. Writers are congregating! I visited with many small presses in the Book Fair yesterday, a number of which I'd never heard of before, and I gathered many useful impressions, bits of information, and contact numbers. At the Toad Suck Review table, a few of our recent contributors came by, which is always satisfying. Conversations with contributors always reminds you how vitally important a literary magazine is, no matter how broad or narrow its readership, no matter how slick or ugly its design. (For the record, we have a very good design.) What matters is getting good writing out into the world, and in the case of TSR it often is good writing that goes unappreciated at other periodicals with more limited tastes than we have. We truly are in service of literature. Of course, we had to explain the origin of our title to nearly every passerby. In short, it's a name of a place not far from where our university resides. For issue 3, we actually reprinted an article by a local reporter on the origin of the Toad Suck name. If you want a truly exhaustive explanation, check out our issue!
Went to a few panels yesterday. As is typical of AWP, the first one of the day was the best. This was a session on historical fiction and included the eloquent Peter Ho Davies. For a while the session seemed more like chit chat, and I was afraid I would have to suffer through another example of a uniquely AWP phenomenon: a session in which the topics addressed have little or nothing to do with the topics outlined in the session abstract. False advertising. But this session righted itself nicely and became rather interesting. I think I will withhold more details for now and discuss those details in a later, separate post. In the afternoon, I tried to attend a session on the "Post-Memoir Memoir," that is, memoir in which the first person point of view is deemphasized or broken. Seemed like an interesting subject and of possible application to my creative nonfiction courses. I arrived late but heard enough to want to leave. The essays that the panelists read from and then commented on struck me as neither memoir nor devoid of the first person point of view. The second speaker's essay was riddled with first person and was not terribly interesting to boot. Late in the day, I attended a session on using social media in the creative writing classroom. As a classic "late adapter" I'm always concerned with finding out what uses of technology everyone else has figured out but I've been dragging on. The first two speakers had a few good ideas--using quick memes as a way to teach line breaks in poetry, and using Facebook profiles as a way to flesh out the characters one is writing about--but the moderator, "in the spirit of being contrarian" then turned the session over to an older fellow who proceeded to bitch and whine about how wrong these ideas were. If you feel like you have to do this stuff, then okay, went his message, but don't expect me to do it. It's not who I am. All right, fine, I thought. No one is making you do anything, and besides all your moaning is wasting my time. If anyone attends a session about Using Social Media in the Creative Writing Classroom they expect to hear good ideas about how to do just that; they don't expect or want or need to hear a panelist bemoan the very idea of using social media in the creative writing classroom. I saw no good reason, except to fill out time (and that's not a good reason), for having that man speak. So I, and a colleague who had gone with me, left. I tried to catch some of a session on using ghosts in literary fiction, but perhaps not surprisingly the room was overflowing. Forget about it. As I have drafted a literary novel that includes not one but two (sort of) ghosts in its cast of characters, I am actually concerned about doing that and having it accepted as literary realism--which in my opinion, it is. Because it is. (My novel, I mean.)
Speaking of late adapting of technology, I signed on to Twitter yesterday. Can't promise I'll be tweeting much in the near future, but my handle is JohnvanderJohn. (This suggested by Twitter when the one I wanted was already taken.) Sounds like a Dutch rapper's handle. Why did I sign up--finally--for Twitter? A number of reasons. For one, I got tired of telling publishers I was active in social media when I'm really kind of just a little active. For another, what the heck, it's AWP; get into the spirit of adventure. (I hear longtime Twitter users snickering.)
I'll visit a few panels for certain today. One is about applying for an organization grant from the NEA. This is something Toad Suck Review has done in the past, but without success. We're looking for some better ideas about how to go about it. The other panel is the one I'm speaking on: teaching novel writing to different student populations. As a nice twist, some of the students who are currently taking Novel Writing Workshop with me will be in the audience! I can only expect excellent questions and comments from them. Later, we have dinner with my sister and her husband, two southerners who have long since migrated to Boston and live in a historic home in Belmont. It's been a while since I've seen them. We're long overdue. I often tell people that AWP is essentially a social phenomenon--I do not mean that in any pejorative sense--and sometimes the socializing extends far beyond the walls of the conference. Far from detracting from the conference, it makes for its greatest value.