What Happens When 12,000 Writers Converge

Grub Street Launch Lab Panel at AWP

Grub Street Launch Lab Panel at AWP: Christopher Castellani, author of All This Talk of Love, Rosie Sultan, author of Helen Keller in Love, Steve Almond, moderator, Andrew Goldstein, author of The Bookie's Son. Invisible behind the podium, Sarah Gerkensmeyer, author of What You Are Now Enjoying.

Hi. Barb here.

Last week I attended AWP, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference in Boston. Why did I go? It was one of those weird convergences in life where you’ve never heard of something, and then all of a sudden you hear about it from multiple places.

Last year at this time while I was in London, I was lucky enough to go with my daughter when the students in her MA in Creative Writing program met with Hope Edelman. In addition to being very gracious and a good teacher, Edelman recommended attending AWP, which just happened to be in Boston this year. Then this fall, I attended the Grub Street Launch Lab and Grub Street was a major sponsor of AWP. And this year, my daughter is in the MFA Creative Writing program at UMass Boston and they all got passes (and had no classes) so they could attend AWP. So–never heard of it–and then it’s AWP, AWP, AWP.

What I really treasured about attending was–I wasn’t working. Back in my old life, I used to go to educational technology conferences (my company’s user conference as well as industry conferences) for work, and mystery writing conferences for fun. I loved my work conferences, such wonderful opportunities to see old colleagues and friends. But they were work, work, work–speeches, panels, and meetings, meetings, meetings.

In those days, mystery writing conferences, like the New England Crime Bake were a welcome respite. I could attend any session I wanted, take any class and no performance anxiety or outside demands on my time. When I had the chance to change my life, initially after the sale of WebCT in 2006, I really wondered whether I wanted to turn my hobby into a business. Did I want to invite rejection by submitting my work for publication? Did I want deadlines? Did I want to turn play into work?

Ultimately, I decided I did. But now I’m co-chair of the 2013 Crime Bake and giving a 15 minute solo speech in Author’s Alley at Malice Domestic (terrifying) and lining up all sorts of activities for when the first Maine Clambake Mystery comes out in the fall.

But AWP is tilted heavily to literary fiction with poetry, creative non-fiction and memoir in the mix, so I could just play. I tried to go to a session on writing love stories that aren’t icky, but it was so crowded I couldn’t get in. (I’m having a hard time of it with my romance in Book 2 of the Clambake series.) I went to a session on how creative writing teachers deal with students who want to write genre fiction and learned that all undergraduates write fantasy all the time. Some instructors forbid it, some try to counsel students out of it (partially because short form fantasy is so hard to write and most creative writing class assignments are short stories) and some go with it and focus on scene, character and setting–and really how wrong can you go teaching novice writers that?

I went to a session on regional writing, because people often ask me about the Best New England Crime Stories series I co-edit and whether regional fiction is still relevant in an interconnected world. Great news, it is! Some authors want to preserve and document places that will inevitably change, some want to illustrate places that aren’t New York or LA but are nonetheless compelling.

I also attended a reading and conversation Grub Street artistic director Chris Castellani facilitated with Alice Hoffman and Tom Perrotta. It convinced me once again that no matter where you are in your career, you spend most of your time looking at a computer screen desperately hoping something good will happen.

The best part was seeing my old Launch Lab colleagues. We were the pilot class Grub Street curated and I really am amazed and overwhelmed to know such a talented group of authors all of whom have books coming out this year. Launch Labbers with spring releases include Chris Castellani’s All This Talk of Love, Sarah Gerkensmeyer’s short story collection What You are Now Enjoying,  Marjan Kamali’s Together Tea, Ilan Mochari’s Zinsky the Obscure,  and Henriette Power’s The Clover House.

About Barbara Ross

Barbara Ross is the author of the Maine Clambake Mysteries. Her books have been nominated for multiple Agatha Awards for Best Contemporary Novel and have won the Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction. She lives in Portland, Maine. Readers can visit her website at www.maineclambakemysteries.com
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4 Responses to What Happens When 12,000 Writers Converge

  1. John Clark says:

    Sounds like a great time at something, I too, never heard of. Thanks for sharing the experience.

  2. Lea Wait says:

    Sounds wonderful! Glad you helped us peak a little behind the curtain!

  3. Sounds like a wonderful time. I too never heard of this.

  4. Ilan Mochari says:

    Thanks for the shout-out, Barbara!

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