Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Getting Ready for AWP

One week from today I'll be in Chicago at the AWP conference.  I can't wait!  I go every other year and I just love this conference.  There's something incredibly intense and magical about 10,000 writers in one place at one time.

The first time I went to AWP was about 10 years ago.  I was living in Vancouver at teaching at UBC.  It was a good job, but very stressful in many ways.  I was surrounded by PhDs who had no idea what an MFA was, or what I did.  Inevitably I started to feel like the poor cousin (I remember one party where everyone sat around and traded obscure literary references; I just drank and got depressed).  The second year I was there AWP came to Vancouver, so I could afford to go.  I drove downtown to the fabulous hotel it was held in, and slipped into the first session.  And after just a few minutes I realized I had actually found the promised land.  Here they were speaking my language!  They knew all the writers I new and admired!  We were reading the same texts!  In the halls everyone was discussing metaphor and James Galvin and publishing houses. I was jubilant and so deeply relieved.  I spent as much time there the next three days as I possibly could and just reveled in it.  At that conference I also met my soon-to-be publisher Jessie.  We had already contracted for my book, but it hadn't come out yet.  It was also reassuring to meet her, to hear her talk about my work, and to meet one or two other "Salmon Poets."

Since that time I've been to two more conferences--one in New York City (epic) and one in Denver.  Each time I go, the conference energizes me and each time it's different.  In Denver, two years ago, I started really getting to know other Salmon poets and making contacts with other writers.  Since then, and through Facebook, I've been able to really get to know some amazing writers.  I now swap work with some of them; two of the writers I met in Denver read my manuscript for this latest book.  What a gift that has been.

And this time, as I prepare to go, I feel even more intimately connected with this group of fellows.  I have plans to have a drink with a former college professor who is responsible for setting me on my life course.  There is an "Alaska Night" planned for all Alaskan writers and editors.  And I'll be giving two readings alongside fellow Salmon poets of our new work.  It seems like a miracle to me that I'm getting pulled into this community of writers.  

And of course, I'm going to get to see some fabulous writers talk about and read their work.  In Denver I saw Terry Tempest Williams read and met Robert Hass.  In New York Ha Jin signed a  copy of his book.  Nothing like a little star-gazing to warm up a cold February.

So, T-minus 6 days and I'll be off, black notebook and pens in hand, conference booklet marked up with all the sessions I want to attend, and my literary dancing shoes on.  Huzzah!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Book Preview, Part 1

I thought it might be fun this week (and maybe in subsequent weeks) to post a poem from the book alongside a photo from our days of living aboard Iona. And since it's Valentine's Day, this one seemed appropriate....

Winter Nights

We furl tightly against
each other in the v-berth,

our breath forming ice
on the hatch above our heads;

five blankets and quilts
pile on top of us, and still our toes

lying in the v of the bow,
are cold.

I bury my nose between
your shoulder blades, and dream

we are entering the world
for the first time, our feet

slicing through layers
of water, of womb.  But this time,

we enter it together.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Grant Writing Anxiety

So, grant writing.  It always seems tougher than it should be, doesn't it?  This month I'm working on writing a grant and as always it's catching me up short with its complexity.  It's not so much the requirements or length--those are fairly easy.  It's just the idea and challenge of explaining "clearly and concisely" the work I do, and why it matters to me.

Those are good questions, of course, and I love that grants are based on work samples and on our artistic statements, but it's such an odd process (for me anyway) to write like this.  How do I explain why my writing matters to me in 250 words?  How do I sum up my artistic style in even fewer?  I feel like there are a hundred different answers to those questions.  It depends on what project I'm thinking about, on whether we're talking about past, present, or future work--what my mood is that day, even.  And of course at the back of all of this, is the question--what do they want to hear?  What will make them say yes, let's give this girl some cash?

Ok, that sounds like complaining.  I don't mean it to be.  I like the challenge of it, but it's also brought me up short a little bit.  What's the right answer?  I know that's the good kid in me panicking at an upcoming test, and I'm trying to banish her to the back forty.  I know of course that there's no right answer.  But there are smart answers, and clever ones, and engaging ones, and poetic ones, and also bland, trite, alarming, and frankly boring ones.  Perhaps that's at the heart of this anxiety--it's another judgement on me and my work.  

Back when I dreamed of being a writer (oh, the carefree college years) I assumed that having a book come out would be pure bliss.  And of course it's wonderful in so many ways.  But as soon as it's in the first person's hands, then the stress of wondering do they like it?  did I get it right? happens.  A few times at readings people have come up to me and said, so, I read your book.  And left it at that.  That's always kind of a weird moment for me.  And? I want to ask.  But I usually don't.  Instead, I say thank you, letting the polite good girl back into the game.  Inside I'm dying to ask--tell me!  Was it any good??  

And that's the real question behind all this grant writing, this summing up, explaining, elucidating.  Is my work any good?  Is it worth me continuing?  I will keep writing, regardless of the answer, but it would be so lovely to hear yes.  Yes, we loved it.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Starting Selling

Now that the fabulous gloss of excitement is wearing off, I need to start with the tougher work of trying to sell this book.  I know it's a necessary part of this whole thing, but it's the toughest part for me.  I really hate asking anyone to buy my book, and I have a year or so ahead of me of trying to do just that, in various forms.  

I've started with Facebook, which seems like an excellent tool right now.  I have a couple of hundred friends on there, so if everyone bought a book, I'd be in great shape.  I'm using Twitter, and shamelessly, this blog too. (Want to buy my book?  Click here.)  

The writing conference I went to in Oregon last summer talked a lot about a writer's "platform" and how big publishing houses are asking writers to indicate they have a big and possibility-laden platform before they will consider publishing their work.  It's kind of an interesting concept, actually.  There's so many ways to reach readers now than there were even 5 years ago when I published my last book.

One idea being kicked around on Facebook by my writer friends is "virtual book tours."  This is a pretty cool idea.  As a writer, I'd try to let other writers or anyone with a good following, to let me "visit" their blog.  I'd do a guest post, respond to any comments, and then of course use that as a way to sell my book.  I actually really like this idea (maybe it's the introvert in me)--I think it would be interesting to get to know others' blogs well enough to write a post in them, and get to know their readers a little bit too.  

I'd love to do an actual book tour, too.  Corey and I were talking about it last night, and trying to figure out how to swing it.  I am thinking about trying for a grant, so we'll see.  We'd love to hop on the ferry in the fall and go to Haines, Ketchikan, Sitka, and maybe even Skagway or Gustavus.  We love the ferry, and I love the idea of reading in small bookstores, and getting to know some of the writer folks in those towns too.

The lovely news is that I've gotten a few invitations to read in town already.  The Alaska Wildlife Alliance has asked me to do a reading in March (not sure if we'll have books in hand by then, so we're working on that); the Juneau Public Library, and Egan Library have all expressed interest too.  So that's been really nice, and helpful.  And Sara at the UAS bookstore has been wonderful--she's so supportive.  

Maybe the coolest moment so far, though, was putting my cover up on Facebook and having so many great comments flood in.  I've never felt so supported as a writer before--it was kind of amazing.  It makes me think maybe all of this won't be so bad after all.  I just need to put it out there, try not to be too embarrassed, and see what happens.