>AWP 2012 Recap: The Troublesome Novel


Last night I got home from a quick trip to Chicago for the annual AWP Conference. As always, the conference was overload–too many panels, too many people, too many parties–and of course I’m already looking forward to the next one (Boston, March 6-9, 2013).

I didn’t do any blogging and very little tweeting or FB updates while I was in Chicago, so over the course of the coming week I plan to do blog posts reflecting on some the great sessions I attended.

One that I really liked was “Unrequited Love: Renewing Your Vows to the Troublesome Novel,” featuring Elizabeth Brundage, Stewart O’Nan, Jenna Blum, Alice Elliot Dark, and Carole De Santi.

As Elizabeth said in her opening remarks, many writers have a novel or two or more stashed in a drawer. It may not be publishable as is, for one reason or another, but we probably all feel that there is something there worth rescuing–even if it’s only an idea. These five writers talked about their experiences with these drawer manuscripts. Most of the panelists had stories of books that they wrote and couldn’t or didn’t get published that they came back to much later, when they finally realized what needed to be done. As someone with 2 novels in a drawer (two halves of one failed novel that I split into two failed novels), I’d love to think that there’s still hope for that work, even if none of the original sentences survive.

During the Q&A session, I asked this: All of the panelists had a healthy and patient attitude toward their problem novels, and it worked out well for them in the end. What advice did they have for writers who are tempted to just turn those problem novels into eBooks and sell them on Amazon? I asked this not because I have any thoughts of doing this, but I certainly know that many writers these days don’t have the patience to wait. And the panelists answered as I thought they would–careers are long things and one doesn’t want to ruin a career by self-publishing something that just isn’t ready; that everything can benefit from reconsideration and revision, and that there are still rewards to traditional publishing. I agree with these answers, although I doubt writers who are tempted to self-publish would be convinced.

A very good panel discussion.

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  1. >Hi Cliff; here are a few of my favorite panels at AWP. One of the best was a panel of writers from The Sun magazine. It was a thrill to see magazine founder Sy Safransky in person. Contributor Poe Balentine read a fantastic essay, "God's Day," from his collection. Two other writers read beautiful essays, but their lineup changed from the program so unfortunately I am uncertain of their names.
    I was also wowed by a panel called The Renaissance of Midwestern Literature, a topic close to my heart. I chose it because I will go almost anywhere to be in the presence of Michigan's wonderful Bonnie Jo Campbell, but in addition I got to hear some writers I wasn't familiar with but now plan to be, including Dan Chaon on Mark Wisniewski.
    The same thing happened when I attended a panel, Writing the American West, in order to hear the great Antonya Nelson, someone I have admired for years. She was fantastic, but so were the others, including Toni Jensen, and (I think!) K.L. Cook, who read a wonderful story based around a surprise visit from Bonnie and Clyde. I'm usually skeptical about fiction drawn from real events, but this story was delightful and was read beautifully.
    Then, continuing my trend in following my idols, I attended Charting Unmarked Terrain: Fiction at the Borderland, in order to hear Pam Houston, someone I have long admired. She was magnificent, but I also heard people I was not familiar with, including Mat Johnson who blew me away with a beautiful reading from his book "Pym." Also wonderful was a reading by Jimmy Santiago Baco, also someone I'd not read before.
    Another great reading panel was New Prose from Northwestern University, which I attended in order to hear Stuart Dybek and ended up just loving the others as well. I am now looking back at the program and it lists Marya Horbacher, Eula Biss, Alex Kotlowitz and John Keene, but I will have to do some Googling to see if I can determine who was who. But they were great.
    I'm really glad I took a lot of time before I got there to look at all of the panels to make my selections. Many hours I had several selections and had to make choices, but over all I think I chose pretty well.
    It was an incredible event and I'm sorry it's over!

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