This week at The Quivering Pen: AWP, the Sunday Sentence, the Friday Freebie and more.
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The Quivering Pen

Book evangelism.

AWP Brain Buzz

The content has been a little light at the blog these past couple of weeks, mainly because I attended the annual Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference, held this year in Washington, D.C. This was my first AWP conference and, as one little cell in the sea of 12,000 writers, publishers and editors, I very quickly learned a valuable lesson: You can never see everyone, be everywhere, or do everything. But I tried--oh, how I tried...

Above all, this year's AWP was wholly inspiring (as well as totally exhausting).  As I wrote on my Facebook page shortly after my return:

     "The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here."
     I have to disagree with Abe on this one....I will remember this week for many years to come. After three dawn-to-midnight days at the Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference, my heart is nearly as full as my head. My blood is jazzed with inspiration and I am heading home to Montana with renewed strength to run farther, harder and longer on the current work-in-progress. Not to mention the fact my reading list just grew by leaps and bounds. Among other things, AWP gave me the chance to reconnect, meet for the first time, or see/hear dozens of friends old and new. 

Since there haven't been many new posts at The Quivering Pen, I thought I'd turn the majority of this newsletter over to some folks who were there and wrote about their experiences. I'm also including a post from The Quivering Pen archives about another "AWP virgin" who wrote about her experiences last year.

I'm not sure if I'll attend next year's shindig in Miami, but if I do, I hope to see even more of my fellow writers as we wander glazed-eyed like literary zombies around the convention center.

This week’s Friday Freebie contest is for the new novel by Kevin Canty, The Underworld. I have a hardcover copy to give away to one lucky reader. Deborah Reed, author of Olivay and The Things We Set on Fire, had this to say about Canty’s novel: “The Underworld pierces with busted hearts, broken families, and the gristly days of work and drink that bind them. A lovely, melodic, and unsparing look at small-town life in the West.” 

My friend and writer Alan Heathcock raves every year about AWP. After years of hearing about it, I decided 2016 would be the year I would go. It also happened to be the year Alan and many other friends decided not to go. At first that seemed unfortunate, not having anyone to pal around with, but as writers we often stay with what is safe and comfortable. Without a wingman, I was forced to leave my comfort zone and meet people, so it worked out well. Obviously I’m searching for the silver lining. A wingman would have been awesome. 

It's always a pleasure for me to reconnect with Peter Molin, blogger extraordinaire who pens what is probably the smartest military literature blog you can find on the web today: Time Now. During the conference, Peter and I were able to spend some quality time discussing books, military service, and life in general. (Peter also put together a terrific, crowded-room shindig at the Laughing Man Tavern for war writers, where the above photo by Bill Putnam was taken.) Here's Peter's assessment of the goings-on in Washington two weeks ago...

By rough count, the number of war-writing panels at the annual Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference in Washington, DC, last week were fewer than in past years. Of the panels I attended, there was not much presentation of new work, consideration of contentious current events, or anticipation of future possibilities. Last year in Los Angeles, AWP16 celebrated the diversification of veteran voices: now not just white male combat vets, but women, people-of-color, and non-combat military jobs and experiences. At AWP17, that interest was muted, not foregrounded, though curiosity about Iraqi, Afghan, and other Islamic perspectives emerged on panels on adventure-and-conflict journalism and Iraqi fiction in translation. Both panels broached important matters of ethics, aesthetics, and methodology inherent in writing about the Middle East and southwest Asia after fifteen years of nonstop fighting and intense American involvement, but their focus was on journalism and translation, not war fiction, memoir, and poetry written by Americans. Two panels asked veteran authors to reflect on teaching war writing in classrooms and workshops, a subject I care a lot about, but one a step or two removed from the current political hurly-burly or consideration of the panelists’ own craft. Only panels on using poetry to bridge the civil-military divide and on war-writing in the Midwestern “flyover states”—both led by Randy Brown, aka “Charlie Sherpa”–explored the love-hate relationship between the American public and war, the military, and militarism. The two panels began to connect the dots between individual military experience and national trends since America first went to war in Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, for which I was grateful, but the small taste left me wanting more.

If the war-writing panels themselves were not particularly sharp-edged, that’s not to say that AWP17 reflected a diminution of the vitality of the contemporary war-writing field. If anything, the case was quite the opposite: collectively, the large war-writing contingent in Washington positively bubbled with conviviality, encouragement, and excitement. Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan know the hail-fellow-well-met bonhomie that comes with arriving safely to a FOB after a long convoy. There was much the same high-five euphoria in the air in DC, as if we found ourselves surprised by finding such welcome and comfort in the midst of troubled times.

The aforementioned Randy Brown (aka "Charlie Sherpa" and author of Welcome to FOB Haiku) also put together a couple of war-writing panels at AWP, including How Flyover Country Responds to War: By various measures, rural Americans are more likely to enlist in the US armed forces. Despite isolation from traditional centers of publishing and military power, voices with Midwestern roots have sprung forth like dragon's teeth to deliver clear-eyed, plainspoken views of war, service, and sacrifice. The civilians and veterans of this stereotype-busting panel of published writers offer their insights regarding themes, trends, and markets in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to attend Randy's panels (see the too-many-people-and-too-many-places rule above), but he loaded some audio files on his blog where you can tune in to the discussions.

My favorite sentence this week comes from Souvenirs and Other Stories by Matt Tompkins, a terrific collection of flash fiction which, yes, I picked up at the AWP bookfair this year.

If you are on Twitter, please join us on Sundays and share your favorite sentence of the week, using the hashtag #SundaySentence.

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