Filtering by Tag: tote bag

AWP 2012: The Conference

The time had finally come. The reservations were made. Plane tickets printed. Suitcase packed. I dug around in my closet for anything warm, knowing that I would be flying to Chicago in the bitter cold to attend the AWP conference. AWP, or The Association of Writers and Writing Programs, is the biggest creative writing conference in the country. While I hadn't been able to go last year, I made it a point to experience this time - at least while I'm still a grad student (yay, discounts!). Yes, this year's conference was in Chicago - a place I'd never been before, but I'll save my sight-seeing adventures for my next post. This one will focus on the conference itself. 

The conference this year as sold-out, so that meant that, if you walked the streets between the Palmer House Hilton and the Chicago Hilton hotels, you'd probably see a lot of people with red tote bags and name tags. 

These two key accessories not only got you past security (a lot of hotel workers disguised as friendly, yet stern people), but they were also the best conversation starters. I'm not very social, but I ended up chatting with a bunch of fellow conference goers while waiting for a panel to start or in line for the shuttle. We exchanged a lot of laughs and complained about the weather - though I was so ecstatic about the cold that I only pretended to complain.

I attended around five panels over the course of the two days I was there. I have been to writing conferences before, so the panels, while interesting, weren't terribly new to me. It was refreshing to be sitting in a room with a bunch of eager writers and poets, hands poised to ask the first question at the end of each session. The question and answer periods are always exciting. The last thing I imagine you want to do is read a play-by-play of every panel. So this is, essentially, what I learned from all those panels in a nutshell: 

  • Self-publishing is still risky business. It's a great way to get your work out there and, in a way, control your destiny. However, it's still not a medium that is well-respected within academia or the traditional publishing world (something that, yes, I'm well aware of, but there you go). What was interesting about this conversation is that it's the biggest topic this year at the conference. There were plenty of panels about self-publishing and if the panel wasn't about it, someone always found a way to bring it up. 
  • Writers of crime fiction are typically male. This is upsetting to everyone (hence, a panel full of feminist ranting. Fun to listen to, but overwhelming). 
  • I learned what a "cozy" crime novel  is. Cozies also bring in the most sales with thrillers coming in second. Wow. 
  • To my delight, I learned that speculative fiction is growing in popularity - at a wonderfully alarming rate. New literary magazines are popping up that accept strange and whimsical stories. 
  • Kate Bernheimer, one of my heroes, gave a rallying speech about the value of fairy tales. Her metaphor about the turnip and honey was very creative. 
  • An editor of a new lit mag called Unstuck admitted that he loves Mervyn Peake. Yesssh. His cool points rose exponentially.
  • Fiction chapbooks are becoming more popular - slowly, like a turtle, but that's great news. One of the panelists referred to fiction chapbooks as a musician's EP album. Pretty cool. 
  • The YA panel I went to was fun, but it turns out that most of the panelists were poets. Surprisingly, none of them talked about verse novels (the genre I find really fascinating) and they spent a lot of time reading their own work instead of discussing writing for YA. 

After tackling the panels, I went downstairs to explore the bookfair. If you've ever been to a convention or conference before, you know what a dealer's space is like. Endless rows of booths, all surfaces cluttered with delightful things to buy. Pushing and shoving, wallets ready, plastic bags. For this bookfair, each booth was stacked with books. Literary magazines with their proud editors and staff manned the booths, setting out all kinds of books. As I wandered up and down the rows, I admired the beautiful covers (and at the same time, tried not to drift over and open my wallet. I didn't have room in my suitcase for a lot of books). There were a lot of  ugly covers too - you know, the kinds that look like textbook covers? Brrr. It's interesting to see the aesthetics of each magazine. 

The bookfair was separated into four different rooms; the air was stuffy with people and thankfully the hotel provided jugs of water on either end of the rooms. I guzzled down a lot of water. Bookfairs can be pretty intense. 

One of the booths I was excited to visit was the Fairy Tale Review. As the title implies, this literary magazine focuses on publishing fairy tale-like stories in their issues. They also have a press that occasionally publishes novels, short story collections, and poetry. When I got to the table, it was crowded with people admiring the  books. There were so many choices, and the books were printed with such high-quality - hard to tell when you're just looking at a photo of the covers online, you know? I picked up the books I had planned to buy: the Grey Issue of FTR and the newest novel, Irlanda

Kate Bernheimer happened to be at the booth at the time... and I quickly reverted to a five-year-old girl. I can't imagine how I sounded when I spoke with her, but in my mind's eye I was blushing and blabbering about how much I liked her books. I have two of them so far, the anthology of new fairy tales she edited called My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me and the children's book she wrote called The Girl in the Castle Inside the Museum with illustrations by Nicoletta Ceccoli. Even as an author and editor, Bernheimer has also been a great fairy tale advocate. If there was anyone at this conference I was excited to meet, it was her. 

So there's me on the left and Kate Bernheimer on the right. We're both completely tired from the long conference day. Still, it was really awesome of her to take a photo with me. She was very nice in person.
So you know how I mentioned the artist Nicoletta Ceccoli? Well, it turns out that the novel Irlanda, written by Espido Freire, has a front cover that has one of Ceccoli's artwork on it. Very cool. Ceccoli is one of my favorite artists, so I knew I had to pick up that book - if only for the cover. The book itself, though, was a remarkable read. I'm going to do a mini-review on Irlanda, just to give you an idea of this novel.

The premise of Irlanda is deceptively simple: after the death of her sister, Sagrario, Natalia is sent away to spent the summer with her two cousins in a decaying country house. She'll help with repairs and get to know the cousins she remembers from childhood - Roberto and the "perfect" Irlanda. The longer she spends in the house, the more it's clear that Natalia has not gotten over her sister's death, along with being haunted by dead animals and braving Irlanda's cold attention. Natalia sees the world through the lens of fairy tales, but it doesn't take long for a sense of unease to settle upon you while you're reading this book. Something's not right. 

Here's a small excerpt so you can get a sense of the beauty of the language:

"There was a house in the middle of the field, surrounded by flowers, water, dark trees, and running children, and a grandmother with amethyst necklaces and coral cameos, and a grandfather with a silver cane. A little fairy tale cottage where the girls were dressed in long gowns and added a pearl to their necklaces each year. And they hosted balls where they slid across the marble floor, their dresses rustling, feather fans in their hands.

At least that's what the grownups who told the stories assured us, and that's what my mother said, too, bringing back from oblivion what her grandparents and their grandparents had passed on to her, long after the dresses, feathers, and laughter behind the fans had faded, because none of us, not even my mother nor my aunt, had lived through those splendid days, and you couldn't tell what really happened from what had been made up each time those stories were told." 

I think it's safe to compare Irlanda to an Edgar Allen Poe story - there's such beauty and depth to the language, but nothing is as it seems. There's some dark mysteries in this book and when you get to end, you'll probably go back to the beginning to start picking out the puzzle pieces again. If you're up for a spooky, twisted story full of lush imagery, then I completely recommend Irlanda

To finish off this chain of related events, I'd like to show you a picture I took while exploring the gigantic Macy's in Chicago (something I'm saving for the next post). On one of the many floors, I spied a Ceccoli piece of art on display:

You'll notice that Macy's blotted out one missing piece of this - the girl! Check it out:

I can't believe they didn't keep the girl in. Still, I had only to look at the insect in the picture to know that this was Ceccoli's work (and, yes, I have seen this one before anyway). 

So, in a walnut shell, this was my overall experience at the conference itself. The conference is huge in many respects, so I feel like everyone's experience is probably vastly different. Mine happened to be full of fairy tales and illustrations, haha. 

Award News: Figment, Tote Bags, and Princesses

Summer isn't quite so boring when there's competition in the air - it's a heady scent, but it brightens up the monotony of constant rainstorms and humidity. Hosted by the masterminds of, there were a great many memorable contests over the course of summer vacation. But I had tried to convince myself not to enter anymore. I figured that winning one was enough - my serial novel piece, Flour House - so I decided that I would sit the new contests out.

Yep. Didn't last.

The contest that did me in was called the Let Them Eat Figs contest. Basically, all entrants had to write a 1500 word story about princes and/or princesses. It could be set in any world and have original or preexisting royalty in it (literary or otherwise). I haven't completely grown up, in a way, so I'm still often charmed by stories of princes and princesses. I don't think that will ever change. I felt like this contest was calling me to the challenge - so I sucked in a deep breath and opened up a new Word document. And then the pieces of my story started to come together...

The Story:

The Princess & Her Shadow is the title of my entry, a little fairy tale about a princess who is determined to find out if her favorite story is really steeped in reality - or is it just a myth? She comes from an underground world where everyone is born with a talking shadow; her shadow, Prunella, is a bit of a troublemaker in crinoline. You can read the whole story here, but here's an excerpt:

Jane heard the story of the heartless prince countless times. Her nursemaids used to tell it to her while they rubbed tuberose lotion into her little pink toes and frail shoulders. She bathed in the lake, swimming in the licorice waters like a primordial fish, sending fallen stars and lost message-bottles bobbing on the surface in her wake.

“His older brothers were jealous,” she’d say, flipping onto her back. Her chest heaved and a pink star tickled her ear. The night sky hung above her, a cluster of tree roots and black soil. “They snuck into the prince’s room and cut out his heart with a sewing scissor. And then they hid the prince in a tiny room under a foxglove tree so the king and queen would never know.”

Jane paddled back to shore and gratefully took the silky-warm towel from her nursemaids. They combed her sable hair with delicate combs and plucked the lake-droplets off her eyelids. “How silly of those brothers,” Jane would say. “They didn’t get rid of the prince – they merely bottled him up and put him in a pantry.”

“Why do you say that?” the nursemaids asked, with smiles.

Everyone knows that you need a heart to die. So the poor, dear prince is still alive. Just asleep under that tree.”

The Prize

I think I forgot to mention that this contest had been inspired by Shannon Hale whose new book, Book of a Thousand Days, was featured on the site. I love Hale's writing and how she makes fairy tales her own, creating new twists and turns but still following the path we love so much in each particular story. I first read Goose Girl - having loved the original tale - and wasn't disappointed. So since then, I've been plopping her books onto my pile every time I've found her in the library - but with this contest, I finally own two of her book now!

So, on a perfectly average day, the mysterious box arrived:

The coolest part about the box is that it's a Random House one. Which, when it comes down to it, simply means that the cardboard box is decorated with little houses. I'm easy to please, I think, because I had to keep turning the box over for last least five minutes before actually opening it. Call it house-hunting, if you will.

Once I jabbed at the seals with my handy scissor, I discovered a plethora of prizes. I started to read a little of Book of a Thousand Days (alas, between grading and writing) and I think I'm going to enjoy it. It's written in a diary format, and I like the main character - Dashti - already. There's also the Princess Academy which is, by far, my favorite of all Hale's books. So excited to finally have a copy.

I know this is side-tracking a bit, but I love the fact that I got paperback copies. Paperbacks are the best, haha. I used to hate them as a kid because the covers usually got torn off or irrevocably bent and that wasn't fun. But now the covers are made of nice material. They allow me more space on my bursting bookshelf and are awfully cuddly. Yes, I cuddle books. Sometimes. They don't jab me like hardcovers. And the best part is that, because paperbacks are lightweight, I never have to say no to bringing a book along with me when I venture out of my hermit cave (or school office).

Super digression! Haha! Anywho, I grinned so hard my cheeks hurt when I saw the tote bag. I mean, it' pretty epic. I can't wait to start using it and see what happens.

If those gifts were awesome enough, I found another surprise from the Figment team. They drew this wonderful picture, inspired by a scene in The Princess & Her Shadow. There's the foxglove tree with its mysterious hole - only revealed when Jane can prove that she's worthy of entering. I love this drawing so much; I've hung it up over my little desk where, when I'm not tempted by a couch, I sit and work on my writing. It's a wonderful reminder to keep going - even if you're scared to see what's at the bottom of a dark hole, even if you fear your favorite story's unraveling.

So, as I promised, I went out to run some errands and took my Figment tote with me. Surrounded by crackly old hardbacks in the local library, I couldn't help but feel at home with the tote on my shoulder. It made the pile of books I gathered much easier to get back to the car, in any event, haha.

Thanks for the lovely gifts, Figment!