It was the first official day, but really all that was on the calendar was registering, a campus tour, and Anita Shreve's reading/signing (plus a welcome reception). But since I was way too excited for my own good, I went down to St. Pete and checked in at 3:15 - a solid 45 minutes before the campus tour began. Unfortunately, there were some clouds in the sky, and a little bit of ominous thunder, so the conference coordinator said the tour may or may not be canceled.
I decided to kill the time between the present (3:18) and the tour by wandering down to Haslam's bookstore, which I had Googled in anticipation of needing a way to entertain myself.
And...wow. This was seriously the coolest bookstore I have ever been in! They had a mix of used books and new books, and it was GIGANTIC. It was arranged a little haphazardly, but since my life is arranged that way as well I totally appreciated it. I walked out with two used books and one new for less than $20. Needless to say, I will be back.
Unfortunately, I missed the campus tour, which I found out later wasn't canceled. So I wandered aimlessly in my car for 30 minutes, almost got in an accident, then ate dinner at an Italian place where I was easily the youngest person by 60 years.
Finally, I made it back to campus, where Anita Shreve's reading was about to begin. Dennis Lehane introduced her and, as it turns out, he's absolutely effing hilarious! I can't wait for his reading on Saturday because I LOLed so much tonight! He's also seriously down to earth. After her reading (and the signing, where I risked a side-eye from Ms. Shreve to say "Please don't put my name on this book, I'm giving it away on my blog" (soon, soon! Calm yourself!)), we had a welcome reception, where I got to know a few of my fellow writers, as well as Laura Lippman, one of the faculty members, and the kind of writer who makes you a fan just by having an awesome personality.
Here are some highlights from the evening:
- Watching Anita Shreve (AS from here out) do her reading and seeing the rapt faces in the audience I knew - I want that.
- AS made me feel like I should write about things that matter. (She talked a lot about her time in Africa, since her new book takes place in Kenya.)
- AS lived in Kenya for three years in the late 70s, and always wanted to write a book that took place there. But she was afraid of it turning into a book about herself, so she had to wait long enough before she could remove herself enough that she wouldn't be writing about herself.
- Both Dennis Lehane (DL) and AS hate the question "Where do you get your ideas?" and they think all writers hate it. DL said, "We give these long, complicated answers, but the truth is, 'my ass.'"
- AS: "After 15 novels, you'd think I would have learned something, but I haven't. With each novel, it's like I've never written one before. The pleasure of writing is in changing the form, changing the voice, and that's why you never learn anything."
- AS has a broad-strokes outline, with the three (or so) main events, and she knows how it's going to end, but that's all she goes in with. It also changes as she writes.
- AS rewrites so much that she printed it all out for her son's class and the stack was well above her head (and she's taller than me, I think, and I'm 5'5")
- DL: "You think people confuse giving birth with raising the child? 'Well, I wrote the draft!' Yeah, but you didn't raise the thing!"
- AS: "I can always tell the point in the book when the writer got bored." (There was an audible sigh/groan in the room when she said this.)
- To follow up, DL asked, "Have you ever fallen asleep writing?" AS: "No!!!!" DL: "I have. And that's how I knew I shouldn't write that scene."
- AS and DL both talked about how authors always want to write the opposite genre, but editors either tell them no (AS) or say a sarcastic OK, knowing they'll lose interest or it won't work out (DL)
- Fun fact: AS is married to a man she met when she was 13 at summer camp. Years later, he saw her picture in a NYT ad and wrote her a letter. They had an old-fashioned correspondence, then they met and got married. (This has influenced her work.)
- When AS is writing a book, no one knows what she's writing about - not even her editor or her husband. She thinks it's like letting the fizz out of the champagne bottle.
- AS thinks this time is the toughest it's ever been for new authors trying to break in. But for short story writers, e-books might be a place for them to find publication. (She sees eventual potential for new authors there, too.) She thinks e-publishing will change everything and will make writing more accesible to everyone.
- Laura Lippman: "You can't take good reviews seriously because then you have to take bad reviews seriously, as well."
- Now, a funny story: A participant (who's not in my workshop, so she didn't read my MS) asked what my novel was about. I told her. Before I could finish, she interrupted twice and said, "Oh, that's just like ________ !!!" (Exactly what every writer wants to hear.) She did have a little smirk. Once I finished explaining, though, she said she liked the idea. Then I asked what hers was about. She wouldn't tell me, and said she thought like AS, that every time she talked about her story it was like letting the fizz out. Uh...1. You asked what mine was about, how did you not think I was going to ask back? 2. This is the piece you're workshopping. You could at least tell me about the first 25 pages (which is what I focused my description on....plus we all turned in summaries anyway.)
- I only met one person who's in my workshop. He looked at my name tag, then said, "Oh, you're the reporter." Me: "How did you know??" Him: "...." Me: (figures he Googled the whole class) Him: "I looked up some local restaurant reviews and saw your name in a byline." Me: (Decides to play nice.) "Cool." Him: "Sorry, I marked your pages up a lot." Me: "It's OK! I'm here to learn, so the more you mark, the better." Him: "But I did say at the end that I thought it was like a Stephen King fossil - it needs work, but it could be a great story." (And I think that's AWESOME. I can make/am making it better, so I feel great about that.)
- Number of jokes/questions about my age: 3.
- Number of times I was told being a journalist first is awesome: 5.
DL: "There are a lot of aspiring writers here tonight, and I'm sure they'd all like to say
AS: "Don't give up. The road is long and the obstacles are huge, but if you really think you've got it don't give up. There were many times I could have given up ... I wrote my first novel at 43 ... Don't get discouraged because it's tough in the beginning."