Friday, May 16, 2008

More Saints, More Sinners

I recently returned from the Saints & Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans. It was my second time participating in this event, which I feel has now become an annual tradition for me. It’s such a wonderful opportunity to get to know other queer writers and share tips on craft as well as the business side of publishing—which, let’s face it, is something none of us is too excited about, especially these days. I, for one, need all the help I can get negotiating the murky waters of publishing and promotion. It just doesn’t come easily to writers, who prefer the solitude of the computer to mercenary schmoozing.

This year’s festival was enlightening and great fun. Stephen McCauley, author of several enjoyable novels, including The Object of My Affection and Alternatives to Sex, gave a master class on characterization, offering several tips that you’ll probably see in my next book. Mark Doty, amazing poet and author of a number of moving memoirs, including the recent and brilliant Dog Years, gave an enlightening talk on memoir. Through a deceptively simple exercise, he demonstrated a way to trigger memories and the associative insights that can turn them into art.

Michelle Tea offered an exciting and entertaining perspective on book promotion, including extensive tips on conducting a reading tour. Later, we bonded over our shared experience of growing up in downtrodden Chelsea, Massachusetts, the setting for her own wonderful memoir, The Chelsea Whistle. Michelle also received the much-deserved Jim Duggins Outstanding Mid-Career Novelists’ Prize.

I used to think that writing was an irrevocably solitary affair. Through events like Saints & Sinners, I have learned that the whole business of being a writer can be made more enjoyable by sharing it with a community. At panels and a number of social events this year, I got to spend time with new friends and old, sharing war stories about writing and publishing—and just bonding over the crazy life of a writer. I had a great time hanging out with Paul Lisicky, author of Lawnboy among other works; Peter Dubé, whose new anthology Madder Love promises to keep me reading late into the night; Dorothy Allison, who brought back wonderful memories of her workshop at the Lambda Writers Retreat last year; and the list goes on: Aaron Hamburger, Rich Merritt, Michael Walker, Brian Sands, Carol Rosenfeld, Gary Zebrun, Sal Sapienza, and Gregg Shapiro (whose new poems blew me away).

If it weren’t for the muggy New Orleans weather and the decadence of Bourbon Street (which gets old really fast), it would have been very hard to leave. Already looking forward to next year, though!


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