Tuesday, April 21, 2015

What I Learned at the #AWP

First of all: Literary conferences are overwhelming.
Second of all: I saw a lot of people I know and love, both by accident and on purpose
Third of all: I really like my publishers and their authors, and it was nice to belong somewhere
Fourth of all: I would never go to one of these conference if I didn't have a book already published (too much anxiety). So I was very grateful that after 15 years, it is having its day in the sun
Fifth of all: I hung out with an old friend whose husband left at the same time that my girlfriend dumped me many years ago (they were co-workers, but did not leave us for each other). This friend is now so super famous that we couldn't even take two steps or one sip of coffee without people clamoring to speak with her, and it made me so exhausted. I think it is a very hard life to be in the 1% of recognizable, celebrity writers, and I am glad to be just plain unknown me.
Sixth of all: I spoke on the panel "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Rejection (But Were Afraid to Ask)," and it seemed to me to be better titled "Publishers and People with Literary Power (And Why We're Never Going to Publish You)."  In fact, it made me very depressed to be on that panel. There were lots of false statements made, I thought. And lots of putting a good face on publishing while telling you how "busy I am and why I'll never choose you to be my author."  Ugh. And yet everyone in the audience seemed to swallow it whole and want to know more lies. It went like this:
Audience Question: "What can I do or not to do get published by you?"
Panelist Answer: "Nothing. Forget it. Or blow my socks off...but I can't say how."
Seventh of all: I asked Francine Prose to sign my copy of her new novel, which is nominated for a 2015 Lambda Literary Award in the category of lesbian fiction with my novel. I mentioned this and she looked down upon me coldly and huffed. "If I win that award it's because they didn't read my novel." Which means what? Her novel about a woman-loving Nazi spy and drag car racer who dresses like a man and had her tits removed isn't lesbian fiction? Or maybe she isn't a lesbian (which she is not, if being married to a man counts). Or maybe she meant her book is so, so, so, so much more than merely about a "lesbian," and shouldn't be reduced to labels. Or maybe she is Luke's father? I'm not really sure, but I got a big chill standing there with her, and walked away as quickly as I could. The ceremony announcing winners of the Lambda Award is on June 1st. I guess Prose won't be there, eh. (If you have a kinder or even a more intelligent interpretation, please share. I'm puzzled by the whole encounter.)

UPDATE: I finished reading Prose's novel, and I suppose she meant that no one in their right mind would want to claim her lesbian character as part of their community because she is so lost and mislead, and perhaps one might say "evil," were one to believe in such a thing. I guess the question is: should the LGBT community only claim good characters as their own? Are we beyond that yet? It *is* a book about a lesbian character, after all, and we do claim her as a sister human being, even if some would say she's a monster.  So, I think I'm still confused by the comment. Thoughts?

8 comments:

Emily Saso said...

Love this post. As always, thanks for letting us in on all the behind-the-scenes action! That encounter with FP is very odd, and I would have interpreted it all of those ways as well. So disappointing when you meet such a brilliant writer and they are just so... ugh/wtf.

Emily Saso said...

Love this post. As always, thanks for letting us in on all the behind-the-scenes action! That encounter with FP is very odd, and I would have interpreted it all of those ways as well. So disappointing when you meet such a brilliant writer and they are just so... ugh/wtf.

Writer, Rejected said...

Thanks, Emily. It seems the more things change, the more they stay the same. Congrats on your novel forthcoming in 2016, BTW. Read it on your website.

Anonymous said...

One of your first impressions about Prose's reaction to Lambda was probably the right one. Namely that she--like most artists--resents being labeled a certain variety of author, or her book being slipped into an ordained category. Award committees and the general public tend to want to categorize--and who wants that? No author does, not when you're attempting to capture life in all its dramatic fullness.

"Billy Budd, Foretopman" voted best Homoerotic Historical by Lambda. Oi, Melville would say. But isn't it so much more than that?

Writer, Rejected said...

Of course a book is much more than the award category it wins in, but do you think women who win the Bailey's Literary Prize for Women resent being labeled by gender? Do winners of the "Coretta Scott King Book Award" for outstanding African American authors and illustrators not want to win the award because it diminishes the fact that their African American (and white) characters are more than just their race and literature should be read by all people, regardless of race, ethnicity and color? This is how we award our writers: in categories and with labels. Is an LGBT category more label-y and restrictive of an author's fiction? Does it make less of her literature than it is by nomination? Or is the objection simply that Prose is married to a man, and just happens to be writing about a lesbian who is not a very savory chatracter? Not sure. But no need to call out one categorizing award over any of the others, right? Just sayin'.

Anonymous said...

I think many women probably do resent being rewarded for being "women writers," in exactly the same way female physicians resent being lauded as "lady doctors." I love Alice Munro and Anne Beattie equally as much as I love Cheever and Nabakov. And my personal love and appreciation for the last two would be neither diminished nor expanded by their having won the "Best Anglo White Male Award" -- but for many other readers, it might.

I think decent authors resent the opportunity for such narrowing and misunderstanding of their work being made possible by award committees. Such categories are fundamentally arbitrary.

It's a far profounder compliment to praise an average book as good literature, than to award that same book as superb female or gay fiction. And it's easy to see why. The first is based on its merits as art. The second is sanctioned condescension.

I think Prose is objecting to the implications of the award given her, and I don't think she has much choice in that. It's the principle at stake--her book and how its understood--not the award itself.

If I ever suspected that my only reward as an author would merely be (more) labels and categories, I would join the Navy.

Writer, Rejected said...

Oh, but Anony, every award that is not otherwise named is generally the "Best Anglo White Male Award." That's why there are so many OTHER categorized awards. I am fine with anyone who refuses any award based on the principle that his/her work is pure and above social class and category. More power to you, friend. As for me, I would never refuse any award, nor any reader, for any reason. Maybe it's a more a matter of world view or spiritual philosophy? I say: "Thank you for recognizing my novel in any way shape or form." That's all.

Anonymous said...

I think the discussion went off track somewhere.

I understand Prose's objections based on (what I surmised to be) her impression of the award. I think they are valid for an ambitious artist, and understandable. I certainly don't think she regards herself or her work as "pure," and any good writer regards social class and background as integral to decent work.

Best to you with your book.