I attended two literary conferences the past two weeks. The Casper College/ARTCORE Literary Conference is a long-running affair that stretches back into the last century. I first attended in October/November 1991. I drove to Casper in the teeth of a raging snowstorm and, if you think that's easy, try it sometime. An excellent slate of presenters, including Utah's Terry Tempest Williams and Colorado's Lorna Dee Cervantes, led workshops, gave presentations and read their work. I was a greenhorn at the job back then, coordinator of the Arts Council's literary program, and knew few people in the state. Bruce Richardson, a UW/CC English prof, introduced me around. I was a writer who worked with other writers and I thought that was a pretty cool job to have. I was still learning about the state's literary community. At the time, I'd only published a few short stories in journals and had several unpublished (and probably unpublishable) novels in my bottom desk drawer. I knew next to nothing about the arts bureaucracy but was getting a crash course in Cheyenne.
Fast forward to the 29th annual CC/ARTCORE Literary Conference. The arts landscape has shifted and so have I. Bruce Richardson is a familiar presence. Recently retired from UW/CC, his arts instincts are as voracious as ever. He served as moderator of the panel discussion, the panel comprised of poets, visual artists, authors and scientists. We are omnivores now, the conference morphing into a forum for the arts and sciences which is as it should be. I'm still a writer, with lots of published stories and one book to my credit, but my job no longer is focused on the literary field. I still supervise literary fellowships but now my charge is communications, both print and online. I coordinate the annual fellowship reading at the conference, a collaboration that goes back at least a decade. But now I'm mainly here to document the proceedings, get those important Facebook and Twitter feeds that help boost the WAC's presence statewide and planetary-wide. To do this, I carry my Samsung Note 4 with its 16 mega-pixel camera and note-taking app. I also carry my black-and-white speckled composition book. I've been jotting notes and journaling and brainstorming stories in these comp books for decades. There is just no substitute for pen on paper.
My journal provides quotes and observations that I draw on later, for my own edification, for blogging, for the ages. Here are some notes from the CasColLitCon:
High Plains Press’s Nancy Curtis – court case definition of a publisher (1988): “An entity in the business of making books and written material available and one that makes a good faith effort to distribute those books to bookstores.” Ancient history now.
Jessica Robinson (aka fiction writer Pembroke Sinclair) – “Life Lessons from Slasher Films.” Slasher films trying to get rid of old conservative ideal of men saving women… Women fight slasher – only successful some of the time.”
Emilene Ostlind, editor of Western Confluence magazine at UW. “Narrative is the crux of good science writing.” For all writing.
Rebecca Foust (at Q&A panel): “Sometimes research involves being alive to the world, noticing it and writing it down.”
Joseph Campbell (pen name: J. Warren). Talks about transgressive fiction. Title: Lost Boi by Sassafras Lowry from Arsenal Pulp Press. Desc.: “BDSM sex-positive, BDSM-positive retelling of Peter Pan.” “These books get us to a place of extreme discomfort, take the safeties off. They undo pattern of traditional fiction.”
Katie Smith, creative writing fellowship winner: “I write poetry in unusual places. One of those is my barn.”
Funny what you pick up by just noticing things. That’s what journals are for.
This past Friday and Saturday, I attended the 11th year of the Literary Connection sponsored by Laramie County Community College and its foundation. This event started when a local book club attended the Literary Sojourn, the legendary gathering of authors and readers in Steamboat Springs, Colo. That event takes place Oct. 10. Looking at its web site, I see it has some amazing writers such as Jim Shepard, whose 1998 novel "Nosferatu" knocked my socks off. It arose out of a short story from Shepard's great collection, "Batting against Castro." Short story maestro Diane Ackerman will be there, as well as novelist Richard Russo. Ethiopian-American novelist Dinaw Mengestu also is on the program. I ask myself: why am I not going to Steamboat next weekend? Three weekends in a row may be a bit much, even for us literary types. Next year, I plan to skip the other two events and spend the weekend with Chris and five authors in Steamboat.
Literary Connection featured two very different writers. They conduct free workshops on Friday and get into the nitty-gritty over talks and lunch on Saturday.
Allen Kurzweil is a “novelist, journalist, teacher and inventor” from Providence, R.I. His latest book is an investigative memoir into the life of a 12-year-old boy who bullied him when he was a ten-year-old at a Swiss boarding school in 1971-72. The kid grew into a drug dealer and con man. Allen told us his story in the course of two days, but I am looking forward to reading the book. I’ve read some hair-raising memoirs and have brought their authors to Wyoming. Nick Flynn and Connie May Fowler come to mind. Honest to the point of this reader blushing. Allen said that he approached his story – and his subject -- with a minimum of commentary. “When you’re in the presence of sociopathic behavior, it’s better to record what happens rather than trying to psycho-analyze.”
Poet George Bilgere was the second author. As he spoke, I picked up many of the references, probably because he’s a fellow Baby Boomer. His work has been featured on Garrison Keillor’s poetry show on NPR. One was "Problem" which was based on an incident in George's favorite café. A retired gentleman named Jerry was writing a sci-fi novel and was having trouble with the question of how to tell time on a world with three suns. George said that his characters could wear three watches. George thought was funny but the sci-fi writer did not. George went to his usual table and wrote a poem about the incident. When he got home, he called up Garrison Keillor at Writer’s Almanac. He’d been on “Prairie Home Companion” a few times and Keillor had featured many of his poems. He told George to send along the poem. The next Monday, it was on Writer’s Almanac. “Things don’t usually happen that way,” George said. Poetry usually takes a lot longer, with some poems making the rounds for years before they are accepted – if they are. As for sci-fi, well, he prefers real life. “Poetry discovers the strangeness and mystery of everyday life,” he said.
Discovering the strangeness and mystery of everyday life. That also applies to us short fiction writers.