It’s been over a week since #AWP14 but it feels like two days–I wonder if this feeling is a result of getting older, but I get more of a “hangover” from things, like AWP in Seattle was so much fun, being in the Freerange Reading, moderating “Strange Families: Domestic Stories Illuminating Social Issues,” and seeing all kinds of friends, colleagues, and acquaintances at the bookfair and offsite events (even getting The Profiler to join me in my reading since she’s based there now)–but afterwards I was SO TIRED. Like I needed to hibernate for a week, recharge and get my energy back. This is a strange and foreign feeling so I wonder if it’s the mid-thirties creeping up on me…I kept joking that I was “old” — and I know I’m not, and that age is just a state of mind and attitude anyway — but it really felt different. I need more downtime to recover from intensely social activities. I’m not even caught up on my email yet!
But anyway, the purpose of this post was to share my annual post-AWP roundup of things seen, heard, and learned. This year’s is a simplified version, “The Best Things You Can’t Put In The Tote Bag.”
-Nick Flynn in the passenger seat of my grandmother’s old Toyota, my mom giving him a ride back to the convention center and him asking to stop for pizza first
-Quasi-acrobatic dancing with Antonia Crane and Stephen Elliott after the VIDA reading
-Panel on Post-publication promotion–your book being published is only the beginning, not the end, of its life. Fresh Air had one author on 11 months after her book came out; New York Magazine reviewed a book three months after it came out and “everything changed.” (*reassurance)
-Chuck Palahniuk reading William S. Burroughs for the centennial of his (Burroughs’ birth
-Poet Matthew Dickman at the Copywriting panel: “What does the darkness and the shadow have to do with my anti-lock breaks?” (on being a poet doing copywriting for money). He also said something hilarious about someone telling him a writer should “work with his hands” as his day job, to which Matthew responded, “I’m not going to clean a butcher shop for the rest of my life because you think it’s fucking romantic.” Aside from being amazing and hilarious, he has written Superbowl spots and won awards for his poems.
-Having my mom, The Profiler, speak briefly at the panel about her experience being portrayed in my memoir.
-I am sure there are more, but I forgot.
My mother was a career immigration expert who busted fraud. I was in love with my best friend (just not in the sex-having way) and wanted to marry him so he could stay in the country — with me.
We lived together, shared everything (apartment, bank accounts, grocery shopping, everyday activities and adventures), and I never would believe our marriage anything but legitimate. Mom had more stringent definitions. In this country, when laws are unjust, unfair, and wrong, we change them. Having the power to change laws and ideas that the culture has evolved beyond is part of what makes the U.S. so great.
Here, my mom and I discuss our diverging views on TV. Check us out and chime in with your own perspective in the comments!
My mother says I’m not as clever as I could be.
“Why didn’t you just tell the INS officer you were a virgin before you married Emir?” she asked about the scene in The Marriage Act where an INS officer asks me if Emir is circumcised or not and I don’t know the answer because, well. “Why wouldn’t you just say, ‘I haven’t seen any other penises?’”
Good point, Mom.
Check us out jointly reading a scene together at Seattle’s awesome Elliott Bay Book Company! Great job, Profiler Mom! We will also jointly be on TV in Portland, Oregon on Monday – if KCRW’s Profiler segment was any indication, it should garner some laughs and potentially awkward moments. I’ll post it here when it airs.
Launch for the book was on Thursday at Book Soup, my favorite independent bookstore in LA. We all went down to The Abbey for the after-party, where there were go-go dancers, a bachelor party, and throwback cocktails from the book (ie, Cosmopolitans). I met my amazing editor, Dan Smetanka, for the first time, and had a blast spending the evening with him and a group of LA friends old and new. Dan snapped the picture of me with the go-go dancer (Marriage Act in his bikini bottoms!) and called it “a Soft Skull kind of book party.” Such a good time. I hope Hollywood calls for the book so I can go back…Hey, film execs! READ THIS
I am also on the cover of the Santa Cruz Weekly this week, which is my lovely beach town’s version of the Village Voice. Tomorrow, San Francisco! At BOOKS INC, Castro Location.
The Marriage Act is officially out, and it has been an interesting day. While life continues on as normal in happy little beach town–attempting to housebreak a potbellied pig, having a creative meeting over coffee with a friend, biking home in the sun, eating a Mediterranean Veggie Wrap from a deli–there’s been a whole lot of simultaneous online stuff brewing about the book…from where I sit, it feels like something happening over in a parallel dimension. I muse over the label of “controversy,” as an article in the New York Post–the cover story for the Pulse section puts it. They used the headline (in the print edition) “I was in a sham marriage,” which is what I want to address. I know what the headline writers are going for, but if you read the book, it is actually about revealing all the ways it was NOT a “sham” at all. (And I hate the word sham.) The article itself gets at the more nuanced notions of love, commitment, humor, and keeping someone you love with you, which are main ideas in the book. Calling it a sham may sell newspapers, but what I want to retort here is that I myself never used that word. Never would. Because it simply wasn’t. Which brings me back to the book’s original question: “who gets to decide what is real?” What kinds of love are “valid” or “invalid”–can there be such determining factors? The article spawned a few others, here and here, which pilfered photos from my Facebook page. My intent isn’t a complaint; I’m not easily offended or put off and was amused to see the random Facebook photos there–I prefer a healthy engagement (no pun intended) with difficult, complex subject matter–but what does interest me in looking at this is the nature of the times we’re living in. Everyone has a forum, or at least a (blogging) platform. We have online profiles carefully tailored to convey crafted personas of ideal selves. Everyone has the potential to be connected to everyone else. All material is fair game, public property, part of the commons. And once an author puts a story out there, there is very little she can control about interpretation and reaction. That’s part of what is so beautiful, frightening, and frighteningly beautiful about creating–and releasing–your art, and the ideas that matter most to you in the world.
What do you think? I welcome email and comments, even from the crazy basement people, with your thoughts on the book, the topic of love and marriage and how we define it today.
If you read the book (and I hope you will!) I hope you enjoy it and find some food for thought in there….
I’ve been thinking lately about the trajectory of a writing career.
There is no set path to follow, no ladder to climb, and no boss to tell you what to do. So it’s an impossible thing to map out — that’s why setting goals, reflecting often on how the process is going and where it should go next, and staying away from too many distractions are important. It’s a kind of work conducted in secret, in private. No one’s looking over your shoulder, and no one is going to chide you for not producing. At the same time, there’s no temptation in not producing — if I’m not writing, I’m basically a retired person, drinking coffee at the cafe and looking at the internet. That in itself scares me into productivity.
I realized that my first three books, Mexican High, The Marriage Act, and The Profiler’s Daughter (forthcoming) are actually a trilogy I wrote without intending to. They’re all first-person, mother-daughter stories. They are all about family and love.
Next, I want to do something completely, entirely different. I already have the idea, but I’m also not ready to embark on the huge undertaking of another novel quite yet. I crave the satisfaction that comes from starting and finishing a draft of something in a day. So I’m putting myself on the essay-and-short story track for a while. And that’s the only part of the writing process I can control — the decision of what kind of piece to write; after that it’s up to the muses’ moods and showing up every day at the keyboard. We’ll see what comes of it!
And under a month to go until publication! Perception of time can be strange. It was the summer of 2007 when I wrote a “shitty first draft” (see Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird) of the book not yet titled The Marriage Act (there could be another chapter, “Shitty First Titles” – but I’ll save those for a future post). That fall, I salvaged ten or twelve lines from it in my first workshop in Nonfiction Writing MFA school based on some feedback I got that was something along the lines of “This would be great as a chick lit novel! There are so many pink martinis and venti nonfat iced vanilla lattes in the first ten pages.” Ooops. I hadn’t written the book I set out to write at all! I didn’t get to the beginning of what was to be the central concept until about page 250, which seemed insane when I first realized it but in hindsight was only part of the process. I had a lot of pre-writing to get out of the way, and also a lot more living to do. The book took eight years when all is said and done (if you count waiting for publication, otherwise it’s closer to six) and that felt like what is most commonly known as a long ass time. However, now it all feels as if it happened so fast! And I’m like, wait! I need to prepare! but, um, that’s what I’ve been doing for six to eight years, so, now that it’s close to launch I better be ready to birth this babe.
On another note, it’s a January afternoon in Santa Cruz and the current weather is 74 degrees. I’m sitting indoors at the coffee shop because the glare outside from the sun is too bright to see the screen.
There are still things I miss about New York but I’ve now realized exactly how much I’ve acclimated to sweet-little-beach-town life.
I would love to hear from readers so please email me at liza AT lizamonroy DOT com if you’d like!