AWP 2017: Books I Could Not Resist

I didn’t plan to buy any books at the annual convention of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (#AWP) at the Washington, DC, Convention Center.

I have more books now than I have time to read. Besides, I’m trying to write books for other folks to buy.

Nonetheless, I succumbed:


  • Dope Tits by Bix Skahill. I mean, how could I not? Bix, we will meet again, whether you like it or not.
  • A Simplified Map of the Real World by Stevan Allred. I met the founder and publisher of Forest Avenue Press, Laura Stanfill,  and shared her enthusiasm for two graphics in the book, one the author’s hand-drawn map and the other a diagram linking the characters of the various stories. I love people who experiment. Always have. Best of luck to you.
  • Color Your Campus – Indiana University. As a left-hander, I hate coloring, but I’m trying to understand the fad that accounted for last year’s increase in sales of print books, and I know a bit about I.U. from my years as a reporter in Indiana.
  • I will read Allred and Skahill, but I can’t promise I’ll color I.U. I’m still left-handed, and the smearing problem has not gone away.

Finally, I let a good one get away.

It was a memoir about the Viet-Nam war set in the early 1960s before the huge American military buildup and executed by a Vietnamese author as a graphic book. I thumbed through it, comparing observations against my own experiences and unpublished memoir (HIDDEN WAR: A Memoir of the CIA’s Secret War in Laos).

I should get this, I thought. But my backpack weighed heavily on my right shoulder, and I figured I would pick it up on Day #2. I never found it despite haunting the bookseller aisles in the exhibit hall.

I regret that decision. If anyone knows the book I’m talking about, I would love to hear from you.

Lesson Learned: When your gut says Buy it, buy it.

One more post to come inspired by the AWP: Hitchcock: What to Tell the Reader – What?

Editors & (Crushed) Egos

A week spent reviewing my copy editor’s suggestions reminded me how painful — and valuable — editing can be for a writer.

I feel for writers who haven’t been edited hundreds and hundreds of times, as I was during my journalism career. Those 20-plus years of daily edits grew quite a rhino hide over my tender ego.

I can still recall the pain of those blue pencil marks — my perfect prose slashed by a heartless editor who may have given my story a five-minute read. ( Before the advent of red and blue underlined Track Changes in MS Word or its equivalent, we used blue pencils on buff copy paper.)
blue pencil art

Old fashioned blue-pencil editing

But, my old copy editor would say, ‘It’s about the reader, dummy.’

It was — and is.

So when I opened the copy-edited files of my forthcoming memoir*, I viewed the tracked changes with more interest than dismay.

These marks were going to make the book better, the reader’s job easier, and me look brighter.

Just for the record, the manuscript runs 77,600 words over 330 pages. The edits: Only 1,686. That’s only five edits per page. And most of those were Oxford commas, a new thing for me.

So, on behalf of my readers who are spared those five mistakes per page, I say thank you, Sylvia, for the great editing job.

* Much more about that later, but it’s called “HIDDEN WAR: A Memoir of America’s Secret Crusade in Laos.”

What David (Bowie) Is Reading

Don’t be fooled by the makeup or the costumes.

David Bowie is a reader, big time.

David Bowie wearing glasses


Truman Capote, Hubert Selby, Jr., Saul Bellow, Junot Diaz, Jack Kerouac, George Orwell, Ian McEwan, Julian Barnes, Mishima and Bulgakov. To name a few.

Bowie identified his favorite 100 books for a retrospective exhibit entitled “David Bowie Is,” and Open Culture provides the complete list.

In no particular order that I can Identify, here are the first five books on the list:

  • The Age of American Unreason, Susan Jacoby, 2008
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz, 2007
  • The Coast of Utopia (trilogy), Tom Stoppard, 2007
  • Teenage: The Creation of Youth 1875-1945, Jon Savage, 2007
  • Fingersmith, Sarah Waters, 2002

I have heard of exactly none of these, but I’m definitely intrigued.

 How many have you read?