Tag Archives: Amy Hempel

Post #89: AWP, by the Numbers

5-March-Boston-AWP-program-book-466x6001Two weekends ago I ventured to Boston for the AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) Conference. I’ve decided to break my experience down for you by the numbers.

Number of times my wife told me I’d regret not going to AWP before I finally decided to miss work even though I’d just had a vacation: Approx 8,000

Number of hours it took me to get to Boston in half way crappy weather: 4

Number of times my GPS was thwarted by the insane and downright cruel layout of Boston streets before it led me to the Hotel Buckminster: 2

Number of miles our hotel was situated from the Hynes Convention Center, where AWP took place: 1

Number of inches thick the AWP program guide is: 1.5

Number of writers and readers that attend AWP: 11,000

Number of literary conferences that are bigger than AWP: 0

Number of consecutive nights Alan Stewart Carl (with whom I bunked) and I stayed up way too late and drank way too much: (The best part of AWP, no doubt, was re-connecting with my great friend and former Bread Loaf roommate. We talked so much and spent so much time together that we both agreed it’s probably a good thing we don’t live in the same city)

Number of readings attended: 2 (I know that’s a really small number…not sure what’s up with that; I walked by a lot more that)

Number of cocktails consumed before it could reasonably be deemed happy hour on the East Coast: Um….

Number of events attended in a men’s clothing store/barber shop: 1

Number of inches of snow Boston received while I was there: 12-15

Number of times Alan Stewart Carl slipped so badly in the snow/ice (wearing treadless cowboy boots) that he literally become airborne: 1

Number of vegetables consumed while in Boston: Does the weird-o broccoli they put in food court Chinese count?

Number of ornery aging geniuses whose autograph I procured: 1 (Don Delillio, who did not seem all that pleased to be signing my just purchased copy of White Noise)

Number of books bought at the massive, totally overwhelming AWP book fair: 3 (White Noise by Don Delillio, Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta, Sick of Nature by David Gessner)

Number of hours spent wandering said book fair in a flabbergasted daze: 4-6

Number of exhibitors represented at the book fair: 700 (hence the flabbergasted daze) 

Number of times I had to say “no, chicken gumbo,” to the soup guy at the Au Bon Pain at Hynes Convention Center before he gave me the right soup, which turned out to be the wrong soup: 3

Number of new insults coined: 1 (tell you later)

Number of drinks shared with my dear friend Kara Waite: lost track

Number of great conversations had with my dear friend Kara Waite: lost track

Number of times I said, “I know I keep talking about that David Foster Wallace biography, but…”: 87


Number of Bread Loaf attendees I recognized but didn’t talk to: 7-9

Number of times Alan Stewart Carl, who is from Texas, commented on how much the guys in Boston seemed like they were straight out of a Mark Wahlberg movie: 12

Number of famous authors not on panels they were supposed to be on because of shitty weather: 2 (that I know of). I had hoped to see/hear Cheryl Strayed and Amy Hempel in person, but both were delayed by weather. In both instances, I didn’t learn they weren’t on the panel until I was in the already jammed packed room. The panels turned out to be awesome anyway

Number of people who came up to me and said, “hey, aren’t you Benjamin Roesch? I love your work!”: (But I never gave up hope)

Number of world famous ballparks visible out my hotel window: 1


Post #3: Flash This

As a novelist (mostly), I come to short stories a bit cautious, a bit weary.  After a few years of attempts, I’m warming up to them.  Which means that I come to flash fiction somewhere between mildly perplexed and scared shitless.  The form, though, is a good counterweight to my own tendency toward verbosity (see?), not to mention a healthy taste of my own medicine for a guy who won’t let even his best students write essays over 700 words long (usually 500 words) because he thinks they can’t be trusted with that many.

All this is to say I’ve been trying my hand at flash fiction, and mostly, failing miserably.  I always try to squeeze in too much.  Have trouble finding the telling gesture that can replace my paragraph with a few well chosen words.  I’ve decided flash fiction is the golf of the writing world–the form that has the biggest discrepancy between how hard it looks and how hard it actually is.

It’s like this.

You read a piece like Amy Hempel’s “San Francisco,” which is marvelous, but over so quickly you sort of don’t know what just happened to you.  You wonder if it was as massive as it seemed.  So you read it again.  Nope, you think, still not sure.  Then you read it a third time.  And that’s when the story really starts to go to work on you.  And yet, it’s so short!  It can’t be that good and be so short too.  Can it?

So you sit down and try to write a piece like Amy Hempel’s “San Francisco,” capping your story at a page and a half, and that’s when the full weight of her abilities sucker punches you in the gut.

This just in: writing is really hard.