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Decatur Book Festival, Day 1: Old Faces and Pygmy Goats September 2, 2008

Posted by LHK in Uncategorized.
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The Decatur Book Festival’s writers conference happened at Agnes Scott College on Friday afternoon. I took the train there from work, and got motion sick while trying to read Junot Diaz’s short story “Aguantando.” Then the eastbound train was late and I really had to book it across Decatur to get to the keynote speech on time. I blustered past two girls carrying their dirty laundry in purple mesh bags, and I may have stopped for a second to properly react with a little “aww!” – which loosely translates to, “While there are still about seven or ten sort of cute and nostalgic things about college life, I am so, so thankful that I never have to do that again.”

Anyway, I made it to the keynote in time. When I walked into the conference room and surveyed the place, I thought of that part in “Goodbye To All That” where the twenty-three-year-old Joan Didion’s male friend chokes with laughter at the idea that any New York party would have “new faces.” And indeed, he arrived at the party to find that he’d slept with five of the women and owed money to all but two of the men. Now, I didn’t have that sort of close personal relationship with anyone at the DBF writers conference keynote address by Georgia Review editor Stephen Corey, but there was a definite shortage of new faces. Half the people there were from Atlanta Writers Club. There were others I recognized from SCBWI. I sat behind a row of Agnes Scott girls who had come to the get-together I organized for the end of National Novel Writing Month. (One of them had read her novel excerpt in a wavering British accent.) I couldn’t tell if people were recognizing me in the same way I was recognizing them. (If I take stock of the empirical evidence, it seems I really should be recognized — I’m always one of the youngest-looking people at these writing events, and nearly always the shortest in height, and I usually wear a dress and heels and carry my Japanese tote bag that displays a poorly-edited recipe for cherry pie. Surely I am at least a little bit memorable.) Of course, I’m cursed with the ability to remember everything about everyone, while usually being met in return with little more than an eye-squint of hazy familiarity.

After the keynote, the group separated for the individual workshops. I was scheduled for Doug Crandell’s Ye Olde Thyme Writing Workshop and Petting Zoo. It was easy to find – on the quad behind the student center, there were two tents, under which sat two pygmy goats, a cat, and a couple of chickens. Doug himself was wearing a straw hat, denim overalls, and a sleeveless plaid shirt that allowed him to display the numerical tattoo on his shoulder. It was the ISBN of his first published book.

Oh, and there were a few New Faces there, so that was exciting. The main part of the workshop was focused on writing a short piece based around one of the thrift-store trinkets Doug had set out on a table. There were wigs, hats, cassette tapes, porcelain shelf decorations, a bowling ball, and a coffee Thermos that had not been entirely washed out. No one picked that one. I grabbed a cassette on which was recorded a sermon by “the Rev. Dr. Michael Beckwith.” The full title of the recording and Rev. Dr. Beckwith’s religious organization was far more interesting than his name, but… I can’t recall them right now. This is probably why I’m not a published author but rather just a weird quiet girl who can remember everybody who comes to Atlanta-area writing events.

I wrote a page and a half about an unnamed mother and son who were listening to Rev. Dr. Beckwith’s sermon while on a late-night car trip to South Carolina. That mother and son were, in my mind, Mitchell and Caroline Waterson, but since we only had fifteen or twenty minutes to write our pieces, I didn’t have time to be tempted by backstory. This was good. I should make a point to give myself timed writing assignments, even on days when I’m not writing in the company of pygmy goats.

Then, most of us read our pieces out loud to the rest of the group. I’m not usually very charitable when it comes to handing out praise about other people’s writing, so when I say that the other pieces were freaking fantastic samples of twenty-minute writing, I really mean it.

Doug Crandell said some things about short fiction publishing and narrative arc creation that I really need to remember, but I’ll save those for another post — perhaps the one in which I finally post photos of the Plot Board of DOOM (which Adam recently moved across the room. I think this was a strategic move, because now I have to stare at said Plot Board whenever I’m sitting at my computer desk. Ack!). The end of the afternoon at the writers conference found me eating too many cookies and brownies at the reception as I chatted with some of the New Faces and waited for the rest of the conference-goers and instructors to arrive. When it was clear they were taking their time, I intelligently noted my woozy sugarhighishness and decided it was time to head back to the train station.

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