Sunday workshop on creative non-fiction.
First, lets talk about how people choose seats at a workshop. Fascinating.
Twenty four of twenty-eight seats remain empty throughout to the far right quadrant. In the packed middle, more people sit to the right middle rather than the left middle. Turns out the air conditioning blows furiously on the almost empty quadrant. I remain.
Those who sit front and center never take notes. Note takers sit to the back and to the side.
Some move chairs to have a full unimpeded view, no matter if their choices change the possible flow of how latecomers and early leavers quietly come and go.
There is a digital writer who sits near to the back who is excitedly recognized by a woman and they have a pleasant chat, after which she moves away. She does not sit near him.
At the second workshop in this room right after the first, another woman with a professional camera takes pictures of him and his tiny gray braid that begins under his porkpie hat and ends after the collar of his tropically flowered shirt.
The panelists themselves sit at the table on stage in lean forward or uncomfortable up and down mode. I also wonder if they choose where to sit and if not, if they should.
In order: confident man/writer, affable writer, witty woman/actor, quiet writer, Mod.
The confident man/writer with the sharp-edged face who probably has his ups and downs with other people sits on the end and stares ahead. As I look to where he is looking, I think he might be looking at a mirror. After an introduction where he discounts the introduction for what he is known for doing, he does begin to share important details and connects for a minute in his second pass when the Mod talks of his well-known iPhone theft story, (picaresque is how the writer himself describes it) – which I have read – and his chat about it disarms all of us.
He talks of affable writer’s piece “The frankies”: Dorothy Parker coined it to talk about writers who told too much, were too frank.
Confident man/writer believes we have 2 sets of criteria for reading essays:
1. Fresh, witty interesting
2. Looking for people to make a fool of themselves or to tell too much
This seems like a cocktail party answer that he may have given before yet it is probably true and shows he has observed more than was originally likely.
The affable writers writer is addressed directly by the others and answers the others throughout and clearly knows the others work. He is a people person; his peanut butter and pickle sandwich story was funny and he knows that his comment about “anti-foamers” NY food stories was a perfect point for this audience to hear. Well played sir.
The witty woman (actor)/writer has lots of personal sharing with the audience that ends in rueful laughter. She was the first female winner of the Stella shouting contest at this festival.
The last writer, at first, talks slowly and with hesitation. He has an odd voice and accent. His intro is almost impossible to understand and trails off, somewhat uncomfortably it seems.
However, he is clearly valued by others on the panel and later on gets his bearings.
“Obscene, oppressive and critical eugenics” is his take on the New Republic’s take on essays, the one mentioned by Mod at the beginning. He takes hard umbrage at the idea of magazine writers as a new version of essayists; that was their milieu (which I appreciate as a word when pronounced by educated people) over the 300 years of essay writers.
The slowness of his voice grows on you and comes to sound like the bass line of this hour.
Audience time. The idea of the Mod’s that the writers would talk among themselves first was unrealized and probably doomed to failure in a non-Utopian workshop world.
Q: Memoir and essay?
Quiet writer: Implicit danger in any form that takes so much of it from the first person. Human tendency to find yourself more interesting than you really are.
Affable writer breaks in to say about quiet writer’s work: “His essays are like early Paul McCartney songs.”
Q: How does one move from technical writer to more personal writer
Confident man/writer: Write what is so personal that it seems wrong to publish.
Q: Southern woman who was a column writer loooong ago and told editor-bashing stories about saying “I” and then would not stop talking.
Witty woman actor answers amusingly and then talks of essayists with minds on fire. Contemporary non fiction can present the self in myriad forms.
Q: Voice compliment for witty woman actor/writer from 2nd year TWLF festival goer who asks about lack of madness in essay work and at this festival. She liked the statement of “Bleeding edge” which she says she has been assigned in her lifetime.
Confident man/writer asks sensible question about what she means. Questioner answers with what seems like a non-sequitur about madness and says this is a pleasant protest about lack of madness in the weekend.
Affable writer offers olive branch that all writers are medicated which, oddly brings mad applause from what sounds like 3 people, none near me thank god.
Q: Facts? Do you work around them?
Quiet writer: A fuddy duddy about facts.
Q: Willie Morris question, mostly writers look blank and none want to offer an answer at first.
Confident man/writer: New York Days-loved it, but then read review that called WM a liar.
Affable writer: Liked North Toward Home and collections.
Mentioned Donna Tartt piece about WM too.
More on seating. People sit quietly in this festival and rarely leave before the end.
After all is done, woman leaves stage quickly and men stay. Quiet writer soon looks ready to leave.
Mod tidies, having ended precisely on time.
A writer who talks of his signing with a passing organizer holds a small crowd at the back with quick talk and agreeable banter. Finally, he and his crowd leaves.
I checked-the Confident man/writer could not see the mirror from his seat.
The next workshop fills slowly, it is lunch time in New Orleans after all.