Shitty Photography by Kyle Muntz
herocious: For the record, what does AWP stand for, how long has it been around, and how many times have you participated?
Michael J Seidlinger: Had to perform a Google search because I attended AWP without knowing what “AWP” actually represents. If you asked me, I would tell you that it’s summer (winter?) camp for alcoholic writers. It’s a place where, more or less, there are at least a dozen party options at any given time of the day. There are almost way too many personalities and you get the sense that as you turn the corner you’ll run into someone you didn’t expect to meet. And then there’s the bookfair which is… oh god, “sensory overload.” Too much to see and too much to do. As the days progress, some vendors grow more desperate; by Saturday, Day 4, all books are 50% and sometimes as high as something like 80% off. Some vendors, especially if you know who’s working the table/booth, will give you free books. I could talk about the panels but I didn’t really go to any. I don’t intend on going to very many. There’s only so much time to spend at AWP and I already use all of my day and night getting as “writerly” as possible.
Term passed around during the sleep-deprived delusion of Day 3 and Day 4 of AWP:
“Writerly” – 1) the act of being damn fucking writerly 2) snootiness without the stench of people getting high off their own farts 3) An inside joke.
You want the boring answer? According to Google, and the official AWP website, it stands for “Association of Writers & Writing Programs.” I can stand by the “Association of Writers” part.
From what I understand, there was snow on the ground in Boston when you arrived. Did the snow stick for the entire duration of AWP? I’d like to think such a large-scale convergence of literary minds would raise the temperature.
Indoors it was smoldering, brimming with writerly fumes; outside the wind blew so hard that snow fell sideways. It was hell out there but that didn’t stop a few friends (Kyle Muntz, Cameron Pierce, Kirsten Alene Pierce, Eddy Rathke, and Garrett Cook) and I from weathering the snowstorm, bar hopping and getting lost in downtown Boston looking for liquor stores. When the snow ceased to fall, there were the mounds of snow and slush to step in and drench your shoes and socks, rendering each step a squishy and unpleasant feat. The storm continued for quite some time; too bad really because when it finally cleared up, so too were the hotels.
AWP was over.
You live in Fairfax, Virginia. Were you also born there? How much longer do you expect to live there?
Indeed, I currently live in Northern Virginia while I attend George Washington University where I am pursuing my Masters in Business (with a track in Publishing). I intend on living here throughout 2013 and much of 2014. I don’t know where I’ll go next but it’s looking like either New York or Portland. Wherever I can find publishing business gigs.
I grew up in the suburbs of Virginia but soon moved to Orlando, FL, city of commercial hell (read: the opposite of writerly subject material. Instead you get stuff like commercial billboards, tollbooths everywhere, and Disney. Damn Disney).
I could say more about my childhood but I choose to err towards a very writerly silence.
How long have you known Kyle Muntz? It seems like you spent a lot of time with Muntz at AWP, drinking and talking about ‘writerly things’ and I’d like to know, for the record, in a vague general sense, what these talks addressed?
Kyle Muntz was the first writer I met online via social media back in 2010. We met around the same time we both started writing seriously and quickly cultivated a friendship where we traded ideas, manuscripts, and advice as we both pursued the writing craft. I still remember sending him some shitty early novel of mine expecting to never hear from him again.
Since then, we’ve spoken pretty much every day. I just checked our chat history and it looks like we’re nearing 110,000 lines. Not words, lines. That means you could probably double that if measured in word count. Comprise all of it and you could turn it into a crappy, apathetic novel about two writers venting, philosophizing, sharing recommendations, and shooting the shit for, who knows, something like 200,000 words.
What did we discuss? Everything from online author presence to who had to sleep on the floor with no blankets because all of the hotel room beds were taken; who I’ll punch in the face if they snore to whether or not mixing Dr. Pepper, an energy drink, leftover gin and leftover whiskey would make for a good idea.
A selection of “writerly” topics include: indie/small press community, Samuel Delany’s early work, semiotics, use of adverbs and adjectives in creative writing, counting manuscript length based on number-of-pages or word-count, imbedding voice under surface rather than over (as in how to manipulate the way you write so that you can make use of your strengths while diminishing the weaknesses), Don Delillo’s very writerly scowl, and the evolution of the novel (from being 400-500 page commitments to the more commonplace example seen in a wide majority of small publishers where books are anywhere from 60 to 200 pages).
What happened at AWP that made sense at the time, but no longer does?
Probably everything. Much of the experience is a delicate blur of positivity. Piecing away specific instances outside of the obvious go-to items seems impossible at the moment.
I’ll focus in on some of Day 3. Day 1, I had only slept 1.5 hours. Day 2, I barely slept at all. Perhaps I teetered through that grey area of semi-consciousness where you are technically asleep but you are still consciously running through ideas. Prior to bed rest, you had to expect that there was enough drinking, conversation, readings, random antics, and bookfair/meet and greet happenings, to drain whatever energy I had in the first place.
By Day 3, I was operating on the strategies I had developed from being a lifelong insomniac. After the Piss Poor hotel afterparty adjourned at around 6:30AM, Eddy Rathke, Alexander J Allison, and I decided to power through the rest of the day sleepless and drunk. With all the beds in the hotel room claimed, it seemed like a sound enough decision. We stepped out into the clear but cold downtown Boston streets where every couple steps we slipped on ice-covered sidewalk slabs. We searched for breakfast but it was too early so, via Alexander J Allison’s suggestion, we decided to be “writerly” for a while and tend to the hotel bill.
While Alexander and I went through the surprisingly irritating manner with which Marriott sets up and splits hotel room bills across multiple guests, Eddy Rathke was the first to feel the punishing effects of the multiple day bender. Claiming to have suddenly felt the exhaustion catch up, I told him to go relax on one of the lobby couches while we tended to the bill. Simple enough, right? Not with the Marriott’s policies. It took us a good 20 minutes before we cleared it all up. By then, Eddy had been left alone to the treacherous effects of drunken slumber. We found him half slumped over, his neck craned and stuck to his left shoulder, face pale with a pained expression.
It took Alexander and I a few minutes to wake him. Afterwards, Eddy would go on to claim that it was like he hadn’t passed out at all.
No recollection of the complete shutdown.
Fast forward to post-breakfast. Like a champ, Alexander went to a panel while Eddy and I decided to cave in and take a nap. Yeah, all we wanted to do was nap for a few hours before heading back into the AWP insanity but Marriott’s elevators wouldn’t let us.
Riding the elevator up to the hotel room on the 18th floor turned out to be impossible. It stopped on 15 and three AWP attendees stepped inside, the elevator descending down to the lobby. Second attempt, the elevator stopped at 6, down to 4, and back to the lobby, each time letting more people on and off the elevator. Again we went, trying for the 18th floor only to reach 11 before a Marriott hotel employee with a clipboard stepped on, proceeding to stop the elevator on every goddamn floor from 2 up to 14 before choosing to stay on the 14th floor. Back down we went to the ground floor. Achingly repeat it a few more times; lobby to 9th floor; lobby to 17th, so damn close, but no, back down to the lobby. By now Eddy and I had succumbed to delusional laughter, much to the distress of everyone that rode the elevator with us.
Eventually we got to the 18th floor but by then it was too late. I remember looking to my right as we passed by one of those high-rise hotel windows with an incredible view and telling Eddy that I’m done. Just done. He agreed, the both of us collapsing to the hallway floor, passed out there for a good two hours before my phone rang, which I confused for Eddy’s despite it being right next to me, Cameron Pierce on the line, calling from the bookfair about planning the next AWP juncture.
This is merely one sliver of the AWP experience. I chose it because it was particularly vivid in my mind at the time of completing this interview.
There are so many, so many alcohol-drenched memories.
Of the writers you met, how do their online presences compare to who they really are?
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that nearly everyone I met seemed to either match their online presence or exceed it in person. I cannot even begin to include everyone so Please, don’t be mad if I did not include you. I haven’t forgotten but there are simply so many great faces fused into my mind; this is merely the best snapshot I could muster at the moment:
Cameron Pierce is seriously the coolest person I’ve met. I haven’t gotten along so well with another writerly mind. We really see eye-to-eye on all sorts of topics.
Kirsten Alene Pierce is as kind as she is funny. She can sell books without confronting the potential buyer like so many others at the AWP bookfair are known to do.
Kyle Muntz, having finally met him in person, only reassures me of the fact that he is my best friend. That won’t change anytime soon. He’s sillier, funnier in person but can still talk literature, theory, and all things writerly with a single chug of gin.
Eddy Rathke can hold as much liquor as I can, talk as much as I do, take any joke too far, and still manage to go for broke tabling for JA Tyler at the Dzanc/Mud Luscious Press table in between every chaotic event.
Alexander J Allison is a true gentleman and has the best damn reading voice ever. He’s way too damn smart and mature for being 21 years old.
Justin Sirois knows how to turn a conversation around into something stellar, smokes only the best damn cigars, and still finds time to sip whiskey after a long flight full of delays due to the weather.
Gregory Sherl is as close a writer/poet will ever get to being Kanye West. Swagger God.
Matt Bell can turn AWP upside down, selling out an entire table’s worth of books while still putting on one hell of a good reading performance. Being an extremely nice and honest guy with a bucketload of advice and fun conversation is a definite plus.
Brian Allen Carr puts on an incredible reading performance, can slip in talk about stuff like strip clubs in casual table conversation without anyone even noticing. He knows how it is, the whole writerly thing.
Lily Hoang is incredibly sweet, gives amazing hugs, has a great smile, and even when she’s more than a little tipsy, she can talk up writerly things with ease.
Ben Tanzer warms up a room with his extreme kindheartedness, going so far as to merge right into the insanity of AWP straight from the plane just so that he could go around and meet up with everyone and not miss a single moment. Who does that but Ben?
Gabriel Blackwell sports a really serious beard and an even more serious mastery of the writerly things.
David Atkinson is an all around great guy – juggling all areas of the AWP experience (tabling, signing, reading, etc) while still managing to hang around and talk; it is almost way too easy to end up wasting an hour speaking with him and I would have easily spent another hour just talking about the writerly and the random.
Joseph Owens is extremely tall, extremely smart, and extremely laid back. Between discussion of books like Babel-17 he still managed to entrance the entire group involved in a debate/discussion about the art of videogames.
Matthew Salesses is about as laid back as you’d want in a person. He’s got a really approachable and generous charisma about him and, walking the bookfair, I bumped into him a handful of times only to end up lured back to the Guernica/Good Men Project table to which he was working. It’s just way too easy to shoot the shit with such a kind and laid back man.
Roxane Gay is so writerly that she can get to talking about anything even after having championed a whole night of drinking.
xTx has a really great smile, voice, and appreciation for the entire lit community.
A sample of other amazing people met:
Cassandra Troyan, Scott McClanahan, JA Tyler, Phil Jourdan, Matty Byloos, Steve Roggenbuck, Stephen Tully Dierks, Pela Via, Adam Robinson, Caleb Ross, Alex Pruteanu, Mel Bosworth, Garett Cook, Corey Zeller, David Greenspan, Roy Kesey, Gordon Highland, Justin Daugherty, Tim Horvath, Jason Cook, James Tadd Adcox, Matthew Savoca, Alban Fischer, Kendra Grant Malone, Andrew Worthington, Melissa Broder, Misty Bennett, Adam Cesare, Moon Temple, Elaine Sun, Will Bechtold, Marshall Mallicoat, and Stephen Michael McDowell.
As I said, there are just too many other people I know I am forgetting… my memory fails more often than it succeeds.
What presses did you learn about that you hadn’t heard of before?
It wasn’t so much what I learned but rather what I never noticed until now. The literary community is strong and healthy. There are plenty of personalities doing wonderful things with books and with all the talk about people no longer reading and publishing beginning to collapse, it is times like these that it pays to note that the community is strong and willing to treat each other with respect.
What books did you come away with and in what order will you read them?
On Booze – F Scott Fitzgerald
Die You Doughnut Bastards – Cameron Pierce
Edie & the Low-Hung Hands – Brian Allen Carr
Unicorn Battle Squad – Kirsten Alene
Critique of Pure Reason – Gabriel Blackwell
Chick Bassist – Ross E Lockhart
Hydroplane – Susan Steinberg
It Was Like My Trying to Have a Tender-Hearted Nature – Diane Williams
The Complete Tales of Lucy Gold – Kate Bernheimer
The Book of Portraiture – Steve Tomasula
Patriotism – Yukio Mishima
The Walk – Robert Walser
From Old Notebooks – Evan Lavender-Smith
Any Deadly Thing – Roy Kesey
Do you have a work in progress?
I am currently writing something to do with a sport of some kind. That’s all I’ll say.