Friday, October 2, 2015

September to remember

Labor Day seems so long ago, and it was not quite a month back that I traveled to Bloomington, IN for a reading of TRIP THROUGH YOUR WIRES at Boxcar Books. Happily, I was joined by IU creative writing professor Elizabeth Eslami (author of HIBERNATE and BONE WORSHOP).

My cousin and his wife had me to dinner, along with two of my dear high school friends who live in town. Laughing, eating, and telling stories with my friends and family made me much less nervous to read. I pretty much always get nervous before I read.

Hard to say what is happening with my forearm muscle in this photo, but I cannot take my eyes off of it. That particular muscle is STRONG. I have no idea why. Maybe from picking up children?

Here is Liz, reading an incredible short story from her prize-winning collection HIBERNATE:

Later in the month, I had the good fortune to travel to Missoula for The Montana Book Festival. It was a jam-packed weekend of readings, panels, and social events.

I just made it to my Friday afternoon panel with suitcase in tow (possible title for something: Things to Do in Denver When You're Delayed),  and had a great session with Montana mystery writers Leslie Budewitz and Christine Carbo. Our panel was titled, "The Writer, the Mirror, the Map: Mystery Writers Reflect on Identity, Murder and Place."

We had a great crowd & great questions during the Q&A, and the author reception after gave us a chance to chat with festival-goers. A very nice audience member with terrific orange glasses stopped me on the street later to invite me for a drink with her crew; she had some Indy ties and we chatted a bit about Jim Jones. Regretfully, I declined, as I was headed to the next event of the evening.

Sarah Hepola (BLACKOUT: REMEMBERING THE THINGS I DRANK TO FORGET) and Kate Bolick (SPINSTER: MAKING A LIFE OF ONE'S OWN) in conversation was a definite highlight for me. These two forty-something women discussed what they called the "bonus decade" of leisure time - remaining unmarried, without children - while figuring their lives out. Their candor inspired me, and they clearly connected over their subject matter, varied though it was.

Here is the back of my head, bottom right, with the featured authors, mid-conversation:

(This photo appeared on the Montana Book Festival's Facebook page. Festival photos were taken by Claire Kelly Fox and Anna Maria Lopez.)

Other highlights: Talking with booklovers and booksellers. Charles D'Ambrosio's reading. A panel on genre/literary fiction with J. Robert Lennon, Ben Parzybok, Shya Scanlon, and Sharma Shields.

I told Lennon how I'd given his book, MAILMAN, to my mailman, and how he'd enjoyed it. Later that evening, Lennon and I chatted about the story he read during his session, and high-fived in the Missoula VFW.

And here is my book, enjoying the beautiful weather, the "M" tiny on the hill in the background...

 ...which I later hiked to on Sunday morning. Pictures or it didn't happen:

 Subtitle for September: Gonna Make You Sweat

Will you think I'm a total freakazoid if I mention that I noticed someone at the festival bookfair picking up and buying my book, and I surreptitiously took a picture?


(I also have a close-up version. But I'm not THAT much of a freakazoid to post it here. Jeez.)

At the closing beer & music event, someone asked me my connection to the festival. I briefly mentioned TRIP THROUGH YOUR WIRES, which he immediately recognized. "My wife bought it," he said. "I think you met her. Orange glasses? She'll be here in a minute."

So I did get that drink with the kind woman and her husband after all. And after? On a whim, I took a pedestrian bridge across the railroad, and happened upon this lucky shot:

My last event of the month was this past Monday at Purdue University, where I received my MFA in fiction writing. The MFA program brought me and my fellow alum, James Tadd Adcox, to campus for a reading. It was an incredible experience.

Super grateful that program director Brian Leung brought us to campus; coordinator Samantha Atkins anticipated our every planning need. Great conversation at dinner beforehand, and a lovely party afterward at thrown by Roxane Gay.

My former professor, Sharon Solwitz, introduced us and showered us with love, and I was reminded of the power of her mentorship. "Are you writing?" she asks, as if inquiring about my health. In a way, she is. This is a woman lauded in Best American Short Stories with a new novel coming from Random House. "What are you working on?" she asks. "How are revisions? How's the family?"

All my Purdue professors gave me great teaching models to aspire to. They shared such excitement for me and Tadd about our first novels (Tadd's is DOES NOT LOVE), and thanked us over and over again for coming to speak to MFA students and do a reading. I wasn't surprised by their kindness or gratitude, but I do have to say, emphatically, seriously, often: No, thank YOU.

That goes for everyone I had the chance to meet and reconnect with this September. When I was scheduling, three events in four weeks didn't seem like a lot. I had no idea how full -- how fulfilling -- September would be. Thank you.

*Closing credits, cue Earth Wind & Fire*

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