Chester Pane's picture
Chester Pane from Portland, Oregon is reading The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz October 2, 2011 - 2:54pm

Wordstock is not just about readings and writings and authors and dropping word-laced acid. Actually it's about too many things to even begin to describe. Especially when you're experiencing the festival through tie-dyed pupils which for the most part, most Wordstockers are, myself included. Just ask our own Joshua Chaplinsky.  

That's why I decided I better create this Throg to at least impart some of the magic that has become the Northwestern United States biggest and dare I say most erudite International Book Fair. 

I wish you could all witness the literal insanity firsthand with me. But since you can't, at least you can check in here occassionally to see a bit of it through my lens, even if that lens might be melting or seeing things that aren't there.

If past Wordstocks serve as any gauge of what's in store for this year, then this should be the biggest, baddest and most horny yet.

My experience starts tomorrow with a The Nervous Breakdown event at Bunk Bar. I will fill you in on the details, so stay tuned.

*disclaimer: Wordstock attendees have been known to do crazy things in response to being overwhelmed by such a girthy mass of literary greatness, so if I get incarcerated or anything just know that I will report back at some point even if I have to reference flashbacks to do it.

wickedvoodoo's picture
wickedvoodoo from Mansfield, England is reading stuff. October 2, 2011 - 2:58pm

That looks sweet. Makes me miss being in a city that had any educational worth. Mansfield (the town I escaped from to study and then slunk back to when I wanted a job) would never be host to anything nearly as interesting as this. Shit, we're down to one bookshop and it sucks.


Nick Wilczynski's picture
Nick Wilczynski from Greensboro, NC is reading A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin October 2, 2011 - 3:07pm

Sounds cool, I look forward to at least hearing about it.

Chester Pane's picture
Chester Pane from Portland, Oregon is reading The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz October 2, 2011 - 3:36pm

@Martin, Yeah Portland has a potent reading and writing community as you probably already know. Sometimes we forget how lucky we are to have easy access to so many quality resources.

@Nick. Let me know when you want to trade places. Charlotte Amalie, sheesh.

Nick Wilczynski's picture
Nick Wilczynski from Greensboro, NC is reading A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin October 2, 2011 - 3:43pm

Well, I'm not in Charlotte Amalie right now, I just put my hometown when they asked where I was from. I'm in NC. The weather is not so nice.

Chester Pane's picture
Chester Pane from Portland, Oregon is reading The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz October 3, 2011 - 7:04pm

Visuals and information on The Nervous Breakdown/Bunk Bar Event.

Just for visuals and the menu. Stay Tuned for details on how it all went down.

Nav Persona's picture
Nav Persona from Purgatory is reading The Babayaga October 3, 2011 - 8:00pm

damn. I'm living the emptiness. i live in an artistic wasteland.


Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading a lot more during the quarantine October 3, 2011 - 9:28pm

Well shoot, we just posted a news item about Wordstock earlier today. You should share some of your experiences over there as well.

Charles's picture
Charles from Portland is reading Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones October 4, 2011 - 12:05am

just got back from hanging out with chet at this thing, and drinking and shmoozing with one of the authors who makes me jealous (one james bernard frost), who thanked me for showing up to so many readings and asked how my writing was going.

i won a piece from the guy who does the art for nervous breakdown. i would have won like half of the pieces, but they wouldnt let me have more than one. although the MC came up to me later and said i made a crowd of MFA's look stupid.

i think chet said he would post pictures, or something. we'll be out again tomorrow, for another reading.

Chester Pane's picture
Chester Pane from Portland, Oregon is reading The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz October 4, 2011 - 2:58am

Just for starters, Litreactions.


Chester Pane's picture
Chester Pane from Portland, Oregon is reading The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz October 4, 2011 - 3:40am

@Josh: PM me. I will have some stories to tell. Hopefully to the Joyce-Fart level.

Chester Pane's picture
Chester Pane from Portland, Oregon is reading The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz October 13, 2011 - 6:49am

Wordstock Flashback for Oct. 5 2011

Stories were shook, hands were read and now I'm fairly confident in my assessment that there were some throbbing The Nervous Breakdown heads pulsing around out there following Monday night's event. Hopefully everyone remembers what they said and heard, because what came out of their mouths and went into our ears was some damn good writing. But even if the night's events are a little fuzzmelty, not to fret because the volume on these artists is getting louder and louder.

The evening got started in typical TNB fashion with blistering chick-vocal neo-punk rock band Minty Rosa. The foursome shredded several tunes while the crowd shoveled Bunk sandwiches and beers down their throats. I think I saw some people eating paper but that always happens at Readings will all that delicious paper floating around. 

The event was mc'd by the lovely and erudite Meg Worden, a TNB writer who has a way of getting you to look  deep into her dark eyes like some sort of coach telling you what the next hail mary play is going to be. "Look in my eyes Chester!" She augmented the flavor of the entire event with her searing, zesty wit.

At one point she asked if anyone in the audience had a "literary tattoo" on their body to which a bearded Hell's Angel-zy lookin' guy responded with this: "I do. I have a Charles Bukowski quote on my ass." Worden  asked him to come up on stage, insisting that she needed to get a closer look. The big fella with the 10-year beard didn't turn out to be as tough as he looked and refused. The crowd egged him on. When Worden pushed the issue, he replied by stating that the ink was in "the crack of my ass," to which Worden responded "Well spread those cheeks then and let's have a read. I love Bukowski."

G. Xavier Robillard, also known as The Ass Napkin and author of Captain Freedom wore a Warren Ellis designed Space Bastard t-shirt and read a non-fiction memoirzy piece about his traumatic experiences as an EMT and the hopelessness he often felt when the job he was supposed to be doing presented impossible circumstances where there really was nothing one could do but look on in horror and disbelief. Despite the macabre story line, stylistically Robillard wove some of his trademark satire and dark humor in to lighten the gurney. He then went on to tell the story of his pursuit to become an ER Doctor. Luckily he didn't ever achieve that goal, he mused, because "Doctors are boring." His G is for Gangsta CD can be found here. I have a copy that needs a Sharpie.

TNB non-fiction editor Quenby Moone followed Robillard's dark humor with a sad but humorous piece of her own. Based on circumstances surrounding her late father's death, the story details the daunting task of liquidating her dead father's possessions. In the process Quenby and her brother discover a curious box of items that speak volumes about a part of their father's life that they were not aware of, and probably didn't want to be. Toys and Movies, an entire collection of high-quality porn assaulted their eyeballs and came on the once shiny image they both held of him. Quenby went on to describe what they did next--to the salacious delight of the crowd.

Sean Beaudoin author of You Killed Wesley Payne looks more like a pro quarterback or tight end than a writer of wild fiction, but he delivers his bizarro skewered prose with Joe Montana finesse and Dock Ellis accuracy.  Beaudoin in a sleevless black rocker T,  proceeded to tell an outlandish tale that would have made even Dante proud. Having shoulder conversations with both God and the Devil, the narrator winds up in a number of precarious and compromising scenarios. The allegory reaches a surreal climax when much to his dismay the narrator is beckoned into a dark tool shed by the Devil. When the Devil exposes himself the narrator realizes that the Devil's penis is shaped just like a small person complete with all the anatomical parts to perfect scale. Upon closer inspection, he realizes that the penis-person is in fact himself. At this point Beaudoin quipped "The Devil was going to fuck me with me." 


Vanessa Veselka, author of Zazen, took the stage dressed in a black, long-sleeved bulk-knit sweater, splayed wide to display a shoulders-to-knees or floor-to-ceiling periwinkle négligé. Her German barmaid stature and smart looking glasses radiated the cool confidence of someone who has seen some things in life but did not shy away from them, instead like many a good writer, embracing them for future literary fodder.

Her work in progress, she told me she isn't yet sure "...if it will become my second novel yet," revolves around a transient young woman who, destitute and cornered in Vienna on New Years Eve, meets the Picassoesque Ursula, an artist and dominatrix who is looking for female models. Nude models of course.

Ultimately the narrator, a young woman full of creative potential herself is forced to do things merely to survive. But at least she won't have to prostitute herself. Or will she? Veselka's poetic prose is of the hypnotic variety. Her words spin (unless it was the room) a mesmerizing story sheen, much like her négligée. Silking her way through spent sheets of prose, Veselka tossed the leaves of manuscript as if they were paper grenades she'd just pulled the pins on. But they didn't explode, they just drifted back and forth lilting through the air like the skin of dead trees on their way to the stage floor. Veselka reads at Wordstock 3pm Sunday with Charles Yu on the Community Stage.

James Bernard Frost read this. Just close your eyes and listen because my camera sucks but the audio is surprisingly good for a point and shoot whose shutter is frozen open by grains of sand from Sandbathing. James is one of a stable of talented Northwest writers published by Hawthorne Books, the same Portland small press responsible for publishing writers you know like Monica Drake, Lidia Yuknavitch and Scott Nadelson who are all perennial regulars at Wordstock. Frost's new novel A Very Minor Prophet is slated to hit shells on April Fool's Day 2012.

Perhaps the highest profile author of the evening was Jonathan Evison whose debut novel All About Lulu won the 2008 Washington State book Award. Evison took the stage double fisting a beer and a neat-looking glass of amber. He wore a black porkpie hat and matching suit that he "had dry-cleaned" specially for the event. Jonathan told the story of a man struggling to come to terms with an undesired marital separation; the couple had decided to begin seeing other people, well at least the wife had. The narrator discovers through facebook that his wife seems to be paying a lot of attention to a particular "friend."

The hilarity begins when the husband friends this friend and begins tracking his every move. Sensing the inevitable loss of his wife, he begins a sardonic loathing of the guy only to discover that the guy has a lot of the same interests and "likes" as he does. Then his wife has him served with divorce papers.

Evison is one of those multi-talented creatives who as a teenager played in bands with future members of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. He is also the Executive Editor of The Nervous Breakdown. His forthcoming novel West of Here is already garnering considerable attention.

Following the readings Meg Worden held a literary trivia test and LitReactor's own Charles King  ran away with top honors (go Reactors!) winning a framed original Ted McCagg  illustration. Actually Chuck answered nearly all of the questions before anyone else, but only one prize per contestant was allowed. We all know he's a genius though, even if he is the site curmudgeon.

Thanks for reading. Next up a flashback from Tuesday Night with Saurabh Tak. Just waiting for the flashback.


Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading a lot more during the quarantine October 4, 2011 - 9:45am

Haha. No column spoilers. That one will be rearing its head come Friday.

Chester Pane's picture
Chester Pane from Portland, Oregon is reading The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz October 4, 2011 - 6:29pm

Oh shit! I keep doing that to you. Ok. I will link it up then. Thanks for the headsup Josh.

Chester Pane's picture
Chester Pane from Portland, Oregon is reading The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz October 6, 2011 - 11:08pm

Oh, and special thanks to Richard Thomas for the headsup on Monday nights The Nervous Breakdown event. Richard, you are ubiquitous.

Charles's picture
Charles from Portland is reading Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones October 8, 2011 - 9:46pm

@chester: ive been nothing but friendly here. stop calling me that. that's why my name isnt the same here....

Chester Pane's picture
Chester Pane from Portland, Oregon is reading The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz October 9, 2011 - 3:58am

It was all in good fun. Lighten up. Own it. I love you.

Liana's picture
Liana from Romania and Texas is reading Naked Lunch October 9, 2011 - 9:50am

Chester I wish I lived closer to there so I could beat literary drums with you and the rest. Sounds like you had gallons of fun!

Chester Pane's picture
Chester Pane from Portland, Oregon is reading The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz October 10, 2011 - 6:59pm

I wish you lived closer too so we could hang out and start a writers group. It is such an amazing Festival. I have a lot more to tell, but until then here is an Oregonian Article by Jeff Baker:

Liana's picture
Liana from Romania and Texas is reading Naked Lunch October 10, 2011 - 9:30pm

That sounds like an awesome place to be. And it was only 10 bucks?

Chester Pane's picture
Chester Pane from Portland, Oregon is reading The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz October 11, 2011 - 8:04am

For the whole weekend. And they give away free books. And talk to Authors, Agents, Editors and Publishers. You should visit for next years.

Charles's picture
Charles from Portland is reading Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones October 11, 2011 - 9:47am

@chet: jeff offers a class in northwest lit at PSU. while i think his work for the class is misguided and should include more creativity (you'll understand by the end of this) because having so many awesome authors in from week to week to discuss their work, and writing in general, i feel writing book reviews is kind of dumb.when i took his class, these people came in:

monica drake

katherine dunn

jimmy mcdonough

peter rock

paul collins

willy vlautin

lidia yuknavich

Chester Pane's picture
Chester Pane from Portland, Oregon is reading The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz October 11, 2011 - 8:42pm

Thanks Chuck. I tend to like his articles. That is a nice tasty list. 

Bradley Sands's picture
Bradley Sands from Boston is reading Greil Marcus's The History of Rock 'N' Roll in Ten Songs October 11, 2011 - 8:59pm

Damn, wish I wasn't missing it. Moving to Portland next month.

Charles's picture
Charles from Portland is reading Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones October 11, 2011 - 9:11pm

@brad: drop me a line and we shall consume beer

Bradley Sands's picture
Bradley Sands from Boston is reading Greil Marcus's The History of Rock 'N' Roll in Ten Songs October 12, 2011 - 12:34am

Sounds good.

I'm heading straight to this convention from the airport:

Chester Pane's picture
Chester Pane from Portland, Oregon is reading The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz October 12, 2011 - 8:11am

That is so cool Bradley. I am going to Bizarrocon too. I would love to join you and Chuck and meet in person.

Charles's picture
Charles from Portland is reading Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones October 12, 2011 - 10:57am

@brad whats this thing cost for just a day (maybe 2, if i hear about something i need to see there) for michelle and i to go and pay the registration fees on the site would be waaayy expensive... so if i cant get around that, i'll meet you at edgefield for food/boozing, but i wont stay long.

Bradley Sands's picture
Bradley Sands from Boston is reading Greil Marcus's The History of Rock 'N' Roll in Ten Songs October 12, 2011 - 12:08pm

Chester: Glad to hear you're going.

Charles: They offer a "Saturday only pass" for $25 that you can buy online via paypal at

You have to pay the full amount to attend the other days, but Saturday is the day when the most things happen. Also, for some reason even though it's after September 30th and the website says a pass for the entire thing now costs $80, it still costs $60 if you click to pay for it on Paypal.


Chester Pane's picture
Chester Pane from Portland, Oregon is reading The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz October 14, 2011 - 9:34am

Wordstock Flashback for Oct. 6, 2011

Festivals are unpredictable. This is what you're thinking as you take another sip of your beer. You like beer cuz it makes you feel funny, especially this beer. And it makes you talk in second person, which you find amusing. And safe.

Mirror Pond. That's the beer's name. You keep looking into it expecting to find yourself staring back, but by the time you do you've swallowed the pond, mirror and all. You taste your reflection rumbling around in your borborygmal stomach. You stare into the almost empty pint glass at the foamy residuals. The bubbles look like they're multiplying, making beer babies. Probably just a trick of the light, you think. Just to be safe you look away because as much as you want to discover self-regenerating beer you fear that such an epiphany might compromise your sanity.

You stare at the floor. Is that a snake? It is olive-skinned with dark mysterious eyes. You wonder if snakes are allowed in bars. Seems like a good place for snakes. He is weaving through a circle of writers. Jonathan Evison doesn't seem to notice him. Vanessa Veselka does. At least you think so by the way she is smiling seductively at it. She must like snakes, you think.

 The snake is handsome and you can't take your eyes off him. He is wearing really nice shoes. That's when it dawns on you that the snake has legs. Has someone put legs on a snake? It says something to Vanessa then walks over to you in its tight jeans. It hops up into your lap. Your very own lap snake. You've never had a lap snake before. Well not one with legs anyway.

This is weird, you think when the lap snake starts to talk. A walking talking snake. "Hello," it says, a Hindi accent flickering on its lambent sounding tongue "Allow me to introduce myself. I am Saurabh Tak."

That's when you realize that you're not seeing a snake at all, but a man. And he's no longer sitting in your lap but on the chair next to you. There might still be a snake in there somewhere beneath all that handsomeness, but for now you try to compose yourself and converse. "Nice to meet you Saurabh," you slur, your Mirror Pond breath faintly visible in the Bunk Bar air. You reach for your beer, but it has regenerated yet. A small piece of paper is sitting at the bottom that you hadn't noticed before. It has the Wordstock logo on it.

Please, call me Tak (Talk) "I am performing tomorrow evening at the Profile Theatre in the Belmont District. I would like to extend you an invitation." You are still thinking about snakes with legs but manage to slur out "I would love to." Tak reaches out to shake your hand. Apparently snakes have hands too, or at least tonight they do. He hands you a flyer and walks away. You read one of the quotes. The text looks furry. It says:

Saurabh Tak probably had the most uproarious story of the evening.

-The Washington Post.


 If David Sedaris were straight and he wrote an episode of Sex and the City...

-Jen Kwok, NYC Comedian



You arrive the following evening after sleeping most of the day. You couldn't stop dreaming about snakes wearing nice Italian loafers. Tak is on a funny looking stage. It portrays the backyard of a house, complete with a small swimming pool and deck. As you take your seat the lights dim.

Tak is an animated storyteller. His repertoire of stories revolve around his Coming to America experiences, the perceptions of an Indian pursuing the so-called American Dream. The once aspiring Bollywood actor holds a stage presence and demeanor that generate laughter even when he is silent.

In one of his funnier accounts, Tak recalls his relationship with an affluent jeweler named Philip. Soon after coming to the states Tak becomes a traveling gemstone jewelry sales rep. and the Virginian becomes one of his first customers.

Tak is quickly impressed by the "mountain of a man" American who woo's women so effortlessly and talks of eating pussy. Tak remembers wanting to be able to feel as comfortable around women as Philip seems to. And when Philip tells Tak:

"Let me tell you something, with your olive skin and your deep brown eyes you gonna be bangin' Punani wherever you go!" Tak follows this line with one that illustrates his timing as a performer and his unique Indian wit: I am secretly thrilled at my promising sex prospects. And I am happy when I make a sale.

Tacit inner dialogue exchanges like these recur throughout his performances and are executed with impeccable timing through his loquacious voice.

Later on in the story Philip invites Tak to dinner. Philip picks Tak up in his flashy convertible and Tak is again impressed and feeling lucky to have met this man, declaring to himself "A real American likes me!" Philip, married to a beautiful woman and the father of three, suggests that Tak stay in his guest room instead of driving back to New York. Tak is thrilled. As the two drive along with the top down the sun begins to set and Philip says "Tak,  I need to tell you something and I hope you're okay with it. I am gay."

Tak does a double take. He can't believe this offensive lineman of a jeweler who dispenses "tips on how to please women with your tongue" is gay. Sure, he had never met a gay man before so he wasn't sure if he would know one if he saw one. When Philip inquires about Tak's sexuality "Tak, are you Gay?" Tak responds "No, I don't think so...that's just my English."

The story reaches a climax when following dinner Tak begins to contemplate the circumstances:

"On the drive back I start preparing for the worst. Well if he only touches me it's survivable. But what if he tries to go all the way? Oh boy that's gonna hurt!"


Saurabh Tak also performed earlier in the week at Back Fence PDX and is a Moth Slam Winner. He is currently living in New York City with plans to move back to India to focus on his writing and conduct research for his Cookbook Seven Sisters, inspired by seven sisters.







Chester Pane's picture
Chester Pane from Portland, Oregon is reading The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz October 16, 2011 - 6:34pm

Wordstock Flashback for Oct. 8, 2011

You see Book People. Hundreds and hundreds of them. Thousands even. They're pouring into the Rose Quarter from all over the country, pouring from the doors of cars and buses, trains and bikes. And yes, bikes have doors, you just have to use your imagination to see them.

It's Saturday. Some of the Book People look hung-over. Or maybe everything looks hung-over through hung-over eyes beneath a head of hung-over hair. Your hair needs a drink. You wonder if that's where that one saying comes from.

Anyway, these Book People, they're walking toward this sprawling brick edifice, many of them craning their necks to look up at the twin glass spires that rise sharply skyward from its rooftop. Inside these giant vitreous spikes are clean skeletons of white structural steel, displayed neatly like the treasured bones of some architectonic creature. You wish you could scale the bones naked. But that will have to wait for another day because you've got a Book Fair to attend to.

Swinging glass mouths flap open and closed, swallowing Book People, swallowing you. Inside the yawning space people wearing red shirts with question marks on them hand you a schedule "Welcome to Wordstock," they say. Their breath smells like paper. 

You walk toward the main exhibit hall. Is that Monica Drake? Between glances in the Clown Girl's direction (is she ignoring you?) you flip through the schedule and see something that catches your eye. You tacitly tell Drake that you'd love to stay and chat, but you have places to read and authors to go. It's a good thing you didn't open your mouth cuz if your mind is this tongue-tied just think of how disheveled your mouth must be. Nevertheless you wink at her, or maybe thats her daughter. You coulrophile you.

The National Endowment for the Arts Stage is the biggest and central most stage at Wordstock.. Behind it is a big red screen that reads:

"How to win over Agents and Editors."

One of a number of weekend panel discussions, this one's moderated by blue-eyed blonde author/agent Mandy Hubbard and paneled by;

Los Angeles/Portland agent Betsy Amster

Inkwell agent David Forrer

Hawthorne Books editor/publisher Rhonda Hughes

Underland Press owner Victoria Blake


Mandy: How do you find authors?

Betsy: Lit mags, conferences and periodicals.

David: I actually spend a lot of time trying to win over clients. I am not only looking for a great author but also a cohesive working relationship. As far as the work goes I pay attention when one sentence of a manuscript tells me that I need to read more. I am also looking for authors who possess a genuine ambition for their writing and a clear knowledge of the industry.

Rhonda: When I first started I actually contacted Literary Arts and acquired the names of authors who were winning awards and fellowships for their writing but weren't necessarily being published. I got their phone numbers and called them inquiring if they had any novels sitting around. But now I have a large stack of manuscripts coming in that I read. I also contact authors I see in Journals.

Mandy: I'd just like to add that Query Letters do work, especially when they are good. Make sure your query letter is good. A good site for this is

Mandy: What kind of author are you looking for?

Rhonda: Someone who gets in the trenches with you.

David: A writer with a solid understanding of the Industry and their Audience. Authors reach audiences with something very specific, so I look for authors who have something very unique and specific about their writing.

Betsy: Someone that the publisher can't even keep up with, someone dynamic.

Mandy: Are there any red flags you look for when dealing with a potential client?

Mandy: Impatience.

David: When I get through informing an author about how a particular aspect of the business needs to be handled and they simply reject it or won't listen. Also impatience.

Rhonda: A poorly written query letter or manuscript.

David: I read query letters from the bottom up. In other words, the credits that are usually found at the bottom of the letter tell me a lot. They tell me if I might want to look further.

Betsy: The credits at the bottom of the query letter are very important.

Rhonda: But I also have to have a certain feeling in my gut...but it also has to be the right fit.

Betsy: Also persistence.

David: I also wanted to mention that I don't just send books out to publishers and editors. There is a methodical approach and handling...a whole process. Also, though, I do buy one book a year that I know I shouldn't buy, that I take a gut feeling risk on.

Mandy: I also want to say to authors to stick with it. Work on your craft. Sometimes the only difference between a published artist and an unpublished one is one day.

Mandy: Describe your typical day working.

David: I always say the one thing we as agents don't do during the day is read. Email and other obligations take over...

Rhonda: I try to do my creative work in the morning and fade into email and networking for the rest of the day.

Victoria: I also read and do anything creative in the morning until email and everything else takes over.

David: I just wanted to add that nowadays with everything being electronic that when I get the occasional good old-fashioned 'snail mail' query I actually open them up. There is something personal about it that someone went to the trouble to do that.

Betsy: Also, research your contact! Know who you are contacting.

Audience Questions:

What would you like a prospective author to bring to the table?

Betsy: We need leverage. Sales potential. Demonstrated success, electronic or otherwise. Everything I read right now is on an e-book.

David: I want to see that an author has demonstrated success in a micro market.

Rhonda: Any attention you get for yourself in advance before approaching us is a huge plus.

Betsy: Also, the first three pages of a novel embedded in an email.

David: I'd like to add that it should be as close to something you've written before as a sample. Also, I want to know why you are the person to write this book?

Rhonda: I am personally just as interested in the writing as the subject content.

Are any of you interested in the non-traditional, experimental approaches to writing?

All: Yes. Yes. Yes.

Should I copyright everything I write?

Betsy: Absolutely not. The best way to copyright something affordably is to put it in an envelop and mail it to yourself so it gets postmarked.

What about approaching agents or publishers at conferences or book fairs?

All: Don't do it

Victoria: We are all preoccupied and super busy here. Instead go to our websites and research how a certain agent likes to be contacted but also look for ways to connect on a personal level.

Mandy: I love chai tea lattes!

David: Or include in your query "I saw or heard you at Wordstock" or wherever else you have a connection.

I hear the term platform alot. What does it mean?

Betsy: Your platform is your tribe, your people. Your followers. Twitter followers, blog followers, your readers...but it has to be quantifiable so you can show it in your query letter. Also that helps to justify the 'why you' portion of the query letter.

David: Your platform also lets us know that you know who your audience is.

Mandy: In closing I just wanted to say how important a one-line hook is. When I was approached by a particular author, she had a one-line hook that said so much about the novel. That line is now on the back of the book. That will carry through from first contact to the publishing of the book.

Victoria: If it's good and its marketable, then we are inspired.

Mandy: So work on your writing and make sure it's good,


Next up Diana Abu-Jaber reads from Birds of Paradise. 

But first you're going to need to do something about this hung-over hair.






Chester Pane's picture
Chester Pane from Portland, Oregon is reading The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz October 22, 2011 - 8:51am

Wordstock Flashback for Oct. 8, 2011

12:00 pm:

"Good hair-of-the-dog-day to you," you say to the bartender as you throw down a blast of Lovejoy

 Your hair is feeling better. More laid back.

There. That does it. Your hair is feeling better. More relaxed. From bad-hair day to good-hair day in a small chilled glass. The only problem is that good hair requires maintenance. But for now the Lovejoy  is doing the trick." Vodka and hair tonic sans tonic," you mumble to yourself. Synthetic distilled wit. You wonder if anyone famous sees you talking to yourself. That might make you more interesting.

You check the Wordstock Schedule. So many choices. A chorus loops in your head:

You want to know everything

You want to be everywhere

You want to fuck everyone one in the literary world

You want to write something that matters

Your Lovejoy eyes fall on something tingly. 

Julia Glass and Diana Abu-Jaber.

You float over to the main hall, a new, amorous spring in your follicles. On your way to the NEA stage, you see rabid Book people attacking stacks and stacks of books in the free books area. Free fucking books. Thousands and thousands of them. Book tractor trailer loads shipped in for the event. You become mesmerized, distracted. Oh, you think, you could just look for a second. A second can be a very long time when you are surrounded by free books. When you come to, you have J.R.R. Tolkiens illustrated hardcopy compilation of The Lord of the Rings.

Oh yeah. The reading. As hard as it is you tear yourself away, but when you get to the stage, Julia Glass is done reading. That is the risk you take at Wordstock. Again the chorus, now with violins and a symphony resonates in your brain chamber. You do catch one tidbit from her though. And it is a good one:

It took me seven years to publish my first short story.


Good, you think. There's still hope. 


Diana Abu-Jaber reads from Birds of Paradise:

Avis presses the phone against her ear hard enough to leave an impression. The sun is barely up, but Stanley has always been an early riser like his father. He answers on the fifth ring, “Yes Mother?” He responds to her questions with one-word snippets—terse, but unable even now to cut her off entirely. So she learns: the baby is due late in November, they don’t and won’t know the gender (Nieves doesn’t want to know), Nieves feels hurt and disappointed in Avis. Stanley feels whatever.

She walks through the house with the phone as she humbly receives these tiny, wounding words. She fingers her chopped hair; peers through the French doors to the back. As Stanley confirms that, yes, they need the money, yes, the market really is in danger, Avis flicks on the TV, volume low. On the Weather Channel, a fleecy mass hovers due east of the Turks and Caicos, about to head for South Florida; an announcer mutters predictions in a dire tone: windspeeds, organized system, making landfall… Avis sits heavily on the couch only half hearing her son, imagining the food-and water-hoarding scene at Publix. It’s been several years since the last real hurricane came through, but she remembers it well: the shuddering “outer bands” of rain, the hollow clap of the silver palms, the susurration of the fronds, archways of blowing branches.

“So if there’s nothing else, Mom…”
Already dismissing her. She holds the phone with both hands. “You do know there’s a hurricane coming? Thursday? It’s on TV right now. It looks big.”

There’s a pause just long enough for a muted sigh. “You’ll be fine, Mom.”
“No—I know, but I’d like you to come. Or—at least—“ she stammers. “Please—just be careful,” she finishes in desperation.

The spiking humidity is a disaster for her baking. She has to discard two batches of meringues that turn soft. She’d abandon puff pastry for the whole summer if she could, but the customers want their crisp, light crusts. Avis sets up her usual stations of flours and spices. At 7 a.m. it’s already so hot she assumes Solange won’t come out. But a half hour later, as Avis is stirring cocoa nibs into vanilla batter, she glances at the window and spots her neighbor squatting at the edge of her yard. “Not in your usual place,” she calls from the door.

Solange stands nimbly, and Avis sees her apron contains dark strips. “There are interesting things in your yard.” She leads Avis to the stubby bushes in the far corner, a place their landscapers have elected to prune and ignore, instead of doing the more surgical work of weeding. “Here’s a plant going to waste.” Solange strokes the long, spiny branches between her fingers. “This is good medicine. You boil it for tea, for restorative properties.” She picks the quills, adding them to her apron. “This is granny bush—you use it for women’s trouble—pain and bleeding.”

Avis looks around at the land she’s inhabited for nearly thirty years. Years ago, when she’d studied the constructions of stem, blade, stamen, ovule, she loved the infinite possibilities of the plant kingdom—but she had been interested in color, scent, presentation: the beautiful names—cloth-of-gold crocus; ash-leaved trumpet, star-of-Bethlehem; meadow saffron—the loveliness of a blown field of asters or irises, a ring of roses to bed a wedding cake, the careful depiction of a peony in cross section on the page, a gentian constructed in icing. She knew all about beauty and almost nothing of utility. “All kinds of good things here,” Solange says again, her fingers combing the weeds. “You boil that thistle to cure asthma—its sap will take away warts. The leaves of that lime tree are fine for the skin, the guava calms the stomach and nerves. Over there? The bark on your lignum vitae regulates the system.” She stands, one hand holding up the pouch of stems, the other pointing out plants.

Avis plucks a stem of a pointed, glossy leaf that’s established itself in that far corner. Solange says, Wild coffee. Avis holds it under her nose, studying the musty green fragrance. “Could I bake with this?”

“You roast the seeds, to make a brew.”

Avis smiles, twirling the bit of twig. “My son would love this.”

Solange lifts her head so the sun turns her dark irises amber. “I told my son that there used to be one flavor only. Everything was pressed together. The universe, the people, animals, vegetables, dirt, water—everything—in the smallest seed. That’s what people try to do—eat and touch small pieces of the world to try and get back into the whole thing again. Sweet and sour. That is how bush medicine works.”

Surprised to hear about her son, Avis glances at her. Solange lifts her fingers to Avis’s hair, a spidery touch at the side of her head. “Come here.” She leads her to the step to the French doors. Just beside the step is a squat weed. Solange touches Avis’s head again—it’s almost painful, the shame of her thinning hair. “This…” Solange bends and pinches the shoots between her fingertips. “It’s called Braziletto. You boil the leaves and sip the tea. It fortifies the blood. Your hair will stop falling.” She places the leaf in Avis’s palm. “Will calm your pulse as well.”

Avis stares at it. Then she notices Solange’s stillness. She follows her gaze to the empty windows of the house, the black reflections, as if the building were filled with stormwater. She picks some of the little shoots. “Where is your son now?”

Solange smiles, her eyes untouched. “I had to leave him. He’s back home there.”

Avis needs to creep into some shade, out of the blistering heat, but now she can’t move; the breath rushes in and out of her. “How old is he? Is he with family?”

“Yes. All the family is there.” Solange sorts through the herbs in her apron, running the twigs between her fingers. “His name is Antoine and he’s the very best in his class. He is wonderful with a soccer ball too, but he can’t keep hold on it.” Her lips part. “He’s too softhearted and he gives the ball away. He’s the fastest and strongest, but no one wants him on their team.”

“That must have been so hard.” Avis’s voice is low. “For you and your husband—not to be able to bring him with you.” Solange closes her finger around another sprig and doesn’t say anything. Avis says “I have a daughter who—she doesn’t live with us. She hasn’t for years. It breaks my heart, every day.”

Solange looks up from her sorting. “Oh yes.” It seems she doesn’t say this so much in sympathy as  in acknowledgement of a basic truth. “Of course.”

“Is there a remedy for that?” She means to say this lightly but she sounds serious.

Solange’s eyes flicker to her face, examining and curious. Then her thin fingers wrap around Avis’s wrist. “I don’t know. We’ll see about it.”

Avis follows Solange across the yard, following the path she’d taken on the day she’d felt so furious about a noisy bird. Weeks ago: it seems like years. They go up the rough cement step and enter an enclosed back porch which contains another birdcage: this one is smaller, made of silvery metal; it hangs from a hook in the ceiling. The bird rests there purring as the women enter. Avis glances around as they go into the house, but the shades and curtains are drawn and the windows behind them are open, so the interior is dark and sleekly sultry. The kitchen seems to be the only room lit with natural brightness: the slats of the blinds are turned open, so the room has a clear, marine light. Solange seats Avis at a table on metal pipe legs with a Formica top and Avis cannot help an evaluative scan of the kitchen: no appliances beyond an enamel refrigerator and stove—small and clean. The dainty refrigerator like an old-fashioned icebox.

Solange holds a cast-iron pan under the tap, then places it on the stove’s coil. “There are varieties of pain…” She begins removing jars from the cupboard. “It’s a simple fact, not sorcery. I don’t believe in spells—I only know in some way the idea of a spell is powerful. You have to be careful—that kind of stuff leaves a residue behind.”

Avis holds her forearms propped on the table. On the counter across from her, tiny green chilies float in a clear liquid, as if suspended in light. Stacked beside the jar there are bundles of sprigs and leaves bound together with a kind of raffia. The unfamiliarity of these objects give them an allure, a glistening touch of the unknowable. On the opposite counter, Avis notices several small woven grass effigies—birds and squirrels—of the sort that were tied to the trees. Solange plucks one up and places it before Avis. “These are just things that I make. Ideas. You may have this if you like.”

Avis picks it up. Woven entirely from waxy green blades of grass, its upper half appears to be that  of a woman, her arms outstretched in a U-shape, as if calling to someone, her lower half tapering into a fishtail. “You made this? It’s beautiful.”

“Avis,” Solange pronounces her name with sharp emphasis on the second syllable. Ah-vees. “It’s only grass.” She pours a steaming pale yellow tea into two strained mugs, then she places a mug before Avis and sits in the other chair, its cracked vinyl back patched with cellophane tape. “The lady of our house had me baptized and raised me with Catholic instruction. My mother taught me that the world is crowded with gods—they live in all kinds of places and you can call on them. It seemed to me that both systems believed in slicing through.” She moves the edge of her hand through the air. “To reach worlds beyond the world. Using prayers to carry us.”

Avis lifts the hot mug, enjoying  the sensation of heat in her palm, thinking of her mother’s heaven of completion and return. “What do you believe?”

Solange inclines her face toward the surface of her tea. “I try never to believe anything at all. If I start believing things, I might believe that the universe is a dead door, that we all get crushed.”

Avis thinks of her mother’s last days in the hospital: a shared room with a plastic room divider, a scrape of dry coughing on the other side of the divider. She felt brutal as a captor, refusing to bring her mother home to die. In her last days her mother wouldn’t anything more than ice and chips. She railed in one of her old languages, muttering over and over some sort of imprecation, something that sounded like haya kharra. When Avis noticed the way a young orderly turned his face away from Geraldines ranting, Avis stopped him, “You understand her, don’t you. What is she saying?” The young man hesitated. When Avis pressed him, he finally said, “Life is shit.”

Solange’s hand sweeps across the Formica as if straightening a tablecloth. “I believe in small rituals: cleaning dishes, minding the plants. Other such processes.”

Red-black petals, a wooden pencil case, a small purple satin sash, a string of beads with a delicate white cross. Solange moves around the house collecting and placing these items in a canvas bag. She asks Avis to take her to her own kitchen. They cross the yard again; Avis shyly leads Solange through the French doors and then the  door to the right. She feels self-conscious over the cool beauty of the room, afraid she’ll be offended by such a display of wealth, and watches Solange as she turns, looking, not touching anything. But she simply asks “Where are your husband and son? This would work better if they were with us.”

Avis imagines their reactions to Solange and her spell-casting—if that’s what this is. Brian, she’s fairly certain, would be mortified. And Stanley, it seems, would be curious, polite, and distracted. She extracts an old photo of herself, Brian, and Stanley on some sort of excursion. Solange studies it a moment, then includes it with the other items. “Now, what would you make for your daughter—if she were to come home tomorrow? What would it be?”

For a moment, Avis is motionless, intimidated, studying the cold tang of the stainless bowls, their perfect emptiness. Solange picks a small bowl out of its nest of bowls and hands this to Avis. “Don’t think so much,” she says—the voice of someone used to ordering a staff.

Avis takes the bowl, coolness on her fingertips. She has no mise, no utensils; she reaches into the flour and sugar with clean hands, running her fingers through powder. Her palm warms the butter; she pours in a drop of almond extract, then splits a vanilla pod with her paring knife, scraping in the seed caviar. One of the simplest cakes that she knows. Solange leans against the counter as Avis stirs wet ingredients into dry, making the batter. “Where I grew up,” she says “sugar is a luxury. Though I didn’t know this until I left the great house. Then I discovered—the people where I’m from, they live and die in these magnificent cane fields.”  She idly turns one of the bowls on the counter. “Sugar is like a compass, it points to trouble. My husband used to travel to plantations across the border—the other side of the island. Until the new man came to power and then people began to find the cutters’ bodies hacked into pieces.”

Avis is afraid to look at Solange: the air is tinted with sugar vapor: it is, of course, the one irreducible element in her work—no matter what else is added or taken away. “Which is what makes it such a strong thing.” Solanges tone is almost conversational. “Sweet in the mouth, terrible to the body. The cane cutters never get to taste it. Never like this.” She draws one finger through the sparkling crystals in the bin.

As she works, Avis feels as if the woman’s voice has set something loose in her, a private mourning. Her spoon turns a long, continuous ribbon through the batter: heavier and heavier. Avis’s private tragedy with all its pain seems to shrink. She begins to wonder if there’s any point at all to pastry work—it’s irrelevant, even absurd. Ease and comfort: lotus-eating, Stanley called it. Escapism, gluttony, corruption, self-indulgence. He never adds sugar to his coffee. Avis isn’t stirring correctly; her hands feel weak. Finally Solange takes the bowl and pours it into the cake pan. She slides it into the hot oven and lets the heavy door rumble shut.

When the cake is cool enough to box, they take it to Avis’s car, Solange on the passenger side. She says, “Where is the last place you saw her?”

Avis places her hands on the bottom of the steering wheel. The first time she’d saw her daughter after she’d run away for good, Felice was taller and slimmer, her hair longer: she’d been away from home for six months, long enough to be physically changed. A deep shaking began in the quick of Avis’s bones. She was torn between the need to touch her daughter, to hold her tightly, and the sense that even the lightest touch might cause her to flee back to the underworld. There was a new downturned shadow to Felice’s mouth and her lowered eyelashes cast crescents of shadow on her cheeks: she had a faintly exhausted quality which trickled through her posture. She could have been fourteen or twenty-eight—she was poised, self-possessed. As soon as she folded her long limbs onto the café chair across from Avis, she’d said, “I’d like to make a deal with you.”

Avis sat motionless, staggered by the moment, barely able to hear or think, while Felice explained the “deal.” Felice would agree to more of these meetings—occasional, entirely at her whim—but in exchange, Avis and Brian had to agree to stop.

“Stop?” Avis felt slow, the word blurred and heavy. Here was her daughter before her, talking to her, as if nothing at all had changed. Here was Felice.

“Looking for me. Trying to make me come back. Hiring people to find me. You have to give up now.” Felice’s tone was like a chip of ice. “Because I’m happy with the way things are. And I am never, ever coming home again.” Felice gazed at her mother with an expression so entirely frank—so separate—that it seemed to avis that she felt a wave of particles rising and twisting; each particle was a bit of memory, every second that she’d held the child between her arms, inhaled the scent of her scalp, kissed her shoulders, pressed the drowsy face to her chest as she tilted a bottle to her lips, the consummate intimacy of feeding a child this way, all of it rising, curling, as this extraordinary face told her: stop.

Could it be that she’d always been a little afraid of her own daughter? That she simply didn’t know how to fight her? The terrible fact presented itself: Avis had no choice but to accept.


“The lady of the house—she did all she could to take me away from my mother. She told me my mother was ignorant and dark black like an African. But I saw how my mother knew every plant in the gardens and forests, like the lady of the house knew the words in her books.”

There’s rain on the streets and occasional ripples of light, high up overhead. Avis can only steal glimpses of Solange as she speaks, her profile nearly invisible beside the rain-streaked glass. “I was seventeen when I met Jonas. The lady sent me into Cap-Haïtian with the driver for some dried hibiscus for tea. We could have picked it right in the field, but she said that kind wasn’t good. Back then, Jonas worked in the market in town, selling spices in big cloth sacks. When she found out about him, the lady said, of course, that he was filthy and uneducated—same things she said about my mother. She wanted me to stay in the house. She said, ‘You are almost a daughter to me.’” Solange gave a laugh like a sniff, her head bobbing slightly. “My mother told me—if you’re lucky enough to know what you want, then you must chase it. I left the house and the gardens and the stone verandah that overlooked the ocean—places I’d known all my life—and I went to live with Jonas in a house with a cracked cement floor and a patched tin roof, no electricity. We had to take our waste out in pails and pour it into the alley that ran behind the house.” The rain tapers off as they approach Miami Beach; trails of water stand in the street, a mist thrown up between cars, rows of bronze streetlights glow overhead, already coming on in the late afternoon. “It felt like my life’s door had opened. When my son was born, I began making my bush teas and medicines, to help him thrive. Jonas said these brought him even more customers at market than his spices did. My mother came to visit one time to see her grandson. It took her six hours to walk to us. She said the lady of the house was ill and she couldn’t stay away for very long. I understood. The lady was like a difficult family member—you might dislike, or even hate them a little—but you can’t leave them.”

Solange is silent as they cross the causeway, the bands of traffic curving and rushing high over the diamond water. “I’ve never seen this before,” she murmurs. “ Only from the airplane.”

They drive into town and park in the city lot, then walk to Lincoln road. It looks different to Avis so late in the day—wilder, somehow. She edges toward Solange, turning from the spill of shop lights and electrical music. Girls in skimpy, ruffled shirts look stiff-legged and robotic. Beside Solange—seeing with her fresh eyes—Avis feels as if an unacknowledged horror in things rises more forcefully to the surface. But Solange swings her arms as they walk, looking around: she says, “I wish the lady of the house could have seen this—she wouldn’t think she was quite so fine as she did.”

They make their way up the street: as far as the fans’ whirl of shadows on the sidewalk; Avis stops and gestures to the heavy tables, wrought-iron chair legs and bases. “There. That’s where we meet.” There’s a desolation about the place now, though it’s crowded with customers, legs crossed, hands resting on iced drinks. Avis senses a weight, as if all of it is gradually sinking into the earth with all those empty hours waiting.

Solange takes in the tables and diners: the scene is washed in late, limpid light. Avis wonders what the diners see when they look at them—a pale, middle-aged patient and her young attendant? She feels a flash of trigeminal pain across one cheekbone and inhales sharply. Solange plucks at her sleeve. “Come away. Let’s see some more.”

They weave through the crowds, Avis hurrying to keep up with Solange—a slip of aquamarine skirt. Avis holds a shopping bag that bounces against her legs and bumps into passersby. She feels sweat at her temples and under her arms. The sky is hazy blue with clouds like fine scratches; bisecting the walkway are rows of date palms, full as pom-poms, with powerful, corrugated trunks. Solange hovers at the busy edge of Ocean Drive, waiting within a small crowd for the light. Avis doesn’t think that she’s even aware that she’s behind her, but then Solange turns and reaches between two girls to take hold of Avis’s hand. She keeps her strong fingers on her as they cross the street and make their way toward the beach.

Avis doesn’t come here. She hasn’t been this close to the water since she’d agreed to Felice’s terms, years ago. Avis had gone home and told Brian about Felice’s demand. For the first time in months it seemed they were too drained to fight each other. Brian shook his head, saying, “That’s ridiculous. Just let her go? No. No way. There’s got to be something else we can do.” And Avis said, “Please tell me what it is and I’ll do it.” Anything. Anything. She felt the fight slipping away from them, talking about it was running through sand, trying to stand in breakers, the sand swiping away from under their feet. Gradually they stopped speaking with police and school officials and neighborhood watch groups, and Avis never went to the beach again.

She is surprised now by the residual warmth she can feel in the sand; she slips off her clogs, stepping through it, bits of shell and stone and cigarette butts. The late afternoon-near-evening light is tinged with mauve and it wavers across Solange’s face in pale bands. “The water smells different here,” Solange says.

There are still small groups of college kids on towels, but most of the tourists and families are packing up, lugging folding chairs, a pleasant weariness rising from their burned shoulders. Solange sweeps off a patch of sand with the flat of her hand, as if dusting a piece of furniture, and sits, knees bent and gathered to her chest. Avis hovers uncertainly beside her, finally sitting, the bag with its boxed cake between them. Solange stares hard into the widening band at the far edge of the water. It is hard to tell in the lowering light but Avis suspects that her eyes are rimmed with tears. Avis shifts her gaze to the sand—a cream-colored shell, a stone, the delicately ridged exo-skeleton of a horseshoe crab. “It’s been so long since I’ve visited the water,” Solange says. “I grew up beside it, but after so many years I thought I might even forget it.” She rakes her fingers through the sand. “It’s good to feel like this now.”

“Like what?” Avis shades her eyes.
“Like nothing.” She smiles. “When I came here, I came with nothing. Just the bird cage. The one you love so much.” Another smile.
“And your husband,” Avis prompts. “You came with him.”
She glances at Avis. “Yes. And him.” She begins unpacking the items in her bag then. She touches each one to her forehead, then hands it to Avis. “Think about what you would like to say to your daughter now.”

Avis takes the small jar with its clear fluid, but she can’t think of anything to say. Mostly there’s blankness, as Solange puts it—like nothing. Still, she touches the things—the scissors, the satin sash, the prayer book—and hands each back to Solange.

“Good,” she says. “Fine. And now what you need to do—you take the cake and break it up, scatter it on the water for the birds and fishes.” She points over the shadowy waves. “ you talk to your daughter as you scatter it.”

“The cake—you mean, just break it up?” She feels a kind of flinch.

Solanges face is impassive. “However you can do it.”

Avis stands and reaches into the bag, into the white box, carefully lifting the cake with her fingers. She holds it in both hands and walks down the incline to the water. The sand looks beige against the dark foam of the surf and Avis hesitates a moment before wading in. The water is warm and easy and the bottom smooth. She is able to make her way through the small breakers with little trouble. She doesn’t look back at shore; she walks until the water approaches her hips, her work pants balloon around her, the houndstooth check darkening. The thought comes, how she might have viewed all this in the past: sentimental, maudlin. Happy Birthday. Bitter little words. Avis holds the cake then digs in with her fingers. It crumples instantly and she has a memory, not of Felice, but of spreading handfuls of her mother’s ashes into Cayuga lake, so cold that March it was still frozen in spots, and she had balanced on the steeply banked shore, almost doubled over from the cold, flinging the ashes with stiff, red fingers. Now she tosses the crumbs everywhere, her breath chugging as if she were sobbing; the sound bounces over the water. She knows that this ritual is not for getting her child back. There’s  a sparkle of efflorescence on the water’s surface, just a few feet away; she wades in deeper, toward the bubbles, then feels an uncanny shimmer against her exposed calves: a school of fish is swarming her, feeding on the crumbs. She watches them, minute flickerings beneath the surface. A bit of cake bobs on the water, rising and falling. She sinks to her chin, then lifts her feet and lets her head dunk under sot the echo of the water fills her ears, the thrombotic pulse. She opens her eyes to an indigo blur and considers the pleasure of opening her throat and lungs—the scorch in her lungs and the release of it.

Avis tilts her head back, pushing off the sandy bottom. She breaks the surface to see a ragged shadow plummet—a seagull snapping up the cake, lobbing back into the sky.



Solange turns toward the passenger side window as they pass over the causeway, the water a navy field trembling with lights. “I’m going to come back her.”

“I’ll take you anytime,” Avis says.

Solange looks at her again with her cool, curious gaze, then something seems to release in her eyes, as if she were looking right through Avis; turning back to the window she says, “I have to go get him.”

Avis glances at her, but a kind of heavy, silencing drapery seems to have fallen over the car, separating the two women. She drives Solange back to her home, pulling into the driveway behind a black sedan. The house lights glow and a form moves behind the curtains.

Solange doesn’t get out of the car right away. She stares at her lap, then mumbles “Bonne chance” as she kisses Avis’s cheek.

“Bonne chance?” Avis smiles, but Solange climbs out of the car in silence. Avis sits with her hands draped on the wheel, a wisp of melancholy in her chest as she watches the woman walk to the door of her house, enter, and close the door.


Diana Abu-Jaber
 is the author of Origin, Crescent, Arabian Jazz, and The Language of Baklava. She has won the PEN Center USA Award and The American Book Award, and she was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award.

You ask her to sign your Paradise. You say that you found what she said about sugar interesting. She says "I am interested in the dark side of sugar." You ask if you can quote her on that. She says yes.




Liana's picture
Liana from Romania and Texas is reading Naked Lunch October 22, 2011 - 10:04pm

GO CHESTER! Love your immersive stories of the goings on. Tips always welcome. Diana Abu-Jaber sounds like a cool lady. 

"...a kind of heavy, silencing drapery seems to have fallen over the car, separating the two women."  - for some reason this reminds me of a very good line in Beloved. I quote from memory: "'You got two legs, not four, Sethe,' he said, and a forest sprung between them, dark and deep."

Oh - quotes from memory take quotation marks?

Chester Pane's picture
Chester Pane from Portland, Oregon is reading The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz October 23, 2011 - 7:56am

Thanks Liana. Glad someone is enjoying it. I think you are one of my only readers, but hell who could ask for a better one than you. Yeah, Diana writes rich stories and is really nice, like pretty much all of the authors I met this year. Most years that is the case although James Ellroy was pretty vitriolic last year dropping F-Bombs and telling a few heckling audience members to go to hell, or shove a shotgun up their asses.

Chester Pane's picture
Chester Pane from Portland, Oregon is reading The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz October 23, 2011 - 11:02am

Wordstock Flashback for Oct. 8

12:45 pm:

The Dark Side of Sugar.

You consider this as you walk away from Abu-Jaber-cadabra and over to the Wordstock stand at the Main hall's Entrance. You eye the swag a lot of which is free. Small posters, bookmarks, buttons. You fill your swag-bag. You buy notebooks and a t-shirt. 

But the gem of the merchandise is a small paperback book. An anthology: The Wordstock Ten. For the past four years, Wordstock has held a short-fiction contest. Ten finalists are selected through a double-blind process by a well-known author Judge (this year was the darkly hilarious Aimee Bender). Ten finalists are selected and published. The first prize is $1000 and a story published (in addition to the Anthology) in the October issue of Portland Monthly. The first prize went to Monona Wali for her submission There is A Certain Kind of WomanPretty good exposure for a twenty dollar investment. And it is double blind, so it's all about the writing, irregardless of what your name might be.

You buy a copy to add to your growing collection and swear that next year's edition will bear your name at the top of the list. Ok, well at least you will be one of the ten. Ok, be honest, you tell yourself. Be real. You will pay the $20 and submit a story that you will have worked all year on. That's in your power. And if nothing else the money supports your Wordstock literary addiction, right? There's always next year. You remind yourself of what Julia Glass just said. Seven Years. And Glass went on to win the National Book Award at age 46. Keep writing. Write like a motherfucker (or fathermucker) and don't look back. James Ellroy said something like that last year. Well not the fathermucker part,that's just a plug for your friend's book.

You are light-headed. So many books and mouths and minds talking and thinking about them. Devouring them. It's in the air. You can taste books on your breath. Lovejoy. You could use another hairstrand of that. But it'll have to wait cuz you're already really late for My Sensor, My Self. In fact in your desire to be everywhere and fuck everyone you've missed three-quarters of the panel discussion.

Lidia Yuknavitch is on a roll when you finally find a seat in the packed Wieden+Kennedy stage:

Poetics and fiction get us closer to the truth. Non-fiction gets so 'explainy.' Poetry and music and art get me closer to truth than non-fiction. I believe in art the way other people believe in God. Let language do what language does. Let the language lead get in touch with the physical.

Kerry Cohen:

I'm not sure what actually happened actually happened anyway. Remember, Memoir means Memory. And how accurate or precise is that? How many versions of memory are there?

Lidia Yuknavitch:

If you are concerned about what other people are going to think, consider putting that aside for the bigger picture of art. Life hurts. Far worse things will happen to these people that you are writing about than having their painful lives exposed through literature. The hurt of art is necessary. If you absolutely can't bring yourself to do it to someone you know, do what I did and wait until they are dead (uproar of crowd laughter).

You feel your follicles tingle. Little antenna's absorbing Yuknavitch's wordsex. You fall in love with her candor, with her brain. Chelsea Cain said she had a nice rack too, but it's her brain that gives you an organonic thoughterection. Your strands stiffen, percolating in the purity of Yuknavitch's veracious spirit. Brain sex. Hairboners. Good hair-of-the-dog-day. Lovejoy.

Speaking of hairboners and thoughterections the 2011 Pulitzer prize-winning author Jennifer Egan is on in a few. You wonder if anyone notices your hairboners as you stand and scurry back toward the NEA stage where you see Egan and Wordstock Executive director Greg Netzer getting comfortable in a pair of bright shiny red patent leather-upholstered Wordstock armchairs.