TWENTY HOURS IN A CAR WITH A STRANGE WOMAN By M. Scott Douglass

Scott driving

As we were driving home from the AWP in Boston, I suggested Beth write a blog entry about her experience. I don’t pay Beth much to be PR coordinator for Main Street Rag, so going to the AWP was a reward of sorts for her service. She was very excited about the conference and the trip in general, so I knew she had plenty of material. We posted her entry a few weeks ago.

Of course, any time people do things together there can be multiple versions of events. That’s not to say that my assessment of the panels is any different than Beth’s, but my focus for this trip was a bit different. Unlike her, I’d been to the AWP several times. I’ve done hundreds of book-related events like this. The AWP is the largest one I attend.

I usually go to these things with my wife or Jonathan Rice or alone, meet friends there and do things together—mostly after hours. Many things about this trip were unique.
For one thing, because I am usually the person people come to our table to see, I’m at the table most of the time. The only panel I’ve taken in was one I moderated in Denver a few years ago. So my assignment for this trip—as dictated by my wife—was to sit in on two panels.

As it turned out, I sat in on four panels. I also left all four halfway through; once because a panelist’s introduction was a 15-minute, 5-page monolog/apology that he read to the audience; twice because the information being offered was stuff I already knew (and it didn’t sound like they were going to break new ground); once because I’ve written many times on a similar subject and wanted to see what the editors of these larger presses had to say. For this last panel, their experiences echoed what I had predicted five years ago—so I felt I’d gained the information I came to hear.

No, for me it’s all about the road trip. In this instance, I was traveling with a person with whom I had never traveled before. That always makes for good fodder. I’ve known Beth for several years, but traveling with a person you know best through email is different—particular on a long drive like the one we shared from Raleigh to Boston and back. I’m not going to share details. I’ll save that for future poems like “The DJ of Fishkill” or an essay on How to Teach Photo Shop While Driving (Without Endangering Others). I think the latter has financial possibilities, but may be illegal in several states.

I will state the obvious: men and women travel differently. We pack different, drive different, our definition of navigator, ready to go even toll road are sometimes different as are our need for pit stops. Most of all, what we talk about is different. As I said to Beth, after more than 20 hours on the road together, I felt like one of the girls; like I could have been wearing a skirt.

But that’s why I like to travel: to experience new things. Although—confidentially—it wouldn’t have been my first experience in a skirt.

But that’s another story.

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Confessions of an AWP Virgin

I’m the type of person who when asked if I want to go somewhere, answers, “When do we leave?” I love to travel and find all modes of getting somewhere exactly to my liking. I love boats, planes, trains, helicopters and cars. If it gets me there, I like it. So when Main Street Rag Editor, Scott Douglass, asked if I wanted to go to Boston for AWP, I jumped at the chance.

There are those who would think me quite insane to even consider sitting in a car with Scott for one hour, never mind eighteen hundred miles to Boston and back, but I had a feeling it would not be a problem. After all, we both love to travel. I found him surprisingly easy to get along with and we had a fine time watching the scenery go by and chatting the hours away. I even got a Photoshop tutorial as we navigated through Pennsylvania.

With twelve thousand people attending the AWP conference (Association of Writers and Writing Programs, in case you were wondering) I found the atmosphere rather overwhelming, but I enjoy meeting new people and talking about one of my favorite things, books. It’s particularly gratifying to talk about books with other people who love them as much as I do.

A steady stream of book lovers flowed by our table. Some wanted information on submissions, others were interested in our books. I was thrilled to meet editors and authors whose names I knew, but hadn’t met in person. Dennis Bormann and Gaynell Gavin came up from South Carolina and Steve Taylor and his son Matt came from Glendale, California. Editors from other presses came over to say hi too and I enjoyed meeting Betsy Teter of Hub City among others.

A tall woman with big pretty eyes came up to me at our table and asked rather breathlessly if I was Beth Browne, as if I was some sort of celebrity. She turned out to be the author of one of the novellas we selected last year and I had the immense pleasure of gushing over her book to her in person and nearly bringing us both to tears. Her book about two women crossing cultures form the U.S. to Morocco was such a moving story and so well told I could not put it down. Naturally, it made me cry at the end. I’m prone to that.

In between dashing off to panels and working the table, I endured the long bathroom lines by chatting with neighbors about our favorite books, favorite authors, what we do besides read and write. I even met a lady who came all the way to Boston from St. Thomas for AWP. And it snowed! Locals were apologizing for the appalling weather, but for those of us who have not seen snow in the past two years, a good six-incher was a rare treat. I enjoyed a walk after the storm and waded through ankle-deep slushy puddles to share fantastic Indian food with my dear friend, Carolina Wren Press editor Robin Miura. Totally worth the wet feet.

I’m so grateful to Scott and Main Street Rag for making it possible for me to go to AWP on my single parent/struggling writer budget. We drove through the night to get home and it took me days to recover, but it was worth it. I’m glad for the opportunity to get to know my comrades better, to build relationships with people who love books like I do. We’re all in this together and recognizing that is worth a lot. It’s even worth sitting in the car with Scott, even though he does hate to lose momentum on an on-ramp by braking. I never did have to grab the handrail in spite of his best efforts to make me do so. AWP was a great time, but I’m glad it’s only once a year.

Beth Browne
Associate Editor and Publicity Coordinator
Main Street Rag Publishing Company