I've been avoiding putting this together, because a part of me really doesn't want this year's Litquake festival to be over already. The other part of me is still cranky-tired, wandering around trying to get to all those projects I said I'd get to after Litquake, and feeling post-Christmas like.
In short, this year's Litquake was AMAZING. Every year has been awesome, but this one was particularly special for me because I got to actually help plan the awesome. As a volunteer during the festival for the past several years, I definitely felt like I contributed to making each event I helped at awesome, but this year, being on the committee,* I got to witness the tremendous build up to the festival that happens the whole year prior. The amount of love, sweat and time that goes into it is incredible, and I'm not sure I've ever been part of something so cool. Which is not to say I'm not still cranky-tired and looking forward to feeling fully recovered.
*(doesn't "committee" sound so secretive? So "if I tell you what kind of committee this is, I'd have to kill you"? It actually wasn't until a list of our names went out after the festival that I learned I was in fact on the Executive Committee. Which sounds so fancy! But less mysterious. So I think I'm going to just keep referring to it as The Committee)
Here are some highlights from my week (if you are looking for highlights of the week in general from the mass of participants, it's worth a Twitter read. Just use hashtag #Litquake to search):
At the opening party (October 5th), I got to meet someone I only knew through Facebook; Andy Dugas, a local haiku artist. This was a theme throughout the week: meeting people that were my Facebook "friends" that I'd never once had a conversation with. The network benefits of social media in the literary world are quite something, especially given the high likelihood that we're all introverts.
my beautiful twin friends, Liz and Sonya, with Andy in the background chatting up their dad
The next day I got to hear another previously-unmet Facebook "friend" read from her flash fiction. Meg Pokrass mediated a panel of flash fiction during the Off The Richter Scale event (five hours of themed readings that run the gamut, which always takes place on the first weekend, running on both Saturday and Sunday. It's like shopping at Ross: totally overwhelming. Unlike Ross, it's also free). Flash fiction is super interesting to me, and something I'm trying to get better at, so it was great to hear how different each reader's piece was. Some were essentially short stories that just happened to be really short; still expansive in tone, but brief. Some were stylistically much more like poetry, utilizing staccato sentences and artistically chosen words. Either way, short-shorts are so fun to have read to you, because by definition they don't exceed your attention span, as so many readings can.
That night (October 6th), I ran my Public Writing Session, which I was so super nervous about. My goal was to create a space and time to be able to write, as I find the festival so inspiring but by it's very nature it cramps my writing time, and I had a hunch I wasn't alone in this. Due to the 40 billion events going on in San Francisco that weekend (including, but not limited to: Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, the Blue Angels, and America's Cup), including the Giants playoff game (Go Gigantes!) that was scheduled to start just a half hour after my event just three blocks away, I seriously thought no one would show up. But they did. We were a tiny, intimate group of strangers mostly, and it was awesome. A mother brought her writer-teen-daughter, and read in the back while she was there so that her daughter could participate. Three were brand new to San Francisco and this was their first Litquake. Two were visiting from out of town. Everyone was great. I had created optional bicycle-themed writing prompts, as we were in Public Bikes, and we had two timed writing sessions of 20 minutes each. Which meant we sat in silence with each other and just wrote. Sitting in silence with strangers while pursuing your shared love of something is really profound, and our setting added to the sense of sacred space: the gorgeous orange bikes on the wall, super tall ceiling, wall of filtered light, and a huge reclaimed wooden table that we sat around added to the atmosphere. I walked away very grateful.
The next day (October 7th) I helped at Pitchapalooza. About 35 authors showed up for the chance to read the pitch for their book in under 30 seconds in front of the audience as well as a panel of literary agents there to give feedback. Which is about as brave a thing you can ever do. I really appreciated how supportive the agents were in their feedback, because it's just terrifying to talk about your work in order to get someone interested in it. The nervous energy as people arrived was palpable, and culminated in an ancient florescent overhead light popping, catching on fire, and smothering itself out into a pungent burnt popcorn smell.
On Monday (October 8th), I attended the First Time Authors Tell All panel, and was inspired. Little notes I took as it went on:
"Write about a persistent mystery in your life."
"Perseverance is your best quality." (this from a woman who had queried 100 agents before she landed one)
"Be really clear on what kind of writer you are," meaning, know yourself well enough to know just what kind of artist you are so you can communicate that as well as what the book you've just written is about.
"There's this level of sadness about it that I don't really want to confront," re: self-marketing.
"Put your brain in a different place for a little while," re: the importance of percolation.
Luckily though, the next day (October 9th) was a Litquake-free day for me as I had a very important visitor. My nephew! I had a brief and precious visit with my brother and his family, a peaceful walk together through Golden Gate Park, and felt very restored because of it. At lunch, when my nephew grabbed my hands, clearly indicating he would like to be walked around the room, I felt super-validated as a human being.
Nephew's skeptical look.
Then Wednesday (October 10th) was Cowboy Noir night. I was asked to co-produce this event several months prior, and knowing zilch about Cowboy Noir, I accepted. Now I'm glad I didn't know enough to say no. The featured novel, Lonesome Animals, is incredibly written and incredibly violent. Like, every paragraph violent. Once I started reading, I became very worried that I really had no idea what I'd gotten myself into. The night arrived. Our venue was Oddball Film + Video, which is the quirkiest, coziest spot ever; stacks of video reels from floor to elevated ceiling, broken down couches made soft with blanket throws, white twinkly lights and a view of the Mission neighborhood skyline. The author, Bruce Holbert, started speaking. And my goodness, he was terrific. He couldn't have been more gentle and present and thoughtful and humble. He reminded me of a beloved uncle. And I was also reminded that this is why it's always productive to read outside your comfort zone, so you can experience things like this.
Novelist Russell Hill (on the left) in conversation with Bruce Holbert
Okay, so onto Thursday (October 11th). Which is when I got to show up at Book Passage at the Ferry building with my box 'o' Litquake, but found they already had it taken care of. So I got to sit back and just enjoy the night of Lisa Zeidner reading from her new novel, Love Bomb, which I'm packing away for my next vacation and can envision myself happily nose-in-booking-it during a long flight.
box 'o' Litquake
Friday (October 12th) I attended the Making the Skeleton Dance event, because I love to hear women talk about families in their myriad forms. Honestly, so much of reading in general for me is for the purpose of finding out how other people, real or fictional, figured out how to live their lives, and the question of how women have families and remain writers is something that fascinates/terrifies me into attention. It was fabulous, and it was at this point that I started to get really sad that Litquake was almost over.
The last day, Saturday (October 13th) was almost overwhelmingly good. The weather was sublime, our October summer at its finest; blue sky, warm, tiny breeze. My afternoon was all about the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Wrinkle in Time, which I think I can safely say is my one of my all-time favorite books. We were at the downtown library, which I love, and a handful of truly great YA novelists read selected passages from the book to get us started. It's been way too long since I've had Wrinkle in Time read to me. But I found myself intentionally stop listening when we got to some of the latter passages, because I so want to re-read the book, that I didn't want to be reminded of little details until I got to read them for myself again. All I can say is, if you like graphic novels and love Wrinkle in Time, you must get Hope Larson's new graphic version.
Then it was on to the Crawl. 450 authors in 85 venues in 3 1/2 hours. It is why the word Epic came to be. Helping make this a blast for people, being even a tiny part of letting someone experience how amazing it is to be surrounded by others who love reading, who love being read to, who love books, gives me goosebumps. My Phase I location was at Four Barrel for Tzara's Hat, wherein 5 authors read pieces they'd created from the 6 words they'd been forced to use, and I got to meet another person who was a previously-unmet Facebook friend, Peg Alford Pursell. The stories were about as different from each other as could be, and one involved silent tissue pulling that last a solid minute. The normally packed Four Barrel coffeehouse was extra-packed. I especially loved the folks who just came in for a pour-over coffee and then stayed because they were so excited they got to hear a reading too.
Tissue pulling story
Love, InshAllah, readings from Muslim women writers and their love lives. The readings were astounding, the stories spellbinding and I left just feeling all fuzzy and warm with love for everyone.
Which is why, at the After Party, I looked like this:
Happy, shiny Committee members - Andres Bella, who coordinates all the booksellers for the myriad events, Melissa Da Silveira Serpa, the best volunteer coordinator of all time, and myself, in various shades of shine.
And the next day, I felt like this:
inelegantly tired kitties
I can't believe it's over! Or, more properly, just 11 3/4 months away!