Dispatches from the Road: Made To Break Seattle
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February 26th marked the inauguration of the national book tour D. Foy is making in support of his debut novel, Made to Break, set for release from Two Dollar Radio on March 18th. The timing couldn’t have been better: it coincided with this year’s AWP conference in Seattle. Here is the first installment of his tour blog.
A brutal but amazing day.
I rose at 3 a.m. for pick up at 4:30, then hopped on a 5:40 flight out of La Guardia, narrowly escaping yet another storm hammering NYC courtesy of our new, exceedingly unwelcome chum, Polar Vortex.
At a layover at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston (they actually named an airport after him?), I somehow experienced a preponderance of obese men in camouflage hunting jackets roaming the terminals. I was not surprised. A crappy burrito and a-very-difficult-phone-call-I-didn’t-want-to-have-with-an-old-friend later, I was informed via Twitter that I’d just walked past Ursula (whom till then I only knew on Twitter). We met and chatted, then boarded the plane for very different seats. Did this seemingly chance encounter augur more to come? I’ve had an Indiegogo campaign up for a few days now, and the last people I’d expect have, like rabbits from hats, been appearing to support me.
After another five-hour flight packed into the window seat by Robin, a heavy-set academic from a border hamlet near Mexico and fellow AWP pilgrim who talked my ear off about the dirty machine that is capitalism, I snared a cab to the Grand Hyatt, intending to freshen up with a nap before my reading that night. But instead of sleeping, I thought of Robin’s father, about whom Robin had also talked incessantly. Robin never said so, but based on his many fraught innuendos, it seemed impossible that his father — a Norwegian manic-depressive who spent his life tripping through a litany of failed endeavors, from carpentry, computer programming, farming, selling cars, and etc. — had not committed suicide.
I went down to the Starbucks attached to the hotel: my concierge had informed me that it was one of only a few cafés with a Clover press, which makes coffee with twice the normal caffeine. Satisfactorily juiced, I proceeded to my reading with Cari Luna, Jeff Jackson, Matt Bell, and Sean Madigan Hoen up on Capitol Hill, at Still Liquor. Tod Goldberg, our nimble-witted host, decided in the midst of reading my bio that I looked like a punk-rock Don Draper, and announced as much to the packed house. Everyone laughed. I shrugged and got up to read sans mic, Abe-Lincoln style start to finish.
I experienced a very surreal moment. I’m spoiled at home: without fail I stumble straight for the coffee first thing each morning and stand before the machine mumbling and drooling until it’s ready, and would never at pain of death be caught outside my apartment until my system’s caffeinated. Today, though, I awakened in the Grand Hyatt after having been up for 24 hours and was forced into the world to forage for caffeine. I put on my flip flops and sweats (i.e. pajamas) and quasi-sleepwalked to the Starbucks, where, to my horror (really), I found it teeming with bushy-eyed AWP attendees, with fresh clothes and styled hair and shaved and made-up faces, AWP badges dangling from their necks as they chattered and texted and did all the other things people with functioning brains do. I felt like one of HG Wells’ troglodyte morlocks risen from a twenty-year coma, forced to take a chemistry exam. Or something. The next day, in response to my Facebook post about the same, the writer and critic Vince Passaro commented: “Do you see now how AWP fosters conformity among those who should never ever ever consider conforming? See? It was happening to you right there? Who are all those fucking Ohioans anyway?”
I roamed the book fair all day with Jeff Jackson, my friend, label mate, and author of Mira Corpora (lately shortlisted for a LA Times Fiction Prize), picking up more books and swag than anyone has a right to. That evening, I dined alone at a fancy sushi joint near Pike Place Market, then hit a reading up the hill, put on by Gigantic magazine, featuring the likes of Adam Wilson and James Yeh. There may have been a thousand people from Ohio milling about the conference, though I wouldn’t have cared if they’d hatched from eggs. Conversations great and small had the feel of no less than the epic. And anyway, for whatever it’s shortcomings, Ohio is the home of Two Dollar Radio, my publishing house, and of its power-duo founders, Eric Obenauf and Eliza Jane Wood-Obenauf. In my opinion, these guys will in years to come be recognized en par with James Laughlin of New Directions and Barney Rosset of Grove for the groundbreaking work they’ve been publishing. Grace Krilanovich? Anne-Marie Kinney? Karolina Waklawiak, Scott McClanahan, Bennett Sims, Jeff Jackson? That I’m among this company is hard to believe, honestly.
In sum: this was the first day of my first AWP, and it was signature.
Overheard on the street that night:
Punk kid to the girl walking her dog: “Hey, dude, you look awesome in that jacket!”
Second punk kid to first punk kid: “What the fuck is a Chinese light bulb?”
The white hipster kid walking up the street with a boom box on his shoulder, playing Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean,” his gang of his friends around him, and, as the kids pass by, the middle-aged lesbian couple pointing at the boom box while saying, “What, that’s a thing again?”
Another day on the floor of AWP’s book fair, hobnobbing with everybody and their uncle.
But the big event this day was my reading that night. Yet another power couple, Carrie Seitzinger and Matty Byloo (of Small Doggies Press and NAILED Magazine), organized a reading in a private studio in the Queen Anne hood of Seattle. But for Jeff, JS Breukelaar, and Patrick Wensick, I had no idea who the other writers were. We drove out to this seeming No Man’s Land, convinced we’d be our own audience but — lo and behold — instead arrived at another packed house. But way, way, way better were the amazing writers we were graced to share the stage with: the aforementioned kings and queens, plus Brian Tibbetts (editor of the Portland Review) and the mindblowing poets Rachel McKibbens, Robert Lashley, and Jacob Rakovan (the last two of which actually made us all weep). I walked away with more gratitude and awe for the indie publishing scene that I’d had going in. Since the economic collapse of 2008, the ensuing, more concentrated consolidation of the major publishing houses, and the exile to the hinterlands of obscurity of writers absent any perceived commercial promise, the indie houses that have manifested to fill the void are putting out truly great stuff. It can only be a matter of time before that great stuff attains the wider attention it deserves. A thought: the internet is villainous in 101 different ways, but it’s surely a major factor in the literary renaissance now under way. The presses at work today would’ve been inconceivable twenty years back, much less ten, I think. The reading tonight was undoubtedly the best I’ve been to in years.
Some vintage Seattle neon along the way to the reading:
Patrick Wensick, JS Breukelaar, and me:
At the FSG Literature party that night, I hung with the crews from Mellow Pages Library and Electric Literature and rubbed elbows with the likes of Joseph Riippi, Matt Bell, and Adam Robinson. Later, in our room, until 3am, Jeff J and I engaged in spirited debate about Picasso, Warhol, and Dylan. He loves them all. I don’t. Mad respect to Sir Jackson!
More bookfair hobnobbing. More swag. More fatigue. This thing goes on and on!
I met my pal Ron Tanner for lunch at Mod Pizza and talked about our sugar addictions. Ron is a veteran of national book tours and knows every bakery and café, it seems, in every town across the country. He told me about the pie places I should hit in Portland. He might as well have been talking about heroin.
But that night, I hit my last reading of AWP, at Left Bank Books, with Jeff again, plus Scott McClanahan, Joseph Riippi, Noah Cicero, J David Osbourne, Juliet Escoria, JS Breukelaar and others, all of whom, again, were incredible. I can’t remember the last time I’ve attended three successive readings, each of which was nutty good. But best of all, I got to see for the first time ever my book on the shelf of a bookstore. The feeling is ineffable. Had I not been surrounded by pals, I would’ve cried for sure.
Here’s what the end of AWP looks like the morning of departure: