Book nerds gather at Wordstock

img_20161105_134332574_hdr1You know all those socially-challenged people who would rather read a book—or write a book—than anything? Well, about 8,000 of them gathered in Portland, Oregon Saturday for the mega-event known as Wordstock. Unlike at the famous rock concert with the similar name, folks at Wordstock were stoned on books instead of drugs. The stage performances were all about words instead of music, and the only naked people were the sculptures at the art museum. Still, it was pretty mind-boggling. Alice Hoffman over here, Sherman Alexie over there, Richard Russo across the street, workshops all day, books to buy everywhere, oh my God.

img_20161105_122427661_hdr1Wordstock’s hub was the Portland Art Museum, but within easy walking distance, other events happened at seven other venues on the South Park blocks, including the Arlene Schnitzer concert hall, the glorious First Congregational United Church of Christ, and the Oregon Historical Society. Red Wordstock signs appeared everywhere. The people I met leaving the parking garage were also going to Wordstock. Of course. Everyone was going to Wordstock. Well, there was that guy yelling in Spanish at a mannequin in a store window. But everybody else.

I was a Wordstock virgin, compelled to go this year not only because I always wanted to but because I’m now co-coordinator of our Willamette Writers chapter in Newport. We had a table at the Wordstock book fair. If I volunteered a couple hours, I could sell my books.

Portland is a long drive from here. Three hours each way if I’m lucky. Much of it was in the dark, and it was raining the whole time. Blinded by the deluge, I prayed my way home and still can’t believe I survived. I also can’t believe the guys in pickups who passed me going 75 mph on Highway 20. God watch over the people in their path.

So, as a newbie, I had a lot to learn about Wordstock. For example:

* Once you pay your $15 (do it in advance online) and get your red wristband, you can attend any of the talks in any of the many buildings. Just walk in. This blows my mind. I thought you needed to pay more for an extra ticket. Nope.

* Get the program online at Literary Arts or in the Willamette Week newspaper and plan ahead. There is way too much to see and do. Picture a massive buffet at which everything looks delicious, but you can only choose one plate-full. Which do you want more, the lobster or the raviolis?

* Don’t open that door to the stage balcony between shows. I decided I wanted to sneak a peek at one of the theaters and got locked in. Locked double doors on each end of a concrete-floored hallway. Luckily there were stairs. Eventually I wound up in an alley. As the doors shut behind me—locked—I gazed at the wrought iron gates that separated me from the street. What if they’re locked, too? I pictured myself gripping the bars like a prisoner and hollering for help. But they opened.

* Expect to get wet. It’s November in Oregon. You will get wet walking between buildings. You will get wet acquiring food from the food carts. You will get wet trying to find a place to eat that food. Wear your raincoat; think about bringing an umbrella. And don’t even think about complaining about the rain.

* It will be crowded. Did I mention there were 8,000 people there? That’s almost the whole population of Newport. Most of these people are too busy gazing at books, authors, their programs or their phones to watch where they’re going. If you try to take an alternate route, a red-shirted volunteer will herd you back into the stampede. Note that many of the attendees are kids, who get in free.

* If you live far away, stay overnight so you can start Wordstocking the minute it opens and stay to the end. None of this sneaking out to beat the traffic and the darkness, neither of which is actually possible.

* You’re in an art museum. Take time to enjoy the art, too. Featured this year was the work of pop artist Andy Warhol, famous for his Campbell’s Soup Cans and prints of famous people. Wild and colorful stuff.

It’s all pretty amazing and a little daunting for this small-town author who skipped her church bazaar to attend Wordstock (which my phone keeps autocorrecting to Woodstock). Of course I spent more money than I made selling books. I thought I was going to die on the road. But will I go next year? As long as Literary Arts keeps putting it on, I plan to be there. Unless it’s snowing. Maybe even then.

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Two minutes of fame at the Willamette Writers Conference

If you follow me on Facebook, you know I had my two minutes of fame Saturday night when I received the first place award for poetry at the Willamette Writers conference banquet in Portland Saturday night. It’s not my first award, but as the queen of second place, I’m thrilled about this one and that it’s for poetry makes it even sweeter. That I could also celebrate with Debby Dodds, a sister graduate from the Antioch LA MFA program was also a blessing. The pictures with me in them come from Debby’s camera.

I got a room with a view, but of what?
It was a strange day in Portland. So hot even the people who lived there kept complaining. When I got the news of my award, the conference hotel was already full, so I stayed at a place nearby. Lest I get sued for libel, let’s just say it was in the area. If I had read the reviews before I booked my room, I might have chosen a different place. “Rundown” is putting it nicely. The photo will show you what my “view room” offered out the window. It actually got better at night when the convention center towers were lit, but still. Inside, everything was hanging lopsided, not quite clean or falling apart. No pool, no breakfast, not even a free pen. But it was only for one night, and the air conditioner worked.
It was odd showing up at the conference hotel and not being registered for or teaching at the actual conference. I was just there for the banquet. Inside the ballroom, we winners were relegated to our own tables, but most of the winners lived too far away to come to the banquet. So I shared a half-empty table with an 11-year-old winner in the kids’ category, his mom, dad and bored older brother and a non-winner who came in late and needed a seat. Turns out she and I both worked at the same newspaper in Los Gatos, California a few years apart. Amazing.
The awards began a bit late, but moved quickly to the poetry division. Amid cheers, I hurried up to the platform, posed for a picture with my certificate and hurried back to my table, where Debby grabbed me for a hug and a couple selfies, which showed up on Facebook a few minutes later.
Diana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander series
We contest winners were small fish at the banquet. Awards were also given to Justin Hocking, executive director of the Independent Publishing Resource Center; Kelly Williams Brown, author of Adulting: How to Become a Grow-Up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps; Jess Walter, author of Beautiful Ruins and seven other books; Ivan Doig, author of 16 novels and three nonfiction books; and Diana Gabaldon, whose Outlander books are debuting this week as a TV series on Starz. Gabaldon gave one of the best keynote speeches I’ve ever heard. We laughed, we learned, we were inspired, we gave her standing ovation.  Man, she’s good. And she started her books while holding down two jobs and raising a couple of kids. So what’s our excuse?
Once the nerves of my own award were over, I could enjoy my dinner. Salmon with hollandaise, some kind of potato concoction, green beans, salad and the most beautiful dessert, which I should have photographed. With layers of chocolate, coffee, more chocolate and whipped cream, it looked like a cupcake but slid down easy like cheesecake. Not exactly on my diet, but hey, I won first prize. Besides, when you consider my low-fat breakfast at the grungiest Denny’s ever, it evens out.
In the morning, instead of rushing to the Doubletree for a day of classes, pitching, and networking, I was free to roam to Chinatown and the waterfront. It was a wonderful day. Stories and photos to come. And then it was back to Annie in the cool coastal forest. Ah, fame.