Entry # 141 – Phyllis Duncan Reports from AWP’s 2013 Boston Conference

By Jan Bowman
Background: 
The AWP: The Association of Writers and Writing Programs is based at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA. AWP provides support, advocacy, resources, and community to nearly 50,000 writers, 500 college and university creative writing programs, and 125 writers’ conferences and centers. Our mission is to foster literary achievement, advance the art of writing as essential to a good education, and serve the makers, teachers, students, and readers of contemporary writing. In addition to the annual writer’s conference–for writers and teachers of writing–AWP publishes the magazine The Writer’s Chronicle.

 Phyllis Duncan says, “In my opinion, worth the membership fee.”     https://www.awpwriter.org/


Phyllis Anne “Maggie” Duncan:  – is a retired bureaucrat with an overactive imagination–at least that’s what everyone has told her since she first started making up stories in elementary school prompted by her weekly list of spelling words. 
 

Her first print collection of short stories was the 2000 paperback, Rarely Well Behaved, which, in 2012, became two separate, reissued books, Blood Vengeance and Fences. In December 2012, she published Spy Flash, a collection of espionage flash fiction stories.

Other short stories have appeared in eFiction Magazine in 2011 and 2012, in the 2013 Blue Ridge Anthology, and in 1 x 50 x 100, a collection of 100-word flash fiction. Ms. Duncan has studied writing at the Gotham Writers Workshop, Writers.com, and Tinker Mountain Writers Workshop. End Times, book one of a trilogy on domestic terrorism, was a semi-finalist in the 2011 James River Writers Best Unpublished Novel contest.

She is a member of WriterHouse, James River Writers, Virginia Writers Club, Shenandoah Valley Writers, SWAG (Staunton, Waynesboro, Augusta Group) Writers, and the Association of Writers and Writing Programs.

Jan:    What were the most interesting presentations that you attended at this year’s AWP conference in Boston?


Phyllis:    A panel on writing historical fiction and one featuring women crime thriller writers were particularly useful to me since I write historical espionage thrillers. The writers on both panels offered practical advice (e.g., when do you stop researching and start writing) and enthusiastic support. The writers on the Women in Crime panel were all driven and erudite but hilarious, and the Q&A session after delved into issues of gender equality in publishing, which was timely and lively.
The keynote speakers on the first night were Novel Laureates Seamus Heaney and Derek Walcott–both poets, but Heaney, being Irish, has secured a place in my half-Irish heart. Just to be in the same room with him was thrilling, and the mutual admiration society between him and Walcott was refreshing. Walcott has been known to imitate his favorite poets, and he read from a piece, looked up at the audience and said, “That’s pure Heaney,” and Heaney agreed. It was wonderful. Then, the next day, I passed Heaney in the hallway, and he gave me a nod and a smile. As I said in my blog, I’m sure he’s polite to every middle-aged woman who gawks at him, but I want to believe he thought, “Ah, what a great Irish lass!” 😉
Jan:     Given your expectations, did you find any presentations not particularly useful? And what was missing?  If you could offer advice to presenters, what would you say is essential for an effective presentation?
Phyllis:   I selected one program, “Career Suicide,” which was for teachers of writing, but that was entirely my fault because I didn’t bother to read the description. Over the three days, there were nearly 500 different sessions offered, so you’d be hard-pressed to find one that wasn’t useful. It’s usually the opposite–you wish you could clone yourself and be at several sessions at the same time. That redundancy was good because there were several sessions I wanted I couldn’t get into because they were full, but there were plenty of alternatives to attend.
I was a bit dismayed at several sessions when neither the moderator nor the panel introduced themselves. Yes, they are listed in the one-inch thick program, but most of us worked from a much smaller planner which just listed the sessions. You got the impression the panelists didn’t think they had to introduce themselves because we all should know who they are. Most are mid-list writers, so recognizing them is not that easy.
What was missing was any acknowledgement of self-publishing at all. AWP is heavily invested in traditional publishers for sponsorship and for donations, so it doesn’t surprise me that there were maybe one or two sessions that even hinted at self-publishing.

Jan:     In your opinion – do you think it helps future sales and contacts for writers to have a table or display at the “back of the room”?

Phyllis:     Normally, this would be a good idea but not for a conference where 12,000 people show up and there are only fifteen minutes between sessions. At the AWP Bookfair–the largest bookfair I’ve ever seen–publishers associated with the presenters offer their books, usually with a conference discount. Individual author tables are rare, mainly because paying for the table is expensive, and you’d have to sell a lot of books to cover it. Better to have your publisher pay for it, and book signings are always scheduled throughout the Bookfair.

Jan:     What “take-aways” do you have from your experiences this year at AWP?

Phyllis:    Wear comfortable shoes. You do a lot of walking. I tended to skip out on some of the Q&A sessions so I could hit the head and get to the next session and have a seat. Engage in conversation with the writer next to you. Don’t be shy with the panelists. If they say to follow them on Twitter, do it. You never know what networking may occur. Obviously, that’s not a license to stalk the author or beg them to read your manuscript, but you can make valuable connections.

Jan:    Any particular advice to share with future AWP attendees?

Phyllis:     Stretch yourself a little. Even if you don’t teach writing, try one of the “pedagogy” sessions because they can be useful.

Go to the hotel bar after–because you know where there’s a bar there are writers, and a touch of the creature makes for great writerly discussions. 😉
Jan:   And where do hungry writers go to get wonderful “chowdah” in Boston?

Phyllis:    I’ve never had bad “chowdah” in Boston. Normally, I like to go to Legal Seafood for my chowdah fix, but quite often you’ll find delicious offerings in non-franchise pubs and restaurants. My hotel (Marriott Copley Place) had an excellent one, and The Cheesecake Factory in the mall attached to the convention center had a decent one as well. I made sure I had chowdah every day because, well, the best place to get Boston Clam Chowder is Boston, maybe Cambridge. Next year’s AWP Conference is in Seattle, WA, so I’m already looking forward to fresh salmon.

Jan:     AND I shall I call you Phyllis for this interview.
Phyllis:     You just did.  Here’s my email contact: 
                  Phyllis Duncan <unspywriter@gmail.com


Buy my books “Blood Vengeance,” “Fences,” and “Spy Flash” from Amazon.com

About Jan Bowman:

Jan Bowman’s fiction has appeared in numerous publications including most recently, Roanoke Review, Big Muddy, The Broadkill Review, Trajectory, Third Wednesday, Minimus, Buffalo Spree (97), Folio, The Potomac Review and others. Glimmer Train named a recent story as Honorable Mention in the November 2012 Short Story Awards for New Writers. Another story won the 2011 Roanoke Review Fiction Award.  Her stories have been nominated for Pushcart Prizes, Best American Short Stories and a story was a finalist in the “So To Speak” Fiction Contest. She is working on two collections of short stories while shopping for a publisher for a completed story collection. Learn more at www.janbowmanwriter.com or

For a more detailed series of Interviews with Phyllis Duncan – go to Jan’s blog and read 
Entry # 84 – 8/14/12 Part 1  and Entry # 86 – 8/21/12 Part 2

This entry was posted by Jan Bowman on Tuesday, March 12, 2013.
Filed under: DELMARVA Writers, Interviews, Writing Workshops
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