A while back, I wrapped up a series of posts here called Gold in Them Notebooks, in which I randomly opened notebooks filled during my MFA program, and shared notes from faculty seminars, presentations and guest writer talks. Later in another post, I mentioned that this year, to pay off the loans which made that MFA possible, I was planning to forego any writers conferences in 2010 – much as it hurt.
In last summer’s massive office clean-out, I discovered plenty of notes I’d taken at writing conferences and other literary events over the years. This is my long-winded way of introducing Notes From the Third Row, in which I’ll share some of what I’ve collected while sitting in the audience at a variety of literary events. Maybe it will be almost as good as being there. Okay, it won’t be. But it might be fun, and maybe a little bit inspiring.
To get started on a light note, at a past AWP Conference, I sat in on a panel discussion titled, “Do You Have to be Mean to be Funny?”
Everyone on the panel agreed that the author who directs humor first at himself was on the right track for laughs. Next in line are public figures. Roger Rosenblatt noted that poking fun in print worked best when the writer chose “big targets – Presidents are good. Or else it’s bullying.
With satire, most of the work is done for you by pure fact – the stupid thing that public person has done – and then you’re just reporting the ridiculous.”
David Rakoff agreed: “Always make fun UP the ladder, and for things people can be held accountable for.”
On the other hand, Patricia Marx added, “I don’t think you have to be mean to be funny, but it really helps. Let’s try an experiment: you try to be nice to me all night and we’ll see if I laugh.”
What have you heard at conferences or other events that has stuck with you? Let me know in comments, please!