woodstock writers festival

I went to the first annual Woodstock Writers Festival and all I got was this lousy totebag. Oh, and four days of workshops, readings, and panel discussions with a remarkable and generous group of authors; belly laughs, inspiration, new friends, and great advice.
            Opening night wine and dessert tapas with Susan Orlean, author of The Orchid Thief, a book on my to-read list moving closer to the top because who can resist lines like, “I hate hiking in swamps with convicts carrying machetes.”
            Saturday morning Nina and I went to the writing workshop with Abigail Thomas, author of Thinking About Memoir and other books. There was a certain — what — ironic congruity? in sitting at a memoir workshop in our first Woodstock childhood home, now the Woodstock Center for Photography. Our parents owned the old CafĂ© Espresso, our living quarters in the apartment upstairs. My sister and I sat in chairs that would have been behind the bar. Huh, whattaya know.
            I missed the reading by Maria Bauer, author of Beyond the Chestnut Tree, a book I read 25 years ago when Maria gave Tony and me a copy as a wedding gift. I lived in a cottage next door to her summer house in Woodstock. It’s my favorite of the places I’ve lived, partly because it was when I first suspected I was not going to die tragically young in a firey crash on my way home from Deanie’s some drunken Quaalude-rippled night. I digress.
        I loved the workshop with Laura Shaine Cunningham because the woman is so god-damned happy. And not just because she is a best-selling author, either. She’s made a deliberate effort to let go of angst and get out of what she called, “writers’ debtors prison.” I sharpen my shiv and dig, even if it’s just to break out of an illusion. One of the exercises was to describe the prior morning.

To do:
One load of laundry
Look at the bills, maybe even pay some
Wake up one Teenager
Leave by noon.
        Coffee. Laundry in. The Teenager is given first call at nine with the hope that he’ll be out of bed by 10:00 with time to do kitchen chores before taking off for the day.
O for two.
Pack. What to wear to a Writers Festival? A tiny cut above my usual slacks and a t-shirt? Two t-shirts? Laundry in dryer. Time is on time’s side. It always is if I sit at the computer before getting my must-dos done. Sucked into e-mail and facebook and now I have an overpowering need to know more about turtles and now it’s an irretrievable hour later and I’m late but at least I’m all schooled up on turtles.

Panel discussion with Dani Shapiro, John Bowers, Marion Winik, and Shalom Auslander. I haven’t read the first two authors, but Glen Rock Book of the Dead by Marion Winik is a brilliant little collection of essays about 52 people she knew who have died. Shalom Auslander’s book Foreskin’s Lament is nine miles beyond funny. Really fucking pissed off funny. Maddest at god but plenty left over for family too.
Here’s a response to an unremembered audience question.

Shalom: If you want to know what it’s like to be a writer, read The Hunger Artist by Kafka. You live in a cage, you starve, and no one cares.
Marion: Except they drag you out once a year for the Woodstock Writers Festival.
Shalom: Yeah, in a barn in the middle of nowhere.

Go out now and get these books and read them. I’ll wait.
            Next up Martha Frankel on marketing. I hate marketing. Marketing is why I got out of marketing. But Martha makes it sound so fun! and easy! So now I have to learn to pimp myself on facebook, twitter, etc. Now I have to accept everyone who friends me, including that guy who self-publishes vampire porn written in the style of a seven year old which now I see is a brilliant marketing strategy. The hide feature is my friend, and if things get really bad I can block which is to say in Mother Frankel’s words, “He’s dead to me.” I know you’re right Martha but shit.
            The next panel discussion was so good because I hated half of them. Hey eager writers, feeling good, and inspired? It’s time for the Cranky Negative Panel! (Wake up JB, you’re on the stage.) On the left were Bob Wyatt and Shaye Areheart, lovely helpful positive folks who I hope can be paired with different people in the future. The two on the right, married publisher and agent couple, seemed to say, “Hello. We are your barriers to publication. Go dig a hole and bury your book and stop bothering us with your stupid questions.” I loved Bob Wyatt’s riposte after a particularly long and gloomy response by the nattering nabobs of negativism∗ involving the impossibility of ever seeing even one of your vowels in print: “Or, you could land a plane on the Hudson.” Thank you Bob. And thank you Sully.
            I read Chosen By a Horse by Susan Richards by accident, misremembering a book recommended by my sister. I’m not a horse person. I’m not really even an animal person unless it involves heat and side dishes. In Sunday’s writing workshop Susan points out that hers is not a book about horses; it’s a book about grief. It was poignant, funny, sad and uplifting. The book that is. The workshop was excellent. When I am stuck I will go back to minute observations. Speaking of poignancy and all that, why didn’t I guess that I’d spend so much of this festival welled up bordering tears? The audience readers were wonderful and so many of their stories ached. Note on next years fest: bring tissues.
            Sunday night’s event was a reading and Q+A by Julie Powell, hosted by Martha Frankel, author of Hats and Eyeglasses. Julie’s is the I had an idea and I blogged it and someone noticed and I made it into a book and then Hollywood found it and Amy Adams played me and Meryl Streep was in it fairy tale. Julie landed her plane in the Hudson. I’m embarrassed that I have not read nor seen the movie Julie and Julia, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the hell out of this event. Martha Frankel is a thoughtful and funny host. I first saw her moderating a panel at the Woodstock Film Festival and thought I would like to have lunch with her sometime, if only she wasn’t such a recluse. For a good time, friend Martha on Facebook. She’s not that choosy and you won’t be sorry. Back to Julie, who has a new book called Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession that is maybe a little about her time interning at Fleischer's butcher shop in Kingston, NY. Julie is so damn cute it’s hard to imagine her taking down a side of beef, plus it hardly seems safe for a twelve year old to be waving big knives around, but I do look forward to reading this book. I’m sure it’s not about the meat.
            Did I mention that Ruth Reichl read and answered questions? She did. She was her sweet and funny goddess self. I may write more on this later.
            The next morning was a meet and greet brunch at Joshua’s. I ate, I schmoozed, I took pictures. That’s it for now. Find yourself at the Woodstock Writers Festival next year. The totebags are really nice.

William Safire, for Spiro Agnew



  1. Shalom Auslander? I force Foreskin's Lament upon every reader I know. I am green--wait, I'm writing to a writer--chartreuse with envy.

    Susan Orlean wrote a great book about Saturday night in America; I think it's out of print, but worth finding in a library or used bookstore.

    So cool. Thanks for sharing it!

  2. Shalom Auslander is as funny and vinegary as you might imagine.
    Susan talked about that book a bit; I'll look for it. Interesting launchpad.
    Come with me next year. I am sure you are fetching in chartreuse.

  3. Great story sister! What a weekend...

  4. A vivid portrayal of what sounds like a memorable weekend. Thanks for sharing.

  5. I feel as if I'm looking out your eyes at the weekend's goings-on. I love your turn of phrase, "Time is on time's side."

  6. Thanks Monique for bringing this weekend to vivid color for those not there. How amazing that you and your sister sat in those chairs and breathed in that air again. I'm waiting for Dani Shapiro's latest book, "Devotion" to be acquired by our local library. I look forward to the time that I'm antsily waiting to be number one on the reserve list for YOUR book! Scratch that. I'll buy it.

  7. oh, wow, thanks so much for this, Monique - always a pleasure reading your voice, and this sounds like some wonderful, wonderful stuff.

    (Liz, who is wondering this week why she goes completely inarticulate when she is trying to communicate things that are important to her...)

  8. Monique, this weekend sounds almost as good as snowshoeing when it's -16 degrees out. After reading this report, I wished I had gone with you - unless it really wasn't as entertaining as you made it sound, and it's just your great writing that made it sound so warm and funny and informative and moving. Ya, I'll bet that's it.

  9. Thanks everyone for your comments. Donna, next year you're coming with me. Save the snowshoeing for when it's not 14 below. Like June. Elizabeth, I haven't read "Devotion" yet, but it's coming with me on vacation next week. I'm also bringing Foreskin's Lament audio book read by the author, which I will listen to while knitting on the plane and hopefully not get kicked off for being a crazy hysterical person. And if Mitt Romney touches my seat he's in trouble.
    Susan, thank you for your comment. Did I meet you that weekend?

  10. You're funny. Thanks for pimping yourself to me on Facebook. And thanks for this post. It reinforces my decision to skip things like the Woodstock Writers Festival. And to self-publish.

  11. Ah but Steve you missed a big good time. At the closing we all sat in a circle holding hands, swaying, and sang Kumbaya.
    And thanks.