If you’re a book nerd like me and not friends with a local librarian, I HIGHLY recommend it. They’re always in the know about the coolest bookish events around. My good friend Amy told me about the Midwest Literary Walk in Chelsea, Michigan and we trudged the hour out there to see the five authors who came to the event.
The first two speakers were based out of the Chelsea Depot, the old train station which made a perfect venue. The first speaker was Christopher Sorrentino, a contemporary fiction writer. He spoke about his latest book, The Fugitives. The book is set in the fictional Cherry City, which many Michiganders identified as Traverse City, Michigan (TRAV-erse, not tra-VERSE). He said that all of his characters are liars and they’re all running away from something. That must make for some fun writing to be sure! The book is different from the normal character-driven plots he writes because there is a thriller/heist element to the book. He still think’s it’s a character study, but with a lot more plot than he usually bestows on a book. He put a part of himself in each character and I think all writers can agree they do that to an extent. Sorrentino spoke about how draining it is to write a book. This book took him five years and the one before took four. He was asked about how the book was received and despite the good reviews he’s received, he wasn’t able to forget about one bad review in the New York Times written by a review he knew personally. I guess even the seasoned pros get stuck on some bad comments.
The second speaker was Claire Vaye Watkins. Amy had read her short story collection and really liked it so I decided I was going to buy her book (which I did, thanks to Literati Bookstore being on site!). He novel is called Gold Fame Citrus and I’m really excited to read it. She told us it’s classified as ‘cli-fi,’ climate fiction which she only heard of after publishing. Watkins has never worried about genre or form and writes whatever she wants. Her earlier books were praised for being fearless and bold but she feels that since she had a child, she’s become a bit more feminine. She writes in the mornings, after dropping her child with a sitter and writes for 2-3 hours, cranking out between 1,000 and 5,000 words. She said that she lets herself stop when writing is hard but not when thinking is hard. When she’s too tired, she stops but if she’s at a rough point in the book, she keeps going. When I got my book signed, I asked her what advice she would give me as an aspiring writer. She said to embrace perfection on the page, but nowhere else in life. Look for the perfect word, the perfect paragraph, but let appearance fall by the wayside. I’ll have to work on that one!
There were two poets at the third stop, Robin Coste Lewis is the National Book Award Winner for Poetry. She writes long form poetry which allows her to take the reader on a journey. She said that never tries to explain a feeling or experience to her reader, she lets them determine it for himself. The other poet was Jamaal May, a Detroit poet. When he read, it was very obvious he got his start writing slam poetry. His biggest advice was when there is something bothering hi, it’s a good sign that it’s something he should write about.
The last author up was the big headliner, Paula McClain. I read McClain’s book The Paris Wife a few years back and wasn’t a big fan of the novel but it was interesting to hear her speak. She earned her MFA in Poetry from the University of Michigan and was amazed that she was able to do that. McClain spent 14 years in foster care and was on academic probation at a community college for three years so finishing a master’s degree was never what she expected of herself. Her first novel was a memoir and it took her five years to write. After learning about Hadley and being inspired by her, she hunkered down at a Cleveland Starbucks and wrote The Paris Wife in seven months. I was surprised to hear she’d never been to Paris before she wrote the book. She visited since, but I’m still amazed how alive she made Paris feel without having visited. I was amazed to hear that at a reading in St. Louis, she met Hadley’s nephew and other family members. What a rush that must have been!
It was a really great event and I’m glad I went. I plan to go again next year. Until next time, write on.