Portland is one of my favorite cities on the planet. Here is why:
1.) I love Powell’s. It’s a sight to behold, this city-block sized bookstore. Everyone goes on about it so, I will not.
2.) Once, while at a farmer’s market, I had my palm read by an elderly woman while sitting on an upside down paint bucket under a tarp, and what she said tweaked me out for a month.
3.) I once waited 100 hours to eat at a restaurant and had pumpkin enchiladas that almost made me fall from my chair.
4.) Great guitar shops downtown.
5.) Reed College is nearby, which hosts the Tin House writer’s conference (and has a terrific reading series).
6.) Wordstock.

Wordstock is an annual, two-day literary festival that features readings, panels, and writing workshops. It is the largest event of its kind in the region, and it’s aMAzing, particularly because of the workshops. Unlike many festivals, which tend to feature only panels and readings, goers can take quick workshops by well known authors; for instance, Benjamin Percy’s workshop last year on using tropes as the building blocks of plot, character, and thematic development and Baharati Mukhuerjee’s workshop this year on self-editing.






This year, I was invited to Wordstock to read, sit on a panel, and teach a workshop. Talk about a huge honor. I was beyond excited.

Driving to Portland is usually fun, but this time it was nuts. While driving through Olympia something fell from an overpass and smashed into my windshield. It FELT like a brick, and a small crack emerged at the bottom of the glass. I watched as it trickled upward while I drove, and it became increasingly clear  that I might need to call and say I couldn’t make it because my windshield was gone. But I drove with my fingers crossed, eyeing my GPS, until finally – thankfully – I crossed the Columbia River separating Washington from Oregon. Pulling into Portland, my GPS steered me the wrong way, but intuition led me to the convention center where I was set to read. I parked my car and ran inside.

Soon I met Mellisa Huggins, my former student, a terrific writer, and now an Eastern Washington University MFA grad who coordinates the GetLit Festival in Spokane (a festival that also features workshops), and then I met my reading partner Manuel Munoz. I read first, and he went after, reading a scene from his terrific novel, What You See in the Dark, where a 23 year old woman has sex with a younger man for his first time in a car at a drive-in. We then took questions about capturing certain settings/locations in certain time periods and how to structure books. He is a phenomenal reader with great pacing, and a very articulate way of talking about writing.


We were then whisked away to the author signing area, which was interesting and – I think – a smart thing to have, where writers sat at tables and signed books and talked with people. Afterward, we went to see Marjorie Sandor and Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan read.

It was approaching evening, and I was wiped out from the three hour adrenaline rush that came from the drive+reading, so I wanted to get to my hotel room. I found my Jeep and drove over to my hotel, a place called the Inn at the Convention Center, caught up on baseball and worked on my talk for the morning’s panel.

Sunday morning, I took part in a panel with publicist Mary Bisbee-Beek and fellow first-time authors Scott Sparling and Ellen Meeropol, where we talked about the process of publishing our books, mainly focusing on the ups and downs of the process, going from the early stages of writing the books to working like crazy to promote the books after they were published. Both of them are dazzling, and their books are phenomenal. Crazy how much ground we covered in that hour, and how much we had in common – mainly that all of us most seem to really appreciate the bookstores that have done so much for the books.

At the author signing station (as I came to call it), I found myself seated beside Steve Almond, a writer who came to PLU to read a few years ago and I interviewed for Third Coast last year, whose spirit and work I greatly admire. Students were talking about that reading for years.

Finally, at 3pm I did my workshop, which focused on ways to bring point-of-view into setting. I had expected only a few people, and was surprised that 28 people filled the room! They were a lively and fun group, with everyone speaking up in the discussion and everyone game as we went through the writing exercises. What was even more fantastic was the writing they produced. GOOD LORD!! Three people read, and all three pieces were completely different, but all three were really terrific in their own ways.

I will now admit, I was incredibly nervous about every part of Wordstock, leading up to each event. I had never done a reading at a conference, or a panel with other writers, or a workshop outside of my own students. But the experience was terrific.

Afterward, I left and went to Walgreens and got clear nail polish, applied it to the crack on my windshield and headed home, listening to Led Zeppelin and Love as Laughter.

Now I have to go mow the lawn. In the rain, wearing my surgical mask. Then I have to pack my massive red suitcase and get ready to head out to the Midwest for 2.5 weeks to work on my new project.

I will post some as I go.