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F&S: Wordstock Edition

A couple of months ago I wrote about how many of us are happy to explore other cities and towns but when it comes to our own communities we stick with what we know. Portland is home to many festivals ranging from the mainstream to the fringe and everything in between. Choosing which festival to attend each weekend requires a spreadsheet and more planning skills than I have. Usually I just throw a dart at the local A&E Guide and hope I choose the right one.

One festival I have wanted to attend for years is Wordstock. This 2-day literary festival of books, writers and storytelling has been gaining steam since 2005 and is considered one of the largest in the Pacific Northwest. So why I haven’t I attended? Well, partly because of a weird work schedule and partly because I was intimidated. This year when I saw ads for it in the local rag I decided I had no excuse not to attend. If I could survive Book Expo in NYC, I could survive the Oregon Convention Center.

I didn’t have time to attend the whole three-day festival but I did carve out some time on the last day to make my rounds. My first order of business was attempting to sign up for workshop that had sold out before I got there. I felt incredibly small and frustrated when the volunteer told me it was closed. The website is not user friendly and made it look like there was an infinite amount of space. I shook it off, checked the schedule and signed up for a self-publishing workshop instead.

The workshop was hosted by author Steve Almond whose self-depreciating style and sense of humor kept everyone engaged. He wasn’t afraid to say his early work was crap and drop a few f-bombs here and there. My favorite quote from him was when he said vanity publishing is a gateway drug for writers. Most of what he discussed was things I had filed away in the back of my brain but it was a good reinforcement. I did learn about working within my comfort zone of self promotion and knowing when to ask for help.

After the workshop, I took in a panel discussion on the future of reading. The panel covered everything from online reading, attention spans (and lack thereof) and whether or not the Oprah Book Club encourages reading. One writer in the panel mentioned he did not like to pay discounts on books and preferred to support the literary community by paying full price. Now, I don’t have buckets of cash and I don’t buy books at Walmart but come on! Who is going to pay full price for The Godfather? Powell’s mixes their used books in the new ones and John Grisham has yet to go bankrupt. One thing I did take away from the discussion was an online literature magazine called HTML Giant.  It’s packed full of reviews, features and articles on all aspects of literature and quite addicting.

The meat of Wordstock, of course, is the exhibitors. The NY Times guy caught me on the way in and forced, forced I say, me to pick up my weekend subscription again. There’s something about the Sunday Book Review that goes well with a good cup of coffee and lazy Sunday mornings. Some of the other highlights included TypeTrigger.Com. Got writer’s block? Need a writing exercise? TypeTrigger is like the Twitter for writing prompts. Evert six hours TypeTrigger issues a new phrase or word and you have 300 words to post a story or poem or whatever comes to mind. Check out the blog for more information.

Promotional materials from PDXWriters and Indigo Editing & Publications made it into my swag bag as well. Indigo hosts a variety of inexpensive writing workshops and events like the 36-Hour Sledgehammer Writing Contest and NaNoWriMo write-ins. PDX Writers has workshop and writers retreats and plenty of opportunities to improve your writing skills.

I left Wordstock feeling refreshed and full of hope. I chatted with a lot of neat people and it gave me encouragement as a writer. It made me proud to live in a community that supports literature and writers on such a grand scale. Now that I know the ropes, I plan on saving up some money and signing up for workshops as soon as they are announced.


About Anna Alexander

I get ideas. I write things. I sometimes follow through with those ideas. I also run long distances and live in the Pacific Northwest with my husband cat who lets us pay the mortgage on his house.

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