Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Guest Post: Sarah Sweeney and Best of the Web 2008

I'm still on August hiatus, but my friend Dan Wickett, creator of Emerging Writers Network and publisher of Dzanc Books, called in a favor for today's Best of the Web Day. I'm proud to join many other litblogs in featuring content related to Dzanc's awesome anthology Best of the Web 2008, which you should run out and buy from your local indie bookstore as soon as possible. Thanks to Dan for creating this, and to Sarah Sweeney for contributing this piece.

Sarah Sweeney's essay, "Tell Me If You're Lying", originally appeared in Fringe and was re-printed in Dzanc Books' Best of the Web 2008. The following is her thoughts on how living in the North affects her writing.

DRIVING DIXIE DOWN: A Writer’s Life Beyond the South

Growing up in North Carolina, I spent many hours and years dreaming about what lay beyond my humble state, the state I was born in, and the state that reared me in so many ways. From the time I could read and write I wanted to be a writer. I wondered what I would write about, the characters I would create, and I fantasized about writing all day, everyday, in a cute apartment overlooking the tall buildings and shops of New York City or San Francisco, someplace cosmopolitan that would shelter an unknown bumpkin like me. All my life I had dreamed of escaping. One of my earliest memories of this is memorizing roads and routes all around my town because I felt claustrophobic, stifled, and if I wanted to get out, I needed to know how. And I desperately yearned to drive. Cars were so much apart of my upbringing not only because my father collected and idolized them, but because they were a token of independence, a romantic piece of machinery that could take me to California. Wyoming. Memphis or Bust.

When I was a child, I obsessed over the music video for Free Fallin’, the classic song by Tom petty, and its flaxen haired star, a beautiful blonde girl who I envisioned would one day be myself, and that day couldn’t come fast enough. When I watched that video I cried. I cried for the palm trees of southern California, the convertible cars, and the glitz and opportunity that I was sure lurked at every turn. I convinced myself the only way possible to get to Los Angeles was to be a contestant on Ed McMahon’s Star Search. I begged my mother to move us westward so I may start my new life as a child star. But most heartbreaking of all is that I actually believed it might happen. “We’ll see,” she’d tell me, and I prayed it would be true.
I hated North Carolina. When I was in middle school, the sound of my own Southern accent made me cringe. I equated it with stupidity. I looked at my country, jail-prone family and it seemed the common denominator between us all. I tried to rid of it as if it were as simple as a tissue I might toss in the trash. It was evidence. It told people who I was, where I was from. I feared it might provide certain ideas about my identity and my family. I wanted to be untraceable and far, far away.

I didn’t leave until I was twenty-two years old.

All along, I told myself I’d leave the day I turned eighteen, as if that made a goddamn difference. Somewhere along the way I got scared and stayed. Then I got scared I would stay forever.

Life in Boston offers a perspective not available in the South. The winters are decidedly wintrier and, though cliché, the hospitality is lacking. I once took a bad fall while walking home with my groceries and as I moaned and wailed people walked past me and worse—they walked around me. As in avoided me. It was at that moment I realized how coddled I’d been in the South, how accustomed I was to its warmth and easier way of life. Like any bad boyfriend, I hated the South but I also fucking loved it. I couldn’t leave it. Being in the North made me scrutinize my home in a way I can only describe as healthy. In the South, we’re taught to overvalue the past, to even worship it. It’s as simple and as complicated as you’d expect—it runs deep from the loss of the Civil War to the boom the South is currently experiencing. The Old South is ever present and I helped perpetuate it. In Boston, I realized how I’d romanticized this region and turned into a sentimentalist Southern zealot, a nostalgic sap who now wanted to return to the place I had run from all my life.

Now when I do go to North Carolina, I mostly do it in writing. I never expected that the South would be my muse, or that I would ever write about my own life.

In the North, almost everything is startlingly unlike the South; but the most devastating disparity is that time moves much quicker. In the South, days are like syrup and they stretch on and on. Had I stayed, who knows what I’d be doing. I might even venture to claim that the North, in a way, saved me. How else would I accurately depict North Carolina unless I knew a life apart from it?

I’m displaced, and everyday I feel like an orphan, and every minute I miss it, ashamed at the things I’d do to get back there sometimes. Back to sweet tea, the countryside, and the stained smell of tobacco across a barroom of my friends. Home.

Friday, August 01, 2008

August Hiatus

It has come to my attention recently -- when sending out events emails, calling publisher customer service, inquiring of publicists, talking to my friends, etc. -- that virtually the entirety of the publishing industry takes some portion of the month of August off. Next to that week between Christmas and New Year's, it's probably the deadest time of year in the echoing offices of the publishing houses.

And gosh darn it, I think this bookseller needs to get in on some of that lack-of-action. So I'm declaring the month of August a hiatus from The Written Nerd. Half of my readership is somewhere in the Hamptons or the Caribbean or Canada anyway (ha, or the roofs of their non-air-conditioned apartments -- who am I kidding?) I've got big plans for September, but I feel it's gonna be a really good thing for me to take a little time off in the meantime. I'm not going anywhere myself -- but loafing in the grass this morning in Prospect Park, I couldn't think of anywhere I'd rather be than right here in Brooklyn.

Not that there's nothing going on, mind you. I will be taking part in some cool activities coming up, which I have mentioned before. I'm posting their details here, so you'll have that to refer to in my absence, and you'll know where I can be found.

Thursday, August 7, 7:00-9:00 PM
Name Change Celebration
McNally Robinson becomes McNally Jackson! And Kate Christensen, Nathan Englander, Joseph O’Neill, Peter Sis, Matt Weiland, Sean Wilsey, Colson Whitehead become booksellers for a day!
McNally Jackson Books, 52 Prince Street, NYC
Open to anyone, but RSVP in advance required; RSVP by emailing the bookstore.

Tuesday, August 19, 7:00 - 9:00 PM
Emerging Leaders Night Out: IndieBound Edition
Networking, drinking, and learning about the new buy local initiative from the ABA. Free t-shirts to booksellers who RSVP by August 11!
Flatbush Farm and Bar(n), 76 St. Mark's Ave., Brooklyn
Open to young booksellers, publishers, and other book industry professionals; RSVP by emailing me.

Monday and Tuesday, August 25 & 26
ABA Emerging Leaders Council meeting with Ingram
Your reps of the national Emerging Leaders Council fly down to Nashville to meet with the nation's largest book wholesaler and discuss our goals and strategies
Just us 7 -- but we'll report back from our Southern rendezvous!

Sunday, September 14
Brooklyn Book Festival
Author readings, booksellers, publishers, lots and lots of Brooklyn book culture!
Brooklyn Borough Hall & Plaza
Open to the public

Saturday-Monday, September 20 - 22
New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association Fall Trade Show: NAIBA Con!
Education, author talks and signings, discussion sessions, trade show floor, bookseller insights, galleys, networking, yoga, cocktails, and much more!
Crowne Plaza Hotel, 2349 W. Marlton Pike, Cherry Hill, NJ
Open to booksellers from the mid-Atlantic region; register or find out more by emailing Eileen Dengler

Happy lazy days of summer, everyone. Hope you've got some good books to relax with. See you in September!