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April 26, 2005

My Mid-Atlantic Literary Excursion

by Ron Hogan

amandahill.jpgAmanda Hill (left) didn't have any trouble finding me at Washington's Union Station, where we'd agreed to meet for lunch soon after my train rolled into town from New York. She joked that I was probably the only man she'd ever spot carrying around a well-thumbed copy of her novel, Love Like That, which has just been published by Red Dress Ink--one of the leading purveyors of chick lit. I'd asked her out to lunch because I knew I had the entire afternoon free in D.C. and wanted to hang out with some local writers, but if I'd known she'd just flown in that morning on a redeye from Vegas, where she'd spent two weeks researching her next book, I might have let her catch up on her sleep. In any event, we had a great conversation about how we'd both been trying to write fiction since we were teenagers and how hard it was for us to find the right voice for a story. She told me about some crucial guidance she'd gotten from novelist Jane Stanton Hitchcock, and recommended I track down a copy of Social Crimes. Then we bonded over one of my favorite aspects of Love Like That: the fact that Dalton, the novel's narrator, rebels against the chick-lit goody-two-shoes stereotype by being an unapologetically foul-mouthed drinker and smoker. "Right," Amanda laughed, "instead of just having one cigarette when she's feeling rebellious or really stressed out." As a result, the novel feels a bit more "Brat Pack" than "chick lit," sort of reminding me a bit of early Mark Lindquist.

My next date was for afternoon tea with Mary Kay Zuravleff, and walking to her house after getting off the Metro took me past independent bookshop Politics and Prose (which appears to be the place for visiting authors to read at, based on the signs in their front windows). When I arrived, she offered me some tea--pau d'arco, which neither one of us really knew what it was. (It turned out, she told me later, to be bark from the taheebo tree, and purportedly good for the immune system.) One of the things I love about Mary Kay's most recent novel, The Bowl Is Already Broken, is that she's figured out the art of being funny without forcing the jokes, which led us to discuss the current critical distinction between social comedy and satire--since, like Francine Prose, Mary Kay isn't entirely sure about having her fiction placed in the latter camp, citing her commitment to realism. (You'll hear more about her and her novel here soon--she's coming to New York's Rubin Museum of Art next week to read and talk about the novel's focus on ancient Chinese art.)

I made my way back towards the center of the city to hook up with fellow blogger Sam Jones, who drove me out to suburban Virginia so we could go drinking with the Happy Booker and her writing group, which included Dallas Hudgens, author of the recently published debut novel Drive Like Hell, and PEN/Faulkner co-founder Stephen Goodwin, who kindly signed a copy of Breaking Her Fall for me (and one for Sam). Scott Berg ("not A. Scott Berg, but the Scott Berg," as I quipped much later) dropped by even though he had less than two weeks to turn in his biography of D.C. urban planner Pierre L'Enfant, while I blew an opportunity to pick up some fantasy baseball tips from Tim Wendel. Late in the evening, I stepped out to the patio so I could enjoy a cigar, and was joined by Robyn Wright and Corrine Gormont, who both had short stories in the new issue of Five Points. Later still, Robyn introduced me to GWU writing professor Christy Zink, making sure I knew what a fantastic editor Christy is. And, lest I forget, Reb Livingston had joined us for the first half of the evening; but then Reb and I were to spend more time together on Saturday morning...

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