Writing

On Memoir and Philip Roth’s Patrimony

I’m relatively new to creative non-fiction/essay/memoir writing, and I’d like to blog some short review-ish pieces about what I’m reading as a way to stoke closer reading. My current craft guide is Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir, and I’ve gathered some of her recommended readings for study. Not only was I reminded that I already own Roth’s memoir, but also that I’ve read it before, years ago. (More on that later.)

I’m still writing and submitting fiction, and in fact, I have a novel that I’m trying to place at this time. I also have another novel (my second) that’s about halfway complete, so I don’t intend on abandoning the genre any time soon. Lately, however, I’ve been thinking about my life and my progress in dealing with my mental health, and with the encouragement of my partner (a licensed psychologist), I’ve begun to explore the possibilities of essay/memoir. So far, I’ve completed a short essay and lots of notes, and I’ve realized how difficult it is to write factually and to deal with all the related worries that it brings. I’ve had moments where I thought it might be better not to write CNF and avoid all the hassles, guilt, etc., but I’m committed now to carrying on.

That said, and with more to come in the future, let me get to Roth’s memoir.

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220px-Patrimony

Patrimony: A True Story, Philip Roth (Simon & Schuster, 1991)

One of the biggest struggles many memoir writers deal with is writing honestly and deeply about family. No matter how small the detail, unless it paints a perfectly nice and normal picture, there’s a chance that someone you love will take issue with it and with you. To be honest, one of my small concerns is just this, and it rubs right against my desire and determination to write my truths. Some of my various starter pieces clearly demonstrate this struggle, and so reading Roth’s deeply personal exploration of his father’s decline and death, preceded by his long life as an insurance man, husband, father, etc., was an excellent primer.

Patrimony begins with a frightening sudden change in Roth’s father’s health. It turns out to be a rare type of brain tumor, and the news sets off associations with Roth’s mother’s recent death, the author’s loneliness, and as we discover as the narrative evolves, his father’s almost constant recitation of events and recollection of individuals from his, his neighborhood’s, and his fellow Jews’ past as a coping mechanism. Herman Roth manages to pull himself out of his darkest moments only through these stories and also his near constant criticisms of his partner, Lil, whom he meets not long after his wife passes away, and who can never measure up in Herman’s estimations. It’s so consistent that I can’t help but read Herman’s fears here, as if he feels he’ll wither and disappear if he wasn’t trying to improve someone’s life with his, to his mind, sound advice.

Meanwhile, Philip is trying to deal and stay afloat with his sudden shift in familial responsibility. A common story: the child becomes the parent. Herman, even if he hates it, has inevitably become dependent on his sons (mostly Philip, it seems), and his dwelling on his past glories is another method of dealing and self-soothing. As a result, Philip understands a portion of his own self, a part of him that, as a young man, he might’ve denied or repressed. It occurs to him that, as a college student, he thought of his degree as enlightening both him and his father, as if he had done Herman a favor of sorts by pursuing an education in his stead. As his father’s health deteriorates and he shares his stories about a neighborhood now almost unrecognizable, Herman has become the educator, the one conferring his crucial knowledge to the son. Philip has begun to understand his true patrimony.

The narrative is straightforward, and the only difficulty may be witnessing a frank and unflinching depiction of a human being’s decline and demise. The structure moves from the present of his tumor diagnosis and his final months into the past, from the struggles of Herman dealing with his wife’s death into the old neighborhood in Newark, Herman’s career, and so on. The structure is familiar, often used in memoir, but it works. The tension is appropriately maintained throughout, and I often felt as if I was sitting in those waiting rooms myself.

So You’re Attending the AWP Conference for the First Time

Yes, this is another blog post offering advice on how to get the most out of your AWP Conference experience. No, I don’t consider myself an expert. In fact, the 2020 edition will only be my fourth, but since I’m always anxious to maximize my time and money investments (and since I really enjoy reading AWP advice blogs myself), I thought I’d go ahead and add my thoughts to the discussion.

Be Prepared

Before you go:

Practice due diligence. Read the blogs. Ask anyone who’s attended even once. Read and reread the schedule, and consider downloading the app instead of relying on the printed version. I’m the kind of writer who still loves hard copies of almost anything, but the app has proven to be a big help for me for the previous two conferences I attended.  Feel free to double book hours, then enjoy the exquisite pain when you have to decide between them, or ditch both to go to lunch with friends or for another visit to the book fair.

Take some time to honestly assess your needs, at this time, as a writer. My book was published just before my second AWP conference, and aside from planned events like an author signing, I wanted to attend panels on book promotion and marketing, and anything else related to the business aspects of writing. I also looked into agent panels with my eye to future manuscripts. At the book fair, I focused on gracious networking and finding ways to bridge between my book and publisher and other presses. I took the time before I traveled, to brainstorm and commit to my then current needs.  I assess my current needs as honestly as I can ever since, and I find that I’m rewarded with a successful conference, although there are inevitable audibles called.

When You’re There

Trust your planning, but be open to the changing flow of the conference. If you hit 75% of your goals (and so much of what comes from that after is out of your control), then you’ve done well. Make sure you have everything you need for the intense days of business, then set all of that aside and enjoy the off-site events or parties or both at night. Blow off steam, rest, then get ready for another wave the next day.

I’m an introvert, but I love the energy of the conference, and finding the energy deep inside is rewarding. Remember that you’re surrounded by people who totally understand your struggles, concerns, successes, and goals. It’s such a rare thing, really, so take the time to enjoy it. When you feel overwhelmed, find some space to reset. Don’t be afraid to be yourself. Don’t feel like you’re missing out if you have to go back to your room for a couple of hours.

Talk to the writer. Chances are, they’ll be more than happy to give you a little of their time. Don’t take too much of it, though. If they turn out to be not so gracious, well, remember they’re human, too. Walk away and don’t let it get to you.

Remember that, although an event like this speaks of privilege in certain ways, it doesn’t mean that you don’t belong there. You do. Trust your talents. If you see a lack of space for certain populations of writers, find a way to help expand your presence. Find the caucus that speaks to your lived experience and help out.

What to Take

  • comfortable shoes
  • a backpack (your body will thank you!)
  • a notebook
  • business cards*
  • some cash (generally useful in an emergency, even in the days of Uber)
  • a sense of adventure (go out and learn about San Antonio and its lit scene!)
  • room for your book and swag haul in your luggage

*Consider whether you’re ready for the sort of networking that requires a business card. And, let me tell you, you’re probably underestimating yourself here. If you’re working with a lit mag, a press, an organization, or if you’re serious about placing your work or yourself somewhere, even if you’re currently a first-year MFA student, then you need  business cards.

Final Suggestions

  • Register on Wednesday, if you can. Avoid the crush and rush of Thursday morning registration.
  • Schedule in some self-care. You’re going to feel overwhelmed. Plan carefully.
  • Consider buying a book at a featured author signing event. They’ll be very appreciative, and you’ll experience one of the things that makes the book fair so special.
  • For that matter, consider buying a book from an author whose background is different from yours and from those of the authors you typically read. The goodwill of the conference is a good chance to expand your worldview.
  • And don’t avoid the book fair! It’s the biggest of its kind you’re probably ever going to experience.
  • Learn about programs that AWP offers, such as the Writer-to-Writer Mentorship Program and the Writer-to-Agent Program. I’ll be serving my third season as a mentor with the former, and if you have any questions, feel free to ask.
  • Meet a few new people every day of the conference. I’m not used to pushing myself out of my comfort zone, but I’ve found it rewarding to talk to people I’ve never met before at the conference. Remember, there are about 12,000 people who have a good idea what it’s like to be a writer these days.
  • When the conference is winding down on Saturday night, start figuring out what you might like to do for KC in 2021. That deadline for panel submissions is coming up faster than you think.

NMSU Reading and AWP Pics & Notes

I’ll be reading on the New Mexico State campus this Friday, April 8 at 7:30 PM in the Health and Social Sciences 101A auditorium.  Below is info from the Facebook event page.

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Like to hear a good story? How about two? Please make room on Friday for this very special night of story-telling. Paul Pedroza will read from his collection, The Dead Will Rise And Save Us, and MFA candidate Savannah Johnston will share her fiction from her thesis. It’s going to be such a treat! One that you want to share with friends, family, and acquaintances you want to impress.

NMSU Reading

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The AWP16 conference was good times.  Not only did I get to spend a lot of time with writers and friends and writer friends, but I also enjoyed a successful book signing and a fortifying session at the AWP Writer-to-Writer Mentorship Program table.  As a mentor, I enjoyed answering questions from writers who are a little hesitant about applying for MFA programs and are exploring their options, but I also learned a lot about the challenge of balancing full lives with writing dreams.

Upcoming Appearances, AWP, and Release Party Photos

If you’re heading to Los Angeles next week for the AWP Conference, stop by the Veliz Books table (#2039) at the book fair on Thursday, March 31 from 2-3 PM.  I’ll be signing copies of my story collection, The Dead Will Rise and Save Us.

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I’ll be reading on the New Mexico State campus in Las Cruces on April 8.  The event starts at 7:30 PM in the Health and Social Services auditorium, room 101A.  Details about the reading series can be found here.

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On February 19, my book was officially released at a special event held at the 501 Bar & Bistro in downtown El Paso.

The turnout was great, and it was a special night that I won’t soon forget.  Below are some pics from the event.  (Photo credits: Veliz Books, Laura Caldera-Marquez, Carol Fonseca)

Goodreads

My author page is now live over at Goodreads

If/when you read my book, I’d appreciate a rating and/or review.

The pre-order sale over here will continue through the end of the year.  save 20%, read the book, and let me know what you think.

News about readings, radio interviews, reviews, etc. will be shared soon.  Thanks for your support, and have a happy new year!

Pre-Order Sale for The Dead Will Rise & Save Us

My story collection, The Dead Will Rise and Save Us, is available at the link below.  If you order by January 1, you’ll save 20% off the cover price.

https://madmimi.com/p/3d6e07/preview

Blurbs:

“Pedroza’s prismatic, visionary, and fiercely loving tales of El Paso and its residents swerve from laughter to heartache, from surreality to the punch of the real. This is a deft debut with a bold range of approaches and an exultant, beating heart.”
–Alex Shakar, author of Luminarium

The Dead Will Rise and Save Us, much like El Paso and the desert Southwest, is hazarded with moral complexity and unforeseen grace. Paul Pedroza’s stories, the characters crawling inside them, will not leave you soon after reading. They’ll remain beneath your skin and in your bones.”
–Matt Mendez, author of Twitching Heart

The Dead Will Rise and Save Us is one of the most exciting books of fiction to come out of the southwest in years. The stories are intelligent and poignant, with complex characters and language that flows through the pages like a river, sometimes raging, sometimes quiet and peaceful, but always beautiful. With The Dead Will Rise, Pedroza is destined to be included in the canon of important border literature … .”
–Daniel Chacón, author of Chicano Chicanery and Hotel Juárez: Stories, Rooms and Loops.

New Story Published on Sixfold

My story “Motion Without Meaning,” which ranked #11 out of 369 entries in Sixfold’s fiction contest, is now available as part of their new Winter 2014 e-book.  It’s narrator is Martinez, the owner of a small grocery in the middle of downtown El Paso, a man who has witnessed the glory days and the decline of the city proper, a character who has played small roles in other stories and whose call for a story of his own was too tempting to ignore.

https://www.sixfold.org/FicWinter14/Pedroza.html