If your writing gets a little more sultry after HippoCamp 2017, Chris Girman may be the reason. Girman’s autobiographical writings and essays explore sex in nonfiction and his Telling Sexy Stories session at this year’s conference will help attendees develop their romantic scenes to their full potential. Chris told us what he’s anticipating about HippoCamp.
HippoCampus: Without sharing any spoilers, what can attendees expect from your session?
Chris: To blush. I mean good old-fashioned, “OMG, I can’t believe authors write about sexual scenarios in such a way.” Prepare to read excerpts ranging from the most graphic or humorous to the literary and reflective. And I hope attendees come in with a few examples of things they have read that add to this list. I want to address a few prominent questions: Does sexual excess lead to crises in narrative authority? Does the sanitization and sublimation common in the way we treat sexual encounters inhibit thoughtful reflection? Or may self-exposure accelerate evolution and catharsis? Participants should expect to leave with a working criteria to determine if sexy scenes can work into their own writing, what these scenes might add to a piece, and if they are better realized in more expository moments rather than in scene. One thing is certain: there won’t be a dull moment.
Who would benefit the most from your session or workshop?
This workshop benefits anyone who is considering what sex adds to their story. We’re not talking smut here (although that’s okay, too), but more so the chance encounters, provocative gestures, and groping passions that seep in and out of our daily lives. We’ve all got sexy stories, the kind of story you reveal only after a few glasses of wine or one that remains hidden in the private pages of your journal. If you’re not sure what to make of these events – how to reflect on them and even if they are worth reflecting on – then this session is right for you.
Literary citizenship is so important today, and by being part of our conference, you’re contributing to the CNF community — why is sharing with others important to you?
First, to share the awful truth, I was once a lawyer in my previous life. Before that a middle school teacher, and before that a bartender. One thing I took away from all those experiences is that the occupations I enjoyed the most – bartending and teaching – had a built-in community. Even as an Uber driver, I was able to talk to people all day. We, as nonfiction writers, have an inherent need to be connected to our world and to fellow writers. After all, our ideas come from our interactions in the world. And we refine these ideas via honest critique from our friends and frenemies in the literary world. I expect to leave this conference with several new essay ideas and a reimagining of a few craft components. That I can barely contain my excitement about this conference is endorsement enough of the value of our literary community.
Taking off your presenter hat, what are you hoping to learn as an attendee at HippoCamp?
I’m like a vulture poring over the conference schedule. I’ve been stuck on a piece about a trauma that happened to me a few years ago, so I’m looking forward to Laurie Jean Cannady’s session about trauma narratives. Likewise, I’ve been popping off these short, 1000-word essays the last few months, and I’m not sure about my ratio of the essay-like voice to a more memoir-inflected tone, so I’m seeking some other viewpoints in that area. What usually happens at these conferences, however, is that I end up finding what I didn’t even know I was looking for.
What was a recent and memorable work of creative nonfiction you read – whether a book or shorter piece? (And what did you love about it?)
I’ve just finished Sallie Tisdale’s recent book of collected essays, Violation. While I’ve read some of her work before, seeing them in one place reminds me of the remarkable breadth of her work, including memoir, essays, literary journalism and her always prevalent cultural critiques. One of my favorites is the memoir piece “Meat,” where Tisdale recounts her childhood experiences with meat (her father’s best friend was a butcher), pausing to reflect that her love of meat made her “less a daughter, and more like a son.” It’s a sensual account, the rump roast like “the curve of [her] own pliable buttocks,” culminating in Tisdale’s association of the cleansing of meat to the cleansing of self: “I know you can’t be cleansed until you know how dirty you really are.” Beyond such beautiful sensuality, these essays include an exploration of chemotherapy, a trip to Disneyland, reminisces on a childhood basement, and Tisdale’s experience with sports. Her sharp writing and self-deprecating humor make me see the expansive possibilities of the nonfiction world. I emerge asking myself, can I do that? To me, that’s the best endorsement out there.
If you’re ready to see how sexy stories can spice up your nonfiction, then register today to join us at HippoCamp 2017!