Charis Books and the Decatur Book Festival (and Dragon Con!)

 

 

The crazy thing about attending as many writers conferences as I have is that there are cities where I know quite a few people that I’ve never actually visited. I only knew Atlanta’s airport (fly Delta much?) up until August 24th, but I’m so glad I got to know the city and see my friends who live there, who I have to say are as gracious and generous a bunch as a guy could ask for. It was thanks to my friends who know Elizabeth Anderson over at Charis Books that I managed not only to get a reading there but also to be on a panel as part of the AQLF (Atlanta Queer Lit Fest) track at the Decatur Book Festival.

My first weekend in Atlanta I stayed in Midtown and read Friday night at the awesome Charis Books in Little Five Points. It’s an adorable bookstore, the oldest feminist bookstore in the country (38 years and counting), and Elizabeth and Sara and the rest of the staff were very welcoming. Only a few people showed up for the reading, but as Elizabeth said, I was competing with Loretta Lynn and Mary Chapin Carpenter in concert that night, which meant a lot of the Atlanta gay folk were busy elsewhere. We still managed to enjoy ourselves, and I read a newer story not in the collection, “Imaginary Bobby.” Afterwards my friends took me to the Porter bar across the street, which just so happened to have my favorite beer on tap: Rodenbach Grand Cru (a feat repeated at the Brick House in Decatur: Atlanta knows it beers!)

 

 

 

 

 

Other highlights in Atlanta were a fabulous sushi dinner and a visit to the World of Coke, which, cheesy as it sounds, was totally worth it as I got to pretend I was 9 years old again and sample something like 60 soft drinks from around the world. (I probably only managed 20 before a serious sugar headache kicked in)

I went back to Hambidge for the week and returned to the Atlanta area on Saturday for the Decatur Book Festival. DBF is the largest independent book festival in the country and was just a joy from beginning to end. Talk about making a guy feel important: the book festival put us Authors up at the hosting Marriott hotel for two nights, but also gave us free merchandise, $50 to spend at local eateries/shops, threw us a VIP party and even gave us access to a hospitality suite where we could eat and drink as much as we want all day on both days of the festival. It was a lot of fun to walk around and visit the booths, and just to be surrounded by so many authors and lovers of independent books. My panel was called “Identity and Self in a Shifting Landscape.” Carter Sickels, author of The Evening Hour, and I both read from our books and then Elizabeth, the moderator, asked us a few questions about how place can inform identity, particularly in gay culture. The room was packed, which was such a relief, and the audience asked us a lot of questions—really great questions, actually, quite a few of which I could only come up with good answers to after the panel was over. Oh well. Then Carter and I signed books.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was excited to hang out with my author-friends Kristen-Paige Madonia (whose novel, “Fingerprints of You” is just out this month) and Michael Montlack (editor of “Divining Divas”) as well as see the Atlanta crew again. Thanks so much to Will Kenyon, Linda Tzoref, Ray Squires (aka Rachel Bailey), Linda Sands, Kat Johnsen, and the marvelous Julia Fenton, for coming to see me and showing me a good time.

Last but not least: Will Kenyon was kind enough to be my guide at Dragon Con this year, which was SUCH a trip. I’m not a fan boy but I totally understand why people go gaga for Dragon Con. Look at some of the photos below to see what I mean. It lasts four days, and events run well into the wee hours of the night. I was lucky enough to catch a screening of my friend Barrington Seetachitt’s husband’s movie, Rock Jocks, which actually had its world premiere at Dragon Con. Thanks, B, for inviting me–it was such a funny movie.

 

 

 

 

Malaprop’s in Asheville: a booklover’s (and writer’s) dream store

Thursday night’s reading  at Malaprop’s was everything a guy could ask for. But let me backtrack:

On Monday I arrived in Asheville after the Sewanee Writers conference to spend a night with my friend Lori Horvitz before starting my residency in Hambidge on Tuesday. It was my first time in Asheville, and I had been told by numerous people that I was going to love it. They were right. What’s not to love? An adorable mountain town filled with super chill free- spirited people, great food, great beer, one of the best chocolate lounges in the world  (French Broad), and the awesome Malaprop’s bookstore.

On Tuesday morning before I took off I decided to pay an incognito visit to Malaprop’s to check the place out. The store had a whole display case near the front window for upcoming readers, myself included. To top that off, up at the front counter, was my book along with a card announcing the reading on Thursday. Just a few books down on the same counter was Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild.” She was reading that same night. I was sad to miss her, but my residency started that afternoon. In any event, it was nice to share a display with her! I hear the crowds were so big they had to turn people away.

And while no one had to be turned away Thursday night, Anna North and I did get a very respectable crowd for our reading. I drove back from Hambidge (only 90 miles  away) yesterday afternoon. When we walked in, a super nice young woman (I believe her name was Lauren) from Malaprop’s asked me what kind of coffee I’d like, and I was treated to a delicious hazelnut cappuccino. Anna read from her novel and I read “Dear Guy in 24B.” and afterwards we fielded some terrific questions from the audience. The crowd was really thoughtful and engaging and genuinely interested in our process and just as people in general. We each sold some copies and signed extras for the store and then we each got a little gift bag with some local coffee and some other knick knacks. Inside was the August Events Calendar with pictures of both Anna and me front and center–it sounds a bit cheesy to get excited about this, but as a writer of a short story collection from a small independent press, being treated with such kindness and consideration feels REALLY good. A few bookstores have turned down my requests to read, so when a store as well-established as Malaprop’s does such an amazing job of making me feel welcome, I feel very appreciative. If you are ever in Asheville–and you really should visit if you haven’t–you must stop at Malaprop’s. Buy a book, or three. At least buy a coffee! It’s awesome.

Beyond Baroque in Venice, CA

 

It was a gorgeous night in Venice, CA last Saturday night and a real treat to read with Ray DiZazzo at the super cool Beyond Baroque literary arts center. Beyond Baroque is a great independent arts center that hosts all kinds of cultural events; it’s been such an important part of the community for many years. The building houses a terrific, funky book store where I sifted through dozens of old literary journals including copies of The Paris Review dating back to the 1950s, as well as lots of books from small, independent presses that larger bookstores normally don’t carry.

Ray and I read in the performance space across from the bookstore, a really lovely auditorium. Richard Modiano the director of Beyond Baroque was gracious and welcoming. Before Ray and I read he interviewed each of us about our books and our writing processes. It’s a rare treat (and only slightly nerve-wracking) to have someone interview me at a reading, and it showed how committed Richard and the Beyond Baroque team are to getting to know the writers/artists they host for their events.

The crowd may have been small, but the vibe was friendly and relaxed and I was really pleased to talk to Ray and his wife after the reading. Thanks also to my friend Liz and her husband Jeff for coming out to support me. If you’re in the Venice area, check out Beyond Baroque’s schedule–you’re sure to be in for a treat.

Smack Dab at Magnet in the Castro

 

On Wednesday night I was one of the featured headliners at the Magnet’s monthly Smack Dab open mic event, along with Daniel Redman. Magnet just celebrated it’s ninth year as the place where gay men connect in the Castro. It’s a place of community in every sense of the word, and Smack Dab is Kirk Read’s and Larry Bob Robert’s way of having one night a month where the men of that community get to share their voices and experiences with everyone.

It was an open mic in the truest sense– we really got to hear such a variety of voices and styles–true stories about first time fisting experiences, men who have lost their lovers to AIDS and other diseases, spoken word poetry, even a sweet young girl new to SF with a haunting voice and a ukelele whose style reminded me a lot of Joanna Newsom. Every piece felt so genuine, and like Kirk said, we should be thanking these men for talking so openly about their experiences, especially those experiences in the 70s and 80s when so many voices were silenced.

It was such a treat to see how well Kirk and Larry Bob played off each other–Kirk wasn’t named best performer by SF Weekly for nothing–and also to hear Daniel’s acapella renditions of Walt Whitman’s poetry. Daniel’s voice is unique and hypnotic, and he’s a true original.

In the spirit of the night, I read a new piece, “Testament,” which isn’t in the collection but I felt was somehow apropos for the evening.Thanks again to all my friends who showed up in support. It was a great way to end my trip to SF!

Why There Are Words: the tour begins

How fantastic is it to be in San Francisco after ten days of infernal ninety plus heat in NY! It’s hard to believe it’s July here because it’s so damn cold. Not that I’m complaining. This is a great place to start a mini book tour. And I’m super lucky to be staying at my friends’ (the fabulous Famille Fell, aka Sam and Alex) gorgeous home in the Inner Richmond. This place is a palace.

I was very excited when Peg Alford Pursell invited me to join her line-up of super talented writers at the Why There Are Words reading series in Sausalito. A few of my friends have read for WTAW in the past and recommended it highly to me. I can see why now.

Marcos (my ex) who’s accompanying me on the first half of this trip asked me what kind of place Studio 333 was–a bar? A lounge? A restaurant? I had no idea, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover it was a super-cool art gallery, and one of the nicest spaces I’ve had the pleasure of reading at so far.

Getting there was certainly an adventure. The Richmond is actually pretty close to Sausalito on a map. That is, if you have a car. If you don’t, it’s a bus ride across town to catch the ferry to Sausalito, which let’s face it ain’t half bad. We were worried about getting back to SF after the reading, and although my fellow readers offered us lifts to Berkeley or Oakland, we were certainly relieved that our friends Rich and Josh showed up and just so happen to have driven in from the Sunset. Thanks for the lift home, guys!

I was really excited to be part of a line-up featuring Joy Lazendorfer, Lauren Becker, Joe Clifford, Sere Prince Halverson, Ericka Lutz, and Aimee Phan. The theme was “After All” which judging from the incredibly variety of the readings–flash fiction, excerpts from memoirs and a variety of novels, meant different things to each of us. (Not going to lie here. I didn’t think much about the theme when selecting what to read. I usually decide based on how long my slot is. I had eight minutes, so I chose the shortest piece in the collection, “The Coming Revolution,” which, funny enough, takes exactly eight minutes to read.)

The evening was really well curated. Peg did an amazing job filling up the house, and there were even programs made! Shamncy. Lots of pictures are up on Facebook already, with video and podcasts already available on the WTAW website, which you can find by clicking here (video) or here (podcasts).

Thanks to my friends who came out to support me. I was excited to meet my fellow readers and hear their work! I couldn’t have asked for a better kick-off to my world (ahem) national (ahem) West Coast (ok, that’s accurate) tour!

Next up: Smack Dab at the Magnet Center in the Castro tomorrow night! Come out if you can!

 

Travels and Journeys at Franklin Park

This post is a bit delayed since I’ve been traveling. And I’m not going to do a better job summing up this fantastic night of readers than the folks over at The Outlet, Electric Literature’s excellent blog site. You can read that post by clicking here. In the meantime, here’s my brief wrap-up:

The Franklin Park Reading Series has long been on the top of my list of places that I’ve wanted to read for, even before my book came out. I love the space, and Penina Roth has done an amazing job curating this series. She’s a tireless promoter and has consistently managed to attract standing-room-only crowds to her events.

I was particularly thrilled to be part of Monday night’s line-up, not only because the theme jibed so well with my collection–all of my stories are travel themed–but also because I knew Erika Andersen would be there, live tweeting the entire event and making me feel like a celebrity, and Adam from Unnameable would be handling book sales, and there’d be some great photographers and bloggers making us look and sound good and even podcasts made of our readings. Sweet.

Polly Bresnick kicked things off with her inventive “mistranslation” of the Odyssey. Seeing the original Greek projected on the wall and hearing Polly’s hilarious, clever take on the material was such a great start. Matthue Roth followed. Penina read his bio and I was like, wow, this dude has done a lot for a 22 year old. Turns out he’s in his thirties; Matthue just looks very young, and has this infectious energy and spirit about him that really brought his reading to life.

Rupinder Gill read from her memoir about growing up Indian in suburban Canada. I sat next to Rupinder in the sectioned-off “readers area” during the reading and chatted her up about her background. She’s a gorgeous girl with bewitching eyes. Her reading was smart and funny, and I particularly enjoyed the way she mined her childhood for those embarrassing and yet so telling moments that we all can relate to.

I read next, from “Body and Mind.” According to Electric Literature’s blog, it was “Franklin Park’s most sex-filled reading ever” and yet they also said “it wasn’t smut.” I’m kind of happy to wear the sex crown, but now I’m wondering if I should have read something smuttier. My title might fall too easily ;)

Mark Leyner closed the night. Unsurprisingly, he was hilarious. And very, very weird. Mark is not only a brilliant writer but he also knows how to deliver his material really well, which is pretty necessary when you’re delivering forty minutes of dizzying prose about sugar- frosted nutsacks and the God XOXOXO and how deities are using humans as sex toys. I can only dream of being as ballsy as him (the pun had to be made, sorry.)

Thanks to all who made it out. It was a spectacular crowd, and a special thanks to my friends who came to see my last event of the season. That’s right, NYC folk: I will not be pestering you with invites for two whole months! As for those of you in other cities, well…

 

 

The two week fairy tale that was Ragdale

How does one describe how great Ragdale is? Let’s start with the house. Houses, actually, since my group was the first to settle in since the main Ragdale house reopened for residents after two years of  renovations. And what a house it is! We spent many an afternoon there, either drinking Bora’s world-class mojitos in the kitchen (among other libations) or relaxing on one of the many screened-in porches, or attending readings in the vast living room during our second week.

I was in the Barn house, the Playroom specifically, with its practical sink and bay window and private stairwell to a cupola. My very own cupola! I felt like Rapunzel. A sweaty Rapunzel, since it was usually too hot to spend much time there. The barn house had the great Ragdale library, the office, and of course, the main kitchen, with all the Greek Yogurt and tea and jellybeans and trail mix a guy could ask for, not to mention a leftovers selection fit for the White House.

 

 

 

 

 

Which brings me to Linda, Ragdale’s resident cook, the Goddess of cuisine, the lady who juggles allergies and vegans and every dietary restriction known to man and still manages to concoct a feast worthy of kings six nights a week, every week, for over ten years now. That she does so with such grace and passion, that she isn’t sick to death of her (really long) commute and the fussy eating habits of artists and writers, that she can go two months without repeating a meal and make all of us feel like we are inspiring her, well, it takes a special woman. I could start listing each of her memorable meals but we’ll be here all day. Thank you, thank you, Linda!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next up: the Prairie and it’s quiet remove, the Queen Anne’s lace and tiger lilies, the light of the setting sun, and how when you walk either in the open or in the shady paths on the perimeter, how that serenity is exactly what allows certain pieces to come together in your mind. On our last night, right after Rich gave his inspirational reading about the letter he wrote to his nephew explaining how he writes because it’s “fun” and how even the hardest parts can be fun, a bunch of us went out to the Prairie for one last time, and the fireflies were out in full force, creating a symphony of light. It was the perfect image to encapsulate our time there.

We were a social bunch. By day five we had started our tradition of 5:30 happy hour, then dinner, then our evening constitutional. We all participated in after dinner readings and everyone seemed really engaged in each other’s work, asking questions and making great observations. Joanne read some very moving pieces from her collection of essays about her mother. Lori cracked us up with tales of her all-donut diet and a woman who brings Slimfast with her on a first date. Adam’s poems were rhythmic and playful, with a lot of emphatic repetition and concrete imagery. He also read from his book of translation of the Uruguayan poet Marosa di Giorgio. Bora read an excerpt from her novel that was intense and violent and so, so gripping. Ann read excerpts from her non-fiction pieces, about a spider and also about her father. Rich read scenes from a few of his very funny but also thoughtful one-act plays, and Bora and I even got to act one of these scenes out. Jesse’s poems focused on the concept of a “house” and several of them were constructed by erasure, using a source material and then removing certain words and using what remained to construct the poem, much like collage work. Our lovely resident liaison Rita also read a few short pieces, and like me, one of those pieces was in the 1st person and another was in the 2nd, and both were precise and poignant. (Pics below)

The visual artists each had open studio time and explained to us their processes. We learned about Nazy’s devotion to black and white and her passion for photographing doorways, windows and other openings/passageways. She’s always trying new things, from painting to drawing to sculpture.

Deanna works with a soon-to-be-if-not-already obsolete material, medical diagnostic film. She paints the films and then cuts them up and staples the pieces back together to create these images that are simultaneously beautiful and unsettling. While at Ragdale she experimented with new forms, which look like this:

I’m not good at remembering the names of the material or the process, but I do remember it involves melting things onto the canvas. These were inspired by the foliage in the prairie, and for a while Deanna thought they might be too “pretty” but I for one see menace behind that prettiness ;)

Chris’s work is saturated with color and form. What I love about his art is that it couldn’t have been created ten years ago. He photographs his pieces and then runs a Google image search on them, and then he uses the images that show up and incorporates them into new images, which he then cuts out and makes collages with, creating these trippy textural abstractions:

 

Charles is inspired by nature and form. His work focuses a lot on color and his palette is both unexpected and soothing. I loved seeing the drawings he made in the prairie on the wall above the abstractions that were inspired by them:

Ragdale’s motto, on its mugs, t-shirts and stickers, is time and space. It’s both true and essential. I could never have written three stories and started two more in two weeks back home. It’s not just that I was free of distractions. It’s that everything about Ragdale made me want to keep working, to sit in a chair for hours at a time and get past the self-doubt and the fear and just create. We all felt particularly productive there.

Lake Forest is a ritzy town. Like Southampton, very chi-chi, and apparently the third wealthiest in theUS, per capita. The ginormous forty-room homes sit in immaculately tended, several acres large properties, many of which are shrouded by an army of colossal hedges. The most common vehicle you see on the street is a gardening truck. It’s very quaint and tranquil, but also a bit disconcerting: things are almost too perfect.

We had access to beach passes, which I used a few times. The beach is quiet and picturesque and never crowded when I was there. I also went down to Lake Forest college gymnasium quite often since they have an impressive weight/cardio room. And the town’s library is beautiful and has a sizable fiction collection.

The staff, including Regin, Melissa, Simone, Leah, and the soon-to-depart Susan, were always friendly, helpful and relaxed. I couldn’t have asked for a better two weeks. I thank them for making it possible, and thanks also to the greatest bunch of fellow residents a guy can ask for–you guys were generous, supportive, kind, witty and I hope to see you all soon!

Unnameable Books Reading

Monday night was great! The rain cleared just in time as we gathered in the gravel-strewn outdoor space in the back of Unnameable Books for our reading. It was nice to see most of the chairs filled up, and really great to have our little reunion of sorts: Anna, Anne-E and I all met in Rick Moody and Kathryn Harrison’s class at the New York State Summer Writers Institute at Skidmore College six years ago.

Anna North read first, from her novel, freshly out in paperback. Love the new cover, Anna! I followed with a new piece, a prosey-poem called “Instruction Manual.” I’ve done so many readings from the collection in the past two months so I was eager to gauge audience reaction to something new. (Really new. “Unvetted” as I called it. Sloppy perhaps, but I think it went over fairly well)

Anne-E. Wood then read from her novel-in-progress. She really knows how to captivate an audience. I know I’m a pretty forceful (i.e.,loud) reader but Anne-E. is inspiring. She really commits to her prose and brings the words to life in such an engaging way.

Unnameable is the type of bookstore all neighborhoods crave: intimate, relaxed, and full of charm, and full of new and used books in categories both familiar and quirky. (Anna  told us the “Used Drugs” section may have disappeared, something which used drugs tend to do) Adam and Penelope do an awesome job running it and since they also buy used books there’s no better place for all your book-buying needs.

 

Featured Writer of the Month at Connotation Press

http://connotationpress.com/fiction/1438-eric-sasson-fiction

Very excited to be this month’s featured writer over at Connotation Press. Click on the link above to check out my story, “Author’s Journals to the Dictionary of Hannibal Schaumberg, the Language of Non-existent Words” as well as my interview with the editor-in-chief, Meg Tuite, where we talk about the failure of language, the grandiose inner dialogues of Russian writers, and one of my favorite inspirational quotes. Meg is one of the most enthusiastic and positive people I’ve had the pleasure of working with, and she’s also a great writer.

I mentioned this on Facebook a few months ago, how surprised I was to receive the acceptance letter from Meg less than twenty four hours after sending the story out. I had a lot of feedback on this piece, and a great deal of it wasn’t positive, so it was heartening to have someone feel so strongly about it. Only three days later, another magazine asked to publish the story–I hadn’t gotten around to withdrawing it from consideration–so I felt even more heartened that I hadn’t given up on it. In a later post, I’m going to discuss how the process of workshopping and receiving rejection (and yes, even acceptance) letters can dramatically affect how we perceive our own work.

Thanks for reading!

Folding Chair, you so fine

What a pleasure it was to read last night as part of Oana Marian and Prudence Peiffer’s fifteen month old reading series, Folding Chair, named after all those chairs that are set up in the room upstairs at 61 Local, a really great new-ish bar in Boerum/Cobble Hill. The room was pretty packed, which is always a relief, and it was great to see some familiar faces. Many thanks again to my friends who came out to support me and to everyone else who braved the rain. The vibe was super relaxed and warm and friendly. The series usually happens on the first Tuesday of every month, so you should check them out and like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter and do whatever it is you do on Tumblr (I don’t have a Tumblr account, so pardon my lack of terminology)

There’s nothing pretentious or highbrow about this reading series, and that’s probably why they get such a healthy turnout. Just a group of great readers and an engaged, supportive crowd. Not to mention Rowland, our MC, who apparently is one super talented musician. I was so pleased to read with Rachel Cantor and Marie Helene Bertino, ladies whose impressive credentials and excellent stories were only outdone by their warmth and kindness.

I read last, which turned out to be a good thing, since unlike Rachel and Marie, I was going to use up my allotted twenty minutes and then some. It’s rare to be allowed twenty minutes to read, and since I’ve never read “Floating” at a reading before, I was happy for the opportunity. Unlike the other stories in the collection which focus on the men traveling, “Floating” takes the perspective of the hotel manager receiving guests. The piece was inspired by someone whom I met while I was in Arequipa, Peru, who told me, off the cuff, that the manager of my hotel was gay. I wanted to imagine what his life was life in a small, conservative town.

Turns out last night was Oana’s last as organizer of the series for a while, as she is taking a sabbatical to work on a screenplay in Los  Angeles. Best of luck, Oana! And a special shout out to my friend Mike, who just moved back to NY from Seattle. It was great seeing him and catching up.

Afterwards, a few of us went to La Vara, which is a Spanish tapas restaurant on Clinton that is part of the Alex Raij Txikito empire. I would go into detail about how good the food is there–how for instance they have a semolina-walnut date cake dessert which tastes exactly like my Grandmother made it twenty five years ago when she was still alive–but I worry that you’ll all rush there and I’ll have to wait longer for a table when I go, which is often. So I won’t mention how incredible everything is. Of course not :)

The pics below are kind of blurry, but the video ain’t bad, mostly because I don’t look as fat as I thought I would. Thanks for reading!