Much ink has been spilled on the subject of writing. People like to moan about and dramatize their attempts at getting something down on paper, making it seem more like they are divining alchemical secrets than crafting what is essentially a form of entertainment. Stop scowling, there's nothing wrong with entertainment -- anyone who's ever seen The Daily Show knows that art can amuse and enlighten, and that the best usually does both. That is why, at its heart, good writing means telling a good story. And that is why this week's team up of Litquake and Porchlight was such a satisfying and natural fit.
One unique aspect to the Porchlight literary experience is that there's nothing to take away beyond the memory. Sure, you can go pick up the books of the authors who participated, but spontaneous stories and intimate settings have that inimitable glow of the moment that makes them so special. Organized by Arline Klatt and Beth Lisick, Porchlight is a monthly event where authors come not to read from their work, but tell unscripted and unrehearsed stories on a given theme -- much like attending some mythical cocktail party where everyone has sparkling wit and perfect timing. Litquake, the annual San Francisco literary festival, joined in the event this month, bringing star authors like Joyce Maynard, Sean Wilsey, and his mother and writer in her own right Pat Montandon to the mic.
The night's theme was Writers, Muses, Flacks, and Escorts, a series of tales from inside the publishing industry. Some speakers were more true to this topic than others, and the stories were definitely not designed to give any tips on how to break into the biz or land your novel with the right editor. And what a relief that was. All nine speakers deftly avoided the ego trap and shared at least a few moments of embarrassment and misunderstandings, along with some unglamorous quirks of the industry. Though all the authors were eloquent and animated, and with the vocabularies to boost me through my next game of Scrabble, the night was a kind of equalizing experience, calling attention to those weird and beautiful moments that make it interesting to be on the planet, no matter who you are. After all, often all it takes to experience a poignant moment is the ability to breathe and blink.
Favorites of the evening included Joyce Maynard's intimate tale of unexpectedly fulfilling her mother's dreams through the success of To Die For. Kathi Kamen Goldmark told of her encounter with the one-man debauchery machine and apparent publicity genius that was Hunter S. Thompson. Literary agent and author Arielle Eckstut shared her experience on the one book tour that renewed her faith in publishing. In an evening full of big names dropping even bigger names, Eckstut's reminder of the cultural virtues in small town America was a moving break from expectation. Though personally, my English degree and I would have been content to hear her read from her collection of bookish slash fiction, Pride & Promiscuity: The Lost Sex Scenes of Jane Austen. But that's between me and Mr. Darcy. Sigh!
Along similar lines of literary libido, Marcus Ewert told a sinfully juicy tale of his sexual exploits with Allen Ginsburg and William S. Burroughs, complete with sensory details, from his upcoming book Beatboy. The connection between his story and publishing was Ewert's idea as a teenager that the best way to gain access to his heroes was through their appetite for young boys. To be perfectly honest, I did find myself holding my breath in the moment for details about the tryst, though I have to doubt that the same story of sleeping your way through your literary idols would seem just as cool and casual coming from a woman. While it is interesting to me that sexual favors can line the paths in the publishing world as much as the casting couch, apparently, I couldn't help but squirm over what was essentially a bit from a literary US Weekly.
On the whole inspiring and funny, the team up between Porchlight and Litquake reinforced the importance of having storytellers in the world, even from those not making a living within publishing. The best part about hearing talented writers tell the stories that actually happened to them, not jewels culled from their imaginations and MFAs, is the sense of giddiness in the telling. They can hardly believe these things happened either, and there is a joy apparent in their not having to worry about tone or character or word choice or anything more than just repeating what they were lucky enough to experience. As for next year, I'm already looking forward to being one of the lucky ones in the audience.
Litquake runs October 6-14 at various San Francisco locations. Visit their web site for more information. Porchlight is a monthly reading series. Visit their web site for a schedule of upcoming events.