Sunday, January 25, 2009

Grub Gone Wrong

Friday night Liz and I drove into Boston for the festive Grub Street event, Grub Gone Wrong.

Three times a year, Grub Street holds a series of Grub Gone shindigs, featuring a different theme and authors reading excerpts of their work that fit the theme. There’s been Grub Gone Spooky (Halloween) and Sweaty (mid-July heat and torpor), and Silly (funny ha ha). This time the Grub Gone series celebrated the wrong, with mistakes, devolutions, and foolish choices.

One of the main reasons I wanted to attend was to support fellow writer Randy Susan Meyers, who recently sold a book for publication. I met Randy in Ms. X’s Grub workshop and so was familiar with her work. Randy is the first writer from one of Ms. X’s classes to be published. Exciting on many counts, one that it bodes well for us writers noodling away at our novels and also any publishing success story is welcome in this dismal fiscal climate.

When we arrived, the place was packed, the event having sold out. Ms. X was there as well as a few other writers that have taken Ms. X’s class over the past few years, including Cecile Corona, Iris Gomez, and Javed Jahangir. Always good to catch up with Ms. X. I pointedly do not ask her how her new novel is progressing. I don’t know if this irks her or not, but my attitude is, give the lady a break already. Of course, as any good concerned teacher, she always asks after my own work.

Me, the mysterious Ms. X, and Cecile.

Around eight the festivities got under way. Chris Castellani, working author and Grub’s artistic director, welcomed everyone and introduced the night’s M.C., Steve Almond. Who then in turn introduced the night’s readers. Randy was first up, and read a wrenching scene from her novel, tentatively titled Adopting Adults, but that’s the working title and will undoubtedly change. Her novel concerns two young sisters who witness the murder of their mother at the hands of their father and how this trauma dogs them through their adult lives, along with some twists I already know about but won’t divulge. Only to say, when this book comes out in about a year, I’ll be on line to purchase a copy and procure an author inscription.

Randy and Steve.

Randy’s got a commanding presence. Like any good reader, she knows which words and lines of dialogue need punching, when to pause for effect, and when to speed through a sequence to create tension. Hearing her read reminded me what makes Randy a great writer: it’s her word choice, giving the reader just enough information, paring off the stuff that would just slow you down. Also, she laces scenes of emotional heavy-osity with black humor while filtering out that bothersome sentimentality that clogs up the works of many literary novels. I’ve also read some of her novel-in-progress, and those characters and their situations have stayed with me for the past few months. So anyway: shameless plug for Randy Susan Meyers. Be on the lookout.

After Randy was Sarah Banse, with a humorous if cringe inducing piece about what to do when your kid’s school nurse calls you up and says, come get your son, he’s got head lice. Let’s just say, a mother does what needs doing. And it ain’t pretty. Next it was Jane Roper reading an excerpt from her as-yet unpublished novel; An affecting, humorous story of a young woman who has a crush on and subsequent affair with an older married man who is also her boss.

Next up: Jorge Vega, a comic book writer and illustrator, Grub instructor, and winner of Platinum Studios’ 2007 Comic Book Challenge. Jorge projected panels of a new work on the wall of Grub’s front room. One of his hapless assistants held the projector sideways to correct the image while Jorge read from what sounded like a screenplay. Each panel had a description of the action and the accompanying dialogue. I couldn’t see the projection because I wasn’t wearing my glasses. Which was fine because the assistant was blocking my view. Foiled at every turn. Still, Jorge’s reading grabbed the room’s attention with an intense and violent story of a young pregnant girl killing the abusive father of her unborn child. That scene was cross-cut with an emotional, rain-drenched high school track meet.

The evening’s readings culminated with Keith Lee Morris, whose new novel, The Dart League King, was recently published by Tin House Books to some great reviews. He riveted the room with his rendition of one of the books’ characters, Vince.

Keith Lee Morris.

In a few pages, Keith nailed Vince’s voice, through which we learn of his history in the Idaho town where he grew up and still lives, and how, due to both fate and the coincidence of lost opportunity, he became a fuck-up and minor-league drug dealer. With a sullen, pissed off logic, Vince schemes to finally get enough money to extricate himself from this dreary town. I haven’t read the book yet, but I imagine things will probably not go as planned for Vince. And I can’t wait to see how badly they do (and Vince isn’t even the main character).

After the readings Steve announced winners of the night’s contest, which had Grubbies answer the question, What’s Your Secret Confession? The prize? Free drinks.

I didn’t enter because I couldn’t think of anything. How lame is that? Some fiction writer I am.

Here are some of the winning confessions:

• I sound like Chewbacca when I make love.

• I didn’t want to come here alone.

• I got a priest to make a pass at me

• I tape every episode of Who Wants to be a Millionaire

Liz’s confession didn’t win, so we had to buy our drinks. We wandered the Grub rooms and halls. I poked my head in the back room where two games of poker were just starting up. I caught sight of Andrew, from one of Ms X’s classes a couple years ago. The last piece he workshopped, about a boy growing up in New York with some absolutely crazy relatives, was a wonderful evocation of environment and character. I hope he’s still working on it.

Then we stood online to buy a copy of Keith’s book. He had brought fifteen copies with him, the last of the first editions (Nice—let’s get that second print run started). He inscribed the book to both Liz and me as I stumbled over some words and made a general ass of myself. Liz endeared herself and saved the moment by asking when he could come to our house and read to us; by way of saying she had enjoyed his reading and the character of Vince.

Here’s looking forward to the next Grub Gone event.


Liz (made in lowell) said...

I love hanging out with you writers, everyone understands my arcane vocabulary :)

Dell Smith said...

I'm glad we can share this thing called Grub.

Jorge Vega said...

Thanks for posting the details of the night, Dell! Was great to be in the company of so many talented and passionate folks.

Dell Smith said...

Hi Jorge, thanks for sharing your work.

Liz's Mom said...

There is a gentle snarkiness in your writing that makes me laugh.

What a great description of the evening.

Randy Susan Meyers said...

Thanks for all the great words, Dell! It was great seeing you and wonderful meeting Liz.

Looking forward to seeing you next week.

Dell Smith said...

Hey Randy. It was a fun night, and it's always good to get out there and support other writers.

Laurie said...

It was a great night and I had a blast, but I have a bone to pick, if I may - why, oh why are there so few chairs set up for these events?? I would have loved to hear all the readers; everyone's so talented - but it was just too uncomfortable sitting on the floor or standing for half an hour. I'm sure most of us would be glad to help put the chairs away afterward to facilitate the shmoozing portion of the evening. Great event though!

Cynthia Sherrick said...

Sounds like you had an enjoyable, inspirational evening. Fun to rub elbows with other talented writers. :)