Litcrawl 2007: Murder, Mayhem, and F-Bombs

Note: I initially wrote this for my local MWA newsletter, and it seemed to go over well so I'm re-posting it alternate title is "Cornelia Read's Pottymouth." Read on to discover why...

I was running late as usual, although in my defense this wasn’t entirely my fault. My husband was out of town, and the babysitter was held up a half-hour in traffic. Then the cab never arrived, so I drove to the Mission, praying to the gods of street parking after three garages turned me away. Thank god for valet parking at restaurants, otherwise I might be circling still. I tore down the block, pushing my way through throngs of people to the Marsh Theater on Valencia and 22nd Street. Breathless and gasping, I arrived five minutes before the event was supposed to start. And was shocked to see that aside from my fellow authors and a handful of people, the room was empty.

Normally this isn’t an unusual occurrence at my readings—or at any readings, for that matter. I’ve heard the legendary story of James Patterson sitting alone in a Costco for hours, approached only by people looking for the bathrooms, an anecdote that always gives me great comfort. But this was Phase 3 of Litcrawl, the culminating event of Litquake. I’d attended a Porchlight reading the previous Monday night that drew a standing room only crowd, and had heard that attendance for every event had been at an all time high (all told, more than 10,000 people attended one or more Litquake events.) Granted, at Porchlight such luminaries as Dave Eggers and Robert Mailer Anderson discussed the worst jobs they ever suffered through (the winner? The guy who transported euthanized dogs to a crematorium, hands down.) But hey, we had Cara Black, Cornelia Read, and Kirk Russell. And I had assumed that an event entitled “Murder and Mayhem” would draw at least a few curious eyes.

I needn’t have worried. In the next ten minutes the room filled to capacity, and then some. By 8:10PM more than two-hundred people had wandered in from the 7-7:45PM “Phase 2” events, many probably hoping for a mystery palate cleansing after sitting through “War and Peace” and “Bark in the Park: Dog-inspired readings.” (I’m still kicking myself for not getting the sitter to come early so that I could sit in on “Girls tell all: the bigger the better the tighter the sweater.” Ah well, next year.)

Cara Black kicked things off with the opening of her latest wonderful Aimee Leduc mystery. The theater became increasingly packed as she finished, and I was up next. The ushers invited people to sit in rows on the floor of the theater (after all, we didn’t require much room to read—though I was tempted to break into a song and dance routine, I managed to restrain myself). Since this was a late evening reading that was part of a “literary pub crawl,” I had selected a passage from my book that would probably be considered R-rated, more for strong language than anything else. It’s told from the point of view of a twenty year-old girl who swears like a sailor on shore leave (but then, don’t all college students?) I love that particular passage, and hadn’t read it publically yet for fear of offending delicate ears. Personally I find it tough to pull off a barrage of cursing at 2PM in a Barnes and Noble, especially when reading next to the children’s section.

Of course, as I stepped to the stage three eight year-old boys entered the room and sat on the floor directly in front of me. It was too late to choose another passage. I was only allotted five minutes, and few sections of my book fit the bill. So I soldiered on, trying to tone down the language a bit, stumbling when I hit a particularly strong word. Let’s just say it wasn’t my finest performance. I sat down, and a few readers later Cornelia Read took the mike. The first chapter of her forthcoming novel revolves around troubled students at a “Crazy School” who are fined for swearing. Without blinking, she reeled off a string of f-bombs that would make a trucker blush, and the crowd went wild. Dang. Why didn’t I do that?

Anyway, it was a fantastic night. Few things feed your ego better than having a roomful of (slightly inebriated) people applaud for you, and the crowd seemed genuinely enthusiastic. I even managed to spend a few minutes at the after party (invitation only, so far my sole experience as a literary VIP) where it was great to see fellow MWA members Dave Corbett, Sophie Littlefield and Rae.

And next year? Suffice to say that if I’m invited again to participate, it’ll be a no-holds barred, NC-17 presentation. Consider yourselves warned…

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