Got my sister and friend, Ann, to head out to Ann Arbor yesterday in the late afternoon for some literary fun. We arrived at Nicola's Bookstore a little bit before 4 p.m. and the first person I saw was Steve Gillis (yes, out in public and hitting things like this more frequently), which I always love. Then I saw Unsaid's David McLendon, who let us know that the author/readers in question, Samuel Ligon and Robert Lopez, had talked to him earlier in the day and said they might be a little late. They were but that just meant a little more time to talk to Steve and David before they had arrived.
The two each read two stories from their most recent story collections--Sam from Wonderland (Lost Horse Press) and Robert from Good People (Bellevue Literary Press). Nicola's reading area is set up right outside their children's book section, which maybe at 7 or 8 p.m. readings is different, but at 4 p.m. (or a little bit later than that), there are going to be some kids in the area. There are two young boys who in ten or fifteen years will hear somebody utter "genital warts" and they will instantly, with no recollection of why, let that person know that whiskey will cure those thanks to Sam's wonderful reading of his short story, Pie & Whiskey.
Both Sam and Robert are excellent readers, slipping sightly into characters without overly doing so. All four stories were entertaining and had great usage of language. I didn't catch my mind wandering once, which I'm sad to admit is a bit rare for me at these things.
From there Beth, Ann and I headed out for a quick dinner at Fraser's Pub, where Ann's husband Tom joined us. After dinner, Beth, Ann and I headed over to Casa Hobart where Sam and Rob were going to read again, at 7 p.m. or so, along with Sean Kilpatrick, who read with his own usual enthusiasm and gusto and was a great opener to the evening.
I don't know if Sam and Robert did this for this very reason, but I'm going to hold onto the idea that they realized that Beth, Ann and I had just seen them hours ago and so they decided to each read two different stories than the two they'd each read earlier at Nicola's. These two couplets were easily as entertaining as the two they read in the store and if anything, I feel like Sam got into reading his even more--maybe it had to do with the elevated stage. In fact, some of us in attendance briefly believed that Robert was REALLY getting into his second story---one in which the narrator believed his apartment was slowly killing him---when he began to cough and choke up increasingly more frequently as he got through toward the end. Turned out though that he's allergic to cats and that's where the Hobart cat spends most of its time, up on that balcony area. So, he came back downstairs and finished up with copious amounts of water.
Then the two of them performed (and performed feels a better choice of word than read) a story they co-wrote, How to Direct a Major Motion Picture, with (assumedly) each of them reading the parts they wrote as they fired off commands and suggestions back and forth, sometimes slightly crossing over each other. The story is the last one in Robert's collection and is funny as hell.
Roy arrived in Detroit on Monday the 22nd and I picked him up and took him to the house of an old friend of his. The next morning I picked him up and drove him to the campus of the University of Michigan where he participated in a roundtable with about a dozen students in the MFA program there, along with Program Director, Eileen Pollack. It was a very interesting hour or so - great questions from Eileen and the students and it became even more apparent to me, sitting in the background and listening, just how much time and effort Roy has put into his own writing over the years.
Later in the afternoon, I introduced Roy to my Dzanc partner, Steve Gillis, and his family, and then Steve, Roy and I headed back towards campus. We met with future Dzanc author, Michael Czyzniejewski (who drove up from Bowling Green, OH), for dinner and great conversation. As the clock moved towards 7 p.m., we wandered across the street to Shaman Drum Bookstore where All Over would be officially launched. We wandered into a fantastic crowd of about 50 people or so. I apologize in advance to any names I miss but I remember seeing/talking to Eileen Pollack, Keith Taylor, Ray McDaniel, Matt Bell and his wife, Jessica, Dwayne Hayes, Jessica Bomarito, Aaron Burch, Pasha Malla, Keith Hood, Potter, Sarah Sala, Elizabeth Dougherty, Natasha Stagg and her friend, Don, Randy Devita (meaning along with Roy and Eileen, Shaman Drum had three authors from Best American Short Stories 2007 within five feet of each other) and Tamara Christie-Glynn, plus many faces I didn't recognize. Not to mention the fantastic Kyle Minor and his wife and two children, including budding young writer Ian, who I had the pleasure of buying a short book from. All they did was drive up from Ohio to support Roy and Dzanc.
Ray gave his usual fantastic introduction, and Roy read both "Interview" and "Hat" and to our excitement, is a truly great reader. Even though Shaman Drum was one of the heaviest purchasers of Roy's titles, they sold out of All Over that night! Many of the aforementioned then headed over to a party thrown by Elizabeth Ellen and Aaron Burch at their home, and a few who couldn't make the reading showed up there - Stefan and Sanaz Kiesbye, and Barry Graham and his wife as well. It was a great night.
Fairly early the next morning (though not as early as the rest of the mornings for Roy on this tour), Roy and I met back up at the Detroit airport and hopped on a plane headed for New York (well, actually Washington D.C. for a connector, but NYC was the ultimate destination). As Roy is only in country for two and a half weeks, he's barely been alotted 24 hours per location on this trip, so it was really convenient that everything we had to do in New York was within five short blocks of each other.
We took a cab to our hotel, The Windsor Hotel, and cleaned up and organized a little bit. We then walked over to McNally Robinson where the lovely Jessica Stockton Bagnulo is the Events Coordinator and she introduced us to Stuart, one of the booksellers there and had Roy sign the two copies of All Over they had in stock. What a fantastic looking store - a front table with many independent press titles on it such as a stack of signed Garth Risk Hallberg novellas, and titles from Milkweed and Coffee House Press and McSweeney's. It was great to see. They also had a wonderful selection of literary journals, which is where we bumped into/introduced ourselves to store owner Sarah McNally.
From there Roy and I walked to 88 Orchard, a great little cafe/diner where we had a quick bite to eat (great sandwiches by the way) before Ed Champion showed up. We headed downstairs where Ed set up his elaborate taping machinery and did his usual fantastic job of interviewing. It was interesting seeing some of the same questions pop up as they had during the roundtable, and watching Roy thinking while replying, yet giving nearly verbatim responses as he had done the day before. It was obvious they weren't simply canned answers by how he was thinking and pausing while replying. Ed also found many questions to ask that weren't anywhere near the minds of those at the roundtable, as he always does, and it was a fun conversation to watch, and even be pulled into a little bit at the end.
We headed back to the hotel for another bit of re-organizing and then walked around the corner (maybe 30 feet) to the Happy Ending Reading Series bar. This series, run by Amanda Stern, has to be one of the best run, most interesting, and entertaining literary reading series in the country. It was packed, but why wouldn't it be? The writers there besides Roy, who some were definitely there to see, were Benjamin Percy (currently featured in Poets & Writers) and bestseller, Min Jin Lee. Any one of this trio would have been worthy of a great crowd, but all three? As per the rules, each author must perform a public risk, something they've not done before - Ben bench pressed Amanda, Roy sang "America the Beautiful" while having the lower half of his right leg waxed, and Min told a dirty joke while balancing a spoon from her nose (much better descriptions of these, with photos, can be found at Susan Henderson's LitPark).
Afterwards, a group of us went out looking for food, only needing to go to three restaurants to find one with the kitchen still open!
The next day started out bright and early as Roy and I cabbed to JFK around 6:30 a.m. or so to catch a flight to Chicago (well, Detroit actually, but final destination, Detroit). We arrived in Chicago and cabbed to Gail Siegel's place of employment to drop our bags off (just the tip of the iceberg in terms of how nice Gail was this particular day). We then took Gail out to lunch to the Rosebud Steakhouse for a lunch of ridiculously good cheeseburgers and returned to her office where she even outdid the earlier effort of allowing us luggage storage - she found computers for Roy and I to use and catch up on things (only 286 emails in the ol' inbox).
We then headed to the Fixx Coffee Bar for the reading, hosted wonderfully by Amy Guth (who, like Amanda Stern, you can just tell is an awesome reader of her own work). Besides Roy, Elizabeth Crane read a great story about a woman who turned into a zombie after being bitten by one (while shopping at JoAnne Fabrics no less!), including wonderful zombie speak, and Jonathan Messinger, who read the story "Bicycle Kick" from his collection, Hiding Out. This was attended by other literati like the aforementioned Gail Siegel, Hobart's Aaron Burch and Pasha Malla, who drove in together from the Ann Arbor reading Tuesday, along with Pasha friend Nicole, and Doug Wilson. Again, those who I had the opportunity and pleasure to speak to and have forgotten to include you, just chastise away in the comments section.
Then, I bailed on Roy. Since then he's read at Burke's Books in Memphis with Corey Mesler and signed books at Malaprop's in Asheville, and dined with CAAF of Tingle Alley, along with Mr. Tingle and the great Dzanc publicist, Lauren Snyder, and her fiance Seth. He's done a signing and reading at Turnrow Books in Greenwood, MS, and then read at Octavia Books with Pia Z. Ehrhardt in New Orleans. He's currently at the NOW: Non-Fiction Conference at the University of Iowa and goes to UIUC after that before heading out to California for a visit with his folks and a couple more readings before heading back to Beijing.