CRAWLING FOR LIT: LITQUAKE GOES GONZO WITH GRAND FINALE

“What is going on up here? Literary madness! I’ve never seen such throngs for literary festivities. Your city rocks so hard.” — a Sunday morning message from Love Junkie author Rachel Resnick.

The nation’s rowdiest literary festival wound to a close Saturday night with Lit Crawl, the notorious highlight of Litquake’s annual celebration of words that fly off the page. Nearly 400 authors read or otherwise performed at 66 venues in three hour-long sets in San Francisco’s Mission District, hipster mecca of Northern California. Thousands of book lovers came from all over the country to soak up the stories, songs, and poems of some of the nation’s finest veteran writers and emerging talent. The streets hummed with energy as gangs of lit fiends raced from one bar or bookstore, café or art gallery, cultural center or graffiti alley to the next. Flasks were passed, hugs and kisses swapped, and the dialogue always somehow returned to literature. In a word, this was paradise.

Significant Object-eers Miranda Mellis & Chris Colin.

We kicked off Phase I of the evening at visual arts collective and gallery, Root Division, for a showcase by the Significant Objects Project, an organization that uses an innovative literary concept to raise funds for non-profits: marry wacky stories about random objects and auction the story-object combos on eBay. To date, a couple hundred of these enterprises have raked in more than four thousand dollars for 826 National and Girls Write Now.

For its first-ever live reading, S.O. invited an exciting quintet of Bay Area writer-performers to give the gift of second life to knickknacks that would otherwise have met the dump. Miranda Mellis told a tale about a candle holder that somehow involved an astrolabe and a disembodied head. Chris Colin unpacked the story behind a grandpa baseball mug, name-dropping Obama, Beyoncé, and Justin Bieber, reminding us that “billionaires aren’t like millionaires, even though it rhymes.” Katie Williams unveiled true confessions about the moral challenges of being a ceramic angel at angel school. Rob Baedeker wove some wildness about the perverted offspring of a stegosaurus and a basset hound. His adjectives alone were priceless: gulpy, podgy, droopy, legless, earless, bulbous-beaked, broke-beaked, googly-eyed, and so on. Lisick closed out the set with a heart-warming reflection on family, wherein Dad’s “a garden variety drunk,” and Mom’s “BJ prowess is one of those things we’ve always known about…. like, Mom loves board games, makes a mean loaf of pumpernickel, and can suck a cock like a champ.” You can still bid on the pieces and read the stories in their entirety here.

More Significant Object-eers: Rob Baedeker and Beth Bransby

After the featured writers, emcee Baedeker challenged the audience to participate in an Object Slam. He gave us ten minutes to come up with original tales about a bright yellow child’s pail covered with bees. Sitting next to us on the concrete floor was Beth Bransby, a shy slam poet who admitted to fainting in the past right before going on stage. She cranked out an alliterative masterpiece about a dominatrix with a client who could only get off on being tortured by B’s. The butterflies in her belly, however, prevented her from belting out her prose for the reading part of the slam, so we pinch-hit for her. Even though we didn’t take home the prized pail, it was a fun start to the evening.

Tough choices now had to be made. Where to go? What to see? Phase II featured spotlights from premier Bay Area literary magazines, reading series, and cultural institutions, including Own Your Own Story, Anger Management, Corium Magazine, The Threepenny Review, and the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto. We tried to check out Anger Management and the Grotto gigs, located on separate floors of the same nightclub, but the place was so packed we couldn’t get past the door. So we opted for “Risqué Fantasies and True Confessions: Erotic Truth” — another fine SF tradition, to say the least.

1. The women of Risque Fantasies: Jen Cross, Thea Hillman & Carol Queen. 2. Author Chelsea Martin about to break it down.

Jen Cross was on the mike at the Audre Lourde Room of the Women’s Building. The space was sweltering as she launched into a graphic portrait of the pleasures of fist-fucking. Despite this initial salacious image, her piece was less about hot sex than the vulnerability she felt as a teenager growing up with a far from clear understanding of her own sexuality. She reimagined her high school sex-ed classes — which, in 1984 in Omaha, Nebraska, were all about scaring kids into pregnancy prevention — as a safe forum for honest answers to complex questions about desire, morality, and sex practices. She acknowledged that such info at that time would have freaked her out big-time, and yet, perhaps such teaching might have mitigated the suicidal impulses she wrestled with down the road. Such is Erotic Truth.

At Dog Eared Books, Chelsea Martin broke down her own distinctive (i.e., sarcastic) truth about the erotic life and contemporary relationships. Her story pointed out the often funny, often sad disconnect between fantasy and reality, and how awkward communication around naked interplay may be the hallmark of the twenty-something generation. “Romance is a funny term,” she said. “Funny as in ‘I have a fake body part. Guess what it is.’”

Phase III decision-making was equally impossible. The Rumpus? Debut Lit? Portuguese Artists Colony? Tenderloin Reading Series? InsideStorytime? The Believer and McSweeney’s? Fourteen Hills and Eleven Eleven? Canteen Magazine? Those aren’t even half the choices. Anyone who doubts that there’s a wide-open, world-class literary scene in San Francisco need only click on the links above.

Grace Krilanovich & Alvin Orloff mid-reads.

We ended up at the “Indie Fiction Extravaganza” — a venue for authors on Two Dollar Radio, Manic D Press, and Emergency Press — to peep Grace Krilanovich, whose debut novel, The Orange Eats Creeps, is arguably the most hyped title of the season among indie-lit aficionados. Fortunately, we arrived early enough at Mexican boutique shop Casa Bonampak to see Alvin Orloff read an over-the-top story about a thwarted teenage hookup with a beautiful young man, who also happened to be a broadminded, potentially bisexual, Jesus freak. Swept away by the holy roller’s seductively sunny love rap, the narrator confessed, “My scalp tingled fiercely.” God and gay fantasy never had it so good.

On the flipside, Krilanovich intoxicated us with her halo of darkness, her “not giving a shitness.” The words that still linger: “earthworm lips,” “imminent decay,” “ate death in the snow,” “incubator of death,” “black — it’s always black.” What is it about the death rattle of an emerging author that feels so steeped in sex?

1. Portuguese Artists Colony’s Caitlin Myer. 2. Being goofy: Tony DuShane & Jane Ganahl.

This brings us now to the afterparty at The Blue Macaw, where we ran into many of the same folks we saw at Wednesday’s Literary Death Match. We also shared laughs and drinks with Portuguese Artists Colony’s Caitlin Myer, Quiet Lightning’s Evan Karp and Rajshree Chauhan, InsideStorytime’s James Warner, Green Apple Books’ Kevin Hunsanger, Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day author Ben Loory, and Litquake co-founders Jane Ganahl and Jack Boulware, looking very happy and very tired after more than a week of nonstop, live-action L-I-T.

Quiet Lightning’s Evan Karp & Rajshree Chauhan.

If you think for a moment that all book worms are the reserved, reclusive type, it’s time for a wake-up call. What did we hear with an ear to the ground at Lit Crawl? What did we see through Maker’s-bleary eyes? Well… one fine writer girl, an equal-opportunity lover with a fetish for BDSM (as either the M or the S, the B or the T), has got a hard-on for Scorch Atlas author Blake Butler. She’s crafting a strategic stalking plan as we speak. Another sexy writer woman was packing a vibrator in her purse, just in case she hooked up tonight. When it accidentally switched on during one of the readings, everyone within earshot knew it wasn’t a cellphone.

1. Post Crawl Glittery House Party Guests. 2. 2666 Tattoo.

We heard Anne Lamott’s son was using his mom’s celebrity to hit on girls. “I got your Bird by Bird,” he allegedly said, though we have not been able to confirm or deny this brazen pick-up line. We heard Tao Lin was on mushrooms at his reading earlier in the week. We saw gorgeous literary tattoos — which should be in Justin Taylor and Eva Talmadge’s The Word Made Flesh — of Bolano’s 2666 and DFW’s Infinite Jest. We saw Young Junius author Seth Harwood grooving hard on the dance floor in his snazzy three-piece suit. Stephen Elliott’s co-conspirator at The Rumpus, Isaac Fitzgerald, and Corium’s Lauren Becker also got down, though, to be clear, not with each other. We wouldn’t want to launch any rumors here.

We carried a passed-out writer to a taxi. We’ll let you guess who it was. We saw some girls kissing girls. We love San Francisco.

We live for Lit Crawl.

–Jesús Ángel García is the author of “badbadbad,” a transmedia novel (forthcoming in May 2011 on New Pulp Press). Short stories adapted from this book have been published in 3:AM Magazine, Monkeybicycle, Vol. 1 Brooklyn and sPARKLE & bLINK. A few of these pieces, a preview of the novel’s soundtrack and the first trailer for a five-part series of interconnected short films based on themes of the book are available at http://badbadbad.net.

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