Gettin’ Spooked at the H.I.P. Reading Series
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1. Chad Frisbie, poet and teacher; reader Courtney Maum; Alberto Means, a movement strategist; and Jeffrey Lee, an art dealer. 2. The lady literary agents that form H.I.P.: Erin Harris, Kim Perel and Brittney Inman.
I ventured out into the hostile humidity listening to The Cramps — one-half of my Friday the 13th celebration. The other half awaited me at Bar on A for the H.I.P. Reading Series, “Spooky Stories” edition. Any Friday the 13th automatically promises the scary and perturbing, and appropriately, the stories from B.C. Edwards, Courtney Maum, and Joseph Salvatore weren’t genre-horror, but unnerved and unsettled through theme, tone and linguistic play. And there were cupcakes; they were creepy, I promise.
B.C. Edwards, a producer at the Upright Citizens Brigade and a Literary Deathmatch champion, read from a novel-in-progress that stars Ash and Charlie, who drink “beer and warm tequila” on a beach on the Yucatan Peninsula. With little set-up of how the boys arrived at the beach, ominous lines like “They will return. But they will not return for you,” quickly established that it was Ash and Charlie against the world on the peninsula. Soon, they meet Mason and Marcus I, presumably rulers of the territory, and here things take a horrific turn. “Blood, when it is pumping out of someone, has an irreproducible color to it … Marcus bent forward forward more than a body should bend.” Edwards’ enthusiastic yet controlled delivery was the creepiest part of his reading, throwing his performance into overdrive.
From hearing her read a handful of times and reading the Celebrity Books Reviews, I know Courtney Maum to be a funny and incisive writer, but never had considered that she could do devastatingly sad and funny at once. Her contribution to H.I.P., “Dispatches From the Fetal Reduction,” was the story of an aborted child’s ghost, one of a triplet growing in a surrogate mother, reminiscing its departure. “As to the role of the intended parents in the decision making process, I’m afraid I’m not informed. I can only imagine that it was decided under the influence of extreme sedatives in absolute darkness and perhaps without their wits.” Though creepy and spooky at once, I found myself empathizing with the fetal narrator’s sense of loss and detachment — that knowledge of what was lost was always already unrecoverable.
1. Joseph Salvatore, wearing a D.A.R.E. t-shirt that I haven’t seen in years. YEARS. 2. The readers and H.I.P. crew talking about performance and the word “moist,” among other things.
The evening’s final reader was Joseph Salvatore, who delivered the most classically horrific tale of the night. “Who thinks these things while eating a peanut butter sandwich?” While that doesn’t sound in any way scary, as Salvatore read with a veracity that indicated 20+ word sentences and no paragraph breaks. Hints of the narrator’s imminent psychotic break piled up quickly, and broken “boats-in-a-bottle shit” turns into family murder: the narrator’s own daughter. Sometimes, I forget to write down quotes because a performance is seamless and wholly engrossing. I’ll have to buy To Assume a Pleasing Shape to get all the juicy bits of that story, something I eagerly look forward to.
The three hostesses and three readers convened on the stage for a short Q&A, and talked desert island books, the drive to write, and words to avoid in sex scenes. B.C. Edwards can’t live without Borges’ Fictions and avoids the word “thick” in sex scenes (Maum’s is “moist” and Salvatore’s “premature”). Maum writes for two reasons: “I’m insufferable if I don’t write… What’s the second? Oh yeah. Death.” An audience member asked about how the writers convey punctuation. All three approached this question with some difficulty. Edwards noted that performing punctuation has a lot to do with the emotional content of a story, and Maum admitted she didn’t know the usage differences between the colon and semi-colon, thus opting for the em dash, thus still in the dark about how to convey it. Salvatore appropriately answered the question: “We should just have a beer and talk about this.”
This was the second installment of the H.I.P. Reading Series, a welcome addition to the NYC literary reading series scene. Stay tuned to their Tumblr for their next installment, and hope they will bring you cupcakes.