LITCRAWL NYC 2012!

1. Rows of sitting ducks waiting for the event to start. 2. Authors Paul La Farge, Alison Espach and Helen Phillips write lies, while Center for Fiction programs director Kristin Henley rocks the mic.

LitCrawl, by design, is one of those seriously insane ideas that seems to exist only in possibility. Thankfully, LitCrawl NYC has been putting this literary insanity into action for the last five years, hosting a ka-jillion literary readings at once at myriad bars in both Brooklyn and Manhattan over the summer months, enabling hundreds of readers and writers to hear the venerated — like Irvine Welsh — after a fun hour of hearing writers reading other writers. Last Saturday, a few of our contributors got wild and headed out to the crawl. Genre fiction Balderdash, 80s teen movies, and bad sex poetry ensued.

“A Bunch of Fakers: Lit Crawling with the KGB” — Erika Anderson

1. Everyone here reads books: Cheryl D’Souza and Indy Sil at NYU, and Leslie Bernstein, head librarian at the Center For Fiction. 2. It’s a vintage tint for Kristina Schwarz, Christine Vines of Fiction Addiction and Leia Menlove.

It was lies, all lies with the Center for Fiction at the KGB Bar on Saturday night. In a play on Balderdash, first sentences of lesser known romance novels, noir fiction and thrillers were rewritten and read aloud along with actual first sentences, leaving the audience to guess by their wits alone. Rewriters Paul La Farge, Alison Espach and Helen Phillips used their powers of fiction for trickery and for fame.

1. Paul La Farge, a beacon of light in the darkness.

In olden times, before The Bachelor, men relied on The Bride Finder, according to a novel by Susan Caroll. After years of solace in his castle, Anatole “turns to the bride-finder, the man blessed with the power to find the one woman who is Anatole’s destiny.” How is the scene set? “The wind was savage on the moor on the night that he arrived,” or “Few men dared to enter the castle ledger”? First sentence goes to Espach. Second goes to Caroll.

Dean Koontz provided the most thrilling premise of all. In Velocity, Billy Wiles finds this note on his windshield, “If you don’t take this note to the police and get them involved, I will kill a lovely blond schoolteacher. If you do take this note to the police, I will instead kill an elderly woman active in charity work. You have four hours to decide. The choice is yours.” Despite having read Koontz as a pre-teen (the shame!), I voted for, “At first he thought it was a parking ticket. Fuck!” Paul La Farge was at it again. But Koontz knows how to slow it down, “With a draft beer and a smile, Ned Pearsall raised a toast to his deceased neighbor, Henry Friddle, whose death greatly pleased him.”

What did we learn? That fictional characters by the name of Belinda Grimsby and Henry Friddle deserve to die. And that first sentences written by Paul La Farge, the almost-winner, are far superior to the real deal.

“PEN America Poetry” — Sarah Lerner

1. Paul Morris, Director of Membership, Marketing, and Literary Awards at Pen American Center introduces the poets. 2. Robin Beth Schaer warms up the crowd with her euphonious piece, “Breakfast”. 3. The pre-reading crowd in the Bantam backyard.

As one of the oldest New York literary institutions (90 years and counting) and a LitCrawl NYC sponsor, the Pen American Center’s curated event at Bantam came with quite a bit of clout. The line-up for the evening featured four women poets you have probably admired from afar — Robin Beth Schaer (previously unannounced), Brooklyn poet-laureate Tina Chang, NYU’s Director of Creative Writing Deborah Landau, and Monica Youn, whose 2010 book of poetry was a National Book Award finalist. Despite Landau’s assumption that most audience members would be hammered by the time they reached the 9 P.M. event (in true bar-crawl form), the audience was thankfully silent and rapt as the poets elegantly, if softly, recited works both new and old. Though often serious in tone, the appropriate end to the evening came when Monica Youn set off her more morbid pieces with a selection she accurately described as befitting to a bar. Instead of commemorating good sex, as many poems have already achieved in droves, Youn presented a collection on the subject of bad sex. With the title “Bad Sex is Abstract” — whose first few lines were, only naturally, “Whack-Whack-Whack” — she nailed the hi-low charm of the LitCrawl at large.

“Molly Ringwald with Elissa Schappell” — Lisa John Rogers

1. Molly Ringwald and Elissa Schappell could also add ‘conversationalists’ to their long list of talents. 2. Katie Rosenbrock, personal trainer and health and fitness blogger with Breanne LaCamera, creative writing graduate student at Columbia.

Crime Scene Lounge was packed: people lined the walls sitting on the plush couches and in tiny circles of duck-duck-goose on the floor, me and few other early arrivers perched atop the tables, and some laggers were left standing. The event got started around 7:20. Molly Ringwald and conversation co-pilot Elissa Schappell sat down, white wine in hand. The closeness of the microphone to the authors’ stools did not mean they were going to kiss, Schappell joked. The talk started with what’s so interesting about flawed characters, and moved onto Ringwald’s theme of betrayal, “we are all betrayers, we are all betrayed, and/or we betray ourselves.”

The stories came organically to Ringwald, literally: the order of the stories in the published book are the same as she wrote them. Each of the characters in the short stories are connected, which is why she is calling it a “novel in short stories.” Schappell said that as a reader, she did not feel manipulated. The characters’ epiphanies came very naturally, reminding her of Raymond Carver, of whom Ringwald is an avid fan. With a jazz album coming out next year, a full acting career, and this being her second book (first of fiction), it might seem like Ringwald is another nepotistic famous person doing it all without the talent, but I’d have to disagree (though I haven’t heard the jazz album). With Schappell’s take-no-prisoners wit, it’d be easy to tell if Ringwald was a phony. But she was just as funny and genuine as her host. Acting and writing dovetail for Ringwald because she has always written the backstory for her characters in order to better understand their emotions and actions (an example she gave was for her character Claire in The Breakfast Club). The event closed with Ringwald reading from her story “Ursa Minor” and the crowd practically drooling at her ability to be so genuinely multi-talented.

***

— Erika Anderson teaches at Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop, contributes to Hunger Mountain, and tweets for the Franklin Park Reading Series. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and lives in Brooklyn.

— Sarah Lerner is a publisher at Papercut Press.

— Lisa John Rogers is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. You can find her occasionally embarrassing herself here or here.

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