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- 'Do you deal in haunted mattresses?'
- 'How haunted?' he asked. - Riley Michael Parker
That quotation just about set the tone for last Thursday's (Oct. 30) zinester reading at swanky Southeast Tapas Bar the Maiden. Organized by Future Tense publisher and former WW
contributor Kevin Sampsell (pictured above), it was titled “Shock of the New”
after its recently-immigrated cast of Portland writers: Riley Michael Parker , Sarah Royal, Patrick deWitt and Zachary Schomburg. Thematically, it was a “how haunted?” dive into the depths of infatuation, addiction and oddity.
Parker, Royal, deWitt & Schomburg (incidentally, that would be a great name for a law firm) played to a packed house of about 40. The one really strange fact about this reading was that, although the zinesters were very chill, they all seemed to have legit book deals (see below). Whatever happened to indie press?
Clockwise from top left: zinesters Sarah Royal (from Chicago), Zachary Schomburg (from Nebraska), Patrick deWitt (from Bainbridge Island) and Riley Michael Parker (from Eastern WA)
Riley Michael Parker
“I don't go to readings, so I thought you guys would be the Oprah crowd. But you're actually really young and attractive.” - Riley Michael Parker
The best thing about Riley Michael Parker's short and tightly-structured prose—in this case, excerpts from Our Beloved 26th
—was its quirky humor, kind of like Steve Martin or Jack Handy for the new millennium. His talent for stories about office life and failed romantic encounters plays very well in a zine, but it seems particularly well-suited to TV writing. Wonder if he's ever thought about it?
At its best, Parker's writing was crisp and unexpected. At times, though, it could be a tad cutesy. This was particularly true of a story about a months-long love affair. “I don't know if you can tell,” the author warned, “but I've never been in love.” See if you can tell, reader, based on the following line: “...the two of us coming mere seconds apart as the day broke anew.” Hmm...
“It was just a shadow made of blood, but I couldn't help but admire her small, perky breasts...” - Riley Michael Parker
“She seemed to be selling my future coworkers to me as eclectic and unique in the hopes that my East Coast self might bite.” - Sarah Royal
Of all the readers, Sarah Royal was definitely the dark horse. Sampsell discovered her Chicago-based zine, The Book Bindery
, through Microcosm distribution, and he says he was immediately struck by its uncommon polish. In addition to her zine, Royal has a book coming out in May from Running Press, titled Creative Cursing: A Mix 'n' Match Profanity Generator
Royal read several passages from The Book Bindery
, featuring a transsexual boss, a bloody fist fight and an embittered German grandmother. Perhaps you thought Steve Carrell had dished out all the office humor you could possibly stand? You were wrong. Royal's quirky but all-too-believable lineup of Dickensian book binders draws chuckles and gasps, even as they spill industrial glue and knock one another's teeth out.
“But you throw up, and you wipe your mouth, and you're OK...because you're weird, you love weirdos, and you work with a boatload of 'em.” - Sarah Royal
“Each day you wake up wondering how hungover you will be.” - Patrick deWitt
Formerly obscure, Patrick deWitt hit the jackpot when his book Ablutions
sold to Houghton Mifflin in December 2007 (It's due out in 2009). The archaic title was cause for some consternation and even a brief call-and-response at last night's reading. MC Kevin Sampsell quipped, “I don't guess anybody knows what that means.” Responding, an elderly woman in the audience shouted, abruptly, “It means washing, as in dishes!”
deWitt—also the author of Help Yourself Help Yourself
—read from the manuscript of Ablutions
, a section about waking up hungover and trying to hide it from his girlfriend. The prose was executed in a hilarious second-person deadpan, although the style seemed somewhat derivative of Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City
. But who's complaining? It was funniest reading of the night.
“You are a trained, silent vomiter.” - Patrick deWitt
“I found her repeatedly jumping out of a large, wooden wedding cake on a cliff overlooking the lake.” - Zachary Schomburg
I'm always amazed at just how different poets are from, well, everybody else. That's definitely true of Zachary Schomburg, author of The Man Suit
. His in-between-poem chatter suggested a Martian's first attempt at standup comedy. “Do you like Mountain Dew?” he asked the audience in a halting monotone. He proceeded to tell a funny story about Mountain Dew.
But his stuff was worth the otherworldly banter. I mean, it was definitely the only reading that garnered an unprompted “God, that's fantastic!” from an audience member. At times, his poems sounded like they could be lyrics to a Flaming Lips song—applying the video-game, attention-deprived logic of pre-teenage boyhood to grown-up themes like sex and loss. Like a grown man who goes to a costume party as an avocado, Schomburg's words hid surprising sensitivity inside a slick shell of wordplay.
“I am part-wolf, part-farm accident.” - Zachary Schomburg