Awkward Author Evenings

On most Monday evenings, PEN schedules one notable literary L.A. figures to sit down with us, eight “Emerging Voices” fellows, to dish out advice on writers’ block, the writing life, their books.  We are told to come prepared with their books doggearred & underlined, and with questions about them.  The first questions that first come to mind are personal ones: (how do you align yourself, sexually?), or blanket questions about writing (what is your writing process like?) because I didn’t finish the book.   I try to be a good student, and write a few the night before.  On the way to the PEN office where these author evenings are held, I usually get lost on the Culver City Bus or the Big Blue one, which gives me enough time re-read or finish reading…

The “Punctual Poets” are the first to arrive, and I’m included, still sweaty in my after-school job uniform.  We enter the office, hoping to be fed.  The Author of the Evening is usually already there, sitting awkwardly at the end of the conference table.  Poor Author sits alone, quarentined until the late Fellows have to sit next to him.   When everyone arrives, I rub my eyes under the flourescent lights, take out my legal pad, and the doggearred & underlined Book.  The PEN Director will encourage everyone to eat (pizza, Mexican food, CPK), and we do.  Director wants everyone to eat more, so I take a second slice of mushroom.

Director asks all the Fellows to go around the room: name, genre.  I already know everyone’s genre, and I wish I knew everyone’s work.  Author smiles, nods, asks a clarifying question: “what exactly IS creative non-fiction?”  Director tells Author that we’ve been reading his book and that we have PLENTY of questions for him.  “Go ahead, you guys.” he says.

Silence.  Even my chewing feels disruptive and awkward.  Then Fellow 1 compliments the book.  Author thanks.  Fellow 2 asks about a character.  Author explains.  Fellow 3 wants clarification on page 67.  Author explains again, then muses.  Fellow 4 asks a blanket writing question: (so, when did you start writing poetry?).  Damn, Fellow 2 asked my question, what else can I say?  Then I draw a comparison: “Your book reminded me of this episode of ‘Lost’ when they move the island and they don’t know that the island is being moved, and really, they aren’t standing on anything solid, kind of like the earthquakes you talk about.  Like the Northridge one, the way you described it on page whatever was like that one scene….” and I babble, looking up and down the table for validation from my fellow Fellows.  ”  Apparently, no one else is into ‘Lost,’ and I’m on the wrong island, looking for the other nerds.

At least Author nods politely.  Later, he signs my book, and I have to say “Rachel like Rachelle.” ROchelle.  No.   Then I’m coerced into taking extra food home for my “roommates.”  Tonight, I made a self-identified alliteration: piggy poet eats poems and pizza.

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