Literary Gossip

I’m sorry I missed the Literary Death Match last night. It was on my way home from the Grotto, but after being here for six hours, I was too tired to wait around two more hours to head down to Harlot at 46 Minna. I’ve been tired a lot lately, not sleeping well at night and still fighting off the remnants of a cold.

I’m sorry I missed it not only because Grotto member Stephen Elliott was one of the four contestants, but because Stephen apparently got into a skirmish disagreement with Death Match judge and Zyzzyva editor Howard Junker after Howard insulted Stephen’s writing on stage. This is all hearsay; like I said I didn’t go, but from what I understand Stephen threw a beer in Howard’s face at Howard’s shirt during the intermission, which resulted in Howard leaving before the end of the Match. I haven’t seen Stephen today, so I don’t know the rest of the story. What I do know is that Stephen and Howard have been at odds for some time, and that Stephen is a very sweet guy and a talented writer. Two of his books—including Happy Baby—are on my 2006 reading list. I was hoping Howard would blog about the experience on Zyzzyva Speaks, but no such luck. And Stephen abandoned his own blog several months ago as well. Tant pis. There’s nothing like some good literary gossip.

Update: See comments below for the “real” story.

And here are the details of the Match:

Four Magazines, Four Readers, One Champion—Readings the Way Darwin Meant ‘Em.
Joyce Maynard reads for Canteen
Stephen Elliot for McSweeney’s
Michelle Richmond for Fiction Attic
Sam Hurwitt for Kitchen Sink

The first West Coast Literary Death Match ever—set in the decadence of Harlot and judged by the wisdom of:
-Howard Junker (ZYZZYVA)
-Beth Lisick (Everyone into the Pool)
-Jon Wolanske (Killing My Lobster)



Filed under Writing

17 responses to “Literary Gossip

  1. What is a Literary Death Match? And how does one win/lose?

    Now _I_ am sorry I didn’t go to this thing! Though I would probably have rooted for Howard.

    And FYI: ZYZZYVA is all caps, italics. (and I think the blog name is also all in caps). If you know Howard, he is adamant about this whole “all caps, italics” thing, and now he has gotten me on it.

  2. I’ve never been to a Literary Death Match. Sounds like they all read and then the judges vote who was the best. I’m not really sure how it works. Thanks for the ZYZZYVA tip. I know you’re a BIG fan!

  3. stephen and i have never “been at odds.” he’s submitted manuscripts to me over the years, and i have rejected them. we haven’t had any other contact.

    last night’s Death Match was a kind of American Idol, a competitive talent show. i was one of three judges who were supposed to comment on two writers, stephen and joyce maynard. (and two other writers in the second half of the program.)

    i said stephen’s piece “made me laugh a couple times, but otherwise had no literary merit.”

    there was no skirmish. at the intermission, i went through the crowd toward the door outside to get a breath of air. and he ambushed me. he did not throw his drink in my face. he threw it at my chest and drenched my shirt. i didn’t see him do it and didn’t at first realize what had happened. but when i turned around, there he was.

    i could have punched him out, but i am an old man and i was afraid of hurting my hand if i hit him hard.

    apparently, he has recently published a book about his liking to get beaten up by his wife. i haven’t read it, but in any case i was not thinking of that at the time.

    because my shirt was drenched, i went home without saying a word to stephen or anyone else, except the organizers of the event to tell them i was leaving.

  4. Thank you so much for your comments, Howard! Now we know what really happened!

  5. I am loving the edits. 🙂

  6. The former reporter in me wants to get the story straight!

  7. cassienova

    i was at the “deathmatch” last night and saw the skirmish…er, disagreement. i must say that i remember howard saying, not that stephen’s piece didn’t have any literary merit, but that stephen himself as a writer had no literary merit. it was pretty breathtaking. i thought maybe he was trying to be the simon cowell. frankly, it was refreshing to hear someone be so blatantly honest — even though such a judgement is pretty absurd and brings up all kinds of questions (what the hell is “literary merit”? and how does one measure it?). stephen said later that he didn’t want to punch a 60-year-old man, so he threw the drink instead. i think he was really embarrassed by howard’s comment. as for me — i thought they should have fought to the death.

  8. exactly: i was playing the simon cowell role, which i thought i was expected to do, since the evening was not a symposium, it was dive-bar entertainment.

    my specific charge was to judge “literary merit,” another judge was assigned to rate “performance” and another “intangibles.” what could be sillier?

    i spoke one sentence about stephen’s piece, making two points: that it made me laugh a couple times, and that it was without literary merit. And the audience did gasp.

    btw, i’m 66, not 60. i’m very glad stephen didn’t try to punch me, whether he was deferring to my age or not.

    in any case, the notion that a “judge” or critic, acting in that capacity, should be physically attacked, even in such a lame way as a thrown drink, is deeply saddening.

    apparently, some people feel that free speech does not obtain in literary/artistic/entertainment matters.

    when whistler took ruskin to court, ruskin having written that he had “never expected to hear a coxcomb ask two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face,” whistler won damages of a farthing.

    shortly thereafter, he went bankrupt.

  9. Howard, I think you’re misremembering here. If you had only insulted the story and not insulted me personally I don’t think the crowd would have gasped and I certainly wouldn’t have thrown a drink on you.

    Anyway, it wasn’t that big of a deal and I was sorry you left. I had a shirt in my bag you could have worn.

  10. Adam (an observer)

    Dive-bar?!!! Watch out, Howard – ‘Harlot’ may throw a beer at you!

    More info on LDM is here:

    I thought the comment was unwarranted (I agree with Cassienova) and the response a tad extreme – although of course it makes for a great story.

    I guess two wrongs… don’t make a writer.

  11. Sounds like a male cat fight – miaaaaaoooow!!! miaow.. meow….purrrrrrrr…

  12. Wasn't there

    What’s disturbing to me is Howard’s disregard for the rule of capital letters. Apparently he’s been spending too much time texting as well as watching American Idol.

  13. Pingback: Real things that actually happened | Librarian Avengers

  14. Pingback: » A verbis ad verbera

  15. ed

    I’m sorry that I stabbed you six times in the chest, Howard. I don’t see what the big deal was. I had a first-aid kit in my bag you could have used.

  16. Howard behaved like a gentleman. In that sort of venue this isn’t always the case.

    Often the only thing you can do is walk away. Tempers do flair amongst the more immature sorts, but generally things go fairly smoothly. The author should take the criticism and correct the defects in their work instead of trying to pick a fight. If they think the criticism is unwarranted or unfair, they should remember how they volunteered to participate and how the judges may or may not be completely objective, especially in the death-match venue.

    Judges who make a sport of taunting or ruthlessly insulting authors usually don’t get called back. Death-match is one of those venues where the judge has a great deal more latitude, thus Howard was well within his rights.

    I’ve had editors who were much more brutal, so I guess I have pretty thick skin. I never threw a beer at any of them. I did fix my work and was rewarded with grudging appreciation. As authors, we have to remember the goal of those public venues: To get critiqued; To be seen; To have a good time. In that order.

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