The First-Timers

Newbie novelists descend on booze-soaked Ballard, after first being grilled on the heritage of that hood.

WHEN IT SEEMS every writer in America is working on a memoir, it's refreshing that a quartet of young authors haven't given up on that most traditional of literary forms—the novel. Not that tradition equals stodginess, no way. The First Fiction Tour is bringing four debut novelists to alternative venues across the country, including that favorite Ballard watering hole, the Sunset, better known for music than prose. On hand will be Miranda Beverly-Whittemore with The Effects of Light (Warner, $23.95); Matthew Carnahan with Serpent Girl (Villard, $19.95); Marya Hornbacher with The Center of Winter (HarperCollins, $23.95); and Ed Schwarzschild with Responsible Men (Algonquin, $23.95). Instead of pretending we've read their books (which we assume are all very good), SW instead asked them by e-mail about this strange new experience of reading from a club concert stage instead of in some staid book shop where the strongest beverage is herbal tea. Seattle Weekly: This is your first novel, but is this your first experience reading before an audience? Beverly-Whittemore: I've been lucky—The Effects of Light has been out for two months, so I've done 10 readings. But I'm looking forward to this new kind of crowd; they don't sell booze at Barnes & Noble. Hornbacher: No. I have been reading in front of audiences for years. Also, I toured for both the hardcover and paperback editions of my last book, Wasted, and read nightly during tours. Schwarzschild: My first reading was years ago at a Southern woman's college in the middle of Virginia where I used to work. Many people in the audience were wearing jodhpurs and carrying riding crops. It was distracting and intimidating. Readings since then have gotten much easier. SW: Alcohol will be served at the Sunset Tavern—do you have a strategy for dealing with drunken hecklers? Beverly-Whittemore: Heckle 'em back. Seriously, I hope no one will have been dragged to the Sunset that much against their will. Carnahan: I'll be drunker than them. Works every time. Hornbacher: Drunken hecklers will be ignored altogether. SW: What's your response if someone calls out "Freebird"? Beverly-Whittemore: My prog rock days are over. Carnahan: Spark up my purple hand-blown glass Southern Comfort–filled bong and rock steady. Hornbacher: "Weenie!" SW: Multiple choice: The Sunset is located in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood, which is known for (a) its Scandinavian heritage, (b) as the site of the WTO riots, (c) the headquarters of Microsoft, (d) the birthplace of grunge, or (e) the curse of being built on an ancient Indian burial ground. Beverly-Whittemore: (a) I grew up in Portland, and every time I'm in Ballard (where my aunt, uncle, and cousins live), I'm always shocked by the number of redheads. Carnahan: Actually, for me it's (f) the place I first had sex with a single mom. Hornbacher: (a) its Scandinavian heritage. SW: Which of these famous writers actually does not live in the Pacific Northwest: Tom Robbins, David Guterson, Sherman Alexie, Rebecca Wells, or J.D. Salinger? Beverly-Whittemore: J.D. Salinger. Unless he dug a tunnel from New Hampshire to keep all those pesky reporters at bay. Carnahan: Wait . . . Tom Robbins? Does that mean Susan Sarandon lives here too? Hornbacher: J.D. Salinger. He's dead, for one thing, and when he wasn't, he lived on the East Coast. Schwarzschild: I hope Salinger lives in Seattle. I'd love to meet him. He was definitely one of the first writers who made me fall in love with writing. SW: Under any circumstances, would you write on a laptop in a coffee shop? Beverly-Whittemore: All the time. It's a great way to avoid becoming a shut-in. In fact, guess where I'm writing this right now. . . .  Carnahan: Yes. In Amsterdam. Hornbacher: I do it all the time. I like second-hand smoke. Schwarzschild: If someone would build a cool coffee shop in Albany, N.Y. (where I live now), I'd do just about anything they asked of me, and that includes writing on a laptop at one of their tables. SW: Mac or Windows? Beverly-Whittemore: Mac. Carnahan: I'm a Mac Daddy, baby. Hornbacher: Mac. Windows is way too complicated. SW: You hate your author photo because it makes you look ___________? Beverly-Whittemore: Like I'm not a day over 40. Which is not a good thing: I won't be 40 until 2016. Carnahan: Just too damn devastatingly handsome. Hornbacher: Old, and also they color-corrected it so weirdly that they made my lipstick look bright orange, which it was not. SW: If you could write your own shameless three-word jacket blurb for your new book, what would it be? Beverly-Whittemore: Best. Novel. Ever. Hornbacher: Intense, breathtaking prose. SW: What pseudonym would you use to favorably review your own book on (Not that you would, of course.) Beverly-Whittemore: Lucy Lobenstine (my first name + my husband's last name = an alter ego of sorts). Carnahan: I.M. Awesome. Hornbacher: Max. SW: Will there be pyrotechnics for your reading? Beverly-Whittemore: See above answer about no more prog rock. Carnahan: Fuck, yeah. In direct proportion to your intake of psychotropics. Hornbacher: Maybe, maybe not. Schwarzschild: Well, I am going to read about a bonfire that gets a little out of control. Who knows what that might inspire. SW: If you could select a warm-up band, what group would that be? Beverly-Whittemore: The ideal all-Beatles cover band: Jon Brion (as John Lennon), Michael Penn (as Paul McCartney), Elliot Smith (sorry—we came up with this in 2001—as George Harrison), and the ever-available Ringo Starr as, you guessed it, Ringo Starr. Carnahan: Brian Jonestown Massacre with John Lennon as guest vocalist. Hornbacher: Mozart and his Shangri-Las. Schwarzschild: Someone told me I should travel with a klezmer band, but the Irish Jew somewhere inside of me would prefer Van Morrison from the 1970s, back when he used to grunt a lot and scream about William Blake. SW: Stage diving—pro or con? Beverly-Whittemore: Here are three things that went out with the '90s: Baldwins other than Alec, fun presidents, and stage diving. So, con. Carnahan: I'm 6 feet 2, 210 pounds . . . and I'm pro. Hornbacher: Con, as it is completely passé. Schwarzschild: My brother will be in the crowd in Seattle, and he told me he had my back, so my answer is "pro" for this event. First Fiction Tour, Sunset Tavern (21 and over), 5433 Ballard Ave. N.W., 206-634-3400, 7 p.m., Mon., April 11.

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