Friday, March 21, 2008
Star-struck by Lydia Millet
You don't know who Lydia Millet is. No one does. Except for the tiny readership that somehow managed to discover her surreal, satirical, and very moving fiction. Meeting this utterly obscure writer turned out to be a much bigger deal for me than meeting any of the big-wigs I've encountered in my work travels.
I recently read Millet's wonderful new novel, How the Dead Dream. The story of a young businessman who begins to face the huge issues of environmental catastrophe and species extinction, it definitely hit home with me. It also served as a reminder that great novels can come out of nowhere (in this case, from a staffer at the Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson), and encouragement to get in gear finishing my latest manuscript.
Happily, Lydia was in town over the weekend for a night of author readings on the theme of "Catastrophe." It's hard to imagine an event more up my alley, so I swung by to pay her my respects for her terrific novel. The readings were held at Edinburgh Castle in San Francisco -- an absolute dive, it's basically the last place in SF (short of an illicit-massage joint) where you'd expect a gaggle of literary novelists to be reading on-stage. But there was actually a nice turnout of 30 or so people to hear the readings, most of which were kind of shitty...until they finally got around to Lydia.
She read a very funny selection from the book -- smart thinking, because when you're reading to a live audience, it probably pays to go with the laughs, as opposed to reading apocalyptic passages like everyone else was doing. She was clearly "the ringer" in this crop of writers, and earned an enthusiastic round of applause when she'd finished. She was standing by herself in the back of the space, so I headed over to her intending to say just a few smart phrases and then take off.
Of course, writers are the only people around whom I get totally starstruck and tongue-tied. Big famous actors, not a problem. Sports superstars, no biggie. Mega-business luminaries, ho-hum. Obscure literary novelist from Tucson? I fall completely to pieces. I said something like: "Hi Lydia I just wanted to thank you for a great book it really means a lot to me it had quite an impact I really hope you keep it up okay thanks bye."
She was very gracious and thanked me for coming out, and I made as dignified a retreat as was possible.
Then went home and wrote for five hours without a pause, because I hope someday soon to be one of those marginal novelists reading selections in a crappy dive bar in the city. Dare to dream!