All posts by Jim Vermin

Siel Ju in San Diego

VOTM: What’s the most unusual experience you’ve had at a reading?

JU: I was at the Miami Book Fair, thinking about a letter I’d agreed to write for a literary website. I’d put off writing this letter for months, because I no longer knew how to write a letter. When I was a kid I was a prolific letter writer. I lived in remote towns in Kenya and sent aerogrammes to people all over the world. I wish I’d kept copies, because it baffles me—How did I fill up all those translucent blue pages? What did I possibly have to say?

These days I prefer talking to people in person.

So that weekend I was at the Miami Book Fair, where I talked to a bunch of people in person. One of those was Stephen Elliot. Some of you probably remember he used to write these crazy emails that went out to Rumpus readers who’d signed up to get them—they’d just land in your inbox at random times—that were often just about various experiences he’d had as a writer or human but were also sometimes clearly fictional tales and other times appeals for money for whatever project he was working on. I remember subscribing and unsubscribing repeatedly because he was just so prolific, the volume of writing he sent often got overwhelming for me, and I felt I needed long breaks from all of it.

Anyway, I was in the author’s lounge when Stephen came over eating a gigantic chocolate chip-filled brownie and said something about how we had to come all the way to Miami to see each other, though we both live in Los Angeles.

I said I needed to write this letter, but didn’t know what to write.

Okay, this is what you should write, he said, or something to that effect, I’m paraphrasing. He said, write a few words about whatever you’re doing, like hanging out at this book fair. And then say, here’s a story. Then write a random story. Then afterwards, say something like, well, that’s the story. Then sign it.

Fuck, I said. All this time I thought you were writing original emails and you were just following a formula.

So here’s a story.

That night, the Miami Book Fair had a party at The Standard. The party was fine, but near the end of it I had a phone conversation with a guy back in L.A., one sentence of which upset me so much I couldn’t sleep all night. I spent ten hours ruminating. When I got to the book fair on Sunday morning I felt morose, and weepy. Moving from reading to reading, all my nerves felt like they were dangling from the sky, like shredded tendrils, trembling with every breeze. Oddly this had the effect of making me feel closer to the authors whose events I went to, their words a soothing salve. I wanted to buy all their books.

Afterwards I took a nap and suddenly I felt okay again. I decided to sightsee. I walked down Ocean in South Beach. A young guy in swim trunks stopped me. Can I tell you something? he said. What, I said. You are the baddest Asian chick in the game, he said. I started walking again. Is that bad? he yelled from behind me. I don’t know, I replied, not looking back.

What game? I wondered. I walked down until an organic restaurant popped up on Google maps and I went in and ordered a probiotic bowl, with kimchi and bok choy and quinoa. I posted a video of it on Instagram stories and a friend in L.A. messaged, try raw juice!

I walked to a restaurant-club I’d found on the internet that was supposed to teach salsa lessons. I was early; the cheerful instructor was alone in the upstairs room, just him and the bottles of booze, glittering behind the bar. He told me he didn’t set the prices but that the lesson cost $49, including a shot, and a 25 percent discount on all drinks. I don’t really drink, I said, and I already know how to salsa…. I asked if there was open dancing afterwards and he shook his head. It’s all tourists here, he said apologetically. I asked him what he would do if he were me. It’s bachata night, at this Dominican place, he said, but I’m not sure you want to go there, it’s in a dicey part of town. Then he smacked his head with his hand. Oh, what am I saying, he said. It’s Salsa Sundays at Ball and Chain. You should go there.

I thanked him. Maybe I’ll see you there later, he said.

I took a Lyft to Ball and Chain. I danced. People kept asking if I lived in Miami, or was visiting. The first guy told me he used to live in Malibu, he liked sunsets and walks on the beach. The next guy told me he used to live in Redondo Beach. He’d gone to UCLA for business school. Now he sold motorcycle helmets on the internet. The music got louder and then there was less talking. One guy tried to get me to dance on two; it didn’t go well. The Redondo Beach guy came back and tried to get me to dance Cuban style. This went better, but was disorienting. I moved closer to the glass wall, where it was a little quieter. One guy told me he was from Irvine, but he didn’t learn to dance there, he’d picked it up after he moved. Save me another one for later, he said, then disappeared into the crowd. One guy told me it was his first time dancing in five years, he worked night shifts at a hospital and just didn’t have the time anymore. He was a good dancer, and very anxious.

Suddenly my phone started vibrating, I’d tucked it inside my bra strap. When the song ended I tried to fix it. I restarted it but it just kept vibrating nonstop. I googled, iphone vibrating nonstop. It took me to some forums. I scrolled, the phone still buzzing in my hands. One person had written, I was having the same problem and was ready to open my phone but I found that just shaking my phone hard got it to stop.

I shook my phone really hard. It stopped vibrating. But I was worried then, that my phone was about to break permanently. I called a Lyft.

The day after that I flew back to L.A., and the night after that I spent with the guy whose phone call had upset me so much, though by then, my feelings from Miami felt remote, I couldn’t understand why I’d been so upset. Or I could, but I didn’t feel that way anymore, so my past self seemed irrationally sensitive, obsessive.

In the morning I made us breakfast. I French-pressed the last of the coffee. It wasn’t enough, so when he left for work I walked out with him, to get a latte from a café.

I’d walked about a block and a half when a guy in a white SUV pulled up and yelled from his car, excuse me. Yes? I said. I thought he’d ask for directions, people do that pretty regularly in my neighborhood, they get turned around getting off the 405. I was wondering, what ethnicity are you? he asked. I cringed. Korean, I said, backing up. He leaned over the passenger seat, almost out the window. What do you think about sitting on a 3-inch dick, just like that? he said, holding up two fingers. Is that something that would….

He kept talking but I turned away and started walking fast. I went to the stoplight and pressed the button to cross. A long, quiet, sunny block later I’d almost started thinking about something else when I heard his voice again, he’d circled around so he could pass me and was yelling out the window. I’d fuck you up the ass and come over and over again, he said, his voice fading out as his car went by. I just kept walking, pretending not to hear, that is what you do when strange men start yelling obscenities at you from their cars. He circled back again on the next block. He yelled, you’re so wet your panties are all sticky creeping up your….

Finally I caught up to some other people on the street, two women walking to Lemonade. They were talking amicably about salads. This is the problem with where I live, there’s like a three-block gap between where I live and where the pedestrian traffic begins, and they can be a long three blocks, even at 10 in the morning on a Wednesday, even though it’s considered a fairly nice neighborhood on the westside, just south of Brentwood.

I went into Café Tomo and ordered a vanilla soy latte. I took a picture of it with the Paris Review I’d brought. You can see it on my Instagram feed. I read an interview with Maxine Groffsky, about her wild days running off to Paris to be with Harry Mathews, working on the Paris Review between jaunts to Burgundy and Nice and Palermo—

That is the end of my story. I realize it doesn’t really seem like a story. One thing happens then the next thing happens then the next thing happens. This is how I experience living, all the little things that happen in it, each uniquely disconnected save for the artificial connections I choose to make for myself, the connective tissue I invent to give it some semblance of cohesiveness, meaning.

I think that’s what attracts me to writing fiction, there’s this illusion that certain events get precipitated by other events, eventualities and inevitabilities. Good or bad things make some sort of sense even if it’s only at the level of emotion.

Also, works of fiction have a nice clear ending, as does this story. You can probably tell this story was originally a letter for a literary website—rejected by the editor for reasons she’d like to keep “between us, please.”

On the upside, I now have some vague ideas for an epistolary memoir—

Siel Ju lives and writes in Los Angeles. Her novel-in-stories, Cake Time, won the 2015 Red Hen Press Fiction Manuscript Award. Siel is also the author of two poetry chapbooks. Her stories and poems appear in ZYZZYVA, The Missouri Review (Poem of the Week), The Los Angeles ReviewDenver Quarterly, and other places. Siel gives away a book a month at

Come see Siel read at La Bodega Gallery in San Diego on Saturday, January 20 at 7pm. 

Joan Wilking in LA

VOTM: What’s the most unusual experience you’ve had at a reading?

WILKING: My first public reading was at City Lights in San Francisco in 2003. My story, Proper Dress, had been published in Steve Elliott’s first Politically Inspired anthology. I’d flown in from our small town in Massachusetts with my fifteen year old daughter. The bookstore was standing room only. The crowd spilled out onto the sidewalk. The size of the turnout was intimidating. I was seated next to Alicia Erian who had brought her grandmother. The book had just come out and I hadn’t read all of it so I was delighted to hear some of the stories in the authors’ voices. I read, and Alicia read, and some others read. Then came Mistress Morgana, a dominatrix, in full regalia, to read her imagined session notes from encounters with members of the Bush Administration. It was too late to prepare my daughter. I watched Alicia slump in her seat and glance periodically at her shocked grandmother as Morgana read about sexually humiliating the Secretary of Defense with the audience cheering her on. My daughter, on the other hand, small and blonde and so innocent looking, was unfazed.

Joan Wilking’s short fiction has been published in The Atlantic, The Bellevue Literary Review, The Barcelona Review, Other Voices, The Mississippi Review, Ascent, The MacGuffin, Hobart, Clackamas and many other literary journals and anthologies online and in print. Her story, ‘Deer Season’, was a finalist for the 2010 Nelson Algren Short Story Competition of The Chicago Tribune. Her story, ‘Clutter’, published in the Elm Leaves Journal, received a special mention in the 2016 Pushcart Prize XL Anthology. Her novella, Mycology, winner of the 2016 Wild Onion Novella Prize, was published in 2017 by Curbside Splendor. She lives overlooking the Atlantic in Ipswich, MA nine months of the year. The other three she spends in stone cottage tucked away in Ojai.

Come see Joan read at Book Show in Highland Park on Friday, January 19 at 7:30pm. 

Suzanne Hoyem in SD

VOTM: What’s the most unusual experience you’ve had at a reading?

HOYEM: Weirdest thing that has happened at a reading was with my ten-year-old daughter at Long Story Short. I usually find a sitter for her but this time I had to drag her along with me. The theme for the night was Nightmares. After seeing everyone take the stage and tell their tales, she declared she wanted to throw her name in the hat as well. When she took the stage, she killed it. Her story was hilarious and witty. Everyone in the audience thought I had coached and prepped her, it was that good. But I honestly was just as shocked as everyone. The proverbially story telling apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Suzanne Hoyem is an amateur taxidermy collector, novice Tarot card reader, and practiced social critic. She has spent the past four years writing a performing for local San Diego organizations such as So Say We All and The Narrators and co-produces a monthly, no notes, semi-improvisational story telling event at Liberty Station called Long Story Short. She has mastered the fleeting art of the clever Facebook status update, inspiring dozens on a daily basis. Suzanne currently lives in Kensington with her indigo child, Sadie Rose, Wizard boyfriend, Travis, and cat, Gloria.

Come see Suzanne read at La Bodega Gallery in San Diego on Saturday, January 20 at 7pm. 

Manuel Paul López in LA & SD

VOTM: What’s the most unusual experience you’ve had at a reading?

LÓPEZ: One time a guy sat in the front row at a reading I did with his eyes closed and arms crossed. I thought he was ocean deep into my stuff until I heard him snoring. He leaned slightly to his left, I remember. I worried that he was going to fall over and jackhammer the floor with his shoulder blade. I left him alone, though, while I did my thing and he did his.

Manuel Paul López’s books and chapbook include These Days of Candy (Noemi Press, 2017), The Yearning Feed (University of Notre Dame Press, 2013), 1984 (Amsterdam Press, 2010) and Death of a Mexican and Other Poems (Bear Star Press, 2006). He co-edited Reclaiming Our Stories (City Works Press, 2016). A CantoMundo fellow, his work has been published in Bilingual Review, Denver Quarterly, Huizache, Puerto del Sol and ZYZZYVA, among others. He lives in San Diego and teaches at San Diego City College.

Come see Paul read at Book Show in Highland Park on Friday, January 19 at 7:30pm and at La Bodega Gallery in San Diego on Saturday, January 20 at 7pm. 

Vermin Returns to San Diego

After a brief hiatus, Vermin on the Mount returns to San Diego at a new location: La Bodega Gallery in the heart of historic Barrio Logan. Come see us Saturday, January 20, 2018 at 7pm at our new home in San Diego. Don’t be bitten.

Susannah Breslin in LA

VOTM: What’s the most unusual experience you’ve had at a reading?

BRESLIN: I once read a short story about a woman who dated a man with a sex doll collection, and no one laughed.

Susannah Breslin is a Los Angeles-based writer and the author of You’re a Bad Man, Aren’t You?

Come see Susannah read at Book Show in Highland Park on Friday, January 19 at 7:30pm. 


Colin Winnette in LA & SD

VOTM: What’s the most unusual experience you’ve had at a reading?

WINNETTE: I was once doing a Q&A with Brian Evenson at a bookstore in San Francisco. Halfway through it, a young boy, maybe 8 or 9, bolted toward us from the front of the store, stopped at the back edge of the audience and yelled, “You’re going to die, because you ruined the books!”

Colin Winnette is the author of several books, including The Job of the Wasp, out now from Soft Skull Press, Haints Stay, Coyote, and Animal Collection. He lives in San Francisco.

Come see Colin read at Book Show in Highland Park on Friday, January 19 at 7:30pm and at La Bodega Gallery in San Diego on Saturday, January 20 at 7pm. 

Return of the Vermin

Alma Rosa Rivera in LA

VOTM: What’s the most unusual experience you’ve had at a reading?

RIVERA: My most unusual and worst experience at a reading was reading at a venue next to a gay Mexican bar and having to read over very loud Cumbia. It didn’t go well.

Alma Rosa Rivera is a Chicana poet, spoken word artist, and community organizer. Classic horror films, 70’s shirts and Mexican paper mache skeletons are of some of her most favorite things on this planet. She is currently working on Feathered Serpent: The Raven and The Poetry, a collection of bird themed Chicana poetry and short stories.

Come see Alma read at Book Show in Highland Park on Friday, October 27 at 7:30pm.

Vermin returns 10/27

Keith Rosson in LA

VOTM: What’s the most unusual experience you’ve had at a reading?

ROSSON: Honestly, the majority of readings and gatherings I’ve been to, barring random nudity and/or drunkenness, have been pretty tame. I consider this a great personal and moral failure on my part and hope to change it within the next, oh, forty minutes or so.

Keith Rosson is the author of the novels Smoke City and The Mercy of the Tide, which NPR called “one of the most immersive fictional settings in recent memory.” His short fiction has appeared in PANK, Cream City Review, The Nervous Breakdown, and more. He’s also a legally blind illustrator and graphic designer, which is oftentimes exactly as tough as it sounds, and an advocate of public libraries and non-ironic adulation of the cassette tape.

Come see Keith read at Book Show in Highland Park on Friday, October 27 at 7:30pm.

Rebecca Gonzales in LA

VOTM: What’s the most unusual experience you’ve had at a reading?

GONZALES:  I curate an event called Fails in Sexlandia. The opening event was at a friend’s showroom. At some point during the night, many folks came upon mushrooms… The “event” didn’t end until about four a.m. With lobster grilled cheese, a tray of cookies baked and half eaten, a barefoot walk in the early morning to buy cigarettes and three new poems.

Cultivated by the sun and moon peeking past the shoes dangling from the phone lines, Rebecca Gonzales lives in East Los Angeles. Rebecca’s work has been published in various literary anthologies and journals such Dryland Lit., Inchas de Poesia, the Mas Tequila Review, St. Sucia, Literature for Life, and others. She was the March 2014 winner of “The Poets of New York” series at the Bowery in New York City. As a mother she is humbled, as a poet she is obedient and as a woman she is unapologetic.

Come see Rebecca read at Book Show in Highland Park on Friday, October 27 at 7:30pm.


Ben Loory in LA

VOTM: What’s the most unusual experience you’ve had at a reading?

LOORY: One time I was approached to do voiceover work for Rubio’s Fish Tacos. In the end, I didn’t get the job because they went with someone “more grandfatherly.”

Ben Loory is the author of the collection Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day, and a picture book for children, The Baseball Player and the Walrus. His fables and tales have appeared in The New Yorker, Tin House, READ Magazine, and Fairy Tale Review, and been heard on This American Life and Selected Shorts. His second collection, Tales of Falling and Flying, was just released by Penguin Books.

Come see Ben read at Book Show in Highland Park on Friday, October 27 at 7:30pm.

Laura Lee Bahr in LA

VOTM: What’s the most unusual experience you’ve had at a reading?

BAHR: I tend to glue myself to unusal literary gatherings, but I guess my first Bizarro-Con in 2011 when I was enlisted to be part of a chorus of singers in the Ad House attic as the reader threw actual food-grade duck parts on the audience still takes the cake (shout out to Cameron Pierce).

Laura Lee Bahr is the author of two novels, Haunt (Fungasm Press, Wonderland Book Award winner) and Long-Form Religious Porn. Haunt was translated into Spanish under the title Fantasma (Orciny Press). Laura has been a screenwriter for various award-winning films, including Jesus Freak and the little death. Her debut feature as writer/director, Boned, won “Best Micro-Budget Feature” at the Toronto Independent Film Festival and is currently distributed through Gravitas Ventures (available on demand). Her latest book, Angel Meat, a collection of her short stories, is available through Fungasm Press.

Come see Laura read at Book Show in Highland Park on Friday, October 27 at 7:30pm.


Lol Tolhurst in LA

VOTM: What’s the most unusual experience you’ve had at a reading?

TOLHURST: My most unusual experience at a literary gathering?  I was heckled by a drunk Englishman at a very sedate and proper arts festival in Boyle, Ireland this summer. I watched in amazement as two burly men lifted him bodily from his chair and “escorted”  him out!

Lol Tolhurst is a musician, author, and performer. He is perhaps best known as a founding member of the band that virtually invented alternative music, The Cure. Lol has recently finished writing a memoir Cured, which was published by Da Capo Books. He has spent most of 2017 on the road to promote Cured.

Come see Lol read at Book Show in Highland Park on Friday, October 27 at 7:30pm.