All posts in Interviews

Kirsten Imani Kasai in San Diego

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

KASAI: Years ago at an open mic literary event, a woman read a poem all about her cats…which was written on toilet paper that she unfurled onstage…unironically.

Kirsten Imani Kasai writes very dark, very weird fiction. She publishes Body Parts Magazine: The Journal of Horror & Erotica and owns MagicWordEditingCo. which offers a full range of services to creative writers, academics and scientists. Her third novel, The House of Erzulie was published this February by Shade Mountain Press. According to Foreword Reviews, Kirsten “makes the macabre beautiful.”

Come see Kirsten read at La Bodega Gallery in San Diego on Saturday, April 28 at 7pm.

Ryan Griffith in San Diego

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

GRIFFITH: In 2005 I went to see in interesting reading at a bar in Saint Petersburg, Russia, where my friend read and then a Belorussian band took the stage and performed dressed as a group of insects.  Following the show, we all gathered at another bar where the band of insects approached my friend and began to verbally assail him in Russian, accusing him of wearing a fake beard, which evidently was a serious breach of decorum and grounds for a fight.  Soon our friends entered the mix and a huge “beard brawl” nearly ensued, but my bearded friend slipped out the door and, once the offending facial hair was out of sight, cooler heads prevailed.

Ryan Griffith served as resident storyteller for The Lounge on KPBS radio, where he read from his acclaimed series, The Midnight Pharmacy. His stories and poems have also appeared in a variety of literary journals such as elimae, Night Train, and NANO Fiction.  He teaches at Grossmont College and during the 2015-2016 school year, he took sabbatical to work on his novel while living abroad in Iceland, Russia, Turkey, and other countries. His current project is a multimedia narrative installation, “Relics of The Hypnotist War,” which is now on display at Space4Art studios in downtown San Diego.

Come see Ryan read at La Bodega Gallery in San Diego on Saturday, April 28 at 7pm.

Alix Sharp in San Diego

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

SHARP: The gnarliest thing I’ve seen at a lit reading was a dude that sobbed about me unmatching from them on Tinder after too many messages received from them when they were drunk. What made it worse was that I attended that reading with someone else I met on Tinder. The first person got kicked out, the second was a wee upset at me playing the field a bit. Moral of the story–don’t bring potential dates to your home bar.

Alix Sharp is an anthropologist with a writing problem, currently attending Southwestern College. She’s a professional translator/animal wrangler irl and in video games. She has a piece in PacificLit, and other forthcoming work. Stay tuned on Twitter @debaucherie.

Come see Alix read at La Bodega Gallery in San Diego on Saturday, April 28 at 7pm.

Mark Sarvas in LA

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

SARVAS: A young lady who wandered into the reading asked if she could come to the podium and read a random section of my novel. It was so weird I had to say yes. The events coordinator said that in 20 years working there, that had never happened.

Mark Sarvas is the author of the novel Harry, Revised, which was published in more than a dozen countries around the world. His book reviews and criticism have appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The Threepenny Review, Bookforum, and many others. He is a member of the National Book Critics Circle, PEN/America, and PEN Center USA, and teaches novel writing at the UCLA Extension Writers Program. A reformed blogger, he lives in Santa Monica, California.

Come see Mark read at Book Show in Highland Park on Friday, April 13 at 7:30pm. 

Yelena Moskovich reads in LA

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

MOSKOVICH: Nothing unusual to declare at the border on my behalf. We came, we read, we conquered.

Yelena Moskovich is a Ukrainian-born American and French novelist and playwright, author of The Natashas (Serpent’s Tail UK 2016, Dzanc Books US 2018) and the upcoming second novel, Virtuoso (Serpent’s Tail, 2019). Her short story, “Marlene or Number 16,” won the Galley Beggar Press Short Story Prize in 2016. Her plays have been produced in the US, Vancouver, Paris, and Stockholm. She’s also written for The New Statesman, The Happy Reader, 3:AM Magazine, and in French for Mixt(e) magazine. She currently lives in Paris.

Come see Yelena read at Book Show in Highland Park on Friday, April 13 at 7:30pm. 

Scott O’Connor reads in LA

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

O’CONNOR: I did a reading and Q&A will Eddie Muller in San Francisco and a troubled woman in the audience stood up to ask a question. Or not so much to ask a question as to make a statement. And not a statement about my work, really, but about her life and her troubles and it made everyone in the room (including me) incredibly uncomfortable, except for Eddie, who handled it with grace and dignity, both for all of us and for her. Afterward I thanked him for this and he said, “She just wanted to be heard.” I’ve thought a lot about that night and that woman and what Eddie said, and it’s helped inform my own life going forward, as well as a short story from this current book, and the next novel.

Scott O’Connor is the author of A Perfect Universe: Ten Stories, the novels Untouchable and Half World and the novella Among Wolves. He has been awarded the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Award, and his stories have been shortlisted for the Sunday Times/EFG Story Prize and cited as Distinguished in Best American Short Stories. Additional work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Zyzzyva, The Rattling Wall, and The Los Angeles Review of Books. He teaches creative writing at Cal State Channel Islands and for Writing Workshops LA.

Come see Scott read at Book Show in Highland Park on Friday, April 13 at 7:30p

Amy Wallen reads in LA

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

WALLEN: Hosting a DimeStories anniversary in a church hall,  I had to deal with one James Lee, a human trafficker, who guzzled multiple large red plastic cups of wine, then on stage stomped his heavy steel-toed Korean army boots while ranting about killing the dirty children of our overpopulated planet while waving his manifesto, then was drug down the aisle of the church to the curb where the police arrested him. We got a restraining order to keep him from attending any more of our events, but a year later I watched on the news when he strapped a bomb to his chest, carried a gun and other ammunition into the Washington DC Discovery Channel building, kidnapped the TV show’s staff, then was shot and killed by the SWAT team. You can read his manifesto online.

Amy Wallen is associate director of the New York State Summer Writers Institute and teaches creative writing at the University of California, San Diego Extension. Her first novel was a Los Angeles Times bestseller which she read from at a Vermin on the Mount event in LA’s Chinatown in 2007. She loves cemetery walks and will do almost anything for a bag of peanut M&Ms. Not plain.

Come see Amy read at Book Show in Highland Park on Friday, April 13 at 7:30pm. 

Peter Hsu reads in LA

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

HSU: At Grown Up Story Time, the MC turned around and mooned the audience. Then somebody put a microphone up to his bare ass. And then his bare ass went on and MC’d the rest of the show.

Peter Hsu is a Los Angeles based fiction writer. He was a 2017 PEN America Emerging Voices Fellow, as well as the 2017 Artist in Residence for PEN in the Community. Peter’s stories have appeared in The Los Angeles Review, Flapperhouse, Friction Magazine, and others. He is the associate fiction editor for Angels Flight * literary west.

Come see Peter read at Book Show in Highland Park on Friday, April 13 at 7:30pm. 

Susan Henderson in LA

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

HENDERSON: I was at one of Amanda Stern’s Happy Ending series, where Ben Percy bench-pressed Amanda. Then Roy Kesey went up to read. He called me from the audience to assist. And I had to shave his legs while he read. And by “shaving his legs,” he meant putting tape on them and then ripping them off.

Susan Henderson is a five-time Pushcart Prize nominee and the recipient of an Academy of American Poets Prize. She is the author of two novels, The Flicker of Old Dreams and Up from the Blue, both published by HarperCollins. Susan lives in Kings Park, New York and blogs at the writer support group,


Naomi Hirahara in LA

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

NAOMI: Being one of the warm-up acts to Armistead Maupin in the Mission District of San Francisco (no details necessary). Also, at an event at Vroman’s a month after the election on December 7, I was interrupted at by a man declaring that the Japanese could kill a person with one finger. (I believe he was actually referring to Bruce Lee.)

Naomi Hirahara is an Edgar Award-winning mystery author and social historian. A former editor of The Rafu Shimpo newspaper, she’s written nonfiction books about gardeners in Southern California, the oldest flower market in downtown Los Angeles, the lost communities of Terminal Island, and most recently, the travails of Japanese Americans after being released from Manzanar. Her seventh and final Mas Arai mystery, HIROSHIMA BOY, was released in March. She is currently helping to adapt an independent film, “The Big Bachi,” based on her first mystery.

Come see Naomi read at Book Show in Highland Park on Friday, April 13 at 7:30pm. 

Ryan Bradford in San Diego

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

BRADFORD: Vermin on the Mount host Jim Ruland trying to be funny.

Ryan Bradford is the author of the novel Horror Businessas well as the founder and editor of Black Candies, a journal of literary darkness. He is the winner of Paper Dart’s 2015 Short Fiction Contest. His writing has appeared in Vice, Monkeybicycle, Hobart, New Dead Families and [PANK]. He also writes the column “Well, That Was Awkward” for San Diego’s largest progressive weekly, San Diego CityBeat.

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

Keith Morris in LA

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

KEITH: One night I was partying with The Ramones at the Tropicana when they were filming Rock and Roll High School. In those days, the Tropicana was practically a clubhouse for touring bands that came to L.A. to play at the Whisky. At one point Jim Morrison had a permanent space at the Tropicana. There was a restaurant in front called Duke’s that everyone called Duke’s grease shoot because the food was horrible. You really had to hold on to not lose it.

The staff at the Tropicana was cool because they were used to all kinds of oddball behavior. It was almost expected. The Ramones played the Whisky and afterward everybody ended up at the Tropicana. A lot of people were there: Stan Lee from the Dickies, Phast Phreddie Patterson, Jeffrey Lee Pierce and Joan Jett were all hanging out by the pool.

One of the things I liked about The Ramones is that they didn’t look punk. They had that Prince Valiant, Ivanhoe, Knights of the Round Table look that a lot of garage bands used to go for back in the ‘60s. Everybody else at the time was wearing short, spiked hair. I was thinking about hair for whatever reason when I noticed a pair of hedge trimmers. I grabbed them and gave myself a haircut, chopping off all of my hair. I don’t know how I managed to make it to work down at the bait shop in Hermosa Beach the next day, but my dad’s partner’s wife wanted to know what had happened to my hair.

“I cut it myself.”

“That’s pretty obvious, Keith.”

Keith Morris is the founding vocalist of Black Flag, the Circle Jerks and OFF! His memoir, My Damage: The Story of a Punk Rock Survivor, was published by Da Capo Press in 2016

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

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.