Sasquatch Sex and Georgian Secret Societies: Scenes from the June 2014 Fantastic Fiction reading series at KGB Bar
by Edie Nugent
The temperature outside climbed closer to 90° than it had all year in Manhattan’s East Village for the June 18th installment of the KGB Bar’s Fantastic Fiction reading series. The famed literary watering hole was packed with nearly 40 fans of the weird fictions the series has hosted readings for since its inception in the mid-1990s. Far from stifling, the second-floor bar had its AC in overdrive and the standing-room-only event remained comfortable throughout.
June’s featured authors were Eileen Gunn and Paul Witcover. Gunn was up first, introduced by Fantastic Fiction series co-host Ellen Datlow—the legendary, award-winning former editor of Omni Magazine and over 50 fiction anthologies in the horror and fantasy genres. Gunn’s piece, titled: “Up the Fire Road” hailed from her most recent collection of short stories, Questionable Practices, a collection described by Warren Ellis as “getting to wear the eyeballs of a madwoman in your own sockets for a day.” “Up the Fire Road” did not disappoint—treating us to the strange shared experiences of Christy and Andrea, two likeable yet wholly-unreliable narrators. The two relate a questionable tale about encountering an extremely friendly Sasquatch after getting lost on a cross country skiing trip in the Pacific Northwest. Gunn read the story with undisguised amusement, driving the audience to laughter with Andrea’s recounting. Far from a menacing Bigfoot, “Up the Fire Road” finds the Sasquatch offering its cave to shelter the wayward travelers, who repay this kindness by sharing both their stash of marijuana, and their bodies, with the creature.
After a short break, during which the fans in attendance repay their KGB hosts for the free series with many drink orders, Matthew Kressel—a World Fantasy Award nominee, publisher, editor and also co-host of the Fantastic Fiction series—took the podium to introduce Brooklyn-based writer Paul Witcover. Witcover read an excerpt from Eternity in Love, the forthcoming sequel to his 2013 novel The Emperor of All Things. Set during the age of Enlightenment but before the Napoleonic Wars, the series follows the efforts of the Regulators, a secret society of clockmakers with access to horological technologies they hope will empower England against its many enemies. While Gunn’s Sasquatch story concluded in a strange cave, Witcover’s passage begins in one, a cave from which a man named Aylesford and a small group of men are escaping. The men follow the dark cave to its end and emerge on a beach where a small ship awaits, presumably so they might smuggle away an unknown artifact carried by Aylesford. Before they make good their escape, however, the phrase “hold fast in the name of the King” rings out and the beach is clouded by Redcoat musket fire. Sensing danger, Aylesford’s relic begins to glow with a supernatural light. At that very moment in the reading, thumping sounds from a band playing upstairs reverberated through the ceiling as if on cue for the battle scene.
Following the readings, fans lined up to have books signed and to chat with the authors. I was able to grab a few minutes with Ms. Gunn, who told me that, while this was not the first time she’d publicly read from “Up the Fire Road” in public, “This is the first time I’ve tried to get the complete wild Sasquatch sex scenes into it.” Now based in Seattle, Gunn used to live in New York and would often come to the KGB Fantastic Fiction reading series. “It’s a great crowd, and these readings have a fabulous history,” she remarked, “all the readings done at KGB have a fabulous history going back to the beats [generation].” She spoke of the lively readings she also participates in back on the West Coast, and how she liked to read as part of a series or at conventions because “it recharges my enthusiasm if people like the story...I don’t read stories that I’m in progress with, I only read finished stories that have been printed, because I get too weird about stuff that could be changed. It rekindles my interest in the story that I had when I was writing...to read it.”
Also in attendance was Ellen Kushner, author of Swordspoint, beloved progenitor of the “mannerpunk” fantasy sub-genre. She related that she’s been attending the KGB Fantastic Fiction series “Ever since I moved back to New York in 2006,” saying that she “used to come just for the good fellowship and food afterwards” thinking herself too impatient to sit through the readings of others, but has “come to really enjoy getting exposed to writers I didn’t know already.” She went on to say that there were “people whose writing I thought I wasn’t interested in and then I heard them read it out loud and heard their voice doing their work and kind of got a whole new take on what their work was about.”
I managed to corner Mr. Witcover, who was enveloped in a receiving line of his Gotham Writer’s Workshop students, by the bar. He told me that the support of his students felt pretty good, and that he had been involved with the Fantastic Fiction series for over a decade. When asked why he chose the excerpt for tonight’s reading, he wryly stated that when going over his working draft of Eternity in Love, “I looked in my book and everything else sucked.” When asked what he thought the importance of participating in a reading series was, he explained: “They’re great because they’re one of the only chances writers have to connect with their audience and maybe build a new audience for their work.” Also active in the New York Review of Science Fiction reading series scene, Witcover noted that the Fantastic Fiction series had “more alcohol opportunities” which he agreed was a good thing.
The July installment of the Fantastic Fiction reading series at KGB bar takes place on Wednesday, July 16th at 7pm. July’s readers are Shirley Jackson and Guggenheim Fellowship award-winning author Victor LaValle, and Hugo, Nebula and Locus award nominee Sofia Samatar. The KGB Bar is located at 85 East 4th Street just off of 2nd Avenue. www.kgbfantasticfiction.org
Edie Nugent is a freelance writer based in NYC and contributing editor to Weird Tales. She is covering the KGB Fantastic Fiction Reading Series on a monthly basis.