"Fiction: Closing Time" at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books brought together three writers who traffic in the darker elements of life: Patrick DeWitt ("Ablutions"), Wells Tower ("Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned") and Jerry Stahl ("Pain Killers"). Jacket Copy blogger and moderator Carolyn Kellogg (far left) first asked how far was too far.
DeWitt took this to mean vulgarity and claimed it was easy to be too vulgar, preferring to avoid ugliness for the sake of ugliness. Stahl saw his lack of a New York Times review as possible indication of an excess of vulgarity. Tower said he thought that “general hideousness serves as a sentimentality credit.” The nasty allows the sweet. DeWitt supported this “sweet and sour” balance because he’s not interested in offending people for the sake of offending.
Stahl told the crowd that if they want darkness, they should read the paper. Tower pointed out that a human being is a complicated, painful thing to be; it is the task of the fiction writer to salvage moments of transcendence and amazement. Stahl, on the other hand, said he thought the task of the fiction writer was not to bore: writers must earn the right to be read. He was always inspired by people who say the unsayable, mentioning the late J.G. Ballard. DeWitt said he was inspired by books his father had given him, especially those by Charles Portis, leading to a cross-panel discussion of "True Grit."