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Vermin on the Mount: Gary Amdahl, David Francis, Chiwan Choi

April 4, 2009 | 12:20 pm


One of my favorite reading series returns Sunday with writers Gary Amdahl, David Francis and Chiwan Choi. I count Vermin on the Mount among my favorites because it's in a bar, which makes for a more fun atmosphere than an overlighted room; it's at the Mountain Bar, the incredibly beautiful space partly owned by sculptor Jorge Pardo, who designed the tiles and elaborate light fixtures; and because the name is kind of a dopey pun.

Host Jim Ruland, who has been known to distribute gifts and birthday cakes during the readings' intermission, has been interviewing the authors on the series blog. Somehow, all their conversations turned to Russia.

Ruland asked Amdahl ("I Am Death") about the novella format -- does he set out to write them?

Amdahl: Yes, I set out to write novellas ... I hear people talking about wanting to make an investment of time, I guess, and a minimal kind of attention, in a story when they buy a book, and the novella, I dunno, makes them feel like they’re not getting full value on their entertainment dollar. It’s horrifying and stupid. Imagine a gang of Russian financial wizards (bright boy bankers and slavically suicidal hedge funders, with “an interest in the arts”), telling Tolstoy that “The Death of Ivan Illych” is, at 40-45 pages, neither fish nor fowl and therefore unpublishable: pad it, Leo old man, or gut it -- all stories can benefit from cutting, da?

Francis is the author of "Stray Dog Winter," which mixes its protagonist's early childhood in Australia with his mid-20s in Soviet Russia. Ruland asked if it is easier to write about his native Australia after having moved away:

Francis: Maybe there’s a perspective about Australia I experience from this distance, which allows me to write about it in a particular way, a way that might not have emerged had I stayed there. My first book was set mostly in very rural Australia and the Eastern Shore of Maryland, my second between less rural Australia and Cold War Moscow, written from L.A. or Paris, and also some rewriting back on the farm in Australia. I’ve tended not to revisit places I’m writing about while I’m writing, but prefer to rely on skerricks (an Australian word meaning skerricks) of memory to spawn the scenes – I was tempted to go to Moscow to refamiliarize myself as I wrote 'Stray Dog Winter' but a writer friend from L.A., Les Plesko, who was writing a book about Budapest, visited Hungary for “research” and felt it skewed his inherent feel for the book.

Choi, a poet and fictioneer, keeps a blog called Siberia/LA. Where did that name come from?

I recently changed it to Siberia because of three things: 1) when my wife first moved to L.A., we were sitting one night at Mani's Bakery on Fairfax and she said, 'Damn, this is the coldest city in the world!' 2) I have a friend, like a little brother, who is obsessed with visiting Russia and getting as close to Siberia as possible. 3) This city is so impossible to survive sometimes. It is a hard hard place. You can't imagine how easy I found New York to be after having survived childhood, teen years, adult life in Los Angeles ... I'm sort of burnt out on this city, as much as I love it. Don't get me wrong. I think there is a far greater writing community in Los Angeles right now than in New York. But I'm tired of having a car. I'm tired of having no parks.

Chinatown is right near the enormous art park project Not A Cornfield, and the adventurous can take the metro to get there. In any event, some of L.A.'s writing community will be at Vermin on the Mount on Sunday, myself included.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Image: Jim Ruland