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Festival of Books: Authors Keret and Gray keep the whimsy coming

Click to view photos from the Festival of Books

Leave it to a panel dubbed "Whimsical Visions" to feature multiple references to cephalopods.

Even though moderator L.A. Times staff writer Carolyn Kellogg apologized for the panel's name, there was no stopping the title from creeping into a lively and witty discussion among writers whose recent works play with reality.

The mollusk-in-question first came up as the panel was asked about the effect of the Internet on its writing and whether its stranger-than-fiction qualities served as an inspiration. "Every Wikipedia entry I read inevitably leads me back to squid," said short story writer Ben Loory.

PHOTOS: Festival of Books

Etgar Keret, writer of the acclaimed recent collection "Suddenly, a Knock on the Door," jumped right in with what could've been another reality-bending future story. "I think that the squid write the Wikipedia," he said.

In discussing the appeal of trafficking in unreality in their writing, Keret compared realism to an item on the menu that was "a good dish, but not the only option."

"When you write, the very bottom line is passion to share something with people," explained Keret, who fellow panelist Amelia Gray later described as the "Neil Young of writers" as she jotted down things he said. "If you meet a girl and you kiss her, and you feel you’re floating in air, then why not write that you’re floating in air, just because someone on the Discovery Channel said it’s something you can’t do."

FULL COVERAGE: Festival of Books

"It's not truth," Keret continued in reference to reality. "It's just something we all agreed upon."

The conversation frequently turned toward the process of finding such surreal visions in fiction, which in the of case Keret could be likened to trust falls, a phenomenon he encountered watching sitcoms. "I start falling back, and I wait for the story to catch me," Keret said. "Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t, and you wake with a bump on the head." Loory agreed, likening the experience of writing to being "trapped in a horrible maze" where the end reward was to finally stop writing.

Novelist Sara Levine also said she relied on discovery, and said that her work on the follow-up to the recent "Treasure Island!!!" had hit a wall as she tried to plan too much of the story ahead. "I don’t even know who these people are yet," she said. "I need to just start writing sentences and collect voices."

Gray, author of the recently published novel "Threats," compared the process to relying on a hidden part of her brain, one where plot points are "marinating" as the story progresses and could be disrupted if she followed an outline. "Whereas if I just put someone in a laundromat it’s more of: What does that look like, what’s over here?" she said, going on to describe a scene that grew more surreal. "I’m a squid typing, that’s all I do," she deadpanned.

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-- Chris Barton

Photo: Amelia Gray and Etgar Keret speak during the "Whimsical Visions" panel Sunday. Credit: Ringo H.W. Chiu / For The Times

 
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