Skip to main content

Literary Death Match wins!

D.W. Lichtenberg won musical chairs + LDM #23

Opium Magazine celebrated its 23rd epidose of Literary Death Match on Fri, November 13 - I just now realized it was Friday the 13th -- nobody said anything! In case you missed my last article on the death match I was pretty audacious in my criticism, so in addition to providing coverage of last night's event I will also address some of the things I talked about last time.

I'll get straight to that, actually:

I have a hard time respecting even the readings anymore because I know they are selected (if not tailored) to shock or provoke extreme reactions and as a result otherwise good writing goes unnoticed, unselected, neglected. We have power at these events and with this power we make statements on what is valuable. It is we who decide what is worth propagating and emulating, what should be published and why.

The readings this round were excellent, I thought. Turns out what was probably the best overall story, from a critical standpoint, "Floating Kibble Everywhere" by Shanthi Sekaran, was performed with the least amount of aplomb, accent, or zazz - so the judges' decision to advance Charlie Haas for his invigorating reading from The Enthusiast was the correct call (despite performance judge Michael Capozzola's recurring jabs at the latter author's age and appearance I think Charlie really grasped the spirit of LDM while still doing justice to the literary itinerary). Certainly no offense to Shanthi: I performed my first reading today and only looked up from the page twice! Check out her first book, just released this year, called The Prayer Room.

D.W. Lichtenberg won with an excerpt from a story called "Jason Look" and an aloof, roguish delivery. I do think this is as it should have been because D.W. clearly displayed talent and, from what I understand, Mr. Haas has already done quite well for himself (I was aware of The Enthusiast and its author - who has received a nice writeup in Publisher's Weekly). At only 24, Lichtenberg has not had much time to write or publish books, but his first, The Ancient Book of Hip, is to be released this Wednesday, November 18. It will certainly be worth checking out, and one lucky attendee caught a copy last night.

Of course, no one actually made this decision. But we'll get to that.

The judges were clear to point out the reasons for their selections. I think everyone acknowledged Shanthi's story was very good and that both decisions, in fact, were difficult. Seth Harwood, who battled D.W., read an impressive excerpt from his book Jack Wakes Up, which you can listen to (and even download) in its entirerty for free simply by clicking that last link. You can also buy the hardcopy if you prefer eyes to ears.

LDM 23 included some antics, too. D.W. used a pack of chewing gum as a prop while Seth introduced his reading with a call to arms by Old Dirty Bastard. Founder and first-time judge Todd Zuniga said "dick" a lot and was characteristically funny. Maybe it was because I was sitting in the front; it could be because I was there with David Wiegand; it could be the fact that this wasn't a Litquake event, but I thought this rendition of the "mighty battle of literary superstars" not only fun but substantial and, really, worth the time and the money. As Capozzola remarked, there are literal death matches going on across the world, and we have the privilege of attending and hanging on to every word of a literary death match here in San Francisco. When it comes down to it, this is a great way to spend a Friday night. I probably just need to calm down a bit.

Ironically, Mr. Haas' reading included the following line: "'Calm down' is the worst thing you can say to someone. It's like, 'Calm down? Oh thank you, man. I didn't realize I was showing signs of life there. God, think what could have happened!'" So, I'll keep all of that in mind - my initial statements about the LDM and my current belief that I could use a few deep breaths. I also said in my last article:

LDM is a great idea and so far it's done incredible things for attendance and overall interest in literary gatherings. But they need to be more responsible and I think open-minded to what they can accomplish besides attendance.

I still agree with this, if now from a supporter's perspective. How do you keep the people interested enough to keep attending? For starters, you keep getting great readers. I swore to myself I'd probably not go back after the last death match, but I'm glad I did, and I think I would go back to see specific writers. However, I think more could be done. The ending still irks me. As you can see, the winner was decided by musical chairs. I'm still on the fence about why we devalue the judges' importance and the overall significance of who wins the contest; this seems to me a less than responsible means of ending the night. It's a good way to avoid affront, and blame, and effective in ending the night with light-heartedness. These are all important.

But what about staging end-of-death-match contests that are more applicable to literature or to the readings themselves? What if the readers had to repeat their favorite lines from the stories that were just read or were given quotes from famous authors and asked to jumble them in a humorous way? Or were given five or ten minutes to write a new story right there on the spot and go head to head? It seems to me there could still be fun and the night could end on the same note without completely disregarding the reason we're in the room to begin with. Those are my thoughts. I understand why the Literary Death Match has such appeal and I thank Todd and Sky Hornig for their hard work in organizing the events. I hope they continue to grow.

So below I have posted almost the entire night so you can get an idea of what it's like at a death match of literary superstars. I've even included the judges because they're an integral part of the show. Arline Klatte, co-founder of Porchlight Storytelling, is the third judge, in charge of "intangibles," and I think my favorite Arline moment was when she described her passion for Charlie's use of the term "BYO ... snacks." As much as I already liked the term, I think I'll always remember her explanation. Watch it!

MORE FUN TO COME: Be sure to check out Porchlight Storytelling's monthly event this Monday, November 16 @ Verdi Club. Writers get 10 minutes to tell a story without any notes and this month's topic is "Family."
Next up:

For a TOC of my articles click here. For the latest, here.


  • Andrew O. Dugas 5 years ago

    Great coverage, but Todd lies! He has judged before, I'm almost sure, and right here in SF. Somebody please, back me up.

  • Seth Harwood 5 years ago

    Todd has *definitely* judged before! He told me so! Plus, you can tell. He did say that he's never judge "literary merit" before. Maybe that's it...

    I love this piece! Wish I'd read it before going up! Thanks for the video coverage! Awesome!


  • Todd Zuniga 5 years ago

    I judged at NYC Ep. 2 (intangibles)—and half of the first All-Star SF event (we had past winners judge, past judges read, and past hosts judge and host).

    Also, we hear this once in awhile about the finale: make them do something literary. To be honest, we should've played songs written by fiction writers for musical chairs (or bands that have writers in them). We ideally like to have a lit-bent to the finale.

    But we'll never have a strict literary finish (having people write stories on the spot, for example). It's not our aesthetic. We just made the audience listen to 32 minutes of reading. That's enough! Four stories on a Friday night. We want to end it on a high note, to undermine the seriousness of the competition. And ultimately: writers get the crap kicked out of them by life, enough (low pay, anonymity, etc.), so why make them compete on yet another thing that lives in the "gray area." Our finale is definitive, and it's not a popularity contest. It is a high note. It's fu

  • Fourteen Hills Press 5 years ago

    If you liked DWL's reading, come to his book release party! Wed. Nov. 18 7pm Space Gallery SF

  • david wiegand 5 years ago

    great piece, evan. And I liked todd's comments too, but I dunno what "fu" is. Maybe Todd's likening LDM to martial arts? hey, that would be a cool finale. Have the finalists kickbox each other. it was a great night and i even have my own personal Todd Zuniga LDM button now. I'll be the finest cowboy there.

  • reynard 5 years ago

    i'm such an idiot for not being there. i blame chelsea martin for getting me drunk and dragging me to a zine show in berkeley. (jk, i don't think either of us knew about this for some reason). i really wanna see the new opium! lots of good people in there.

    shanthi's awesome - i'm glad her writing talent was taken into account, for what it's worth.

  • Andrew O. Dugas 5 years ago

    In your face, Seattle!