I sat at the candlelit bar of Lone Palm on Tuesday evening (Litquake has a knack for choosing the sexiest venues), where a small gathering of regulars and literary mavens mingled while waiting for the arrival of Matthew Specktor and Glen David Gold to discuss Matthew’s newest novel, American Dream Machine. After a few sips of beer and introductions to the bar mates on either side of me, the speakers sat down and took the spotlight. Gold began the conversation with an age old question: Los Angeles or San Francisco? Specktor promptly replied that the feud was a sham, and that San Francisco won long ago. I’ve never understood this debate as both cities have alluring cultures, but he did make the convincing point that you could walk around at 11 AM in San Francisco and most people still won’t be at work.
Matthew was born in Los Angeles to a talent agent father and a mother who was a disgruntled screenwriter, and she often warned him to stay away from the movie business in L.A., and to read Hemingway instead. Being born into the business with a knack for writing, Matthew grabbed opportunities that seem straight from the movies, like working for Francis Coppola to find short stories that could be turned into films. He described how writing scripts felt like having sex in a wetsuit (rubbery and horrifying, I’m guessing), and after writing two unpublished novels and a screenplay he hated, something in his fiction changed. He used to be ashamed to admit where he was from, but when there was nothing left to lose he had no choice but to go back to writing from the perspective of the L.A. kid.
It was fascinating to hear Specktor’s take on the Los Angeles novel, and how he has the rare ability to set a story in L.A. and consider it emotionally and geographically real, instead of using it as a tool for blatant satirization. American Dream Machine bloomed from these talents, and Glen held up a giant stage light on the book so Matthew could read a few pages for us. He introduced us to Beau, a strangely charismatic man with a successful Hollywood talent agency in the 70’s. I was blown away by how absorbed I became in the story in just a few short moments. Here are some of my favorite lines:
(On L.A.’s fickleness): “Its forever institutions, so quick to disappear”
(When Beau stumbles on George Clooney throwing up in a bush): “He touched my arm like a shy bride”
(And my favorite): “God’s palm twinkling with checkered lights and hot wind”
Matthew explained that the book mentions real people, but they only pass through the edges of the book, and we often aren’t even sure that it is them. I love this idea because it gives the story a level of authenticity without oversaturating it with recognizable names.
The conversation between the two authors was effortless, and the boundless wit of both produced ample entertainment. After the reading, I had the pleasure of sharing a drink (or three) with Matthew, and we chatted about our favorite L.A. authors like Nathaniel West and Bukowski. He’s an awesome guy and a great writer; now working on his fourth novel, one of his books is to become a show on a high profile network. Stay tuned for more Specktor!
Michelle Greenberg is a Litseen intern and Creative Writing student at SFSU. She likes to play drums and write poetry in her free time, and is obsessed with Charles Bukowski, Mexican food, and cats. She wants to publish at least one book of her original poetry and/ or own a guinea pig farm when she grows up.