He had arrived in Laguna Beach from New York just eight days ago, but retired English teacher Peter Mathews almost instinctively migrated to Laguna Beach Books’ “Open Mic Night“ last Sunday. “I came here to listen,” he said.
But, picking up the creative vibe, he dashed off to get a copy of his short story, “The Heart Attacks,” which he read to an attentive crowd, only slightly exceeding the three minutes allotted each participant. Tragic and comic twists unfold in his story of a long-married couple that suffer tandem heart attacks where only one survives.
Susan McNeal Velasquez, also a first-time reader, shared her poem “Freedom,” using a horse escaped from its paddock as a metaphor for a woman retaining her independence by turning down a marriage proposal.
Why only three minutes? “We want to give everyone who signs up an opportunity to read,” said resident Michele McCormick, who with co-host Ed Kaufman, are reviving a venue for the spoken word that vanished last year.
Open Mic is a successor to OC Dime Stories, which moved to Costa Mesa from Laguna Beach, leaving local literati mostly unwilling to leave town Sunday nights for a creative venue. McCormick explained that open mic will adhere to the three-minute time limit established by Dime Stories, the new format welcomes all forms of written expression. “It can include selections from fiction, non-fiction, poetry and even song writing,” she said. “Ultimately the format will be shaped by participants and audiences.”
Kaufman, a psychiatrist with a master’s in creative writing, read from his in progress novel “Tales of a Prison Psychiatrist,” based on his experiences practicing in prisons. His writing includes a book of travel essays titled “From Monks to Mountain Gorillas; A Family’s Global Journey.
McCormick, a psychologist and writer, read “The Miracle of Sin,” a section from her impending memoir that includes a bit of ironic clerical wisdom stating that “depression is the result of unconfessed sins.”
“Ed and I are both in the mental health field but we never talk about work, just books and writing,” she said.
The audience composed of readers and listeners contained full-time professional writers with bloggers, journalists and listeners also in the mix. Most were local residents alerted by the book store newsletter. “I got several phone calls from regular customers but we also got some new people,” said Jane Hanauer, owner of Laguna Beach Books, which also hosts monthly book club meetings and frequent author events.
“What we hope for is to create a sense of community. We invite everyone to come with or without a writing sample,” she said.
The event, which Kaufman and McCormick plan quarterly, is free of charge, but donations for food and libations are welcome. As owner of the town’s only independent book store, Hanauer noted that in the eight years since the shop opened, the ranks of independent book sellers nationwide have shrunk to 2,100 from 6,000.
Dennis Lockwood, taking his inspiration from the Sandy Hook shootings for the short story “I Had a Dream,” read a nightmarish account of how future school-aged kids are armed and under constant surveillance by paranoid parents. Lockwood, a full-time writer who also writes music, is currently at work on a mystery novel based on a killer of transgender individuals.
Susan Dworkin, author of “The Nazi Officer’s Wife,” read from her in progress novel “Landfill,” a work filled with innuendo, intrigue and the fine points of salesmanship.
But it was blogger and cat lover Pamela Knudsen who stole the show with “All Blue Eyes Turn Gold,” a tale of a kitten rescued, irresistible eyes and the ghost of Frank Sinatra.
“There are so many good writers in Laguna Beach and a lot of them are introverts. Open Mic is a good opportunity to share their work and support other writers in a safe, non-threatening space,” said McCormick.