It’s standing room only the first Tuesday of every month at the Whip-In, the Indian restaurant/bar/performance space off of Interstate 35 in the 78704.
Owen Egerton, all brown jacket and colorful scarf of a length somewhere between “comforting” and “Doctor Who,” leaps onto the stage.
In sharp contrast to a lot of people with a novel and a book of short stories under his or her belt, Egerton looks more than comfortable up there. Then again, he is, as his website puts it, a “screenwriter, novelist, performer.” He grabs the microphone.
“You have 12 seconds to finish your meal and leave and then we are going to begin,” Egerton says.
Most of the assembled know what he is talking about. A few people, probably folks who just came in from out of the cold for a plate of Indian food and a microbrew, look baffled. Egerton is silent for, well, about 12 seconds.
“Hey, everybody welcome to the One Page Salon!” he says, prompting something between a smattering of applause and a genuine round of it.
Egerton lays out the night’s agenda: This is “a gathering of folks from the creative world in Austin who are going to be reading one page of a work in progress.”
He notes that he attempted to time it to Soft Skull Press’s reissue of “How Best to Avoid Dying,” an updated version of Egerton’s 2007 short story collection, complete with four new pieces. But it isn’t. He ended up being off by a few weeks.
Egerton opens with one page from a dead writer, this time Ray Bradbury from “The Joy of Writing;” here is a bit of it:
“If you are writing without zest, without gusto, without love, without fun, you are only half a writer. It means you are so busy keeping one eye on the commercial market, or one ear peeled for the avant-garde coterie, that you are not being yourself. You don’t even know yourself. For the first thing a writer should be is — excited.”
And we’re off.
The salon idea
Egerton is a guy with toes in Austin’s stand-up comedy, screenwriting and literary fiction scenes. He noticed something that seemed to be true about all of the them: They didn’t talk to each other.
“It was a situation where I know this amazing screenwriter who doesn’t know the woman who runs the Texas Book Festival who doesn’t know this cool filmmaker over here who doesn’t know this improv troupe over there,” he says.
So Egerton came up with a solution.
“What I wanted was a salon,” Egerton says. We’re at a table at the Whip-In about an hour or so before showtime. “I wanted an event where there would be eating and drinking and just talking.”
In between the chatter, there would be readings by various creative types working on something. The operative word is “working.”
“The idea is a reading series where the thing being read is short and not necessarily polished,” Egerton says. “One page means that each reader doesn’t feel a huge obligation to entertain a crowd for very long. Get a writer from each of these different circles to read a page with a big intermission in between and plenty of room for hang-out time.”
Which means One Page is a reading with lots of different flavors and lots of time to discuss what you just heard, and the whole thing is over in about two hours. Perfect.
A writer named Tyson Midkiff comes up to the table. “Hey, it’s one of our readers,” Egerton says. “I want you to go first.”
Midkiff, a screenwriter, short story writer and good friend of Egerton’s, blanches slightly. “I like to follow the lead rather than be a leader,” he says, almost laughing.
“You’re comfortable in front of a crowd,” Egerton says. Midkiff relents.
Barring a few people who clearly used extremely small fonts (no calls out, but you know who you are and you will be punished in the next life), the concept works essentially perfectly.
The atmosphere is warm and inviting. Making the readings both short and a work-in-progress defuses anyone’s judgier impulses.
Whip-In also seems to have double-booked the room by accident, which results in two things a) the band scheduled after the reading looks a little annoyed and b) One Page has to be done by 10 p.m. (Dear Austin clubs, please look into turning over the house more often. Love, all of us.)
Egerton asks each writer three questions — what you’re working on, what was a game-changing novel for you and a random one. Most readings take between two and five minutes.
Midkiff, who says he is reading from a novel he is working on called “The Dead Climb on Top of You,” pranks Egerton and the rest of us by unfolding an enormous sheet of paper, eliciting peals of laughter and a couple of groans. Turns out he read “Sirens of Titan” when he was 8 years old, which probably explains a lot, and hopes his prose has the same effect as the Melvins (“Rude, obnoxious, makes about two records a year”).
Eater Austin editor and Texas State MFA recipient Meghan McCarron bounces onto the stage after Midkiff. McCarron recently picked up a five-figure grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation for her fantasy novel-in-progress about “how going to a magic world as a kid would really (expletive) you up.” The passage she reads is terrific.
Writer and Fantastic Fest producer Zack Carlson reads an incredibly dark page from a book with a title unprintable in a family newspaper. Monique Daviau, whom Austin recently lost to Portland, Ore., reads from “Every Anxious Wave,” a book about time travel and indie rock named after a Sebadoh lyric.
Suzy Spencer, author of “Secret Sex Lives: A Year on the Fringes of American Sexuality,” reads about, as you might imagine, sex. “Intergalactic Nemesis” creator Jason Neulander closes out the show with a piece set in New Orleans.
In between, Daviau and I chat about college radio while a young woman next to us thumbs through “Destroy All Moves,” the book about punks in movies that Carlson co-authored a few years back. Everyone is talking to everyone else.
I recall something Egerton said earlier: “I kept going to these readings, and the reader would go on for a long time. I would see someone I knew and want to chat, but there never seemed to be time when the reading was over. Everyone would just clear out.”
The March edition of One Page Salon takes place 7 p.m. March 4 at the Whip-In (1950 South Interstate 35). Readers include Mary Miller, Amanda Eyre Ward, Melanie Haupt and others.
Owen Egerton reads from and discusses “How Best to Avoid Dying” 7 p.m. March 6 at BookPeople (603 North Lamar Blvd.)
To see a video about One Page Salon, visit austin360.com.