The latest installation of Converminsations features San Diego writer Amy Wallen who has very good reason to be excited about tonight's American Idol results.
JIM RULAND: What are you going to read on June 14?
AMY WALLEN: Since I'm not sure what I'm working on novel-wise right now, I have about three things in the works, and since I’m so focused on DimeStories, I thought I might promote that by reading a couple of those.
JR: How did you become the worldwide leader in 3-minute stories?
AW: Five years ago San Diego Writers, Ink asked me to host a prose open mic. I said sure, BUT I wasn't going to have a featured reader, and I wasn't going to have a situation where you had to sit through someone reading for 45 minutes about their horrific childhood. (Boy will I be embarrassed if the other readers at Vermin on the Mount are reading about their horrific childhoods.) The SDWInk folks said it wouldn't work. I said give me three months and if it doesn't work I'll do it your way. Five years later, not only are there multitudes flocking to the abusive and cruel 3-minute rule open mic, but we now have Dime-Offs and showcases and podcasts are in the works. I'm not saying I was right, I'm just saying.
JR: Is DimeStories five-year anniversary coming up?
AW: Our fifth anniversary is October 2 at Swedenborg Hall!
JR: You have a reputation for being quite strict with the time limit. What are some of the more extreme measures you've taken to enforce this rule?
AW: Oy, the worst was when I had a couple of blue-haired ladies in their Rockports accost me one night. But I didn't back down. This was early on. One of them wanted to read their entire short story (I'm sure it was 45 minutes of their horrific childhood) and so they needed more than 3 minutes. Sorry, I said, that's the rule. Well, they put their little nubby wrinkly faces right up to mine and started telling me how the story wouldn't fit in three minutes and I said they'd have to find another venue. Then one of them stomped their rubber-soled shoe on my instep and waggled their uvula at my nose as she screamed that her friend had to read her entire story. Go someplace else, I said, or just find an excerpt. At this point I was backed up against the wall of mirrors at The Grove, but I wasn't going to be softhearted just because they only had about seven more years left to live. “You don't understand!” the stomper yelled. “No, YOU don't understand,” I said back (I, of course, never raised my voice because I'm telling my side and that's how I remember it.) “Then we're leaving!” they shouted. "Happy editing!" I said sweetly as their Rockports skidded out the door.
JR: That sounds pretty awful.
AW: Another time I had a woman reading a story that she had won a Pulitzer for. The timer went off and she kept reading. So after about 30 seconds I beeped the timer again and sidled up closer to her on stage. She kept reading. After another 30 seconds I got closer and closer. She kept reading, but held her hand up to me as if to say, "Just hold on!" At 5 minutes and the audience glaring at me, I stood right next to her and whispered your time is up. She nodded but kept reading. Finally she finished. So when she stepped down the audience would hardly applaud. I said, "I guess when you win a Pulitzer you don't have to pay attention to time."
JR: Most people seem to welcome the rule...
AW: We rarely have many folks go over time anymore. I've earned the moniker, "Time Dominatrix." And they are the Time Submitters, because they return month after month for more abuse and they bring their friends and family to endure.
JR: I'm curious to know if you're up for talking about the whole American Idol thing.
AW: If I can't exploit this whole American Idol thing then it has been a complete waste of my integrity. I like to think of myself as having that cushy seat on the inside that I could watch the whole thing, but I wasn't so involved that I was blinded by the starlight. So, ask me anything and everything and I'll give you the National Enquirer truth.
JR: Okay, so let’s get this out of the way: What is your relationship to Adam Lambert?
AW: I'm two apostrophes away: Adam's Dad's girlfriend. Or, as I prefer to say, I sleep with Adam Lambert's dad.
Amy offers some helpful instruction to Adam's police escort.
JR: How is American Idol different than a Dime-Off?
AW: Great question! Our DimeStories judges don't slice the reader open and smear their entrails across the stage and backdrop. Although I do occasionally pistol whip the reader with my timer if they go over three minutes.
JR: Authors often comment on how weird it is when their characters go out in the world and take on a life of your own. What's it like to see someone close to you go out achieve super stardom?
AW: Mostly it pisses me off. I'm the jealous sort. But then I think, “How the hell can I exploit this?” Seriously, I love Adam and I get giddy seeing how well he's done. He has always said he wanted to be a rock star, and I just had a hunch that if anyone could figure out how to do it, he would. Watching how the show works from the inside, how the songs are chosen and taken away and reassigned, Adam's been a big inspiration for me. I watch him and I think, "He knows exactly who he is with every song, no matter if it was his choice or not, he makes it his." At 27, that's amazing. At 45, I have no idea who I am from week to week, story to story.
JR: Evaluate Ryan Seacrest as a host.
AW: Annoying. But I also see that he's in some way a good friend of Simon's and I have the greatest respect for Simon. Simon is always stick-to-his-guns on how it's about the talent and not the frivolity. Ryan's a little milquetoast for me. And having seen his jokes posted on the teleprompter for him, and him not really using much imagination, I'm disappointed. Then again, someone else is writing those jokes, so I shouldn't blame the empty cartridge.
JR: What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen at American Idol?
AW: Simon walks around the dark backstage with a very tall young gofer right behind him holding a flashlight over Simon's head so that he can see in the dark.
JR: What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen at DimeStories?
AW: At an anniversary party about two years ago I looked up from the lectern and in the audience two men had wrestled one of the audience members to the ground and they were dragging him out the doors of the building. The show must go on! So, I called the next reader and we kept going even though the sirens wailed when the police arrived, and then again when the ambulance arrived. Turned out the guy whose reading had been more a rant than a reading had been about to go ballistic and the "bouncer" guys decided to take him out before he took us out. We had to get a restraining order. But we never stopped reading!
Come see Amy read an all-star selection of DimeStories from her celebrated series at The Mountain on June 14.