Reading with James Jay

I did my first reading from Madhouse Fog on April 25.  It was kind of a pre-release event.  James Jay joined me in this reading.  It must have been somewhere between the twentieth and fiftieth time I’ve done a reading with him.  For various reasons, each one seems different.

When did I first do a reading with James Jay?  I don’t know.  It probably would’ve been back in Flagstaff, somewhere around late 1994 and early 1995.  I seem to remember a basement space called the Difference Machine hosting some readings.  Did we team up there?  Was it at that other weird art space near the brewery on Beaver Street?  Our first reading together could’ve been either, neither, or both.

James Jay teamed up with me when I did a Drinks for the Little Guy reading at Bookman’s in Flagstaff in 1999.  Or maybe he didn’t.  Maybe he just booked the reading and rustled up the crowd.  I know we did Bookman’s together when Glue & Ink Rebellion came out.  I read with him at the book release events for both of his books.  He joined me on a West Coast tour to support my short story collection Barney’s Crew.

We’ve teamed up to do readings in packed theaters for big time events, in empty record stores and sweaty art galleries and the most crowded bookstore in Seattle one summer night nearly a decade ago.

This time, he joined me in the science lecture hall on the campus of CSUCI.  He was more of the big time guy than me, even though I was the one with the new book.  My students had been studying his collection The Journeymen in their writing class.  They’d spent several hours discussing his poems.  They’d written essays on his work.  Now, they were seeing him live.

I couldn’t pick a better writer to be upstaged by.


barneys_crew_cover_womanOn some nights, you just know you’re going to bomb.  If you’re lucky, someone’s there to record it.

Mickey Hess went first.  He couldn’t buy a laugh in that overheated art gallery.  And his story was funnier than the one I was planning on reading.  Joe Meno went second.  He met a wall of apathy.  And his story was more heartfelt than the one I was planning on reading.  I knew the signs.

I’d done so many readings at this point that I knew exactly how to react: read the shortest of my stories and call it a night.  For some reason, I didn’t follow that very simple advice.  Maybe it was the swampy Montreal summer heat making me ornery.  Maybe it was something about the crowd.  They were too urban, too hip for a rogue like me.  Maybe I just felt like lingering over a long story.  Who knows.

Anyway, in the face of the hostile crowd, I picked the longest story in my repertoire, and I read it nice and slowly.  Eighteen minutes, all told.  And the owner of the art gallery recorded it.  Slapped it up on the web for anyone to hear.

Last night, I was thinking about bummer readings and this night in Montreal in 2005 came to mind.  I knew that the art gallery owner had posted this sucker online.  I wondered if it was still there.  A quick Google search revealed that it is.  So, if you’re interested, you’re welcome to listen to a hot and awkward live reading of my short story “The Last Days at Fulton County Stadium” from the collection Barney’s Crew.  Just click the link below.

Sean_Carswell_Last Days at Fulton County Stadium


TWG_tour_poster_MinneapolisAfter I finished my reading at Arise Bookstore in Minneapolis, the God Damn Doo Wop Band took the stage. And, by “stage,” I mean the empty area in front of the chairs in the backyard of Arise. It was one of those perfect Minneapolis days that apparently don’t happen all that often but seem to happen every time I’m there. It was sunny, temperatures in the low eighties, an even cooler breeze. The sun was starting to set behind the bookstore. The band sat on a low wall.

The God Damn Doo Wop Band: three women who know how to spend their money on boots and tattoos and hair dye, who, more importantly, know how to sing doo wop songs. They launched into three-part-harmonies about boy troubles. On the one hand, they seemed like an authentic throwback to the Staten Island doo wop of the fifties. On the other hand, it was something totally fresh and original.

One of the band members is named Annie. She used to be in the Soviettes. She didn’t wear boots. Her Vans were worn through just above the big toe. As she sang, her big toe popped out of the hole in her shoe. A little red toenail kept the beat.