By Emme Raus
Esteemed novelist and University of Alabama creative writing professor Michael Martone gave a lecture at Ivy Hall at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 26. Martone is the author of more than twenty works including the collection of short stories “Four for a Quarter” as well as “Michael Martone,” an investigative autobiography based on a series of contributor’s notes for various publications. The silver-maned author gave a charismatic talk and answered questions from the audience for roughly an hour.
To launch his reading, the unconventional speaker gave his phone number to students in the audience and encouraged the younger crowd to text him during his speech, stating that he will be happy to look over the texts when he had finished.
Over the course of the lecture, Martone read excerpts from seven vastly different pieces, including works that had been rejected for publication. He began with a funny contributor’s note from “Michael Martone” that detailed what he referred to as a “false biography.” The excerpt claimed that Martone’s mother – also an English teacher at his high school – continuously wrote his essays for school including an award-winning poem.
Martone followed his edgy ‘autobiography’ with a sneak-peek at one of his latest novels titled “Blue Guide to Indiana,” influenced by the travel guidebook series “Blue Guides.” The mid-west native led the audience on a fictional art tour through the Musee de Bob Ross, a tribute to the ‘Happy Little Tree’ public-TV painter popular in the 1980s.
Martone was like the Energizer Bunny in how he managed to create clever transitions and introductions to his various excerpts without ever losing momentum. His next reading was from a short story called “Leap Second” featured in “Four for a Quarter.” Sporting a 25 cent-patterned bow-tie, Martone was happy to relate to the crowd his favoritism of the number four – an odd choice for basing a collection of short stories around considering the typical magic number for writers is usually three.
His next excerpt was from a wacky science fiction book about Indiana soon to be out in bookstores titled “Amish in Space.” However, Martone’s most hilarious reading was from a rejected piece he had written for the erotic literary website www.nerve.com. The Editor-In-Chief asked him to sexualize an everyday object with these limitations:
- The object cannot be normally considered erotic.
- The object cannot be considered erotic to the writer.
So what object did Martone settle on? A bottle of chocolate syrup? A dog collar? Guess again. The experimental writer decided to go with a thermostat and I give his attempt an A for effort as well as humor. The Editor-In-Chief ultimately decided that Martone could go further in his sexualization of the thermostat and published his revised version that Ivy Hall listeners’ sadly did not hear.
Afterwards, Martone read the audience a selection from “Winesburg, Indiana,” a zany work of fiction with a cast of small-town characters who learn to appreciate what it is to be human by uncovering alien scat in the park, a cafeteria full of zombies and the ghost of a holy man, among other things.
The magnetic speaker concluded with an excerpt from “Black Box,” a darker piece published in McSweeney’s magazine.
Martone revealed to the audience that his stories of Midwestern culture and society began with a fascination with Greek mythologies coupled with the famous classist author, Edith Hamilton. This resulted in his discovery that Athens in its golden age was not much bigger than his hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana. The author shared how this realization made him question “why should some people tell their stories while others are not able to?”
When a student asked Martone what he learned from his rejection letters, the writer replied he learned to “lower his standards.” He advised student writers to “not be interested in quality but more in quantity and endurance” as we learned from the author with about two-dozen publications and the ability to keep a crowd listening to him talk for an hour without taking one sip of water.
“Blue Guide to Indiana” and “Four for a Quarter” were sold downstairs at Ivy Hall after the lecture.