Dale Peck Gets Freedom: A Subjective Account of the Mischief + Mayhem Party


Writers came out on 9/28/2010 to celebrate the launch of Mischief + Mayhem, an imprint affiliated with OR Books and a collective of five writers: Dale Peck, Lisa Dierbeck, Joshua Furst, Choire Sicha and DW Gibson. The collective aims to publish fiction that is “formally inventive, socially irresponsible and sometimes just plain reckless without having to worry about pleasing conservative editorial boards or corporate bookstore executives.” Mischief + Mayhem’s mission is supported by Wild Rag, a webzine whose regular contributors include Ben Greenman. Following is a subjective account of my evening at the Mischief + Mayhem party.

Lisa Dierbeck gives me a cardboard mask on a stick. It’s a picture of a person with a black kerchief over his mouth. “We’ve been expecting you,” she says. She’s in a black and white striped top with something red tied around her neck. Through the door I see half-naked people dancing on black rectangular pedestals. “Your book [The Autobiography of Jenny X] is the first one you’re publishing,” I say.
“My book is the inaugural book,” she says and laughs. She is friendly. “I shouldn’t say that. My book is our first published.”

I purchase one raffle ticket because one of the prizes is the opportunity to have Dale Peck review a book of your choice.

Under the mirrored ceiling, Ben Greenman is texting. I walk up to him and say I had seen him win the CLMP Spelling Bee at the Diane von Furstenburg store in the spring.

“Dirndl?” I say.
“Colophon,” he says.

He says he’s giving a talk with the rap artist Common at the New Yorker Festival (which happened last weekend). He pulls out two pages each ripped at one edge, on which it says “Common” and has text underneath. “This is the afterward from The Anthology of Rap…. I probably shouldn’t have done that.”
“It’s my birthday,” he says. He’s pretending this is all for his birthday “including the burlesque dancers.” We look out at the dancers. There are two large chandeliers over the floor.
Ben Greenman waves his hand when he talks and hits the head of a man sitting on the couch next to us. Somehow we get on the subject of Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher. “Everyone’s so shocked by infidelity. And yet it’s so common. If that guy that I just hit was cheating on his girlfriend, would you be surprised?… We should write a position paper on infidelity.”

I look at Twitter. 50cent: This joint is sexy somebody gonna make a baby to this. 7:56PM.

I ask Rob Spillman what book he would have Dale Peck review. He says The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen.

Lisa Dierbeck walks on stage. There is a poster on stage for her new book, The Autobiography of Jenny X. She reads from what sounds like a manifesto. “…further proof,” she says, “that we need art to survive.” People clap.

Joshua Furst is on stage next and says you can pre-order one of Lisa’s books or get a Mischief + Mayhem t-shirt. “They’re really fucking hot.” He is wearing a kerchief around his neck and an olive colored cap with a brim.
He says that the Mischief + Mayhem collective, of which there are five—himself, Choire Sicha, Lisa Dierbeck, Dale Peck and DW Gibson—disagree about a lot of things. “For example,” he says, “I think Rick Moody is the best writer of his generation.” People laugh. Furst is referring to the 2002 book review that Dale Peck wrote for The New Republic on Rick Moody’s book The Black Veil in which Dale Peck said, “Rick Moody is the worst writer of his generation.” Joshua Furst says, “The creative impulse is inseparable from the political impulse.” Dale Peck lifts up the poster of The Autobiography of Jenny X and walks across the stage holding up the poster and bouncing it from side to side. “We’re looking for fiction that will fuck you up.”

“We have a few really hot go-go dancers,” says Dale Peck. He’s in a charcoal pinstripe suit with something red tied around his neck. Beige faux leather couches line the edge of the stage, the walls of which are quilted with brass studs. He says we probably didn’t know the dancers accepted tips. “Give the people some money,” he says. He thanks many people who helped with the venture including the man who made “the drawing that you’re all holding on sticks right now.”

A dancer puts a water pitcher full of bills on the pedestal on which she had been dancing and picks up empty cups and used napkins. Dollar bills are pinned against her hips with the gold straps of her thong. Her nipples are covered by gold stars.

Behind Dale Peck is a blue screen. According to a pamphlet I’ve been given, the evening’s centerpiece is a “massive literary exquisite corpse—a collectively written story that dramatizes what can happen when writers work together for a common goal.” Dale Peck apologizes for the “technical glitch” due to which the exquisite corpse game—which is supposed to involve 29 participants around the world—is off. He looks at the screen, which is covering a niche draped with a crushed velvet curtain and lit from above. Dale Peck lists some of the things Mischief + Mayhem is concerned with: “Politics, art, gender, race” and “justice.” Dale Peck says they are also concerned with “underbelly.” That we can “expect a lot of underbelly.” Choire Sicha, editor of The Awl, couldn’t be there, he says. I can’t hear why. I look at Choire Sicha’s Tweets.

Choire: I haven’t been turned away at the door of a Soho House in so long! Again I feel so youthful. Is Kim Cattrall here? 8:54PM.

Dale Peck and Lisa Dierbeck are holding cans of spray paint. “We’re giving away spray paint,” they say.
Dale Peck and Lisa Dierbeck give away other stuff.

Choire: I was jaded too soon. Best Soho House ever! 9:21PM.

They give away a photographic print by Matthew Pillsbury donated by Barbara Epler of New Directions. It’s valued at $2500.

Choire: “There’s synchronized swimming! [email protected]: oh no you din’t RT @Choire: I was jaded too soon. Best Soho House ever!” 9:29PM.

Three women get on stage to choose the book that Dale Peck will review. They look concerned. One holds a microphone and talks into it uncertainly. They decide that Dale Peck will negatively review Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. People in the audience collectively say, “Boo.” Dale Peck says the review will be announced on the website.

A young man, Michael Leviton, dressed neatly plays guitar and sings on stage. The go-go dancers dance on either side of him. The music is at a pace not optimal for go-go dancing.

I see Dale Peck by an area that looks like a living room, Dale Peck says Jonathan Franzen was at the bar and left when Freedom was chosen. He says he’s going to send Jonathan Franzen a friendly email. I ask Dale Peck if he has started reading Freedom yet. “Well now I’m going to have to,” he says. He had gotten the book as a gift a few days earlier.

About why the collective was started, Dale Peck says, “I’m tired of writing books that sell 5,000, 10,000 copies and being told I’m a failure by big publishing houses.” Mischief + Mayhem is a way to get the books they care about into the hands of an audience who wants to read them. The collective will publish roughly 6 books per year. “No book printed until it’s sold,” says Dale Peck.

I walked out the door and Joshua Furst is there in his kerchief and hat. A woman walks by. “I like your Zapatista outfit,” she says and pulls his kerchief lightly.
About Mischief + Mayhem Joshua says it will change the relationship between authors, readers and marketers.
“Josh do you have a cigarette,” a tall woman says to Josh. She is with another woman who is not as tall. “I have a Menthol” he says and props a cigarette on the counter. “From my fiancé’s bachelorette party.”
“That’s the first line of a novel,” says one of the women.
“The first line of Amy Sohn’s next novel,” says Joshua Furst as the two women walk out.

Choire: “Nb4r http://twitpic.com/2syhpk.” 11:16PM.

Rozalia Jovanovic is a founding editor of Gigantic, a magazine of short prose and art. She is the Deputy Editor of Flavorpill and has received fellowships from The MacDowell Colony and Columbia University. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming from Unsaid, The Believer, Everyday Genius, Guernica, elimae, and Esquire.com. She blogs at The Astonishing Egg and is The Rumpus New York Editor. More from this author →