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LAist Interview: Jim Ruland

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Jim Ruland is a writer who has had a strong impact on the LA literary scene. He hosts a series of literary readings called "Vermin on the Mount" in Chinatown and supports many writers and lit magazines. Jim also nurtures the talents of students who take his composition classes at Santa Monica Community College. A devout punk rocker, his work has appeared in the late, great punk magazine, "Flipside," and Razorcake magazine.

Jim served in the Navy as a deck seaman in 1987 and is working on a memoir about his adventures cruising the western Pacific aboard the U.S.S. Meyerkord. On October 15, 2005, Gorsky Press will publish "Big Lonesome," Jim's first collection of short stories.

Lucky for Angelenos, Jim launched "Vermin on the Mount" at the Mountain Bar in Chinatown last year. The next “Vermin on the Mount” is on Saturday, September 17 at 8 PM. Organized to celebrate the debut of the first print edition of Opium Magazine, an online humor magazine, this week’s event includes appearances by Opium Magazine founder Todd Zuniga and his West Coast Opium All-Stars: Pasha Malla, Elizabeth Ellen and Melissa Bell. Locals Todd Goldberg and Josh Bearman will also read their work on Saturday.

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Check out LAist contributor Carolyn Kellogg's podcast with Jim at Pinky's Paperhaus.

Age and Occupation:
37. Writer, educator, impresario

How long have you lived in Los Angeles, and which neighborhood do you live in?
I’ve lived in LA for the last 10 years and reside in Playa del Rey.

Why do you choose to live in Los Angeles?
I didn’t; it chose me. I wanted to stay in California after my stint in the Navy, but I went back to Virginia for the in-state tuition. After I graduated, a cousin and a friend from the Navy both invited me to come out to LA. It turns out they both lived in North Hollywood, blocks away from each other. I took that as a sign, packed up all my belongings in a pair of seabags, and moved to LA.

What gave you the idea to start Vermin on the Mount? How does it operate? What is the process of putting it on?
I was one of those people who would bitch about how there was no literary scene in Los Angeles and then do nothing about it. Well, it turns out I was right: there is no one scene; there are dozens of them. What I try to do is tap into as many of them as possible. I feature novelists and short story writers, punk rockers and poets, journos and bloggers. For instance, this Saturday we’re celebrating the West Coast release of New York-based OpiumMagazine.print #1 with literary humorists from New York, Ann Arbor and not one, but two writers from Canada. Then novelist Tod Goldberg is going to read from his new collection of short stories and Josh Bearman is doing something in connection with his new Yeti-related project. Of course, all readings are unique events, but Vermin is uniquely unique. The only other one like it that I know of is Writers with Drinks in San Francisco.

What do you want attendees to get out of it?
An overwhelming urge to buy drinks and books.

How do you select performers for the event? What is your pitch to them?
It varies. Sometimes I aggressively seek out writers I like. Sometimes I collaborate with a magazine (like Swink or Opium) and they bring in amazing writers. Sometimes the payola from the indie publishers is too massive to turn down.

What do you want performers to get out of it?
A nice buzz. A place to read material they might not feel comfortable reading in a brightly lit bookstore or academic auditorium. Some phone numbers.

What is the best skill that writers should develop when they read their work in public? How can they make a reading work in a performative situation?
There's no skill involved: simply know the material. Everybody gets nervous when they read in front of large groups of people. That's a given. The idea is to know the material so well that when you hear the words come out of your mouth they're a comfort to you. I think a writer should be as intimate with his or her material as an actor or musician. I'm not saying that writes should perform their work. But they're your words. Own them.

" Big Lonesome" your first book of short stories is about to be published. How long did it take you to write the stories? Is there a common theme running through them?
A few are recent but at least one is over 10 years old. There is a theme, but I don't think it's useful to talk about because it's not a linked collection. The stories are presented in a number of genres, but have a way of resisting classification. I mean how do you classify a story about Dick Tracy as a San Fernando Valley cop who goes to the moon? There's a little history, a little crime, and a lot of weirdness.

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You once wrote a story called "The Previous Adventures of Popeye the Sailor." If Popeye lived in LA, where would he live and what would he be doing this weekend?
Actually, when he's not at sea, Popeye lives in San Diego, but you'll have to come to my book release party on October 15 at the Mountain to find out what that fucker's been up to.

How often do you ride the MTA subway or light rail?
Whenever I take the Surfliner to visit my girlfriend in San Diego I take the bus to Wilshire/Western and the red line to Union Station. I do this a couple times a month. The Surfliner, by the way, is California's best-kept secret.

What are your favorite movies or TV shows that are based in LA?
"Barton Fink" and "Repo Man." This is going to sound strange, but I found the fact that someone made a movie about a stranger coming to LA and writing very badly and almost getting killed as a result incredibly encouraging.

Best LA-themed book?
Nathaneal West's "Day of the Locust. "

Share your best celebrity sighting experience.
I saw Steven Wright at the Palomino in North Hollywood once. I approached him, told him I was a fan, and asked him if he'd ever read "Gravity's Rainbow." He told me I was the third or fourth person who'd asked him that and asked me what it was about. Paranoia, I said, and Steven Wright, king of the deadpan comics, cracked up.

In your opinion, what's the best alternate route to the 405?
North/south is for wankers.

What's the best place to walk in LA?
If you work in Hollywood, straight into the tar pits. Seriously, I love walking on the Strand from Manhattan Beach to Hermosa Beach. It's one of those rare places where you feel like you're on vacation in your own city. If you know what side streets to hit, it can be a pretty spectacular bar crawl, too.

It's 9:30 pm on Thursday. Where are you coming from and where are you going?
I've just finished teaching class at Santa Monica Community College and if I'm anxious to catch the end of a Dodger game I'll stop for a burger at the Shack or Prince of Whales in Playa del Rey. If there's a good show at the Anarchy Library in Downey I might head there, otherwise I go home and get ready for the weekend, which either involves packing or preparing for guests.

If you could live in LA during any era, when would it be?
Manhattan Beach in the late 60s and early 70s so I could take acid with Thomas Pynchon.

What's your beach of choice?
PDR, baby.

What is the "center" of LA to you?
Molly Malone's at Fairfax and Wilshire.

If you were forced to live in a neighboring county, which would you choose? Ventura County is a wussy answer.
O.C. The punk rock scene is million times better there.

If you could live in any neighborhood or specific house in LA, where/which would you choose?
I like where I am. Why wait to be happy?

Los Angeles is often stereotyped as a hard place to find personal connections and make friends. Do you agree with that assessment? Do you find it challenging to make new friends here?
No, I don't agree with that at all. This is the city of endless want. While I agree this is a tough place for long-term relationships because so many people are in that awkward stage between the caterpillar of reality and the butterfly of their dreams, and it's hard to be with someone who is trying to transform themselves into something they're not. But this city has more creative, intelligent, hard-working people than anywhere else I've ever lived or visited. If you're not meeting people and making friends, then you're probably not leaving your house at night.

What is the city's greatest secret?
Do you know how in movies you always see people tearing around the LA river like it's a freeway and there's an on-ramp every few blocks? Well there really is an LA River on-ramp. It's open 24/7 and is located under the 4th St. Bridge.

Drinking, driving. They mix poorly, and yet they're inexorably linked. How do you handle this conflict?
Ask me when my insurance rates come back down to earth.

Describe your best LA dining experience.
It was at a friend's wedding reception: champagne, sushi, and synchronized swimmers.

What do you have to say to East Coast supremacists?
Humidity? What's that?

Do you find the threat of earthquakes preferable to the threat of hurricanes and long winters?
Yes, obviously, but let me make one thing clear: I'm here for the riots.

Where do you want to be when the Big One hits?
Admiring the shark tank at the Long Beach Aquarium. The shark will sense the quake's coming long before I do, and it'll all be over in like 2 seconds. In a couple of days, after the shark squeeze's what's left of me out it's ass, I'll get a nice burial at sea.