Some reserved, polite reading at Borders or Barnes & Noble or Changing Hands this ain't. The term "penny dreadful" used to refer to potboiler fictions of earlier centuries which focused on the lurid, the sensational, the violent, the debauched. It's a badge that the five scribblers featured in "Penny Dreadfuls: Writers in Performance" wear with pride, and probably with more than a little glee.
And as the title suggests, the focus of the event, slated for 8 p.m. Saturday, March 17, at Modified, is a live, para-theatrical performance. It isn't a "reading" in the usual sense, but an evening of full-on recitals by the writers of memorized passages of their works, or works in progress.
On the bill is Los Angeles writer, community activist and self-described "professional troublemaker" Larry Fondation, author of the L.A.-set novel Angry Nights, winner of the 1994 FC2/Illinois State University National Fiction competition. The L.A. Times says the book "shimmers with real heat."
Also appearing is Bett Williams, whose Girl Walking Backwards, often described as an "anti-coming-of-age" novel, concerns a Southern California high school girl coming to terms with her sexuality, and with the miseries inflicted on her by her homophobic New Agey mother. The Santa Fe-based writer's debut work has been highly praised for its humor, and for its freewheeling disinterest in political correctness.
Transplanted Scotsman turned gung-ho Arizonan Barry Graham also performs in "Penny Dreadfuls." The former New Times columnist's numerous fiction works include Before and The Book of Man; his nonfiction has appeared in a variety of newspapers and magazines. Rounding out the evening are two other Phoenix-based writers: Amy Graham, who completed her first novel recently, and Karen Reed, who performs passages from her current work in progress.