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LDM 2011: Year in Review

A Portland-based journalist asked me to tell her about my experience watching Literary Death Match grow after going from four events in one city (NYC) in 2006, to 68 events over 31 cities in 2011. Here was my answer (that went unpublished — she just used a tiny quote from another question): 

"As far as I can tell, the stages of creation go something like this: 

  1. 'We have no idea what we're doing, but man this is fun';
  2. 'Oh, man, we're really doing this thing we’re starting to understand';
  3. 'Wow, we created this amazing thing';
  4. 'Sheesh, how long am I going to do this for?'

I'm in the sweetest spot of #3, right now, and if my dream comes true, and this ever becomes a BBC4 Radio show in the UK, then eventually evolves into a TV show in the US and UK, then I think I can live in the amniotic fluid of ‘wow, we created this amazing thing’ for a very, very long time.” 

It's November 15, 2011. I’m driving with my brother from Kansas City to Tulsa to do LDM Tulsa, Ep. 1 — my 17th event in 35 days, the first of four consecutive that would bring me from Tulsa to KC to Boston to Miami, as the finishing part of a novel-wilting, stupidly-overambitious 20-city/four-country tour. I was so exhausted, all I could think on the drive was: Why the fuck did I agree to do this event in Tulsa? Forty people are going to show up, which means we’ll lose money we don’t have, and all I’ll get out of the night is further exhaustion, and one-upping our LDM city tally by one (to 39).  

There’s this part of the brain that my stylist Chri (from the fantastic Edo Salon in San Francisco), told me about. It's in the back, and it can’t distinguish between fact and fiction. That night I told that particular part of my brain what I usually tell it: "I’m here, I’m safe. Have fun. Make tonight excellent. Make it the night of everyone’s life.” And, unlike any other LDM in 2011, it exceeded my expectations. A wowing 170 Tulsans showed up to the B’nai Emunah Synagogue (bet on author/organizer Jeff Martin, folks), and the warmth and goodness and talent in that room made me so grateful I’d come all that way, and veered me strongly away from #4 above, parking me smack dab into the middle of “Wow, we created this amazing thing.” If there's anything I've learned in 2011: You just never know. Be grateful, be enthusiastic; get surprised. 

In some ways, the Tulsa event was 2011 in a nutshell for us. Our clumsy business model is: if people show up, we keep doing it. And if we keep doing it, then we succeed. And people showed up this year, sometimes in mad droves — we had 503 (!) at the Texas Book Festival, where Chuck Palahniuk judged alongside Lisa Loeb and Adam Mansbach to see Martha Hall Foose steal the show — and over 700 (!!) made their way to our Latitude Festival tent in the middle of England, where David Whitehouse won LDM gold. Over 9,000 people came to LDM this year. Start counting to 9,000. That’s so many people! And we reached so many new fans by debuting LDM in 11 cities this year: D.C., Montréal, Shanghai, Glasgow, Miami, Amsterdam, Cardiff, Philadelphia, Orlando, Pittsburgh and Tulsa. Crazy! Especially considering LDM existed in a total of two cities (SF & NYC) in our first three years of existence. 

Chicken Littles say the sky is falling, that the book industry is doomed. But it's not true. And we won't let it be (and by we, I mean you way more than us). There are 14,000 things to do in every city every night, most of them excellent, and so many chose to be at a book event, because saying books are dead is like saying thought and care and compassion are doomed. And we are proof otherwise. And I don't mind sounding like a naive lunatic by saying so. 

I guess what it comes down to, is I believe in Literary Death Match. I’ve given up whatever takes to make it succeed, because when it’s good, it’s great, and when it’s great, it’s transcendent. And it's been transcendent many times in the last 12 months. It's why I abandoned the wonderful coddle of Paris to move to Los Angeles just two weeks ago. My grand aim is to get Literary Death Match on television — we got close by my standard in 2011, and I know we’ll get closer in 2012. At least, that's what  I keep telling that clueless part of my brain. And worst-case: we keep making writers stars, keep showcasing talented judges in an environment of inclusion and starry-eyed wonderfulness. A fun way to spend 68 or so nights of our year. 

I’m reminded of the night of March 2, after our second-ever LDM event in Iowa City, when Violent Femmes long-time saxophonist Peter Balistrieri (who is hilarious) said to me, “I get why you do this. You’re in the hunt for the perfect show. Because that’s how it works with these things, you either give up, or you keep going out there, trying to create the perfect show.” 

Smart dude. 

So, for 2012, we're going to keep laying down the foundations for our perfect show — though there's an argument to be made that we already did it. We refused to be convinced, though with Suzanne (London), Alia (SF), Erin (NYC), Brian (Dublin), Sarah (Twin Cities), Julie (Toronto), Kirsten (Boston), Mark (Glasgow), Vikki (Edinburgh), Kathy (Philadelphia), Megan (Amsterdam), Justin (San Diego), Jeff (Tulsa), Andre (Iowa City) and Monica (Portland) and Sean (Vancouver) helping us to inch the literary ball forward, in patient, Sisyphean fashion, maybe we'll get there this coming year.

Or maybe you're the one that'll make it happen. And if you want to be part of it? We’d be thrilled. Say hello. Follow us on Twitter. Like us on Facebook. Subscribe to our iTunes channel. And, please, keep showing up. It is always a thrill to have you. 

Oh, and call your mother, she misses you. 

Todd Zuniga
LDM creator

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