Joe Donnelly and Laurie Ochoa (above), editors of Slake: Los Angeles — the beautiful quarterly slab of essays, poetry, photography, fiction and reportage — were once, respectively, deputy editor and editor-in-chief of this very paper. Now they're celebrating Slake's fourth issue, “Dirt,” at the Last Bookstore with a “filthy” reading of pieces by Joseph Mattson, Luke Davies, Antonia Crane and Lauren Weedman.
JOE DONNELLY: As with our previous themes, we're attracted to the different layers of meaning in dirt. It connotes organic, messy, sexy, life and death, beginning and end, earthy, etc. And it's a return to our roots, get it? Roots are in the dirt. C'mon, it's sedimentary, my dear.
LAURIE OCHOA: Hey, you know that was my line! Come up with your own bad pun.
For someone who's never read Slake and doesn't read anything more challenging than David Sedaris, what Slake issue/story would be a good one to start with?
JD: Hmm, that's like asking the Duggars who is their favorite kid, which I bet they could do under enhanced interrogation. Is it a cop-out to suggest starting at the beginning? The great news is there are award-winning pieces in every issue and there are also these wonderful hidden gems that people should discover and make TV shows and movies out of, such as “The Pirate of Penance” from the first issue, “Still Life.” Just saying.
LO: You can't read just one Slake story and say you know what we're about. That's the magic of Slake. We somehow create these cohesive, themed issues with writers whose storytelling voices are nothing alike — so you'll read Mark Z. Danielewski and Jerry Stahl, or Daniel Hernandez and Dana Goodyear, Michael Totten and Aimee Bender, Joseph Mattson and Ben Ehrenreich, Yxta Maya Murray and James Greer, Michelle Huneven and Jervey Tervalon. I could keep going … we've got a lot of talent in Slake.
Like Jackie O, you're becoming famous as literary editors. What literary figure of history do you most relate to and why?
LO: Sometimes I wish I could go around shouting “Think pink!” like Kay Thompson in Funny Face, or fast-talk my way to a scoop like Walter Burns in The Front Page and His Girl Friday. But one of my favorite books is William Dean Howells' A Hazard of New Fortune, which is about an editor named Basil March, who starts a magazine called Every Other Week. with this crazy character named Fulkerson. Their magazine had journalism, fiction, essays, excellent art … hmm, not that different than Slake. But the editor I admire most is Knopf's Judith Jones, who discovered The Diary of Anne Frank in a slush pile, worked with everyone from John Updike to Julia Child, and is still a fine writer in her own right.
JD: It would have to be Nan Talese. I don't know what that means. I'd love to think I related to George Plimpton, because he liked to get in there and mix it up, have fun, participate. He wasn't an ivy tower editor, or above it all. But the truth is, he was much thinner and more accomplished than I am, but he sets a good example.
What do you two disagree about?
JD: Almost everything, except our desire to raise expectations, celebrate Los Angeles and contribute to the civic discourse in some way. We have different styles, different tastes and different approaches, but they seem to be pretty complementary, and I believe that dynamic makes Slake better than it would be without one or the other.
At the Last Bookstore, I hear that you'll read the dirty secrets that attendees write down in a confessional booth — can you share one of your own dirty secrets to get us in the mood?
JD: Not without the cloak of anonymity!
Slake's “The Dirty” event will be at at the Last Bookstore, 453 S. Spring St., dwntwn.; Fri., Feb. 3, 7 p. m.; free; RSVP: slake.la/events/the-dirty-at-the-last-bookstore.