Even if you’re as prolific as Michelle Tea — the author whose books include The Passionate Mistakes, The Chelsea Whistle, Rent Girl, and Valencia, Rose of No Man’s Land, and most recently, Black Wave — making a living as a writer isn’t easy. So when she got an opportunity (which she can’t talk about yet) in Los Angeles, she moved from San Francisco with her wife and baby. Tea says San Francisco has certainly changed, and “not in ways that has favored queer people or people in the arts or low income people,” but she says she still thinks about the city with great fondness.
“I miss my friends” Tea said. “I miss the faggots — San Francisco has the best faggots. And I really miss Pancho Villa. I’ve eaten a lot of meals there.”
So Tea is looking forward to coming back to San Francisco for Litquake, where author Daniel Handler, known for his for his A Series of Unfortunate Events books, written under the name Lemony Snicket, will interview her at the American Bookbinders Museum this Sunday, Oct. 9, at 7 p.m.
“It’s my favorite time of year in San Francisco,” Tea said. “And Daniel Handler is one of favorite people in whole entire world. Also this is the first time RADAR has produced something for me, which is really cute, and I’m really looking forward to seeing the American Bookbinders Museum.”
RADAR is a literary nonprofit Tea started over 10 years ago. She also started a women’s open mic series, Sister Spit, in 1994. This came out of seeing friends in punk bands going on tours to different cities and deciding to do something similar for writers, cobbling together a cross-country route pre-Internet.
This is typical of Tea’s generosity, Handler says, and he wants to try and keep the spotlight on her and her work during their interview.
“She’s going to try and ask me about me and talk about the 30 writers she’s excited about,” he said. “She’s always reluctant to put the focus on herself.”
Handler says he’s totally in love with Tea’s latest book, Black Wave, which she calls a “despotic fiction-memoir hybrid.”
“It feel extreme autobiographical, and there’s also these flights of fancy, but they’re what life feels like, kind of crazy and imaginative,” Handler said. “It manages to be a memoir and a novel and feels personally apocalyptic and actually apocalyptic.”
Tea says the book came out of working on a novel vaguely based on song cycles in Ziggy Stardust, and then going through a devastating break up that she wanted to write about — but the person she’d broken up with didn’t want to be written about. She says this left her with a gutted story, which she needed to fill — which she did with a character based on herself.
“It was so fun playing with myself as a character,” she said. “I gave myself permission to do whatever I wanted and to create something fantastical. It was a great creative exercise.”
Tea says she’s known she wanted to be a writer since she was a little girl, and she wasted no time, writing scripts for “The Facts of Life” and a play based on Judy Blume’s Blubber. Her writing schedule has varied endlessly, she says, from writing in bars at night in notebooks, to now writing in her garage on a desk she got at a flea market.
Handler says he’s pleased to see Tea getting a wider and wider audience, and he’s proud to claim her as a San Francisco writer.
“Writers from my hometown hitting it big feels like the Super Bowl to me,” he said. “She’s the queen of San Francisco as far as I’m concerned.”
Riding Out Doomsday: Michelle Tea with Daniel Handler, Sunday, Oct. 9, 7 p.m., at American Bookbinders Museum, 355 Clementina St., $15-$20, 415-440-4177, litquake2016.sched.org.