Mark Sarvas, novelist and literary blogger, appears next in Eduardo Santiago’s Idyllwild Authors Series. He will discuss his 2008 novel, “Harry Revised,” the story of a flawed protagonist who seeks to reinvent himself after the death of his wife during cosmetic surgery — a breast augmentation procedure she hoped would reinvigorate their marital relationship. He also will discuss his literary blog for which he is widely known.
Sarvas gained Internet celebrity status as author of the literary blog, “The Elegant Variation,” begun in 2003 as one of the first of the genre. “It’s the only time in my life when I have been in the right place at exactly the right time,” said Sarvas. The blog — commentary, book reviews and articles about the current [largely Los Angeles] literary scene — quickly gained readership and a certain level of notoriety.
The title, “elegant variation,” is itself a Sarvas commentary — a poke in the eye at those who treat literary criticism and commentary as sacrosanct. Originally coined by Brit H.W. Fowler writing about “The King’s English” in the early 20th century, the term refers to the practice of choosing variations of a word rather than simply repeating it. As Fowler said, “Many writers of the present day abound in types of variations that are not justified by expediency, and consequently have the air of cheap ornament.” Said Sarvis, “The title is ironic and self-deprecating. I did not want people to think I was taking it too seriously.”
Sarvas noted that TEV, as one of the first literary blogs, gained an impressive number of readers. “Being early, overnight my readership exploded,” he said. “At its peak [between 2007 and 2009] I had over 50,000 visits per day.”
Coincidentally, Sarvas started the blog at the same time he began his first novel, “Harry, Revised” (Bloomsbury, 2008). And also coincidentally, the success of the blog fueled interest in his novel. And, like the blog, the novel gained enthusiastic reviewer accolades and a few uncharacteristically mean evaluations. Sarvas said reviews, negative as well as positive, are part of literary criticism. “Tough, meaningful critical evaluation of the work is always of value,” he noted. But he also acknowledged a growing trend, what he called “chasing cliques,” of the culture of negative book reviews meant to appeal to those who like their criticism served straight up with daggers. That kind of negativity is not recent, noted Sarvas. “In fact, the notions of [literary] civility are relatively recent,” he said.
Sarvas, a native New Yorker, came to Los Angeles chasing the screenplay dream. Like many, he had some success, options on some of his work and enough encouragement to marginally continue. “But I decided [when pushing 40] sitting in development meetings with those in their 20s that enough was enough,” he remembered
He decided to tackle the big one — the novel. Long an admirer of classic novels like Alexandre Dumas “The Count of Monte Cristo,” Sarvas took the risk of devoting a significant portion of his life, five years,” to writing a work of fiction without any assurance it would be published. It paid off. “Harry Revised” was a finalist for the Fiction Prize of the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association and has been translated into more than a dozen languages. “Self-loathing was never so funny, and Sarvas’ depiction of his downward-spiraling anti-hero is spot-on,” said Los Angeles Magazine. Sarvas said “Harry” is currently being considered for a film.
He said he had just sold his second novel, “Memento Park,” to his dream publisher, FSG Books, satisfied that the three years he spent writing it had paid off. “At a certain point with the success of the blog, I had to decide between putting my energies into becoming a better novelist as opposed to becoming a more known Internet personality.” He still maintains the blog and contributes, but not at the level he once did. He noted that, with a daughter, he had to make choices of how to best apportion his time.
Asked what Idyllwild series attendees can expect, Sarvas said, “I’ve been known to stake out an occasional controversial opinion. So anyone who is passionate about strong opinions should enjoy the afternoon. It should be a lively discussion.”
Sarvas appears with host Santiago in interview at 3 p.m. Sunday, June 8, on the deck of Café Aroma. The event is free to the public.