December 30, 2007

Riding off into the sunset

An interview with…


nightlife columnist

New Times Broward Palm Beach

Marya Summers is tired of hanging out in nightclubs, so she’s quitting her job. Her last “Night Rider” column runs next week, just one month shy of her second anniversary.

In that time, Summers has dodged a flying beer bottle at Banana Boat (which clipped another woman in the head), been flogged at a fetish party at Club Boca, and been ordered to feel a woman’s breasts at Fitzy’s.

Before she landed the weekly freelance column at New Times, Summers was a sex columnist at City Link, frontwoman for a local band called Hunger-Thump, an adjunct English professor at PBCC, and hostess of a long-running (2000-2005) local poetry slam.

After two decades in South Florida’s underground media and arts scene – which included co-founding a literary magazine called Pandemonium and playing at SunFest – Summers is leaving to pursue an MFA in something called “creative nonfiction” at Antioch University in Los Angeles.

Writing a nightlife column is easy, right?

Most people are self-deceiving when it comes to who they are, so my column comes as a slap in the face. Since I cover a scene that I also socialize in, negotiating my professional and personal needs can get dicey – the writer’s instinct usually wins. I’ve lost friends. One girl is still mad at me for describing in seductive terms how she pulled apart the lychee in her martini.

How many hours a week does it take to write one column?

Writing is only the half of it. In addition to research (hours online and networking to figure out where the hot scenes are in two counties), a girl has to shop (different scenes, different looks), get dolled up (who wants to talk to a hag?), drive to and from the place (sometimes 1 1/2 hours roundtrip), and then get started with the actual writing. The actual writing of a column takes me a solid day. Before I submit the story, I spend another hour or so tinkering. I am definitely not an “efficient” writer.

Funnest part of the job?

Talking to people who’ve fueled their ids and drowned their super-egos with alcohol. They say and do exactly what’s on their minds.

Hardest part of the job?

Other than the flak I get from people who don’t like reading what they’ve said and done when they’ve fueled their ids and drowned their super egos?

Beginning the writing process is the hardest part. I’m a control freak, so I prefer editing what I’ve already written, since I already know what my point is by the time I’ve written a draft. But I seldom go into a story with an angle. Instead, I go in (usually) unbiased, collect “supplies” from my experience with which to construct a story, and then I rearrange the parts until I see what I can build. Sometimes it’s as frustrating as untangling fishing line.

Advice for the person who might want to replace you?

An expense account for a nightlife columnist is just incentive to drive drunk. Negotiate more pay instead of reimbursed expenses.

Career highlight?

Being asked to lecture at FAU, where I was a grad-school drop out, on my how my provocative writing, big mouth, and shameless persona are a boon to South Florida.

Amusing professional gaffe?

I’d been a party girl on a tight budget for a long time when I got this job. So just the idea of free top-shelf martinis was intoxicating. My second or third time out for the column, I drank so much that I had to take a cab home. The next morning, I couldn’t remember a lot of what happened, but I’d taken pictures. So, I called my editor with the half-serious suggestion that I might submit a photo essay.

My career has been built on my social blunders, so I capitalized on my bad behavior. You can read all about it in “A Nearly Religious Experience.”

One piece of advice you wish you could surgically implant into college students and young professionals?

Well, at the risk of sounding pretentious, I’ve always taken the advice that Rilke gave in his Letters to a Young Poet: If you are driven to write, if you must create, you should “build your life according to this necessity” and “take that burden and bear it without ever asking what recompense might come from outside.” It doesn’t always pay for the groceries, but sometimes it feeds the soul.

Looking back, anything you’d do differently?

Mistakes are educational opportunities, and “sin” is very instructional. I’ve learned some painful lessons, but I needed that “schooling” to grow. More importantly, my mistakes have been a lot of fun for others to watch. So, no, I’d do it all the same.