"If you're going to have a literary series in L.A. with an L.A. feel, it's got to be lively, it's got to be fun, it's got to be a party," Reza Aslan said Wednesday at the launch of Writer's Room, his new series at the West Hollywood nightclub DBA. Aslan, the author of "Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth," might seem an unlikely party host, but he kicked off the event with a drink in one hand and a book in the other.
Aslan and his guest, author and actor B.J. Novak, took the stage at the packed nightclub to discuss books, the writing process and other literary topics.
"Why are you here, in a nightclub, talking about books?" Aslan said to the crowd. "Because it's cool. That's why."
When brainstorming the series with DBA in February, Aslan said he wanted to create a different kind of literary event for Angelenos, one that strayed from typical book readings held at bookstores or libraries.
"Los Angeles is, to me, the most creative city in the world," he told the Los Angeles Times. "That might sound weird to a lot of people who have a stereotype about L.A. as a city that is made of plastic ... but the truth is the entire city is utterly dependent on the written word."
The Writer's Room is an attempt to not only debunk the stereotype but also provide a literary event that channels the "coolness" for which L.A. is known and celebrated, he said.
Attendees in dapper attire shuffled into the club until as late as 7:55 p.m., five minutes before the event was scheduled to begin. The crowd, made up of writers and fans of Novak and Aslan, sipped on cocktails and listened to band Jason Joseph and the Spectacular perform jazzy songs and renditions of top 40 while waiting for the event to start.
"Saturday Night Live" comedian Nasim Pedrad briefly hopped on stage to introduce Aslan, whom she called "the child my Iranian parents wish they had."
Although Aslan began the conversation with Novak joking about his time on the MTV show "Punk'd," the two eventually transitioned into discussing why Novak became a writer. His short-fiction collection "One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories" hit bestseller lists this year.
Though his father is a writer, Novak said he had a lot of alternate career ideas growing up.
At first, he wanted to be a librarian, even turning his own house into a library where people had to check out their books. Next, the Newton, Mass., native said he wanted to play baseball for the Boston Red Sox. Then, when "90210" came out, Novak wanted to be an actor like the show's star Luke Perry.
It wasn't until Novak saw Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction" in 1994 that he realized he wanted to be a writer.
Although Novak has written in a wide variety of genres -- including scripts for TV series "The Office" -- he said he is particularly drawn to "tapping into something visceral with comedy."
Novak listed fiction writer Lorrie Moore, screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and staff writers on shows such as "The Simpsons" as some of his influences.
His advice to aspiring writers? "Write for the kid sitting next to you."
Aslan described Novak as the "perfect person" to be his first guest.
"He's not a stuffy literati -- he is someone who is fun, entertaining, who can speak seriously about writing but who can also be entertaining," Aslan told The Times.
Novak said he was drawn to being part of the series because he loves "anyone who is capable of glamorizing the writing process."
"I love any time someone can do a 21+ event where it's two writers talking about writing," he told The Times. "I think it elevates the written word in our culture, and it's certainly fun."