Writers on Stage: 10 Tips for Readings in Public

man with feet in water

The first time I read in public (a Grub Street open mike event at Johnny D’s in Somerville, Mass.), I sucked.

Years later (no more experienced) with my debut book launch looming, I had to do better. Pre-publication months were spent attending bookstore events with a notebook (and money*) in hand.

Many of the ‘rules’ below I learned from either the awful readings I attended or the great ones. My first lessons in how-to-not-bore-people-to-death came from listening to and watching Boston (and Grub Street) authors Steve Almond (enormously funny, edgy, and self-deprecating) and Jenna Blum (extraordinarily entertaining, honest, and generous.) Learning by watching was invaluable.

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The Discomfort of Death

Yes, death is the last frontier. In my circles, even friends who talk about sex, politics, and that most forbidden of topics, paychecks, rarely talk about the nitty-gritty of death. That’s something we save for our own private hells or heavens.

This is the opening to MacKinnon’s novel, Tethered.:

I plunge my finger between the folds of the incision, then hook my forefinger deep into her neck. Unlike most of the bloodlines, which offer perfunctory resistance, the carotid artery doesn’t surrender itself willingly. Tethered between the heart and the head, the sinewy tube is often weighted with years of plaque, thickening its resolve to stay. More so now that rigor mortis has settled deep within the old woman.

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Author (And All) Photos Made Better

If you love every picture of yourself, or you’re one of those naturally photogenic people, you won’t need this post. And I probably don’t want to stand next to you in any photo.

For the rest of us, there are tricks to make ourselves look less double-chinned, squint-eyed, or serial killerish in photos. I know. I am decidedly not one of those naturally photogenic people. Thus, my gathering of every bit of advice I could find before having an author photo taken. (Now I want to figure out how to outlaw people from ‘tagging’ me in candid shots they’ve taken. Isn’t there something about souls being stolen?

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Seeing Themes & Obsessions In Novels

Close-up of a pencil drawing on a computer monitor

“There have been two great accidents in my life. One was the trolley, and the other was Diego. Diego was by far the worst.”–Frida Kahlo

Writers often don’t recognize their own embedded themes until after writing “the end”–and sometimes not even then. True revelations are often handed to us by reviewers, book clubs, and Goodreads. Only by looking back do we recognize our sore spots and consistent curiosity.

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Novels About Novelists

Does everyone have sub-genres within genres for which they hold an unusual fondness?

I can’t resist a good infidelity story (really, can anything beat Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow?) I can rarely refuse the intricacies of inter-racial love (Meeting of the Waters by Kim Mclarin,) or a memoir about substance abuse (Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp. I treasure reading about the layers of an unknown (to me) culture (A Fine Balance by Rohintin Mistry) or the heartbreak of emigrants navigating a new world (my current audio/car book is Shanghai Sisters by Lisa See,) but for a real roll in schadenfreude reading, I pick up a juicy novel about novelists.

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My Father Bought Me Pretty Shoes

dad 3

I dreaded Father’s Day as a child. Every year (during those far less aware days) we were asked to make a card for our father as a classroom project. My father died when I was nine, so from that day forward I made cards for my grandfather, embarrassed by my lack.

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Chris Cooper Reading Scene From “Accidents of Marriage” at Fundraiser

Last night, at a fundraiser for AccesSportAmerica, inspired by Madelyn Bronitsky, Oscar-winnng actor, Chris Cooper, read a scene from “Accidents of Marriage.” (Hosted by Bella Luna Restaurant in Jamaica Plain, with the sponsorship of Papercuts JP and Westwinds Bookshop.

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Launch Day: ACCIDENTS OF MARRIAGE In Paperback

best of summer reads 2015 great thoughts

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Waiting for Xanax

1-RSM 9 (1)

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Madelyn & Madeline: When A Character Pops Out Of Your Book

fundraiser-access 2

There’s a reason more people understand the Holocaust from The Diary of Ann Frankthan from The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Story. Since the cave man days we’ve learned more history through storytelling than textbooks. I know I have.

Writing a novel that includes social, health or political issues carries great responsibility. We want our audience to learn as they’re immersed in the story; those of us writing hot-button issues are impassioned. We want to write a compelling story. And then there is the third, equally important point of the triangle. We must be unflinchingly honest and also empathic with the characters carrying our banners. We must represent for the people who experienced in real life what we put on paper.

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