Speak Up Storytelling #16: Monica Cleveland

Episode #16 of Speak Up Storytelling is now available for your listening pleasure. 

On this week's episode, Elysha and I talk about finding excellent stories in your everyday life using my strategy "Homework for Life." Specifically, they discuss how storytellers can sometimes be in the middle of a story and not even know it.

Then we listen to Monica Cleveland's story about a long, silent date, followed by commentary and critique, including:

  1. Inhabiting your story
  2. The B-A-b-C structure of storytelling
  3. Preserving surprise via misdirection
  4. Silence in storytelling
  5. Choosing the appropriate amount of description for a story

Then we answer listener questions about storytelling for children and handling stories that risk alienating an audience.

Lastly, we each offer a recommendation. 

If you haven't subscribed to the podcast in Apple podcasts (or wherever you receive your podcasts), please do. And if you're not one of the 60 or so people to rate and/or review the podcast in Apple Podcasts (who are the best people ever), we would love it if you did.

Ratings and reviews help listeners find our podcast easier, and it makes us feel better about ourselves and our work. 

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Speak Up Storytelling #15: Roquita Johnson

Episode #15 of Speak Up Storytelling is now available for your listening pleasure.

Elysha Dicks and I talk about finding excellent stories in your everyday life using my strategy "Homework for Life," including moments that storytellers see but non-storytellers might not. 

Then we listen to Roquita Johnson's story about finding her calling, followed by commentary and critique, including:

  1. The components of an especially effective beginning to a story

  2. Outstanding use of dialogue in stories

  3. Variations in tonality

  4. "Seeing" your story

  5. The best moments to add description to a story

  6. Preserving surprise in a story

Then we answer listener questions about becoming emotional while telling a story, the past and present tense, and how to pitch a story to Speak Up.  

Lastly, we each offer a recommendation. 

If you haven't subscribed to the podcast in Apple podcasts (or wherever you receive your podcasts), please do. And if you're not one of the 60 or so people to rate and/or review the podcast in Apple Podcasts (who are the best people ever), we would love it if you did.

Ratings and reviews help listeners find our podcast easier, and it makes us feel better about ourselves and our work. 

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Speak Up Storytelling #10: Kristin Budde

Episode #10 of Speak Up Storytelling is now ready for your listening pleasure.

On this week's episode, we talk about finding and crafting stories in your everyday life using my strategy "Homework for Life." I describe how searching for stories in your present day life can unearth moments from the past that you can't believe that you've forgotten. We also discuss how not every storyworthy moment needs to be a full story in order to be useful. 

Next, we listen to a story by Kristin Budde about a day of doctoring gone wrong. Then Elysha and I discuss the strengths of his fantastic story as well as suggestions for improvement.

Finally, we answer a listener question about our marriage and the rules that I establish in my new book Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade, and Change Your Life Through the Power of Storytelling

If you haven't subscribed to the podcast in Apple podcasts (or wherever you receive your podcasts), please do. And if you haven't rated and/or reviewed the podcast in Apple Podcasts (who are the best people ever), we would love it if you did.

Ratings and reviews help listeners find our podcast easier, and it makes us feel better about ourselves and our work. 

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Speak Up Storytelling #2: Michelle Sebastianelli

Episode #2 of our podcast Speak Up Storytelling is now ready for your listening pleasure. 

On this week's episode, we talk about finding and crafting stories in your everyday life using Homework for Life

Next, we listen to a story by Michelle Sebastianelli about her hilarious and tragic attempt to transform herself through yoga and discuss the strengths of her story as well as suggestions for improvement.

Finally, we answer listener questions and make some recommendations. 

If you haven't subscribed to the podcast in Apple podcasts (or wherever you receive your podcasts), please do. And if you're not one of the 13 people to rate the podcast and four to review it in Apple Podcasts (who are the best people ever), we would love it if you did.

Ratings and reviews help listeners find our podcast easier. 

We also have an unusual offer for anyone interested:

Elysha and I are looking to redesign the Speak Up logo, but before we do it ourselves (Elysha designed the first) or hire a professional, we thought we'd invite our audience to take a crack at redesigning it themselves. 

We're looking for a logo that pays homage to our current design but is also fresh, new, and will work well on our website, podcast, programs, and swag like tee shirts and totes. 

If you submit an logo for consideration and it is ultimately chosen, you will receive our undying gratitude, one free beginner or advanced storytelling workshop, two hours of free storytelling consultation, and two free tickets to our Real Art Ways shows FOR LIFE!

We can't wait to see what you submit!

Speak Up Storytelling: The Podcast available today!

Elysha and I are thrilled to announce THE FIRST EPISODE OF OUR NEW PODCAST SPEAK UP STORYTELLING. 

Unlike most storytelling podcasts, which offer you one or more outstanding stories to listen to and enjoy, our podcast seeks to entertain while also providing some specific, actionable lessons on storytelling.

Each week we will bring our expertise in storytelling to you!  

In every episode, Elysha and I will listen to one of the many stories told and recorded at Speak Up over the last five years, followed by a lesson on storytelling based upon what we just heard. We'll talk about the effective strategies used by the storyteller. We'll offer tips on things like humor, stakes, transitions, suspense, and the ordering of content. We'll also suggest possible revisions to make the story even better.

Whether your goal is to someday take the stage and tell a story or simply to become a better storyteller in the workplace or your social life, this podcast is for you.  

In addition to story and instruction, we will also talk about finding stories in your everyday life, answer listener questions, offer recommendations, and try to make you laugh. We may also interview storytellers from time to time, as well as provide feedback on stories you submit to us. 

You can download the podcast wherever you get your podcasts: Apple Podcasts (iTunes), Stitcher, Overcast, Google Play, or you can listen to the first episode here

We'd love to hear what you think about the podcast and any questions you'd like us to answer on the podcast, so please send any questions or comments to speakupstorytelling@gmail.com

We would also love for you to rate the show. Ratings help other listeners find the show, so please take one minute to jump over to Apple Podcasts (or wherever you listen) and give us a rating and/or comment. 

This podcast has been a long time in the works. We hope you enjoy!

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Boy vs. Girl: Episode 17 - Sexy voice, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Model, and Cuddling

In this week's episode, Rachel and I discuss Rachel's sexy voice, women's clothing sizes, and men's aversion to cuddling. 

You can listen here or - better yet - subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store or wherever you get your podcasts.

And if you like the show, please consider leaving a review on iTunes. It helps readers find the show, and it makes me feel even better about myself.

Boy vs. Girl: Episode 15 - Boy bands, men's grooming, and size matters

In this week's episode, Rachel and I discuss boy bands, men's grooming, and the age old question about size mattering.

You can listen here or - better yet - subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store or wherever you get your podcasts.

And if you like the show, please consider leaving a review on iTunes. It helps readers find the show, and it makes me feel even better about myself.

Boy vs. Girl: Episode 13 - Disney Princesses, Modern Day Uniforms & Tighty Whities

In this week's episode, Rachel and I discuss the state of Disney princesses, modern day uniforms, and the mystery behind the construction of men's underwear. 

You can listen here or - better yet - subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store or wherever you get your podcasts.

And if you like the show, please consider leaving a review on iTunes. It helps readers find the show, and it makes me feel even better about myself.

My latest appearance on Mom and Dad Are Fighting: Discussing violent tragedy with children

I made another appearance on Slate's parenting podcast Mom and Dad Are Fighting, talking about how to handle discussions with children about horrific tragedies like the terrorist attacks in Paris or the mass shooting in San Bernardino (which was actually taking place while we recorded my segment).  

Sleeping with goats on The Gist

I had the pleasure of appearing on The Gist this week. Host Mike Pesca interrogated me about my life story, and we talked about how you can take a life event and craft an interesting story from it. I talked about sleeping with goats, shotguns to my head, and being arrested and tried for a crime I did not commit. You can listen here or subscribe to The Gist in the iTunes music store or click on the Soundcloud link below:

This was my second appearance on The Gist. My first, in case you missed it, was a couple of weeks ago.  

The purpose of these appearances is to discuss storytelling. In addition to these discussions, we are taking story pitches from Gist listeners, and one lucky listener will have the opportunity to work with me on his or her story, with the goal of taking the stage and telling the story at a future storytelling event. 

If you would like to pitch us a story, listen to the episode for details.

Storytelling on The Gist

If you’re not already listening to Slate’s The Gist, the daily podcast hosted by Mike Pesca, here’s another reason to do so:

I’ll be appearing on The Gist as a part of a new project that seeks to teach the art of storytelling to listeners. Whether you are telling stories at a dinner party or the water cooler or on the stage, our goal is to explore how stories are found and crafted and perhaps help people become more engaging and interesting conversationalists.

In addition to all that, we are accepting story pitches from listeners, and one lucky person will have the opportunity to work with me to perfect their story and ultimately perform it on stage. 

You can listen to the first episode here, or by subscribing to The Gist in iTunes, or by listening through Soundcloud here.

My segment begins at the 9:40 mark.

 

My story was featured on The Moth’s podcast this week. I still get goose bumps.

I was thrilled to learn that one of the stories that I told at a Moth StorySLAM in Boston last year was featured on their podcast this week. I’ve seen a much younger version of myself on The Moth’s homepage once before, but it’s very much like seeing one of my novels on a bookstore shelf.

I still can’t believe it.

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Five years ago, I started listening to The Moth’s podcast after a friend recommended it to me. She thought that I might have stories to tell someday. I spent two years listening to the podcast, reveling in the stories told by people who I thought were gods.

I still do.

Three years ago, I went to New York and told my first story. I thought it would be my last story. I thought I was simply checking an item off my lifelong list of things to do.

Tell a story at The Moth. Move on.

Twenty-five StorySLAMs and 13 victories later, The Moth and storytelling have become as important to me as any of my creative endeavors. I’ve told stories in eight GrandSLAMs, two Main Stage shows, and my stories have been featured on the Moth Radio Hour twice. I’ve told stories for many other organizations since then, including This American Life, and my wife and I have launched our own storytelling organization in Connecticut.

Yet I still can’t believe that my story is on The Moth’s podcast again this week, alongside storytellers who I still think of as gods.

You don’t get to rub elbows with the gods very often. The Moth has given me the chance to do so routinely. I am fortunate enough to know some of the finest storytellers in the world through my work at The Moth. Truly some of the finest people who I have ever met. I have the opportunity to stand on the stage alongside giants and tell stories to the best audiences that a performer will ever know.

I still get goose bumps every time I do.

I got those same goose bumps upon seeing my face on The Moth’s homepage this week. It all started five years ago by listening to amazing stories piped into my ears.

This week my own story will be piped into people’s ears.

If it happened a thousand times, I still wouldn’t quite believe it.

A peek into the inbox of an author

One of the goals of my future podcast, at least until my theoretical listeners redefine my goal through their input, will be to offer unpublished writers, readers, and even fellow authors a glimpse into the daily life of an author.

It’s the kind of thing I would like to hear:

Successful authors talking about their careers, their daily routines, the nuts and bolts of the industry and the choices and challenges that they face on a daily and weekly basis.

Occasionally we will get a glimpse of an author’s life through an interview on radio or in print, but never have I been granted access to an author’s life over an extended period of time, probably (and thankfully) because they are too busy writing. I’m simply stupid enough to be willing to waste a few precious hours a week producing a podcast in hopes that someone wants the same thing I want and will care.

Oh, the title of the future podcast will be Author Out Loud, suggested by blogger Heather Clow.   

The first segment of the podcast will focus on the things that have happened in my writing career during the previous week. It will be that ongoing peek into an author’s life that I would like to hear someday. This could include a discussion of the manuscript that I am working on, the promotion for my latest book, a description of a recent author appearance, a lamentation about my latest second place finish at a Moth StorySLAM, the editing and revising that I am doing with my agent or editor, the progress of film and television deals related to my books, the machinations surrounding the rock opera that my friend and I are producing, my recent forays into children's literature, and many, many more topics. A week does not go by that would not be filled with material to discuss.

The collection of email that I received today is a good example of something I might talk about for a minute or two in order to offer a peek into the day-to-day life of an author.

First, an email from a reader in Greece who read the Greek translation of MEMOIRS OF AN IMAGINARY FRIEND and wrote to me in perfect English.

Next, an email from the publisher of the audio version of MEMOIRS OF AN IMAGINARY FRIEND informing me that the book is going to be on the Audible homepage for a second week in a row.

Next, an email reader in Singapore writing to tell me that every copy of MEMOIRS OF AN IMAGINARY FRIEND is reserved for the next seven months in his local library. In addition, the library has 17 copies of UNEXPECTEDLY, MILO, and at the moment, all are checked out.

I should probably move to Singapore. 

Next, three emails requesting author appearances at their various establishments. Two are from booksellers and one is from a charitable organization.

Next, an email from a clever and enterprising PhD student who wants to sit down and chat with me for an hour about writing and opened her email by informing me of a typo in the bio on my blog as a means of getting my attention.

It worked.

Next, an email from a book blogger with a list of ten questions for me to answer as part of an author Q&A that will appear on her blog.

Next, an email containing feedback from one of the readers of my current manuscript.

Finally, an email from a reader in the United States discussing how much the character of Max in MEMOIRS OF AN IMAGINARY FRIEND reminds her of her son.

All that arrived today, and it doesn’t include any of the communication I received on Twitter.

As you can imagine, I am forced to dedicate a significant chunk of time to responding to email each evening, and while this admittedly takes away from some of the time I have to write, today’s batch of emails were neutral or positive in nature, making it much more enjoyable to respond, and they did not require a great deal from me in terms of time or effort. I also responded to almost every email while my three month old son slept in my lap, so it’s debatable how much actual writing I would have managed in that time anyway. 

The never-ending flurry of communication from readers and others related to my writing has been one of the most surprising aspects of my authorial  career. I never expected readers to reach out to me as often as they do, and the seemingly unusual emails like the ones from the Singapore reader or the PhD student are unusual only in their specificity. Tomorrow I will receive an entirely different but equally unusual set of emails from people I can’t begin to imagine.

I never know what to expect when an email arrives pertaining to my career as an author, and it makes the job persistently interesting, occasionally unwieldy and always surprising.

I am launching a podcast and I need some advice. Best of all, I have prizes to offer.

I will be launching a podcast within the next month. Sooner if someone wants to come over my house and set things up for me. 

My vision is a 15-30 discussion about writing from the perspective of an author with some experience in the industry who still has a lot to learn. My goal is to provide content that will appeal to both writers who want to hear from a fellow author (something we don’t get to do often enough) and readers who might appreciate a peek behind the publishing curtain.

Though the format is not set in stone, I am envisioning three or four segments, looking something like this:

Segment one would be a peek into my life as a writer via a monologue on the latest issues surrounding my career. This past week, for example, I could have discussed a debate over a foreign book jacket, a translation issue with my Italian publisher, the struggles with my current manuscript and the pressures of a multi-book deal, the difficulties finding time to write with a six-week old infant in the home, my trouble in finding a satisfying end to a picture book that I am writing and much more. I would never be at a loss for topics for this first segment, as each week presents new and interesting challenges for me as an author.

The second segment would deal with a broader topic related to writing, reading or publishing. I might discuss a specific book that I have read, an opinion on the state of publishing, a commentary on a proposed writing strategy, and perhaps an interview with the many authors, agents, editors, film producers, sales reps and bookstore owners who I have gotten to know over the past five years.

The third segment would be one in which I answer questions posed by readers related to the industry or my work. I receive these kinds of questions almost daily, ranging from understanding the finances related to publishing, finding an agent, working with an editor, starting or finishing a book, and more.

This is just a proposed format. I am open for any suggestion that you may have to offer.

Here is my challenge to you:

First, I need a name for this podcast, and thus far I have come up with nothing.  

Second, I’m looking for any feedback in terms of my proposed format or content. Is there anything you would like to see me add, remove, or alter in any way?

Best of all, I have prizes to offer.

Anyone who offers a suggestion of any kind will be entered into a drawing. Three randomly chosen winners will receive a signed copy of the UK edition of my novel MEMOIRS OF AN IMAGINARY FRIEND, which will go on sale in the United States on August 21 of this year.

Even better, if I actually use the name that you have recommended for the podcast, I will send you a signed copies of all three of my books: SOMETHING MISSING, UNEXPECTEDLY, MILO and the UK edition of MEMOIRS OF AN IMAGINARY FRIEND.

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You can send me suggestions by commenting on this post, by contacting me through Facebook or Twitter, or by sending me an email at matthewdicks@gmail.com.

The drawing for the books will be held on July 28.

Thanks for your help and good luck!

Men want it all, too, damn it.

I was listening to the most recent Slate Double X podcast and nearly losing my mind. The panelists were discussing the recent Atlantic cover story Why Women Still Can’t Have It All with the author, Anne Marie Slaughter. I read the piece a couple days ago and had been formulating my somewhat annoyed reaction to it when this podcast came on, which served to further annoyed me.

My basic argument with the piece is this:

Men want it all, too, goddamn it. I don’t know a father who doesn’t want to spend more time with his children. Not one. Nor do I know a man who doesn’t want to be immensely successful in his career. We all want it all.

So why the hell is this framed as a woman’s issue?

Why isn’t the piece titled Why Americans Still Can’t Have It All?

Or Why Human Beings Still Can’t Have It All?

And please don’t try to tell me that Slaughter’s cursory acknowledgements  that this might be a man’s issue as well in any way minimizes the fact that this is a piece about women.

The title alone invalidates that argument. And the first two times that Slaughter acknowledges that this could also be a man’s problem, she does so parenthetically.

As I was pondering this annoyance, I started listening to Slaughter speak on the issue. The whole segment had me yelling back at the panelists, but two statements in particular, the first by Slaughter and the second by podcast host Allison Benedikt sent me over the edge.

First, Slaughter:

We can say, for many women, that tug of having a child who needs you or a child you want to be with versus the demands of a workplace are felt more keenly for a woman. So that women, even when they know there is someone is taking care of their children, whether it be a nanny or a father, feel like I must be there, I need to be there and I want to be there. I don’t think we should apologize for it.

For anyone who wants to tell me that Slaughter is framing this as a human issue rather than a woman’s issue, this statement should end that discussion. Slaughter states in no uncertain terms that the female struggle is different because of their innate ability to sense the problem more keenly. It’s apparently some form of female extrasensory perception that not only allows women to perceive these struggles with greater sensitivity but also allows them to presume that they know how men feel about the issue as well. It’s a super-super power of sorts which also results in their inability to fully trust a father with the care and well being of a child.

And she makes it clear that she does not apologize for it one bit, either. If Spider-Man can detect eminent danger with his spider-like powers, there is nothing wrong with a mother’s ability to more keenly understand the nuances involved with having to leave your child in daycare or with a nanny in order to earn a living.

From a male perspective, this is nonsense. It’s offensive, condescending, presumptuous, narrow-minded and stupid. And yes, Anne Marie, you should apologize for it.

Next up is panelist Allison Benedikt:

A lot of us co-parent with our husbands, and both have same track careers so the responsibilities are divided evenly, but yes, I think there is a maternal pull and I think there’s a pull for kids. There are certain times in their lives when kids need their moms more than their dads. I think that’s true.

Look! Another female super power, and this time it’s given a name.

The Maternal Pull.

“Yes, Dad, I know that you desperately want to spend more time with your children and might even be willing to sacrifice aspects of your career in order to do so, but I have The Maternal Pull. As much as you might want to stay home with the kids and volunteer at school’s ice cream socials, I want it more. Sorry, but there’s a reason it’s not called The Paternal Pull. It’s innate. It comes with the vagina.”

“Oh, and one more thing. I’m sorry to report that there are times when the kids are also going to require my love more than yours. My love is just more special than anything you are capable of offering. Sorry, Dad. Oh, and sorry to all the gay fathers out there, too. None of you have vaginas, so your kids are screwed.”

Try to imagine a man attempting to argue that a father’s need to be with his children is innately stronger than that of a woman, and as a result, fathers are naturally more conflicted than mothers when it comes to balancing careers and parenting.

How might women react?

Or that there are times in a child’s life when kids need their father more than their mother, because let’s be clear:

Benedikt does not say that there are times when children need their mothers or their fathers more. “There are certain times in their lives when kids need their moms more than their dads.” She makes no attempt to qualify her statement by stating that this need works both ways.

Even if she did, what about all the same-sex households out there. Does Benedikt really believe that the children of lesbian mothers and gay fathers are all doomed?

And lest you think that my quibbles with the podcast do not address the actual piece, it is also littered with similar statements.

Like this one:

What’s more, among those who have made it to the top, a balanced life still is more elusive for women than it is for men. A simple measure is how many women in top positions have children compared with their male colleagues. Every male Supreme Court justice has a family. Two of the three female justices are single with no children. And the third, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, began her career as a judge only when her younger child was almost grown. The pattern is the same at the National Security Council: Condoleezza Rice, the first and only woman national-security adviser, is also the only national-security adviser since the 1950s not to have a family.

In this paragraph, Slaughter attempts to argue that because the male Supreme Court justices have families, their lives are inherently more balanced than the two female justices without children.

She’s right to acknowledge that this is a “simple measure.” Perhaps more accurately it should be called a “simpleton’s measure.”

Slaughter has no clue about how much time these male justices spend with their wives and children. She assumes that because one person has kids and the other does not, the person with children has a more balanced life,

C’mon. Even the most ardent Slaughter supporter has to admit that this is a stupid assumption to make.

Even worse, it completely discounts the possibility that Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Condoleezza Rice simply have no interest in children and implies that anyone who does not have a family does not have a balanced life.

Am I to believe that these three high ranking women yearn for a more traditional American family, and it has only been their climb to the top that has prevented them from having rug rats running around their homes?

It’s possible, but Slaughter offers no evidence and seems to undermine the choice to not have a family in the process.

Here’s another:

Still, the proposition that women can have high-powered careers as long as their husbands or partners are willing to share the parenting load equally (or disproportionately) assumes that most women will feel as comfortable as men do about being away from their children, as long as their partner is home with them. In my experience, that is simply not the case.

Here Slaughter is assuming, once again, that she has a direct path into the male psyche and can easily ascertain the level of comfort that men feel about being away from their children.

This is narrow-minded and stupid. With the differences in the ways in which men and women communicate, is it possible that Slaughter might not be fully in touch with how men feel about leaving their children, or could she be overly-generalizing the feelings of the men who she knows?

I think so.

A wise man never presumes to know what a woman is thinking or feeling, and Slaughter should be smart enough to do the same, or at least present some actual data supporting her anecdotal and meaningless conclusions.

One more:

Here I step onto treacherous ground, mined with stereotypes. From years of conversations and observations, however, I’ve come to believe that men and women respond quite differently when problems at home force them to recognize that their absence is hurting a child, or at least that their presence would likely help. I do not believe fathers love their children any less than mothers do, but men do seem more likely to choose their job at a cost to their family, while women seem more likely to choose their family at a cost to their job.

This is the most damning of her statements.

First, let’s be clear: Acknowledging that you’re about to apply stereotypes to half the population of the planet does not make doing so any better.

Second, stereotyping men and women based upon “years of conversations and observations” assumes, once again, that she can readily ascertain a man’s feelings based upon what he says and does.

Sorry, but this is never the case. Had Slaughter presented us with actual data, her argument might carry some weight. But to simply assume the mental framework of all of mankind based upon anecdotal observations is foolish.

Even better, she opens the door for me to counter with my own stereotypes (which I may or may not believe):

Perhaps men are more likely to choose job over family because they are more rationale and less emotional and understand that certain practicalities, like food and clothing, comes before any emotional need.

Maybe men are simply less selfish than women and are therefore willing to make greater sacrifices for their spouses.

Maybe men understand that feeding and housing and providing medical care for a family is a significant expression of love that does not require anything in return.

Maybe men simply know that trying to have it all is a ridiculous notion and therefore opt not to whine about it.

Perhaps a majority of men yearn to spend more time with their children but know that doing so might require their wives to spend less time, and that this would not sit well with the wife or society in general. Perhaps Thoreau was right: Most men live lives of quiet desperation, while a woman like Slaughter presume to know better.