11 thoughts on yesterday’s TEDxBU event, including observations from the restrooms and my advice for future TED speakers.

A few observations from yesterday’s TEDxBU talk at Boston University.


1. I will never understand what possesses organizers like Ben Lawson and Salma Yehia to give up hundreds of hours of their time to pull off an event like this. I have spoken at four TEDx events in the past three years, and in each case, I am astounded by the level of coordination, leadership, and effort required. I am so happy that there are people like Salma and Ben who are willing to give of themselves and their time. They are better people than me.


2. I only accidentally went into the women’s restroom once yesterday, which was good for me.

3. TED events use hands-free, wireless microphones. I despise these microphones. They are unreliable and do not afford the speaker the level of nuance and modulation that a traditional microphone affords. My microphone was fine yesterday, but give me an old fashioned corded mic on a stand any day.  

4. Speaking of restrooms, an astounding number of young men did not wash their hands after using the restroom yesterday. Is this some kind of millennial thing?

5. Walking around with a TEDxBU speaker badge causes every person at Boston University to want to talk to you and assume that you are far more intelligent than you really are. I think I’m going to wear my speaker badge in public from now on.

6. As a TED talk veteran, many of the speakers asked me for advice. Since it was too late to give any input on the content of their talk, I gave them these three speaking tips:

  • Speak slowly.
  • A well placed pause is a beautiful thing. It allows the audience to digest your content and allows you to center yourself before proceeding. Don’t be afraid to just stop and breathe.
  • If your microphone does not sound perfect when you begin, stop and get your tech fixed before restarting. The audience will always accept a two minute delay in exchange for a speaker who sounds clear and strong.

7. If I was going to give my admittedly biased advice on the content of a successful TED talk, I would say the following:

  • Fewer PowerPoint slides are better. Make your talk so compelling that you do not require slides. If the projector fails and your PowerPoint is corrupted by the bird flu, you should still be able to present a compelling and engaging talk.
  • Fewer numbers are better. Use story instead of statistics. Contextualize.
  • Ask yourself this question: How much of this talk is story and how much is expository. Your story-to-expository ratio should be 2:1 at minimum.
  • By the end of your talk, your audience should know the people mentioned in your talk. They should know their names and personalities and wants and needs. Otherwise, why did you mention them at all?
  • Include humor. Make your audience laugh early. It will boost your confidence and make your audience believe that they are in safe hands.

8. I was asked by two people if I had a startup. I found this question very strange. My response:

“Yes. Four books and two children. Want to invest?”

Ironically, it was later pointed out by a friend that Speak Up is much closer to being a true startup than my books or children.

9. It’s a small, small world. I mentioned my former poetry professor, the late Hugh Ogden, in my talk as a teacher who changed my life. It turns out that one of the other speakers lived on the same street as Hugh as a child and knew him well.

10. I was identified by the organizers on their website as a teacher, writer, blogger, storyteller, minister, life coach, and DJ. The vast majority of the people who spoke to me were most interested in my career as a DJ – until they learned that I was a wedding DJ and not spinning records in a club.

11. This was the first time in a long time when I was not on stage in a t-shirt and hat. I didn’t like it. Still, I wore jeans and was the envy of two of my fellow speakers. 

Hot Buzz About Books and Book Clubs

For those of you in the greater Hartford area (and beyond), I will be joining a panel of esteemed book lovers and professionals in the publishing industry to discuss book recommendations on Thursday evening at 7:00 at the West Hartford Jewish Community Center. This is an annual event that runs in conjunction with the JCC’s Jewish book festival.

It’s always a great night.

RJ Julia Booksellers President Roxanne Coady and Random House sales reps and Books on the Nightstand hosts Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness will be joining me on the panel to talk about books that we love. 

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Prior to joining the panel, Elysha and I were regular attendees of the event, so you now it’s good. 

There will also be prizes given out throughout the evening and a book swap. RJ Julia Booksellers will also be selling the books that the panel recommends on stage. 

Details about the event can be found here. Hope to see you there!

I suffered a wardrobe malfunction. I told the audience that they suck. Just another day in the life of an author.

I had the pleasure of speaking at the Cragin Memorial Library last night as part of the Connecticut Author’s Trail. A group of about 48 women and two men gathered to hear me speak, which I continue to find both humbling and astounding.


Rather than read from my novel, I tell stories about the writing of my most recent novel,  the writing of my previous novels, and my life in general. How I became an author. Stupid things that I have done in my life. Lessons learned. My wife joined me for the event last night, which she usually doesn’t do, making it even  more fun for me.

A few important observations from the evening:


I made my wife laugh on at least two occasions, and on the way home, she told me that I was “very funny.” Making my wife laugh is one of my primary goals in life, and it’s not easy. If I make her laugh even once in a day, I feel complete.


I always ask for a round of applause for the men in the audience, because there are generally so few. Men suck when it comes to reading fiction. Possibly reading in general. We need to do better in this regard.


I felt great about my talk even though my fly was apparently down for at least the last third of the talk. As soon as I finished speaking, I was surrounded my people who wanted me to sign their books. The first woman said, “Your fly is down. When you stuck your hands in your pockets, it started falling. Slowly.”

I laughed, thankful that this woman, sitting in the front row, was the only one who noticed.

Five other women then proceeded to tell me the same thing. “At least nothing fell out,” one woman said.


Part of my talk is to reward the person in the audience with the most unusual or challenging question (I want to encourage audience members to ask me anything), but for the first time, I failed to keep track of the question that stumped me the most. Last night’s prize was the German edition of Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, so I gave it to a man whose son lives in Germany, though I felt as though this decision did not sit well with some people.

“If I had asked you why your fly was down, would that have been good enough to win the prize?” one woman asked.

“Yes,” I said. “You should’ve asked.”

Readers are the best.


I’m often asked about how my students, my friends, and my family feel about my books, and I am forced to explain how completely unimpressed they are with me. My students tend to be unimpressed with me in general, but my friends and family are equally unmoved by my authorial career.

The less you know about me, the more impressed you tend to be.

Last night I told the audience that I texted one of my closest friends last week to tell him to read The Martian by Peter Weir. “An amazing book that I know you’ll love.” He started reading immediately.

I spend more time with this man than almost any other friend. We play golf together. I taught his children. I taught his daughter twice. He is my son’s godfather. I have spent Thanksgiving and Christmas with his family. We are in a book club together.  His home was featured in Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend.

Yet he has not read any of my books.

He’ll begin reading a novel on my recommendation alone, but as for the books written by his friend?

He’s unimpressed. Like everyone else.


I often tell audiences that they should all be writing, and I assign them the homework of writing every day for the rest of their lives. Over the years, a few have accepted my challenge, at least for a time, but not many.

A handful at most. 

As a result, I’ve started to say, “But most of you won’t go home and write because it’s hard. You’d rather watch a stupid television show, eat potato chips, and dying forgotten and filled with regret.”

Or something similar.

I chastised my audience last night as well (I think I said that I was sure they wouldn’t complete my homework assignment because they suck), but I’m starting to think this insulting my audiences is not a good idea, even though they always laugh when I do.

I had a story on This American Life. The reaction to this news has been interesting.

I had a story on This American Life this week.


It was a short story. Just a few minutes long as part of the prologue. Still, it was a thrill. A dream come true.

I’ve since discovered that there are only two kinds of reactions to telling someone that I’ll  be appearing on This American Life.



“This American what?”

There is no middle ground.

Upcoming appearances

On Saturday, May 31, I’ll be speaking at the Barnes & Noble at the Buckland Hills Mall in Manchester, CT at 2:00 PM. My agent will be with me, so if you have any questions for her, I’m sure that we could pester her with a few.


That same evening, Speak Up will be at Sedgwick Middle School in West Hartford, CT for a charity storytelling show. I’ll be telling a story about my high school days along with seven other brilliant storytellers.

Proceeds from the event help to send four middle school students to London this summer to compete in an international literature competition. Three are my former students, so I am thrilled to be able to help them

Tickers can be purchased here.


On Saturday, June 7, I’ll be teaching a workshop on publishing at the Mark Twain House. I’ll be discussing the path that a book travels from the first words written on the page to its first appearance in a bookshop. Including in the workshop will be the sale of the book, the author-editor relationship, the complexities of publicity and marketing, the finances of publishing and much more. Perfect for the curious reader or the fledgling writer.

Call: (860) 280-3130 for more information & ticketing or click here for tickets.

On Monday, June 30, I’ll be attending a Moth StorySLAM at The Bitter End in New York hoping to tell a story if the tote bag is kind. The theme of the night is Money.

On Saturday, July 5, I’ll be performing in The Liar Show at the Cornelia Street Café in New York.

At each show, four performers tell short personal stories, but  one of the storytellers is making it all up. The audience then interrogates the cast and exposes the liar to win a fabulous prize.

Information on the show and ticketing can be found here.


On Saturday, July 19, Speak Up returns to Real Art Ways. The theme of the show is Who’s the Boss? Tickets are not yet available, but mark your calendars. It is sure to be an excellent show!________________________________

On Monday, July 21, I’ll be competing in a Moth GrandSLAM at The Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn.

Tickets not yet available.

24 thoughts from my weekend at Booktopia


Elysha and I spent the weekend in Vermont at Booktopia, a weekend retreat for listeners of Books on the Nightstand that brings readers and authors together in a unique experience.

It’s our favorite weekend of the year.

Here are some thoughts from the weekend.

1. It is impossible to predict where the idea for an author’s novel first originated. Don’t even try.

2. Writers of historical fiction are well aware (who knew?) that they can just write straight fiction and avoid all that annoying, time consuming research, yet they choose to do otherwise. I admire and respect them, but I still don’t get it.

3. Women swoon at the sound of a good accent. I wish I had a good accent.

4. I do not have a good accent. Even when I had a Boston accent, I did not have a good accent.

5. Even though I was recently told that my voice is “sensuous and sultry,” this is clearly not true. Even if it was true, it doesn’t matter if your wife doesn’t think so.

6. Any compliment that I receive in life is predicated on my wife’s agreement. If she thinks it’s bunk, it’s bunk. 

7. I am not the only person to despise Ethan Frome. Not by a longshot.

8. There once were thousands (not an exaggeration) of readers, scattered around the globe (not an exaggeration), unaware of one another. Then one day two people decided to make something that did not previously exist, and in that act of creation, thousands of lifelong friendships were born. Quiet, introverted, oftentimes solitary people found other quiet, introverted, solitary people, and suddenly they were no longer alone in their love of books. Authors met readers from around the world and established lifelong friendships that had nothing to do with their writing and everything to do with their mutual love of reading. Proof positive that world can change with a simple, audacious act of creation.

9. Sadly, the people who engage in these acts of audacious creation that change the world are the ones who are most likely to dismiss their achievement or criticize their results. Heroes rarely celebrate. They never celebrate themselves (except for Walt Whitman). That is why they are heroes.

10. It’s often the tiny, forgotten moments, noticed by those special people with clear eyes and lasting memories, that can mean the most when retold.

11. Social media allows strangers to get to know you in real, meaningful ways that you can’t begin to understand until you see these people face-to-face. It is endearing and saves a lot of time, but it can be occasionally creepy, too.  

12. If your social media photo does not actually resemble you in real life, it’s not my fault if I fail to recognize you.

13. Readers make the fastest of friends. If you want more friends, read more. 

14. Authors are quick to befriend other authors, regardless of age, sex, geography or genre. We crave the companionship of fellow writers because we spend so much time in the company of a bunch of uncooperative characters and no one else. 

15. As much as someone may love my writing, they will probably love my wife and children more. I am almost okay with this.

16. Not really.

17. Authenticity is the key to an author talk.

18. The Brits have great words like daft, nicked and knackered that I wish I could use on a regular basis without my wife thinking that I’m an idiot.

19. I am incapable of the levels of genuine forgiveness that so many memoirists seem to possess. I may lack maturity. Or I may have simply encountered more despicable people in my life than most.

20. I am capable of being incredibly sad about the loss of my mother and indescribably joyous over the mother that my children have in the exact same moment. That is far too many feelings for me for one moment.

21. You should never do a Google image search on “chastity belts” or “naked yoga” while in a restaurant. Probably not ever.

22. It’s in the company of friends that I’m often reminded that I’m most proud of the relationship I have with my wife. Sometimes I forget and begin to believe that I take the greatest pride in my books or my storytelling or my teaching or even my kids. Those are all great and I am proud of them all, but my marriage tops the list.

23. Of all the miraculous and beautiful sentences that I have heard authors read this weekend, my favorite sentence came from my mother-in-law, who is taking care of our children while we are away. She hasn’t spent much time alone with our 22 month-old son yet, and not knowing what to expect, was admittedly trepidatious about a weekend with him. On Saturday afternoon, she texted me: “Charlie is crawling his way into my heart.” Favorite sentence of the weekend.

24. I hate saying goodbye. I much prefer the Irish goodbye. My wife prefers the “spend more time saying goodbye than we actually spent together this weekend” goodbye. 

Upcoming speaking gigs

In the event you would like to hear me blather on and on, the following are some of my upcoming speaking events:


April 16: Moth StorySLAM at Housing Works in NYC (no guarantee that I will take the stage). Doors open at 7:00. Stories begin at 7:30.

April 17: World Book Night in Attleboro, MA

April 26: Literary Death Match at The Mark Twain House in Hartford, CT
This event is part of the Mark Twain Writer’s Weekend. The show begins at 7:00 PM.

April 27: Mark Twain House Third Annual Writer’s Weekend: I’ll be conducting a workshop as part of the weekend activities entitled A Sneak Peek into the Publishing World. The workshop begins at 1:00. Tickets available here.

A description of my workshop:

The publishing industry is oftentimes a mysterious and impenetrable realm. The road that a book follows from the writer's mind to the shelves of a bookstore can be confusing, nebulous and uncertain. In this workshop, author Matthew Dicks will discuss the path that a book travels from the first words written on the page to its first appearance in a bookshop. Including in the workshop will be the sale of the book, the author-ediMay 8: tor relationship, the complexities of publicity and marketing, the finances of publishing and much more. 

May 8: Author talk at the Plainville Public Library in Plainville, CT. The talk begins at 6:00.

May 17: Speak Up at Real Art Ways in Hartford, CT. Doors open at 7:00. Stories begin at 8:00. Tickets available soon.

May 31: Speak Up fundraising storytelling event at Sedgwick Middle School in West Hartford, CT. Stories begin at 7:00.

The proceeds from this event will support a team of middle school students who won a national literature competition and are heading to London this summer to compete in an international literature competition. Three of the four students on the team are my former students, making this fundraiser mean all the more to me. The theme of the night is School Stories.

Tickets can be purchased here: https://www.ticketpeak.com/smskidslit

Upcoming speaking events

In case you’re interested in hearing me blather, here are a few of my upcoming storytelling and speaking engagements:

February 18: Literary Death Match at Laugh Boston (7:30 PM)
I’ll be competing against three other authors for the title of Literary Death Match Champion.
Ticketing info here.


February 20: The Moth StorySLAM at Housing Works in NYC (7:30 PM)
I’ll be putting my name in the hat in hopes of getting a chance to tell a story on the theme “Escape.”
Ticketing info here.


February 28: The Mouth at The Mark Twain House in Hartford (7:30 PM)
I’ll be telling a story on the theme “Sex and Lust.”
Ticketing info here. 


March 20: Plainville Public Library in Plainville, CT (6:00 PM)
I’ll be speaking about my latest novel, Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, as well as writing, reading, storytelling and anything else you want to ask.

March 29: Speak Up at Real Art Ways in Hartford, CT (8:00 PM)
I’ll be telling a story and co-producing the show with my wife and host, Elysha Dicks. The theme of the night is Law and Order.
Ticketing info TBA.


March 30: TED Talk at BKB Somerville in Somerville, MA
I’ll be giving a talk on the importance of saying yes.
Ticketing info here.


April 5: Moth Mainstage at Music Academy in Northampton, MA (7:30 PM)
I’ll be telling a story on the theme “Don’t Look Back.”
Ticketing info here.

May 17: Speak Up at Real Art Ways in Hartford, CT (8:00 PM)
I’ll be telling a story and co-producing the show with my wife and host, Elysha Dicks. The theme of the night is Bad Romance.
Ticketing info TBA.

Lionel Shriver needed to take better inventory before she lamented the tragedy of her career in The New Republic.

Bestselling author Lionel Shriver has been criticized this week for a piece she wrote in The New Republic in which she complains about the amount of publicity and the demands on her time that an author of her stature endures in today’s literary environment.

She writes (I suggest you skim):

Thus, at a time I desperately need to get my next first draft off the ground, check out my commitments for the next couple of months or so: multiple-hour interviews with Dutch and Belgian periodicals, along with the dreaded photo shoots. Literary festival appearances in London’s Soho, Charleston, Birmingham, Cheltenham, Newcastle, Folkestone, Cambridge, Wapping, and Bali (yeah, yeah, tell us another sob story—but Southeast Asia involves a 17-hour plane trip and a discombobulating seven-hour time difference; I still have to work on more than my tan). A reading of one of my short stories at the Arts Club in London. Dinners with my publisher and editor to discuss a new imprint. Copious radio interviews. A ceremony for the National Short Story Award, for which I’m short-listed—and prizes are a particularly destructive time and emotion suck, since in most cases you don’t win. The delivery of a “sermon” in Manchester, which for an atheist will be a big ask. A formal lecture in Amsterdam, replete with mini author’s tour for the Dutch translation of my last novel. A panel on “storytelling” for Mumsnet. A presentation to prospective supporters of Standpointmagazine, for which I write a monthly column. An “in-conversation” for a medical conference. What already awaits in 2014? A reading at the Royal Academy, a two-week promotional tour of Australia, a six-week teaching residency in Falmouth, events in Muncie, Indiana, and Bath, and invitations, as yet mercifully unaccepted, to festivals in Alberta, Vancouver, Estonia, and Singapore.

I don’t know Lionel Shriver and have never met her, but based upon her piece, I think she kind of sucks.

As I explained to a student just yesterday, when you complain loudly and vociferously about the 99% that you scored on your essay, you sound like a jerk. Yes, the 1% that was deducted for a couple of unfortunate misspellings is annoying, but just think about all the students around you who worked long and hard on their essays and only received a B or a C for their efforts.

It’s fine to be disappointed. It’s perfectly acceptable to be annoyed. Just keep those complaints in your head, or express your frustration to some trusted friends. Not the entire class.

Or in Shiver’s case, not the world.

For every bestselling, in-demand author like Lionel Shriver, there are tens of thousands of authors and perhaps millions of want-to-be authors who would love to receive a modicum of the attention and adulation that she has. Many of these writers work just as hard or even harder than she does but are simply not as talented or haven’t found the right editor or agent or haven’t written their breakout book yet.

Shriver needs to recognize this before she complains so loudly and vociferously in a publication like The New Republic, and then she should think better about writing a piece like this.

Like I told my student, it’s fine to be frustrated and annoyed by your success. Just don’t broadcast those feelings to the less-than-successful world. It’s difficult for me to imagine a single person feeling sympathy for her, particularly when she is fully capable of declining most, if not all, of the commitments on her list.

In the spirit of realizing how fortunate an even less-than-bestselling author like me is, here is my meager but amazing schedule of commitments for the week:

Yesterday I had the opportunity to Skype with a book club from Saudi Arabia. We discussed my most recent novel, Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, as well as my writing process and a little bit about my personal background. We even spoke a bit about my previous books, another pet peeve of Shriver’s.

While Lionel Shriver may have found the hour that I spent with these ladies bothersome and distracting, I was honored and thrilled to speak to them, and I had a great time doing so.


Later, I exchanged emails with the coordinator and and administrator of intellectual property for a college in New South Wales, Australia, who was requesting permission on behalf of a student to adapt Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend for the stage. While I won’t be paid for this adaptation and will likely never have the chance to see it, the idea that a person on the other side of the world in interested in adapting and directing a play based upon my book is thrilling. I wish I could attend one of the performances, which is scheduled for February, but sadly I’m not in a position to fly to Australia to see a play, even if it’s based on my work.

Lionel Shriver may have found the writing of those emails tedious, and if she were invited to one of the performances, she might add it to her long list of laments, but once again, I am honored and thrilled that someone liked my book enough to bring it to life on the stage.

Tomorrow evening, I will be traveling to Madison, Connecticut to speak to a happiness club about some of the ways that I have achieved happiness in my life. When I received this request six months ago, I was honored but a little befuddled.

Why me?

Am I really in a position to speak about happiness?

Am I even happier than the average person?

I asked friends and family for their thoughts on the subject, and the most common response went something like this:

If you’re not happy, there’s something wrong with you. You have the perfect wife and two amazing children. You’re a teacher who loves his job and has been recognized for his skill and expertise. You’re an author who has published three novels that have been translated into more than twenty languages  around the world. You own a small business with your best friend that you started from scratch. You have a enormous collection of diverse friends. You love golf and play it more often than most people. And in just the past two years, you’ve become an award winning storyteller who performs routinely in New York and Boston and have launched your own storytelling organization with your wife. If you’re not happy, you’re a stupid jerk.

My friends and family are right. I am exceptionally fortunate, uncommonly blessed and should be extremely happy with my life. And I am. Sometimes it’s good to be reminded about just how lucky I am.

Something that someone should apparently do for Lionel Shriver.

A tale of two story slams

On Thursday night, I performed alongside four other storytellers at The Wilbur Theater in Boston as part of a Moth Mainstage. We told stories to a sold out audience of 1,200.

It was an amazing night.


Last night I hosted a story slam at Word Up, a small, community bookstore in Washington Heights run by volunteers and stocked primarily with used books. Nine brave storytellers were courageous enough to stand on a makeshift stage of pallets and plywood to share their stories to an audience about about 40 people. Almost all were first-time storytellers.

It was also an amazing night.


The two events could not have been more different.

In Boston, five storytellers underwent weeks of revision and an evening of rehearsal with experienced and skilled producers in preparation for the event. We arrived at the theater early for a sound check and publicity photos. We enjoyed food and drink in a well-appointed green room, which was adjacent to the green room of Saturday Night Live star and future host of the Tonight Show Seth Meyers, who was taking the stage immediately after us.

Last night’s storytellers did not revise and rehearse their stories with talented producers. They did not have a mic check prior to the show, and as a result, they fought with the microphone stand all evening long. There was no green room. There was no Seth Meyers.

Two completely different shows in terms of scale and sophistication, yet I’m not sure which was better.

Yes, the stories in Boston were more polished, and the storytellers were better prepared and more poised onstage. The audience was enormous and enthusiastic. The laughter and tears were more plentiful.

But the storytellers in Washington Heights were incredible, too, despite their overall inexperience. They were honest. Compelling. Revealing. Amusing. Diverse. Surprising. At least two of their stories were more than capable of winning a Moth StorySLAM.

If given the choice, I’d always choose the audience of 1,200 over the audience of 40, but in the grand scheme of things, the size your audience or the opulence of your venue are irrelevant. In the end, it’s about the stories and the people willing to share them.

Everything else is window dressing.

The career of an author is not all angst and loneliness. Some of the time.

I am not a starry eyed author. I expect little from my publishing career. When I published my first novel, Something Missing, in 2009, I was not under the illusion that I would be quitting my day job anytime soon. I saw that book as a small, uncertain, precarious step into a new career that came with no guarantees.


With each successive book, my attitude has changed very little. My most recent novel, Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, has sold well and has been translated into more than 20 languages worldwide, and I still view every book as possibly my last.


There are no guarantees. If I don’t write an excellent book every time, this career could end tomorrow. 

This pessimistic attitude means that I am rarely disappointed by my writing career and occasionally surprised and elated about truly unexpected surprises that my writing career brings. This week has been just such a week.

On Monday I made arrangements to Skype with a book club in Saudi Arabia about Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend. Saudi Arabia! The fact that people around the globe are reading my stories never fails to excite me. 

On that same day, one of my former students told me that her college roommate was discussing my most recent novel in her English class.

That same night I drove to New York City to compete in a Moth StorySLAM, and I won. My fifth won in  a row! I wouldn’t be nearly the storyteller that I am today without my writing career. 

On Tuesday I scheduled meetings with two local book clubs to talk about my my books and my writing career.

Yesterday I received updates on the film options on two of my novels. While there are absolutely positively no guarantees when it comes to Hollywood and movie deals, the fact that talented people are working hard to adapt and  develop my material is thrilling.

Last night a college student sent me a book trailer for Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend that he created for class.

This has been an unusual week in terms of happy publishing moments. Most of the time, I am sitting at a table, fighting with words, struggling to find a few more minutes in my busy day to write. It’s hard, it’s lonely, it’s frightening and it’s always uncertain.

That said, weeks like this help a lot.

September storytelling

A few upcoming events for anyone interested:

I'll be telling a story on Friday evening at 7:00 at the Mark Twain House for The Mouth, a storytelling organization run by NPR's Chion Wolf. The theme of the night is Luck and Serendipity. Tickets are $5 and can be purchased via the Mark Twain House's website.


Our second Speak Up storytelling event is on September 28 at 7:00 at Real Art Ways in Hartford. This event is free of charge. Eight storytellers, including myself, will be telling true stories on the theme Schooled: Lessons Taught and Lessons Learned. We have an exciting lineup of storytellers, including local talent as well storytelling veterans from New York City who are making the trek to Hartford to entertain us.

My wife, Elysha, is emceeing the event. 


If you plan on coming, please let us know via our Facebook page.

I’ll also be attending The Moth’s StorySLAM on Monday, September 30 at The Bitter End in New York City with hopes of telling a story on the theme Promises

Why am I willing to look less presentable than my female counterparts?

All may be true, or none may be true. You tell me.

I have worn the grubbiest of clothes for Skype chats with book clubs, whereas my female author friends, based upon a sample of recent tweets and Facebook posts, would never think of doing such a thing.

Is it because I am a man and will therefore be excused of my wardrobe indiscretions more easily?

Or is it because I am a man and am less concerned (rightfully or otherwise)about my appearance than the average woman?

Or is it because I’m just an idiot who should make more of an effort to appear presentable?

Or am I simply assuming far too much based upon an admittedly tiny small sample size?

I’m honestly not sure which is the case, but my gut tells me that if my hair was a mess or I was wearing pajamas during a Skype chat, I would be excused as quirky, amusing or typically male, whereas if my female counterpart did the same, an entirely different set of labels would be assigned.


Upcoming speaking engagements

I’ve had a few readers (mostly in New York) ask about events where I’ll be speaking next, so I thought I’d share a list here. This is my speaking schedule for the next three months, barring any unforeseen additions to the calendar.

In all likelihood, additional Moth events will be added in the coming weeks.

It’s important to note that there is no guarantee that will be telling a story at any of the StorySLAMs listed below. While I’ve been fortunate enough to have my name drawn most of the time, there are events when I am unable to take the stage. 

July 18: Moth StorySLAM 
Housing Works, NYC 7:00 PM

July 23: Story Collider 
Union Hall, Brooklyn 8:00 PM

August 13: Moth StorySLAM
Housing Works, NYC 7:00 PM

August 15: TEDx Talk: Design the Future 
IBM Conference Center, Southbury, CT 8:00 AM-3:00 PM

August 21: How I Learned
Happy Ending Lounge, NYC

August 23: Moth StorySLAM
Housing Works, NYC 7:00 PM

September 13: The Mouth
The Mark Twain House, Hartford, CT 7:30 PM

September 28: Speak Up
Real Art Ways, Hartford, CT, 7:00 PM

October 5: Author talk
Blackstone Public Library, Blackstone, MA 2:00 PM

In 2014, I will wear a flesh-colored speedo in front of an audience of readers and talk about my books. Here’s why.

Sometime in the fall of 2014, I will be seated onstage with international bestselling author Sarah McCoy, speaking to an audience of readers and booksellers about books and writing, and I will be wearing a flesh-toned speedo. You may wonder how or why this happened.

I’m still wondering this myself. 

Here’s the sad tale.

Slate’s Simon Doonan first wrote a piece for Slate entitled Why Are Guys Afraid To Wear Speedos? The subtitle of the piece is “American men need to get over their Freudian fear of showing off their junk.”

I saw Slate’s tweet indicating that the world needs more men in speedos and tweeted this in response:

No. It doesn't. RT @ Slate: The world needs more men in speedos: http://slate.me/11yov63 #slatepitches #junkshots

Sarah McCoy, author of The Baker’s Daughter and The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico, saw my tweet and responded to me:

@MatthewDicks I'll pay $$ for you to try. #WorldNeeds. BWAHA.

I ignored Sarah’s tweet, admittedly hoping that her offer would be quickly forgotten, but a day later, she tweeted to me again.

@MatthewDicks You ignored my man-kini challenge. I see how it goes. #WontProstituteGoodsForAudienceEntertainment Moral, man. ;)

As you can see, Sarah clearly pressed the issue when I tried to let it go. All that follows is her fault.

Unable to ignore a challenge of any kind, I responded:

@SarahMMcCoy I was still debating color...

Sarah responded:

@MatthewDicks Flesh toned makes quite a lasting impression. Ala #BoDerek10. #MankiniColor

My response to Sarah flesh toned suggestion is where I made my first mistake. Here is where I allowed bravado and ego to overtake common sense. I tweeted this to Sarah:

@SarahMMcCoy Here's the deal: You buy them. I will wear them in a joint author talk with you.

Sarah responded immediately:

@MatthewDicks: Oy, err, crud, you called my buff-bluff.

Right here, I could’ve let the conversation end. I should’ve let the conversation end. I had the upper hand. I had challenged Sarah McCoy and she had backed down and admitted defeat. I had won.

But no. Instead, I turned to name calling. I was feeling overconfident about my victory. I tweeted this:  

@SarahMMcCoy Coward.

Sarah immediately responded, as people often do when accused of cowardice, with aggression.

@MatthewDicks: Coward. >> Them's fighting words. It's on, dude. You name event place & time. I'll bring the necessary libations. #FLESHTONES

Thinking that Sarah would still back down, I decided to apply pressure:

@SarahMMcCoy I'm holding you to it! I'll crowd source it. #andamsuddenlyterrified

This was the moment that other people saw our back-and-forth on Twitter and became involved in the conversation. First it was Dawn Rennert (@TooFondOfBooks), the owner of The Concord Bookshop.

Dawn tweeted:

@MatthewDicks I don't know what this is about, or who to put my money on?! Is Matt sporting flesh-tone stockings? @SarahMMcCoy

Now we had an audience. This was not good. Someone who I know and respect might think I’m a coward if I backed down. So I answered Dawn.

@TooFondOfBooks @SarahMMcCoy Not stockings. A speedo. We need to arrange a joint appearance.

Dawn’s response was appropriate considering my proposal:

@MatthewDicks oh. my. goodness.@SarahMMcCoy

Then Sarah responded. Her response appealed to me because she used the word “epically” (I’ve spent my entire life trying to be epic), but it also terrified me because now Sarah was actually formulating a plan. All hope of her backing down seemed to be evaporating. 

@TooFondOfBooks @MatthewDicks I am a woman of my word. #MustPlan We'd make it epically something. When's your next book due out, Mr. Dicks? @MatthewDicks

I answered, hoping calendars, books and stars would not align.

@SarahMMcCoy @TooFondOfBooks Fall of 2014. You?

Sarah’s answer:

@MatthewDicks Ohhhhh and now we dance. Summer 2014. #MyBook3 Event on, my friend. @TooFondOfBooks

“Now we dance…”


Then good friend (but perhaps no longer) and Books on the Nightstand host Ann Kingman jumped in, offering a possible venue for this little nightmare:

@SarahMMcCoy@MatthewDicks Booktopia!

Sarah seemed to like this idea a little too much and reminded me that all this was my fault (which it was) with this response:

Indeed, see here, @AnnKingman: MT @MatthewDicks called my b(l)uff then called me a coward= challenge. we r locked into Flesh-Toned Book Event

Now the boulder was actually rolling down the hill and seemed unstoppable. My moment in a flesh-colored speedo now seemed inevitable. In a moment of honesty and fear, I tweeted:

@SarahMMcCoy @AnnKingman What have I gotten myself into?

Sarah responded:

@MatthewDicks Is this, dare I say, COWARDICE I smell? #YouUppedTheAnteMyFleshTonedFriend

Forced back into bravado, I responded:

@SarahMMcCoy@AnnKingmanCowardice? No way! Just pre-sympathy for my audience.

This is where we stand today. Sometime in 2014, I will be appearing with author Sarah McCoy in a joint author appearance, and I will be wearing a flesh-toned speedo of Sarah’s choice.

I have embraced this inevitability. I welcome it. I look forward to it.

Either that or I’m faking it, which amounts to the same thing.

I feel terrible for the audience members who will be subjected to this spectacle, but I will be sure to inform them of the optics of the event well in advance.

Perhaps no one will come. The specter of me in a speedo might be too much for anyone to bear.

My eleven year old publicist

One of my students arrived to school on Friday with a business card in his hand.

“I booked you a speaking gig,” he told me and handed me the business card with the name of a manager of a Barnes & Noble bookstore where I have never spoken before.

“What?” I asked. “Are you making this up?”

“No,” he explained. "My mom was buying your book again, and I told the person at the counter that you were my teacher. They’re celebrating their 20th year in business and wanted an author to speak, so they said they would love to have you. So I said yes for you. Here’s the information.”

barnes and noble

In addition to the printed text, the manager of the store wrote his name, the date of the appearance and some other necessary information.

The kid booked me a gig.

I always tell me students that when they become independently wealthy, I would not be averse to them becoming my patrons. This isn’t quite patronage, but it ain’t bad for an eleven year old.

It makes me think that I’m not taking enough advantage of my army of small soldiers.

“Book club date night” is probably not the most romantic way to spend an evening with your wife

Since publishing my first novel in 2009, I’ve visited with more than one hundred book clubs throughout Connecticut and beyond, oftentimes in person and many times via conference call, Skype or a similar platform. I’ve video chatted with books clubs in Canada, Finland, Australia and the UK as well as clubs throughout the United States.

Last week I joined 23 women in my home state who had read my first novel, SOMETHING MISSING.

This particular meeting took place on a late Wednesday afternoon, but when the book club meets on a Friday or Saturday night, I make every effort to bring Elysha along and declare it “book club date night.”

Don’t try this at home.

Essentially, I’m asking my wife to join me at a stranger’s home and spend two hours listening to women (it’s always women) ask me questions about my books and my life while telling me how much they enjoy my work.

It’s rare for someone to tell me that they did not like my book. I try to arrive about 15 minutes late to every book club in order to allow any detractors to have their say before I arrive, but there have been a couple of women over the years who have been less than enthusiastic about my work and not afraid to tell me so.

I always admire these women for their moxie while simultaneously questioning their taste in literature. 

I’m always honored to be invited to attend a book club, and it’s fun to be able to talk to people who have read my novel already. The conversations tend to be deeper and more specific, and the food and drink is always surprisingly elaborate and good. Book clubs have even gone so far as to decorate the space in the theme of the book and design games for us to play related to the story.

It can be a lot of fun.

But still, asking your wife to join you for a stranger’s book club meeting on a Friday night might not be the best way to win points with your spouse. To her credit, Elysha almost always agrees to join me and always seems to have a great time.

Many times she almost becomes a part of the book club, sitting apart from me and chatting with the women like she’s known them all her life. Occasionally questions will be directed at her as the spouse of the writer, and sometimes she will even direct questions at me as well.

At the book club pictured below, the love seat was set aside for the two of us, but Elysha refused, choosing instead to sit amidst the ladies on the soda and chatting them up all night long.

I complained about her unwillingness to sit beside me, but I shouldn’t.

Getting her to agree to join me is always a victory.


Redefining the Author Appearance: Four Proposed Categories

I took my friend to a local bookstore to listen to a well-known, New York Times bestselling author speak. He was excited. He had never listened to an author speak before (other than me), and my hope was that this would be one of many author events that we could attend together in the future.

We joined an audience of more than one hundred excited readers in a library adjacent to the bookstore. Most were clutching the latest copy of the author’s book. Many were literally sitting on the edge of their seats in anticipation. I was one of them.  

The author was introduced, and he thanked his audience for coming. He then proceeded to read from his book for 45 minutes without stopping. When he finished, he took three questions from the audience and retired to the rear of the library to sign copies.

On the way home, my friend told me that he would never attend another author event again.

I tried to explain that not every author reads for 45 minutes. Many tell stories about the writing of their book. They talk about their writing process. They share the sources of inspiration. Some will happily answer dozens of questions. Quite a few are genuinely entertaining. Funny, even.

My friend listened intently and then asked an important question:

“If that’s the case, how am I supposed to know if I’m walking into an interesting talk or a straight-up reading like the one I was just subjected to?”

I’ve been pondering this question ever since. As authors (as well as event managers and publicists), we do a disservice to readers by not making it clear what to expect when we plan on speaking at a bookstore, library, school or similar venue. We seek to provide customers with a meaningful experience that will build brand loyalty, but we fail to define what that experience will be.

I’m not saying that reading to your audience for 45 minutes is necessarily wrong. In truth, many of the people seemed to enjoy this particular reading a great deal. Others (like my friend) were visibly annoyed. But what this author does when he speaks and what I do at my author events are two entirely different things. If we are not clear about our intentions to prospective audience members, we run the risk of alienating readers.

After much thought, I have come up with a solution. I would like to propose breaking the author appearance down into four distinct categories and advertise all future events using these categories. I want to make it clear to readers about what they should expect when they arrive to hear an author speak. I believe that this could go a long way in improving overall customer satisfaction and increasing the size of our audiences.

The Signing

I am not a fan of this format and often reject offers to appear in this capacity, but I’ve arrived at bookstores in the past and found myself unexpectedly forced into this type of appearance. At a signing, the author sits, usually near the front of the store, and signs books for anyone who is interested in purchasing one. Though this can be a waste of the author’s time, it can also be surprisingly effective if managed properly.

At a signing at Market Block Books in Troy, New York, for example, booksellers introduced me to their customers over the course of three hours, and I found myself talking to a constantly changing audience for nearly the entire time. It wasn’t a formal talk, but it gave me a chance to speak to readers on a more personal level. Bookseller Stanley Hadsell made it feel as if the bookstore had been transformed into my own personal living room for the morning, and I had a series of guests stopping by for a visit. When handled like this, the signing can be extremely successful for both the bookstore and the author.

More often, however, this type of event is a disaster. I’ve been stuck at a table near the front of the store for two hours and completely ignored by the staff. While I am more than willing to reach out to prospective readers, this format often makes me feel more like a carnival hawker than an author.

At one of these events, I managed to do quite well even though I was seemingly forgotten by the staff. I sold more than 20 books over the course of 90 minutes and also booked a wedding for my DJ company with a customer who had read my bio online before stopping by.

“I’m killing two birds with one stone,” she said.

This, however, was the exception. Not the rule.

I once arrived at a Borders planning to speak only to discover that my event was scheduled as a signing. I was placed at a table near the front of the store and encouraged to greet customers as they entered. But when more than 20 people arrived to listen to me speak, I asked if we could convert the signing into a more formal talk. When the manager refused, I invited my audience to join me in the café. We turned the chairs in one direction, moved the book display onto a café table, and I conducted a more formal talk anyway. Sadly, the manager was never even aware of what I had done. She never returned once to check on me.

If done well, the signing can work. Unfortunately, it is rarely done well.

The Reading

Readers who attend this type of event should expect that the majority of the time will be spent listening to the author read from his or her latest book. The author may take questions, but this is not guaranteed.

Once again, this is not necessarily a bad thing.

I have seen David Sedaris speak on more than one occasion, and this is essentially what he does. He reads from his most recent book as well as unpublished essays and the work of an author who he is promoting. In doing so, he puts on a tremendous performance, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But there is a difference between a David Sedaris essay and a novelist who is reading the first three chapters from his latest literary novel. One may be quite entertaining while another may not.

This is obviously not my friend’s preferred format, nor is it mine. But I also know that not every author is able to speak easily and comfortably to a large audience. Just because authors can communicate well on the page does not mean that we are all public speakers. The reading is a way for some authors to interact with readers in a way that is most comfortable for them. They should simply make it clear what they intend while promoting the event.  

The Book Talk

At an event like this, readers should expect the author to speak primarily about his or her latest book. This will likely include a short reading, but much of time will be spent listening to the author speak extemporaneously about the book, the process of writing the book, the inspiration for the book and taking questions from the audience. This tends to be an ideal event for audiences that have already read the book, though previous knowledge of the book is not necessarily required.

For a long time, this was the kind of talk that I delivered on a regular basis, and it worked well. It still works well when I visit with a book club.

But what I eventually discovered was that some of the stories that my audiences liked best had little to do with my latest book and more to do with my life as a writer, a teacher, a husband, a father and an occasional fool. As I began to refine my methods, I discovered that if my audience got to know me as a person, they were more likely to purchase my book, explore my backlist, reach out to me on social media and become a lifelong reader of my work.

I discovered that instead of simply talking about a book, I should use the book as a reason to tell stories of almost any kind, as long as they were honest and entertaining.   

This brings me to the last category of appearance:

The Author Talk

This is the kind of event that I like to do the most. Rather than relying on a specific book to anchor my talk, I simply tell stories about my life as an author and a reader. I certainly discuss my books and am more than happy to answer questions about them (I love taking questions and offer prizes for the most unusual or challenging question asked), but mostly I tell stories. Sometimes my stories relate to elements of my novels, but I am just as likely to talk about how I fell in love with reading and writing, my journey to publishing my first novel and the experiences I’ve had since my first book hit bookstore shelves five years ago. I tell stories about being a husband, a father, a teacher and more. Anything to entertain my audience. Oftentimes I bring a stack of books to recommend as well, and each of these recommendations comes with a story.

Rather than attempting to convince my audience about the appeal of a specific novel, my goal is to let the audience get to know me as a person. I try to be as honest, insightful, amusing and entertaining as possible.

I have two reasons for preferring this format:

1. If my audience members choose to spend a couple hours of their evening with me, they deserve to be entertained.

2. If my audience leaves the bookstore liking me as a person, they are likely to become lifelong readers of my work, both in print and online.

While I tend to think that the author talk is the most effective category of author appearance, I am also naturally suited to this kind of talk, so I am admittedly biased. As an experienced storyteller with organizations like The Moth and a lifetime full of amusing, unfortunate and unusual stories to tell, it is easy for me to stand before an audience and turn every question asked into another opportunity to tell a story.

But if I was a writer as gifted and hilarious as David Sedaris, I would read from my work every time.

And if every one of my appearances took place at Market Block Books and was hosted by bookseller extraordinaire Stanley Hadsell, I would chose the signing model every time.

Different models work best for different authors and different settings, though I think that if given time, I could teach almost any author to use the Author Talk model effectively and to their great advantage.

The most important part, however, is differentiating these author events for the public. We must let our audiences know what to expect. If we were more specific about the kind of talk that readers will hear, perhaps our audiences would be larger and our readership would grow faster. Most important, customers would leave satisfied.

matthew dicks author appearance

I cringe when I see a bookstore or library advertise one of my upcoming events as a “reading by Matthew Dicks.”

Like I said, there is nothing wrong with this kind of appearance. It’s simply not what I do.

I will not be reading anything at my appearance. I may not even bring a copy of my book with me.

What I plan on doing is telling the story about how Mr. Compopiano inspired me to become a writer in tenth grade by giving me the chance to impress girls with badly written satire.

I’ll tell my audience about how my wife’s family is still convinced that I was once a burglar after reading my first novel.

I’ll describe how two near-death experiences and an armed robbery led to the existential crisis that infuses the protagonist of my latest book.

I’ll explain how some of the first books that I ever read as a child were Jaws and Helter Skelter.

I’ll tell stories from my classroom. Stories about authors who I’ve had the honor of meeting over the years. Stories about my long-suffering wife and my perfect little children. If a story is good, I am likely to tell it.  

I’ll make my audience laugh, and if I am lucky, I’ll make them cry, too. And I’ll be sure to tell them why they should be purchasing the work of William Shakespeare, Nicholson Baker, Kate DiCamillo and Billy Collins before they purchase any of mine.

It will be an Author Talk because that is what I do.

That is what I want my audiences to expect to hear when they take a seat before me.

My middle school visit included a comparison to a Boston mobster, an accusation that I am old and time spent in the ladies restroom

I spent the day at a middle school in New Hampshire on Friday, talking to students about writing.

A few notes from the day:

1. I started the day by accidentally walking into the ladies restroom. It’s bad enough that I do this in malls, libraries and other public locations, but a middle school is especially egregious, for many reasons.

In my defense, there was no signage denoting the appointed sex of the restroom. There was a blue and a pink stripe that I failed to notice.

2. One of the students compared me to Boston mob boss Whitey Bulger.

3. Another student repeatedly and spitefully referred to me as Mr. Green, using my British pseudonym.

4. Another student asked how old I was. When I asked her how old she thought I was, she said thirty. But it was clear that in her mind, thirty meant seventy. The implication was that I was old.

5. Another student accused me to oversharing personal information with the class. He was clearly uncomfortable when I explained that I started writing in high school in order to impress girls.

6. In general, middle school boys are a difficult lot. They are a group of slouching, pen-clicking, lazy-eyed disaffected kids who still have a great deal of growing up to do. I still cannot imagine how they ever manage to catch up to girls by the end of high school. Some of them are barely human.

7. Middle school girls are much less definable. Some are painfully enthusiastic. Others are reticent and withdrawn. Many seemed excited about learning. All were more willing than boys to open up and take risks.

8. Middle school students (at least at this particular school) are better writers than I would’ve ever imagined. I was impressed with their creativity and ability to communicate in the written form. I saw genuine talent in all of the sessions that I taught.