Toni Morrison helped me feel like I belonged.

As you probably know, Toni Morrison died this week. The world lost a literary giant.

I read every one of Morrison’s novels - mostly in college - and they frightened the hell out of me. I remember finishing The Bluest Eye and thinking, “Damn I’m never going to be able to write a novel if this is what novels need to be!”

Happily, it turns out that you don’t need to be as talented as Toni Morrison to have a publishing career.

Toni Morrison was also at the center of one of my most memorable academic achievements in college, including a question I have wanted to ask her for 25 years.

Now I won’t get the chance.

It was my second year at Trinity College, taking a class centering on literature by Toni Morrison and Nadine Gordimer. Over the course of the semester, I read every book that Morrison had published. Though it made for an intense reading list, I was enjoying the work a great deal.

We had just finished reading Morrison’s Beloved and were discussing it in class. As the hour was drawing to a close, questions about the ending of the book eventually arose. Specifically, the professor wanted to address the way in which the ghost of Beloved inexplicably explodes near the end of the novel.  She explained that she had never understood Morrison's decision in this regard and hoped to one day meet the author and ask her about that ending scene.

The exploding ghost had seemed a little odd to me as well, and my classmates agreed. We ended class on that note, leaving the issue unresolved.

Fifteen minutes after class, with the idea still rolling around in my head, I had an epiphany.  I was eating a cheeseburger in the cafeteria when an idea struck.  In an instant, I thought that I understood Morrison’s decision completely.

The next day I came to class and raised my hand.

“I think I know why Beloved explodes at the end of the book,” I said.

Okay,” the professor said, sounding dubious.  Why?”

“Think about Langston Hughes’ poem A Dream Deferred,” I said and then recited the poem:

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore-- And then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over-- like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

“Beloved represents a dream deferred.  A murdered baby who never became the child that her mother wanted. Morrison is eluding to what might happen when a a dream like this is deferred.  Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?  No, says Morrison.  It explodes.”

There was a silence in the class for a moment, and then the professor’s eyes widened. She smiled and said, “I think you got it. My God, I think you got it.”

Sadly, I’ll never know.

Whether or not I am actually correct is this assumption, it was a wonderful moment for me. I was six years older than any of my classmates and managing a McDonald’s restaurant full time while also attending Trinity College full time.

Even in year two of my Trinity career, I still didn’t feel like I belonged. It was ridiculous, of course. I graduated in the top 10 of my class in terms of GPA and was doing just fine in every one of my classes, but when you’re in the midst of people who are so unlike you, it’s easy to feel like an imposter.

A moment like this made me think that maybe I could do this work after all. Maybe I really did belong.

And it made up for all those moments in Feminist Literary Criticism when my four other classmates, all female, were talking about Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse in lofty, literary terms and I was still unable to understand a single word of the damn book.

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Book love

A couple bits of book love that have me feeling great this week:

One of the first reviews of my upcoming novel, Twenty-one Truths About Love, has arrived via Kirkus Reviews, an important book review magazine, and happily, it’s a good one!
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Dan Mayrock is in a bind: He has not yet told his wife, Jill, that his business is failing and they are almost out of money. He's kept this secret for 13 months now. A former teacher who left his job to open a bookshop, Dan struggles daily with not only the slings and arrows of economic instability, but also the existential questions of what it means to be a man in the 21st century. What if he can't provide for his family? How can he measure up to Peter, Jill's deceased first husband? Is robbery a viable, not to mention moral, supplementary career path?

Meanwhile, Dan's father, who left home when Dan was only 9 years old, is trying to reconcile. Too angry to even open his father's letters, Dan turns to Bill, a 72-year-old widower he met while scouting a bingo hall for theft potential. A Vietnam veteran who lost his wife to a carjacking and his son to cancer, Bill may be the friend Dan needs.

Told entirely through the series of lists comprising Dan's journal, Dicks' latest novel sketches surprisingly complex characters. Much like the famous six-word story often erroneously ascribed to Hemingway ("For sale: baby shoes, never worn"), these lists—and the silences they outline—conjure a tense world in which, no matter how hard Dan tries to gain control of his finances, his life, or his emotions, he continually gets stuck in simply recording the absurdities of life and making futile plans to become a hero to Jill. As the days pass, Dan's lists reflect his increasing desperation, ratcheting up the tension until life throws a potentially devastating curveball at him that pushes him to reassess everything he had thought to be true.

A clever, genre-bending portrait of a man under pressure.

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Then there’s this:

A staircase that features a features favorite books. Clever!

The reader sent it to me specifically because of the third step, which features the UK edition of Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend.

When I published my first novel a decade ago, I had no idea how kind, thoughtful, and generous readers could be. Such a beautiful surprise.

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Ten years of publishing... TODAY!

I am celebrating my tenth anniversary in publishing today!

On July 14, 2009, I published my first novel, Something Missing, with Broadway Books, a division of Doubleday, thus making a seemingly impossible dream come true. I can still remember walking into the now-defunct Borders Books and seeing my book on the shelf for the first time.

This was followed in 2010 with the publishing of my second novel, Unexpectedly, Milo, also with Doubleday.

In 2013, I switched to St. Martin’s Press, a division of Macmillan, and published Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, my most successful book so far. In 2016, I published The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs, also with St. Martin’s Press, and in November of this year, I’ll publish my fifth novel, Twenty-one Truths About Love.

Sometime in 2020, my sixth novel The Other Mother, will publish here in the United States. It’s already been published abroad.

I also published Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade, and Change Your Life Through the Power of Storytelling in 2018 with New World Library.

Six books in ten years. It’s been an amazing decade.

in addition to publishing in the United States, my books have also been published in more than 25 countries overseas, and three of my four novels are currently optioned for film.

I’ve also become the humor columnist for Seasons magazine and an advice columnist for Slate magazine. I’ve published pieces regularly in Parents magazine

The Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists has awarded me first prize in the opinion/humor writing category in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2019. Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend was the 2014 Dolly Gray Award winner and was a finalist for the 2017 Nutmeg Award in Connecticut.

I say all this because despite a decade of consistent work in the publishing world, here’s the crazy thing:

I still don’t feel like a real author. I still feel like at any moment, I will be discovered for the fraud that I surely am and be unceremoniously kicked out of the literary world.

Isn’t that crazy?

I’ve often wonder when the day will come when I will feel like an honest-to-goodness writer and rid myself of this persistent imposter syndrome.

Then again, maybe imposter syndrome isn’t such a bad thing. It keeps me on the knife’s edge, working like hell to stay relevant, valuable, and in the game.

Still, it would be nice to answer the question, “What do you do for a living?” by saying “Teacher, writer, and storyteller” and not feel like the writer part of that answer isn’t real.

Either way, it’s been ten years today. A decade that I never would have dreamed possible and still seems kind of impossible when I reflect back upon it.

And would’ve been impossible if not for the support of friends, family, editors, publicists, booksellers, Elysha, and my agent and friend, Taryn Fagerness.

Hopefully I’ll be writing a similar post in another ten years, and perhaps by then, I’ll be feeling like the honest-to-goodness author I’ve always wanted to be.

This is the way to write a review

Thinking about writing a review of a book you enjoyed?

Probably not, I know, but you should! Positive reviews help readers find books and make authors quite happy.

The Other Mother, my sixth novel, won’t publish in the United States until sometime in 2020, but it’s available in the UK and abroad now. An unusual situation created by my US publisher’s decision to reverse the order of my books.

I saw this review of the book on Instagram the other day and thought, “Damn… this is how to write a review.”

Shooketh! An invented word! A beautiful word! An act of creation!

Also a word that appears in the urban dictionary, credited to a YouTube comedian in 2017, but still…

Invent a word. Break new ground. Write a review. Bring a little joy to an author’s life.

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Book launch: What are your ideas?

I’m reaching out today, readers, listeners, and friends, because I have always believed that the wisdom of the crowd is better than the wisdom of the one, and also because when I’ve asked for help in the past, you have been amazing.

When I wrote about my desire to find the title of the first library book I ever borrowed, one reader found that title based upon my vague description and another actually sent me the book. It’s sitting on my shelf today.

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When I wrote about Mrs. Carroll, the kindergarten teacher who taught me to tie my shoes and was the first person to teach me about the value of grit and determination, one of my readers put me in touch with Mrs. Carroll, who was in her 90’s at the time, allowing me to thank her for all that she had done for me.

When I wrote about the Blackstone Valley snipers - two men who terrorized the parts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island where I grew up by firing rifles into windows at night and requiring the National Guard to patrol the streets - the girlfriend of one of these men (who was about to be paroled) reached out to castigate me for calling her boyfriend a monster.

That last one was not exactly helpful, but it certainly was interesting.

But time and time again, I have put out requests on my blog and social media, and time and time again, folks like you have stepped up with answers and assistance.

So I bring a new problem to you today in hopes that you might offer some creative ideas and assistance of any kind.

On October 15, my next novel, Twenty-one Truths About Love, publishes. It’s a unique book in that it’s written entirely in lists. List after list after list that tell the story of an obsessive list maker and his desperate need to save his marriage from financial ruin.

My publisher will be marketing the book, of course, but unfortunately, authors must do a great deal in order to market and sell books these days, so I’m in the process of putting together my own plan for publicity. This will include a launch party, a festival tour, a tour of regional bookstores, a podcast series that will teach listeners about the birth of a book, and much more.

I also plan to leverage the unique list format to run several contests in which readers will be asked to submit their own lists based upon some of the titles of lists that actually appear in the book. I’m also hoping to get some attention from the media in this regard.

I also plan on appearing on as many podcasts as possible. I was interviewed on more than two dozen podcasts for the launch of Storyworthy, and it helped tremendously. I hope to do the same this time.

Now I turn to you. Two requests:

  1. What ideas do you have for marketing and selling this book? Any and all ideas are welcomed. Don’t be afraid that your idea might sound crazy or obvious or impossible. I want to hear it all. What ideas do you have for getting this book into the zeitgeist?

  2. Do you know anyone who might be able to help? Do you listen to a podcast where I might fit well, and and if so, can you reach out to that host and recommend me? Do you have contacts in the media who might want to interview me? Do you know an author who might be willing to offer an endorsement? Do you belong to the Obsessive List Maker Club of America? If there really is only six degrees of separation between any two people in the world, then one of you should be best friends with Terry Gross, Marc Maron, Oprah Winfrey, Peter Sagal, or Stephen King. If you could get them to read and love the book, that would be great.

Also, if you haven’t preordered the book yet, that would be great, too. Really, really great. You can preorder at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, or your local bookseller.

I look forward to all of your ideas, thoughts, connections, and hair-brained schemes. You can tell me all about them in the comments on this post, via social media, or email them to me at matthewdicks@gmail.com.

Thanks so much.

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Last times

One of the books I hope to write in the next couple years will be a nonfiction account of my attempt to try things that I was once did in my youth but have not done for a very long time.

The book will center on the idea that so often in life, we do something important to us for the last time, yet we often don’t know or bother to notice that it’s the last time.

We don’t take the time or have the awareness to savor that final moment.

If you’re a parent, for example, you spend years picking up your children. Carrying them everywhere. Lifting them to hug and kiss them. Tossing them into the car. Then they get taller and heavier, and at some point, you pick them up for the very last time.

Can you imagine?

Happily, I have not reached that point with either of my kids yet, but that day will come.

Will I recognize that this is the last time I will pick up my daughter like a little girl?

Probably not. Except that every time I pick up Clara now, I savor the moment, knowing that she’s ten years-old and might stop asking to be picked up sooner than later. So maybe. I might get lucky and recognize that final lift for what it is. Maybe.

My book will be filled with slightly more exciting moments than picking up my kids. For example, for two years I pole vaulted in high school, becoming good enough to win the championship of our very small region that contained very few pole vaulters.

Most schools did not actually have a pole vaulter or pole vaulting equipment at all.

Still, I was a vaulter, and I loved it. I was looking forward to my senior season when a car accident in December of that year nearly killed me and ended my pole vaulting career short. As I recovered from my injuries, I wasn’t able to compete, and that ended my career.

The nature of pole vaulting doesn’t allow it to be a backyard or weekend sport. When I went through that windshield two days before Christmas, my pole vaulting days were over.

But I wish I had the chance to vault again. To spend some time enjoying and recognizing and savoring those final moments in the pole vaulting pit.

That is what I want to do. I want to vault again. Join a high school pole vaulting team for a season. Try to clear opening height. Enjoy this thing that I loved so much one last time.

This is what my book would be about. The chronicling of one man’s attempt to recapture his youth. Do those things that he might not be able to do anymore at all in the coming years.

I have a list of these things - about 10 in all - that I would attempt. Some are easier than others, but all would make great stories, I think. It would be a chance for me to both look into the past as well as tell stories about what’s happening in the present.

This idea has been kicking around in my head for about a decade. Last week someone sent me this video. An 84 year-old Vermont woman competing in the pole vault.

I couldn’t believe it.

Maybe time isn’t running out on some of these things as quickly as I once thought. Maybe there’s still time to do more things than I ever imagined.

Maybe there’s still time to pick up your child one last time.

The Other Mother: Another cover reveal!

Just last week, I revealed the cover to my next novel, Twenty-one Truths About Love, which publishes in October.

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But that wasn’t entirely correct.

My actual next novel is titled The Other Mother, and it will publish in the UK and Australia in June of this year and will publish in the United States sometime in 2020.

In truth, I wrote The Other Mother first, and it was supposed to be my next book published in the United States, too, but then my new editor had the chance to read the first half of Twenty-one Truths About Love, and she and my publisher decided to reverse the order of publication, forcing me to finish Twenty-one Truths About Love early.

If you noticed that I was a little harried last year, now you know why.

But I was thrilled. They were so excited about the book and its potential that they wanted it on store shelves as soon as possible.

So today I’m revealing the cover of The Other Mother, which will grace the UK and Australian editions of the novel. When it finally lands in the United States late next year, the cover will almost assuredly be different.

The name, for example, will definitely be different. My pen name in the UK is Matthew Green after it was determined that my actual last name might offend British sensibilities.

Green is Elysha’s maiden name.

But I like this cover a a lot. I hope you do, too, particularly if you’re living in the UK or Australia.

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Twenty-one Truths About Love: Cover reveal!

It’s here!

Not the actual book, which publishes in October, but the cover of my next novel, Twenty-one Truths About Love. This is the first in many baby steps to be taken before the book can finally land on store shelves.

What do you think?

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The book is a bit unusual. Unconventional, you might say.

It’s a novel written entirely in lists:
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From the beloved author of Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend comes a wonderful new novel about a struggling man, written entirely in lists.

1. Daniel Mayrock loves his wife Jill…more than anything. 
2. Dan quit his job and opened a bookshop.
3. Jill is ready to have a baby. 
4. Dan is scared; the bookshop isn’t doing well. Financial crisis is imminent. 
5. Dan hasn’t told Jill about their financial trouble. He’s ashamed. 
6. Then Jill gets pregnant.

This heartfelt story is about the lengths one man will go to and the risks he will take to save his family. But Dan doesn’t just want to save his failing bookstore and his family’s finances―he wants to become someone.

1. Dan wants to do something special. 
2. He’s a man who is tired of feeling ordinary. 
3. He’s sick of feeling like a failure. 
4. Of living in the shadow of his wife’s deceased first husband.

Dan is also an obsessive list maker, and his story unfolds entirely in his lists, which are brimming with Dan’s hilarious sense of humor, unique world-view, and deeply personal thoughts. When read in full, his lists paint a picture of a man struggling to be a man, a man who has reached a point where he’s willing to anything for the love (and soon-to-be new love) of his life.
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In preparation for publication, we’re going to have some contests in which you can contribute to readers’ versions or create your own versions of some of the lists in the book, including the eponymous one.

And if you’re so inclined, preordering the book is ENORMOUSLY helpful to authors. Not only does it increase the book’s chances of landing on bestselling lists, but preorders will increase the initial print run of a book, guaranteeing more copies on bookstore shelves.

You can preorder at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, or best of all, at your local bookstore.

Thanks!

A man who should know better is worried about balance

Charlie bought a book at Barnes & Noble this weekend entitled “Stories of Boys Who Dare To Be Different.”

As I handed it to the cashier, he turned it over in his hands, examined the cover, and said, “See, this is good. I’m glad they’re writing these books for boys, too. It’s not a boys versus girls thing, but it’s balance that we need.”

The man behind the counter was young and clearly obtuse. Ill informed. I could’ve allowed his comment to go unchallenged, but because I am me, I could not resist.

It also sounded like he was lecturing me, which admittedly annoyed me, too.

So I fired away.

“You’re worried about balance?” I asked. “You really think that I should be worried that my son won’t find characters who represent him in literature? You really think it’s going to be a struggle for my white American son to find authors and heroes and leaders who look like him? I’m happy he’s excited about this book, but if every book for the next ten years was only written about women and by women, the gap between men and women in literature would still be enormous.”

“It’s just that there are a lot of books written for girls today,” he said, sounding sheepish, which was a good sign. At least he understood that the ground he was standing on was flawed.

“Those books aren’t written for girls,” I said with more force than was necessary, but now I was especially annoyed and, if I’m being honest, having some fun. “They’re written about girls, but they are written for everyone. Boys can read about girls, too.”

The man quickly turned his attention to scanning the last couple books. A second later, he announced my total, turning our discussion into a simple transaction.

He was done with me, either because I had snapped at him a bit or because he thought that as a Barnes & Noble employee, this was not the best means of conversation to have with a customer.

If I’m being honest again, I was disappointed. I was preparing to roll out the fact that I’m a teacher of 20 years and the author of four novels and a book of nonfiction as a means of credentialing myself.

Also possibly making myself look like a jackass.

After I paid for the books, I stepped aside and immediately opened my phone so I could record the conversation as best as I could remember it.

I like to be accurate.

Then I told Elysha because I knew that she would share my annoyance.

It’s incredible to think that there are men in this world who are threatened by the prospect that women might find an equal footing in literature or commerce or science or politics or whatever they damn well please.

It’s astounding to me that a man could work in a bookstore, surrounded by books written by white men, and think that books like the Rebel Girls series or an increase in the number of biographies of women or books written by female authors might be creating an imbalance of any kind in the world of books.

Has he not examined the books on the shelves? Does he really think that the scales are about to tip and books about boys are going to disappear forever? Is he that afraid of the idea of sharing space in this world with women?

This encounter was surprising to me, but it shouldn’t be. Frightened little boys in man suits walk amongst us every day, worried that the privilege they have enjoyed for tens of thousands of years might not be as absolute as it once was. These penis-bearing cowards are afraid of world where they will need to compete against women for power and position. They are repulsed by the idea that a bookshelf might someday hold more books written by and about women than men.

How small and sad these little men are.

Matilda vs. Donald Trump

This statue of the the classic British children's character Matilda staring down a likeness of President Donald Trump has been erected to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the release of Roald Dahl's 1988 novel.

As the Roald Dahl Story Company prepared to mark the anniversary of the novel, it asked the British public to weigh in on a replacement for Miss Trunchbull, the villainous headmistress. A survey asked who Matilda’s present-day antagonist would be.

Topping the poll by a wide margin was, of course, Donald Trump.

Even in a nation an ocean away, with the likes of Piers Morgan and Nigel Farage from which to choose, the most vile person who immediately comes to the British mind is the same one who Americans despise in historically large numbers.

For the record, Matilda would kick Trump’s ass if given half a chance.

Turkish publishers offer a small bonus to their readers

The Turkish edition of The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs has arrived!

It never stops being exciting to see the international editions of my books arrive on my doorstep.

Just this week we sold the Taiwanese rights to my next novel, 16 Truths About Love, which will publish in the fall of 2019. And The Other Mother, which will publish a year after that, will publish first in the UK in the spring of 2019.

Publishing internationally is something I never imagined happening when I published my first novel in 2009. In addition to the excitement of knowing that your story is traveling the world and the financial benefits of publishing a book in two dozen countries, I hear from international readers all the time, often through the magic of Google Translate.

Recently, Mexican teenage girls have been writing to me about my first and third novels, wanting to know what happens next.

It’s a strange, strange world.

I opened the Turkish edition of my book, mostly to see what Turkish looked like, and look what I found. Inside the book, affixed to the binding with a perforated edge, is a bookmark designed to appear like the cover of the book.

How clever.

Also, why don’t we get something like this in the United States? I’m suddenly feeling like our American publishers are letting us down a bit.

Busy Town update gets my enthusiastic seal of approval

I never understood Richard Scarry's Busy Town. I didn't have a lot of children's books growing up, so I missed out on the series for the most part.

But I also made no effort to get my hands on the book for one specific reason:

Even as a kid, I always thought it was stupid when animals in books and movies just did things that regular human beings already did.

Books like the Arthur series were similar. 

I would think: You're going to let animals talk and do stuff, and the best you can do is send them to school every day like me? Give them homework? Make them eat dinner at a table with their parents? Why? 

I also thought as a kid that Richard Scarry's books were falsely advertised. A guy named Richard Scarry wrote these books, but there not a single scary thing in any of these books. What gives?

However, I recently ran across to updates to Richard Scarry's Busy Town online, and these I can support. I love both, but I really love second one best. 

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Seinfeld gets it

Jerry Seinfeld explains with perfect clarity why I'm constantly standing on stages, telling stories, delivering talks, and performing standup. 

I wouldn't go so far as to call the writing and publishing of books the "definition of hell," but he's correct about the lack of immediate, specific feedback from your readers. 

When I stand on a stage and perform, I know how I did immediately, in real time, and that is a beautiful thing. 

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Biggest fan and greatest nemesis meet. Results are climactic.

I first wrote about this story back in 2012. It's one of those stories almost too strange to be believed.

It involves two people.

One of them is a woman from Wisconsin named Charity.

The other is a man from Connecticut whose name I will avoid using in order to protect his identity, though I would take great personal pleasure in naming him.

But I will refrain. I'll simply refer to him as Mr. Mensa. You'll see why. 

The woman in the story, Charity, is one of my biggest fans. She has read all of my books, reads and comments on my blog and social media regularly, and has written me some of the kindest and most generous emails about my work that I have ever received. She promotes my work to her friends. Even her mother is a fan of my books. 

I met Mr. Mensa in the green room of a local television studio a few years ago. I was doing a promotional spot for an upcoming literary festival, and he had recently appeared on a game show and was being interviewed about the experience. He is also a writer. He publishes supernatural detective novels and other things. 

After chatting in the green room for a while, we exchanged contact information and became friends on Facebook.

Over the course of the next year or so, he began commenting on my blog posts and status updates with great regularity. His comments were almost always negative. He attacked my positions, criticized my writing, and challenged me at every opportunity. His comments were often biting and sarcastic.

Truthfully, I didn’t mind much. I like to fight. But the consistency of his attacks were admittedly disconcerting. He never let up, no matter what I was writing about. Elysha came to despise him for his constant rants. Friends asked me who this man was and what he had against me. He had quickly become my online nemesis.

Then one day Mr. Mensa went away. Honestly, I never even noticed. I wasn't exactly looking forward to his frequent comments.

Two years later, I received an email from Charity:

From her email:

I met a guy online a few years ago. He was nerdy and Mensa, and I was single and have never minded boyfriends who are 5'6" compared to my 5'10" frame. We got to know each other on Facebook for a year and a half. Sometimes things we were reading in our spare time would come up.

After more than a year of getting to know each other, he flew out here to Madison for a few days for a date weekend. He flew out here from Connecticut.

He saw one of your books on the table and said, "I know this guy."

I said, “Oh, I am obsessed with this guy's stories. My mother discovered his first book at an ALA convention and I cannot get these stories off my mind. I'm into book three, and it's good, but this author has me spinning because I never know what to expect.”

My friend said, “I know this guy. He is a know-it-all, and I hate him and even unfriended him on Facebook.”

I was like, “Oh! I'm sorry to hear it. Please tell me more.”

He said that you thought you knew more than he did. Period.

The weekend did not end well because he spent most of his time playing video games on his phone. I asked him about this and he said there's nothing wrong with this.

His books make no sense to me and are not interesting.

I can't get 40 pages into his books.

He was a rotten date, boring dinner company, and played video games all evening long.

First, what are the odds that these two people, with such divergent connections to me and separated by such great distances, would come together, entirely independent of me?

Slim at best. Right?

But best of all is what Elysha said when I shared the story with her:

“Your biggest fan and your arch nemesis went on a date!”

She’s right. Even though they live about 2,000 miles apart, my biggest fan and my arch nemesis came together for possible romantic entanglement.

I like to think that it was the presence of my book on that table that saved Charity from years of dating misery, but I suspect that even if my name had not come up, she would’ve jettisoned this guy.

It’s an incredibly small world, especially when you write stories that crisscross the globe.

I wrote about that encounter back in 2012. Two years later, in 2014, I had the honor of traveling to Maine on a perfect August weekend to serve as the minister in Charity's wedding to her husband, Brent. I had never met Charity or Brent in person up until that point, but Charity wanted one of her favorite authors - who also happens to be a minister living in New England - to perform her marriage ceremony, and I agreed. 

How could I not?

In addition to marrying them on the edge of a beautiful lake, I celebrated their nuptials with food, drink, music, and a late night fire-swallowing demonstration by one of their friends that frightened the hell out of me.

Charity remains in occasional contact with Mr. Mensa today. He reportedly likes to brag about his Mensa status (calling his Mensa status seriously into question), and he presumably still despises me and my work. 

But who knows? Had Mr. Mensa appreciated my fiction as much as Charity does, perhaps my biggest fan and my arch nemesis date for a while, and Charity misses her chance at meeting, falling in love with, and marrying Brent.

Maybe Brent meets Scarlet Johansson at a roadside corn stand and they hit it off. Elope. Create beautiful music together.  

It's fun to imagine. Right?

Less money. More connection.

I hear from a lot of readers and storytelling fans from around the world. 

Just this week, readers from Mexico, Canada, Brazil, Columbia, and Ecuador wrote to me about my books an stories. 

Add to this folks from Orlando, Seattle, Dallas, and the "mountains of West Virginia."

There was a time in publishing when books held decidedly greater attention and appeal to the American public, as evidenced by these disturbing statistics:

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Though I wish the public still treasured books as much as they did 50 or 100 years ago, I take solace in the fact that writers like Hemingway, Dickinson, Baldwin, and Fitzgerald were never able to wake up to an email from a Mexican teenage girl who was dying to know if characters from their first novel ever got married.

This happened yesterday. 

Or a Facebook message from a woman in Australia who spent the evening binge-watching my YouTube channel. 

That also happened yesterday. 

Or the email from Canada who told me that page 181-183 of my new book, Storyworthy, helped her to release an awful burden and perhaps save a friendship.

I received that about a week ago. 

Or a photo from a woman in Ecuador who loved their third novel and sent a photo of where that book resides on her shelf. 

I received it about a week ago, too.

Yes, I wish more people read books, and I wish more people read my books, but the daily communication I receive from people around the country and the world is pretty amazing.

A lot less profitable, but pretty amazing nonetheless. 

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Low life cretins steal stories.

At a book talk about a week ago, a woman asked me if I'm ever worried that someone might steal my stories and use them for their own purposes. "Your stories are so good," she said. "How do you protect them from someone who might try to tell them as their own? Or write and publish them? Or write a novel based upon your life?"

I was amused by the question. Copyright, I explained, protects me. There is no need to file any official paperwork in order to establish copyright. If I were to write a poem on the inside of a box of cereal, it would immediately be copyrighted. If I stand up before nine people in a bar and tell a story about my life, I'm instantly protected by copyright.

Copyright is a beautiful thing. 

Then I added something like this:

Besides, who would be so desperate and pathetic to steal one of the stories? What kind of sick person would pretend that my life was their own? Even if someone wanted to steal one of my stories, I spend a large portion of my life trying to convince people to write. To tell stories. To preserve their own stories and their own voice in some way for future generations. But the vast majority of these people - almost all of them - ignore my warnings, continue to stare at the television, and live lives of eventual, lamentable regret.

People are lazy, I explained. If a person can't take the time to write or tell your own stories, why would they ever find the energy or initiative to tell my stories?

I liked this answer a lot. I thought it was funny and honest and a little pointed. All characteristic that I adore. And it made the audience laugh, hopefully in the way you laugh at things you know are terribly true. 

Then I went home and told Elysha about my impressive answer. Waited for her to express as much admiration for my response as I was feeling. 

Instead she said this:

"But Matt, someone did steal one of your stories. Don't you remember?" 

She was right.

About four years ago, a low life scum of a human being was speaking to two of my friends when he launched into an amusing story about his childhood. My friends listened in horror, quickly realizing that he was telling one of my childhood stories as is own. They allowed him to finish before calling him on it, at which point he attempted a few feeble excuses and slithered away like the worm that he was and still is.

Damn. That lady at RJ Julia Booksellers was right. People steal stories. 

Correction: Low life cretins steal stories.  

It admittedly takes an especially sad, despicable, and rotten human being to do such a thing - someone who hates their own life so much that they will steal the life of another - but it's a real possibility.

My clever, cavalier answer was nonsense. 

My only hope is that the number of low life cretins looking to steal stories is low. 

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A celebration of so much more than just a book

On Saturday night, I took the stage at the release party for Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade, and Change Your Life Through the Power of Storytelling, and told five brand new stories to an audience of more than 200 friends and family.

It was quite a night. 

My friend, storyteller, and producer Erin Barker once told me never to produce a show and perform in that same show. I've been violating her rule ever since launching Speak Up five years ago, but there have been nights when I fully understood what she meant. Preparing to perform while managing the multitude of problems that can occur in the process of producing a show can be challenging.

So it shouldn't have been surprising that being the only storyteller of the night, telling five BRAND NEW stories in addition to a brief lesson after each story, is extremely difficult and mentally taxing. I've done solo shows before, many times, but never before had I taken the stage with completely new material. Stories Elysha had never even heard before. 

It was a lot to hold in my head. 

Thankfully, once I stood behind that microphone, everything quieted in my mind and I knew exactly what to do. The stories were there, just waiting for me to begin telling. 

Happily, I wasn't the only performer that evening. Andrew Mayo of Should Coulda Woulda opened the show with a reconfiguration of his band consisting of three of my former students (and his children), the parent of a former student, and the siblings of a former student. 

They were brilliant. The perfect way to begin the night. 

But the highlight of the night came when Elysha took the stage in the second half of the show and played her ukulele and sang in public for the first time.

The story that I told just before she performed was about the months following a brutal armed robbery. I was battling post-traumatic stress disorder at the time but didn't know it. I was clawing my way through life, not sleeping or eating, and oddly not able to pass from one room to another without suffering incredible fear and mortal dread. 

Then one night I found myself standing before an iron door at the bottom of a dark stairwell in an abandoned building in Brockton, MA, wondering if I could find the strength to walk through that door to the room on the other side.

I was there to compete in an underground arm wrestling tournament (crazy, I know) with the hopes of winning some money and taking one step closer to paying off a $25,000 legal bill after being arrested for a crime I did not commit. 

I found the courage to do the hard thing that night. The impossible thing, really. That was the hardest doorway I've ever walked through in my life. And even though I would continue to suffer from PTSD for the rest of my life, that doorway in the basement of that building has made every doorway since so much easier to step through. 

I wanted the audience to understand the value of doing the hard thing. I wanted them to put aside any fears that they might have. I wanted their dreams of someday to be dreams of today. I wanted them to understand that every hard, frightening, seemingly impossible thing that I have done in my life has always yielded the greatest results. 

I was terrified about taking the stage for the first time at a Moth StorySLAM in July of 2011 and telling my first story. But doing so changed my life. 

So I asked Elysha to perform for the first time that night to show people what the hard, frightening thing looks like. She's only been playing ukulele since February, and she's never sung in public or taken singing lessons. It was hard for her. Frightening. Yet she stepped through that door and was brilliant. 

Elysha performed Elvis's "Can't Help Falling in Love," and during the final chorus, the audience joined her in singing. When the song was over, everyone leapt to their feet in the loudest applause of the evening.  

I was so proud of her. I still am. 

It was a wonderful night for everyone involved. I can't thank everyone enough for the support.

We recorded the evening and will release the audio in two parts as episodes for upcoming Speak Up Storytelling podcasts so that you can hear the stories and the lessons and Elysha and everything else.

Storyworthy in my hands!

One of the many most exciting moments as an author is the moment when the first copy fo your book arrives at your doorstep. This was the fifth time that I experienced such a moment, and I remember each of them with perfectly clarity. 

The tearing open of a box. The ripping of a mailing envelope. The nervous excitement as you reach for an object that took years to create. 

Behold. My first nonfiction title. I couldn't be more excited.

The forward is written by my hero, author and storyteller Dan Kennedy.

It's dedicated to the founder of The Moth, George Dawes Green, the host of The Moth's podcast, Dan Kennedy, and the storytelling genius and creative guru of The Moth, Catherine Burns.

It was written on the shoulders of Elysha Dicks, who supports everything that I do. 

Hidden within the pages is the editorial wisdom of so many of my friends, including Matthew Shepard, David Golder, Jeni Bonaldo, Amy Miller, C. Flanagan Flynn, and others who I am forgetting. 

It's filled with the lessons of storytellers who have stood beside me on stages around the world and students who have joined me in workshops to learn the craft of storytelling.

Each one of them has taught me so much and contributed so much to this book.   

Now it's real. It's been transformed from idea and thought to a device that is capable of conquering the barriers of time and space.

Think about it:

Ten years from now, in some city in northern China (where we recently sold the foreign rights to the book), a future storyteller will pick up this book and read the words of a writer living half a world away who wrote those words a decade ago.

Books are magic. I'm holding magic in my hands. I'm so excited.   

My daughter meets Chelsea Clinton.

These are photographs of our little girl asking Chelsea Clinton a question about Malala at a lecture at Central Connecticut State University yesterday.

“Best day ever!” she shouted.

Maybe not best day ever, but possibly top 10 for Clara. Not only does she know Chelsea Clinton as a remarkable humanitarian, but her picture book, She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World, is one of her favorites.

Clinton's newest book, She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World, also features Malala Yousafzai, who Clara also loves. She's read several books about Malala and has even read portions of her adult memoir, I Am Malala

A special day for our girl.

Later, Clara met Clinton personally when she had her book signed. She shook Clinton's hand and exchanged a few words. Charlie, too. 

As an added bonus, Clinton loved the shirt that Elysha was wearing (and that I designed and gave to her for her birthday) and asked to take a photo her to show her mother.

I think Elysha was almost as excited as Clara at that moment. 

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Three continents in a single day

There is something to be said about the golden age of literature:

The time when television, film, video games, and the internet did not steal away eyeballs of potential readers.

Authors like Fitzgerald, Hughes, and Austin had enormous audiences of readers just waiting for their next books, aching for a new story or poem, because reading was one of the primary sources of entertainment in the world.

Today we have to shout and flail just to be noticed above the noise. More than a quarter of Americans report not having read a book within the past year. And more books are published today than ever before.

It ain't easy finding an audience. 

But there are some distinct advantages to publishing books in today's world. Yesterday was a fine example: 

It started with an email from a teenage girl in Columbia, who wanted to know if my upcoming book, Storyworthy, was going to be translated into Spanish. She's read Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend and The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs (both available in Spanish) and was hoping for the same from my next book. 

We exchanged emails throughout the day. She asked me questions about my novels and my writing process, and I asked her about the town where she lived and what she wanted to do for a living when she was finished with school. Despite the fact that we lived on two different continents and spoke two different languages, we connected in a way that would've been impossible just 20 years ago. 

I ended my day with an interview via Skype with an Australian-based podcast. The host of the show and I discussed Storyworthy and my storytelling career. Specifically, we talked about the teaching of storytelling, the components of an effective story, the best means of delivering presentations, keynote speeches, and the like.

I was able to engage in a face-to-face conversation with a woman on the other side of the world, and that conversation will be turned into a podcast that can be listened to by anyone in the world. 

Remarkable.    

But the moment that best illustrates the good fortune I feel about being alive today came in the middle of the day, when I received a Facebook mention from a reader in India.

He wrote:

"Awestruck seeing how the basic human emotions n stories are the same across continents and time zones and developed and developing countries.. one of my favourite author Matthew Dicks feeling the same in America which I sit and feel here in a corner in India.. Nostalgia is universal..."

This says everything.

A reader in India is reading my blog.

A reader in India is reading my books.

I'm the favorite author of a man in India. 

Best of all, thanks to the internet, enormous distances, multiple time zones, and countless cultural boundaries are pierced rather easily, bringing two people together in both thought and sentiment in a way that could've never happened before the twenty-first century.

I can't tell you how excited and surprised I was to see this appear on Facebook. Thrilled, even. 

Fitzgerald and Hughes and Austin had larger, more attentive audiences for sure. There were far fewer books being published in their day.  

But none of them could've connected with readers on three different continents, in two different languages, in a single day. If given the choice, I would absolutely take a larger, more attentive, more voracious audience of readers, but if that can't happen, I'll take days like yesterday and consider myself blessed.