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.

The Internet is kind and crazy and kind of crazy

Last week I wrote a piece advising that you avoid shopping at multiple grocery stores in a given week, arguing that time is more valuable than the marginal differences in taste and quality of food. 

The argument is more complex than that, but you can go read the piece if you'd like.

It was also published by the Huffington Post, which caused it to garner many more readers.

In terms of direct responses to me via Twitter, email, comments, and Facebook regarding the piece, the reaction was about 80% positive. Many people acknowledged and even thanked me for illuminating the idea that time is our most valuable commodity.

I received tweets like this:

Terry Morriston @msm114
Inspiration at grocery store:  Make time for what you love. Thx @MatthewDicks for a well said reminder goo.gl/Cbz7OH

Kelley Crawford @pga_wife
.@MatthewDicks read the "Grocery Store" blog. I've always thought my time is a value; I appreciate the validation! pic.twitter.com/SKuWOSHT8C

Many who who disagreed with me when it came to shopping were still kind enough to say that the overall sentiment of the piece rang true with them. They felt that shopping for food in multiple stores was worthy of their time, but they appreciated the sentiment regarding the thoughtful use of your time. I exchanged emails with a 90 year-old man who told me to "keep preaching because everybody's wasting their life away." 

Then there were responses like this:

Buzz Gadbois @buzz_gadbois
@MatthewDicks idiot uniformed on nutrition and how food affects our health...this article will kill thousands if they listen to you

Just imagine. My suggestion that people shop in fewer grocery stores and make better use of their time will "kill thousands." 

Also, I'm apparently an idiot.

Then there was this:

Roger Matthews @RogerMatthews6
@MatthewDicks Forgotten?? Americans used to shop at a variety of food stores (French still do). Learn some history.

This one was interesting in that I readily acknowledge in the piece that Americans once shopped at a variety of stores. I could not acknowledge it more explicitly. 

Yet I must "Learn from history."

He followed up his initial tweet with this:

Roger Matthews @RogerMatthews6
@MatthewDicks No citing of people in know, eg chefs. Start/end from prejudice. Capitalist prop. Americans decided nothing. Shoved down throats

Prejudice. Capitalistic propaganda. Heavy stuff for a piece suggesting that shopping in half a dozen grocery stores might be a waste of time. 

The comment section of the piece on Huffington Post also became a festering pit of point and counterpoint, with 220 comments at the writing of this post. 

Some express agreement with me.
Some respectfully disagree and attempt to present an alternate view.
Some have clearly been written in Crazy Town, USA.  

I never mind when readers disagree with me, but when they call me names, make hyperbolic statements, and say things like "Learn some history," I always respond by congratulating these people on making such excellent use of the anonymity of the Internet, which allows them to say horrible and ridiculous things that they would be unlikely to say in person. 

When you write a blog post every single day for more than 12 years (as I have), you always run the risk of upsetting readers. Angering them. Hearing from them loud and clear when they disagree.

You also run the risk of being called names and occasionally encountering the residents of Crazy Town. 

Thankfully, I have a thick skin and a good sense of humor. My wife and I got a good laugh over the thousands who will die upon reading my piece. I had a good laugh on the golf course over my capitalistic propaganda and extreme prejudice. I took great pleasure in congratulating these Internet trolls for finding such an ideal digital bridge to hide beneath while flinging insults and spouting their bizarre rants.   

This blog has brought me far more good than bad, and that is saying a lot given some now distant history. But it's true. I have met some remarkable people and enjoyed some amazing opportunities and experiences through the act of writing and connecting with thousands of people daily. 

But there are also the trolls. The lunatics. Angry, rude, and loathsome people who behave badly because they need not encounter me in person.  

Honestly, I kind of enjoy them, too. They make me laugh. They serve as an excellent contrast to the reasonable, rationale, decent people who I encounter. They make for great stories.

More on shoe removal

The Internet is a pretty astounding place. Earlier this week I wrote a post about homeowners asking guests to remove their shoes. I said that I found this to be a ridiculous request, but the point of my piece was to suggest that people should feel free to step outside the norm but also be prepared to be viewed as odd, bizarre or even rude as a result.

I received a lot of responses regarding this post via email, Twitter and Facebook, and most people sided with me. But no one seemed to care about my overarching message. In the end it was all about the shoes.

Kind of frustrating, I must admit.

Nevertheless, a few people did not agree with my position, including one reader who actually writes a blog that defends the removal of shoes in the home.

Just imagine: a whole blog dedicated to the subject!

I’m in the process of reading through the posts and am trying to maintain an open mind on the subject, but it’s admittedly difficult.

The whole idea seems like lunacy to me.

But the fact that the Internet provides a forum for a person to argue in favor of shoe removal in the home is a testament to its scope and reach.

What an amazing world in which we live.

"Be an unbeatable person and avenge my death.”

I write a daily blog to my daughter entitled GreetingsLittleOne.com. I’ve written every day since we learned that my wife was pregnant and have not missed a day. Sometimes the post is merely a collection of photographs and videos from the day. Other times it’s an account of the day’s proceedings. Occasionally I dispense fatherly advice or share stories about our family or our childhoods.

Coming from a family with less than two dozen photographs from my childhood and nary an account of my childhood days save my sister’s remarkable memory, I hope that this blog means something to my daughter someday.

For me, it’s meant a marking of the days and a purposeful recognition of each of Clara’s milestones. When asked by people if I think that time is flying by and Clara is growing up too quickly, I always say no. I think that the need to sit down each day and write something to her has helped me soak in every moment.

But nothing that I have written to Clara thus far holds a candle to the farewell letter written by Masanobu Kuno, a Japanese bomber pilot, to his 5-year-old son, Masanori, and 2-year-old daughter, Kiyoko, on the eve of his kamikaze attack against Allied vessels.


Dear Masanori and Kiyoko, Even though you can't see me, I'll always be watching you. When you grow up, follow the path you like and become a fine Japanese man and woman. Do not envy the fathers of others. Your father will become a god and watch you two closely. Both of you, study hard and help out your mother with work. I can't be your horse to ride, but you two be good friends. I am a cheerful person who flew a large bomber and finished off all the enemy. Please be an unbeatable person like your father and avenge my death. From Father

“…be an unbeatable person and avenge my death.”


Nothing I have told my daughter so far comes even close to being this good.

And yes, I know he was a kamikaze pilot who flew a suicide mission into an American ship, killing American servicemen, but please remember that Kuno believed that his nation was under attack, his Emperor was a God, and that his mission was just. Japanese high command can be blamed for Japanese aggression and war crimes during World War II, but soldiers like Kuno were merely following the orders of their superiors who received instructions from God.

On a side note, I’ve recently launched a new blog with my sister (107FederalStreet.blogspot.com) in which I will attempt to mine her extraordinary memory in an attempt to resurrect my own childhood memories. Kelli is an excellent writer, so with some prompting from me, I’m hoping that we can begin a back-and-forth exchange that will provide me with a new and better picture of my time growing up. Probably not of interest to any of my readers, except for the stalkers.

And when it comes time to write my memoir, I’ll just do a lot of cut-and-pasting.

The Page 69 Test

Marshall McLuhan recommends that the book browser turn to page 69 of any book and read it. If you like that page, buy the book. It works.

Following this theory, I have written a guest post for the blog The Page 69 Test, as it pertains to UNEXPECTEDLY, MILO. 

Surprisingly, even though page 69 of my book is only half a page of text, it passes the the Page 69 Test quite well.

Infecting the Internet

I’ve been writing some guest posts for various blogs recently, and two went up yesterday if you’re interested in clicking over and checking them out. 

On the Water Street Books blog, I’m writing a three-part series on the realities of a book tour.  The first post describes certain aspects of my book tour from the previous year.  Posts in the coming two weeks will deal with some particularly amusing and slightly horrifying experiences from last year’s tour.  The people, the places, and the lunatics who made my year memorable.

I’ll be appearing at Water Street Books in Exeter, New Hampshire on August 21.  If you’re in the area, stop by and say hello!

On author Stacy Juba’s blog, I wrote a post about what I was doing twenty-five years ago this year to coincide with her latest novel, TWENTY-FIVE YEARS FROM TODAY. 

Twenty-five years ago, I was a freshman in high school, and it was an eventful year indeed.

Thanks for clicking!

Ten Word Wiki

Ten Word Wiki is a spinoff of Wikipedia with one important distinction:  All entries must consist of exactly ten letters.  The results are often amusing and sometimes quite profound.  The site has become my newest time-waster, so click at your own risk. 

I’m completely obsessed with it. 

And I’ve even submitted my own 10 Word Wiki entry, which can be found on the site.  It is:

Project Runway: Heidi Klum making everyone else look like flat, boring nobodies.

Here is a list of ten recent favorites as well:

Bumper sticker. Literal translation: Caution, I drive like a twat.

Ten Commandments: Ten rules of life from God. Such a spoil sport.

Book: Bundles of wood pulp and pictures/words; doesn't need batteries.

Lance Armstrong: inspirational uni-testicled cycling legend. Singlehandedly invented the rubber wristband industry.

Lost (television series): It’s about time travel, fate, good/evil, heaven/hell … maybe

Nothing: Nothing would be this page if you removed 10 words.

Sarah Palin: Failed Vice Presidential candidate. Made stupidity popular again post-W.

Tim Burton: Helena Bonham-Carter's employer. Takes the cowbell approach with Gothic themes.

Intelligent: High knowledge base. Can be sexy/nerdy depending on knowledge.

Tiger Woods: World's greatest golfer. Plays a round, and then plays around.

Rules of a gun fight

I'm not exactly a gun fan, but this website, which lists the rules of a gunfight, is simply genius.  Funny, clever, and loaded with the truth. A few of my favorite rules include:

Forget about knives, bats and fists. Bring a gun. Preferably, bring at least two guns. Bring all of your friends who have guns. Bring four times the ammunition you think you could ever need.

Stretch the rules. Always win. The only unfair fight is the one you lose

The faster you finish the fight, the less shot you will get.

Be courteous to everyone, overly friendly to no one.

Your number one option for personal security is a lifelong commitment to avoidance, deterrence, and de-escalation.

I am not very good at that last one.


OMG Facts, a website that tweets out supposedly amazing facts throughout the day, recently posted two that I considered less than amazing and downright commonplace. 


Soccer is the most viewed sport in the world.

Didn’t everyone already know this?  It’s the most popular sport in the world.  The World Cup draws almost as much attention as the Olympics.  And millions of suffering parents stand along the sidelines each weekend, watching their hapless children kick a ball in random directions.

Of course it’s the most viewed sport in the world.  


People don't actually get sick colds and the flu because of cold weather.

People are more likely to get sick during wintertime because they spend more time indoors and they share more germs because of it, causing them to get sick more often. There is also evidence now that viruses spread more easily through dry air. When it is cold outside, the air is drier both outdoors and inside. In tropical areas, the common cold and flu season generally occurs during the rainy season because people come in closer contact with each other indoors.

While I realize that there are still people who tell children to put on their coat or they will catch a cold (probably the same people who believe that Fox News is fair and balanced), don’t all intelligent people know this as well?

New name. New design. Same writer.

In case you haven’t noticed, the masthead to this blog changed today.  The original masthead, designed by my wife, reflected the blog’s previous URL.  That address, matthewdicks.com, is now the location of my new author’s website.

This new masthead, also designed by my wife, is reflective of the new name that I have chosen for the blog, Grin and Bare It.  It’s a name that I have been toying with for a while.

I enjoy double entendres.  I especially get a kick out of the way the name references both me and the reader.

Hope you like it, too. 

Pen names

Nathan Bransford recently posted about pen names, recommending that unless the reasons are compelling, there is no reason to make use of a pseudonym. 

While I tend to agree, I can’t help but think that Mark Twain is so much better than Samuel Clemens.  And so apropos.

And Lemony Snicket is much more fun than Daniel Handler. If you’ve ever listened to Daniel Handler speak, you know that he’s much more of a Lemony Snicket than a Daniel Handler anyway. 

But in general, it would seem to me that your own name should be just fine. 

Oddly enough, I have been asked more than once if my name, Matthew Dicks, is a pseudonym.  My response is always the same: 

Of all the possible names that I could have chosen, do you think that I would’ve chosen the last name Dicks?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining about my name.  With a name like Dicks, you can’t help but be tough.  You truly come to believe that sticks and stone will break your bones but names will never hurt you. 

You also learn that when you punch someone between the eyes, they are less likely to get up.

Punch someone in the mouth and you cut your knuckles on their teeth and put the taste of blood in their mouth.  Not good. 

Still, even when accompanied by these valuable lessons, Dicks wasn’t the easiest name with which to grow up.  Not only was it a source of amusement for many of my classmates, but it tends to limit the choices that one has when choosing your future child’s name.  Without going into specifics, just imagine all the first names that do not work with my last name.  And for every name you can think of, I have three more, and most are probably more amusing than yours. 

The problems don’t end there.  My wife, whose maiden name was Green, didn’t really have the option to hyphenate when we married, lest she become Elysha Green-Dicks. 

It’s a name that creates many difficult scenarios.  

Of course, I also have an uncle and a great uncle named Harold, and both go by the name Harry Dicks. 

Harry Dicks.  Think about it. 

And my father’s name is Leslie, and everyone calls him Les Dicks.

So I guess the idea of bad naming combinations didn’t occur to my grandparents.


Last month Nathan Bransford wrote a post centering on five lessons that he has learned about writing from watching reality television.  It’s an amusing and insightful piece, and I thought his first lesson was the most pertinent:

“Overconfidence is your greatest adversary.” 

As a published author, I have received many requests from fledgling writers asking for help in the publishing world.  I often find this shocking considering how much I still need to learn and how relatively inexperienced I am. Nevertheless, I am always honored by these requests and attempt to accommodate them whenever possible. 

Some, however, are easier to help than others.  

A few people have wanted me storm the halls of Random House with their manuscript in hand, demanding that it be published. 

Others are looking for the name of my agent (which is easily found with a Google search or by simply read this blog, demonstrating a complete lack of effort by these people), thinking that her name alone is the key to the publishing kingdom.

More reasonable people are simply looking for advice.  They want tips on finding a literary agent.  They ask about the path that I took in order to be published.  They are trying to glean some insight about the publishing world.   

Occasionally someone will ask me to read something that they have written in hopes of receiving an honest critique, and in these cases, I always agree to read at least part of the work (though not always on a timely basis).  But I’ve discovered that these requests for a reading and critique usually come in two forms:

1.  I’d love to hear what you think about my piece.  I’ve worked long and hard, and I’m proud of what I have accomplished, but I’m sure that there is still a lot of work to do.  Any comments that you might have would be appreciated.

2.  I have written the next great American novel.  Seriously.  My friends don’t understand my fiction, and my mother refuses to read another word, but I’m telling you, it’s amazing.  The best.  And it’s just the kind of thing that you would appreciate.  You’re going to love it.  I promise. 

I have great faith that with remarkable persistence, enormous amounts of hard work, and a little luck, the first set of writers that I described will eventually find some level of success in the publishing world.  They may not become wealthy or even well paid for their work, but they will achieve their dream in some way. 

As for the latter group, regardless of how talented the writer may be, I do not hold out much hope.  If you’ve written something great, you don’t have to be the one to proclaim its superiority.  Allow someone else to do it for you.     

Humility is easy.  Why do so many people seem to have such a hard time adopting it?

Tuesday Teaser

Blogger Wendy Morris of Well-Mannered Frivolity recently wrote a post about SOMETHING MISSING which I thought was interesting and unique. 

Wendy’s politics and mine are like oil and water, but it appears that our fondness for books might allow us to nevertheless be friends.  She writes:

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Wendy’s Tuesday Teaser:

The dog growled and continued to tug, snapping up more fabric, pulling Martin even closer, and more fabric in its jaws, Martin felt his airflow begin to constrict. He wondered if Cujo might choke him to death before the dog ever managed a bite.

From Something Missing: A Novel by Matthew Dicks

And since it’s Tuesday, I thought I’d share my own Tuesday Teaser:

Lillian in the supermarket, terrified and angry, her long hands running over shelves, knocking down cans, grabbing at last a box and muttering, reaches out to grab an innocent shopper, thrusts the box into the woman’s face, shrieking, “What is this! Tell me what this is!,” until the shopper, in irritated charity, says, “Cornflakes,” and shakes loose.

From GEEK LOVE by Katherine Dunn

Waiting is the worst

My favorite literary agent in the whole world (and one of my favorite people in the world) is Taryn Fagerness. I am proud to call her my agent and my friend. She is a brilliant professional and my hero.

Hero? Heroine? I dunno. I think hero sounds better, but if she likes heroine, that would be fine, too.

Either way, despite my supreme adoration for Taryn and my assumption that all other literary agents pale in comparison, I recently discovered that there might be one or two other agents in the world who pass muster, including Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown, LTD. Though I don’t know him personally, I’ve begun to read his blog and have become an instant fan, not necessarily for his literary agent super powers (of which I have no knowledge), but for the way in which he consistently brings interesting stories from the publishing world to my attention.

It’s become a blog that I read every day.

Recently, Bransford wrote a post about the excruciating pain that comes with waiting.

I understand his pain.

As a writer, waiting can be the worst. Whether it’s waiting for your book to sell or your agent to read your manuscript or your wife to read the latest chapter, waiting is absolute torture. Unlike the athlete or the musician, whose performance is instantly recognized and appreciated by fans, an author’s efforts remain unseen by most readers for more than a year after the words have hit the page.

This is bad enough. But waiting for an editor, an agent, or even your loving spouse can be brutal.  Yes, I know that reading takes time and people are not available at the drop of the hat, but I often wish they were. 

Bransford says it best when he writes:

“The frustrating thing about submitting to agents and editors is that there's nothing. you. can. do. about. it. Once you hit send you're at their mercy. The stress of always wondering if today is the day you're going to receive good or bad news, of always sneaking peeks at your e-mail, and trying to be cool and composed in front of the people who are invested in your work, and hearing all those nos before you get your yeses.... it's a steady stress that wears you down.”

Amen, brother.

Last summer, I was waiting for my publisher to make an offer on UNEXPECTEDLY, MILO. The interminable wait to hear if I was to be more than a one-hit-wonder was bad enough, but tied into this delay was my wife’s decision to teach during the subsequent school year. A good offer on the book meant that she could stay at home with our newborn daughter for another year. Otherwise, we would be forced to navigate the difficult and potential heart-wrenching waters of daycare.

A change in staffing and a restructuring of departments within the publishing house delayed the offer, making our wait even more excruciating. Eventually my wife and I were forced to hope for the best and submit her request for extended maternity leave, unable to wait any longer lest her teaching position ended up unfilled.

A stressful time indeed.

In the end, everything worked out just find, but Brandford is correct when he asserts that waiting is the worst part.

I’d take a bad day at the keyboard over a single day of waiting any day.

Strange things afoot at the Circle K

Photographer and artist Paho Mann has photographed almost two dozen re-inhabited Circle K convenience stores in the Phoenix, New Mexico area.  As the company began moving its stores to more profitable locations in the 1990s, “the shells left by this migration were filled by small businesses, each inhabiting an architecturally identical structure. The new occupants painted, put up a new signs, and modified windows and doors.”

The result is a fascinating look at the creativity and individuality of local business people and provides an intriguing look at the history of the region. 

It’s also flat-out kooky, a sensibility that often appeals to me.

I can’t explain it, but ideas and images like this inspire me like few others.  I look at one of these re-imagined Circle K’s and think that I could probably write a novel about each one.  I can’t help but imagine the people working inside, and just like that, characters begin to take shape in my mind. 

Also, for connoisseurs of the film classic Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, the Circle K brings back some rather fond memories as well.