One magical summer, two writers who’d been friends forever decided to raise a little hell.  They piled boxes of books, some camping gear, a few changes of clothes, and a cooler full of photo 2sauerkraut and beer into the back of a Camry.  They hit the open road, reading their fiction to anybody who’d listen.

It was the DIY Magical Mystery Book Tour of Good Intentions, that took Tommy Z and Baker across the upper parts of the ol’ USA, slinging stories and selling books.  Some days were great (thanks, Missoula!) and others, well, there was a whole crockpot of meatballs but nobody in the audience.

This week on the show, we’re reminiscing about those great times and talking about the art of reading a story out loud to strangers.  It’s a harrowing, nerve-wracking, awesome experience that writers can really learn a lot from, and can learn how to do well to really grow their careers.


  • We start the show with a little nostalgic trip down memory lane of our DIY book tour, burning the house down in Minot, Fargo, St. Paul, Boise, Missoula, and other hotspots of literature.  photo 4Plus a few stories from the road and fun times we had.  We even camped out and accidentally incinerated Tommy’s copy of The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols.  No shit.
  • It was “The Reading Tour of Good Intentions.” It was fun as hell, even though not a lot of people showed up to the readings.  It’s hard to get a big turnout for a reading in North Dakota in the summertime.  People there can only go outside for about three months a year.
  • But we learned a lot–especially about promotion and how much work it is to get people to come out to a reading and pay attention to your work.
  • We also learned a lot about the art of the public reading, and the way the author can really influence the audience’s feelings about the book.
  • Tommy reads out loud all the time, even when he’s alone and writing, to see how it’d sound in front of an audience.
  • So, the reading has to be a performance more than a reading.  If they came out to hear you, you’ve got to give it to them.
  • We’ve been reading out loud in public for many years, and
    photo 1

    Minot, ND. Great meatballs.

    it’s a skill that takes a lot of practice.  A bad reading is REALLY bad, and can change the way people feel about the books and the writer.  But a good reading, with witty banter and some unique, special experience can make a reader really respond to a book.

  • By the way, we blogged about our book tour while we were on the road for the Atticus Books website.  You can check them out here.
  • For people not in MFA programs, writers can sign up for open mic nights.  You’ve got to stand up in front of strangers to really test out your material.  It’s a raw and honest reaction that friends can’t give you.
  • Readings help you be a better writer–like, if nobody laughs, you can feel the writing’s bad in your gut.  Or, you’ll get surprised by something that gets a laugh you didn’t expect.
  • Tommy has a pen in his hand as he reads, to mark the audience reaction, so he can cash in on those things as he rewrites.
  • Then we name some writers who enhance their work by doing great readings, and (without naming names) some writers who come out flat and don’t deliver, and kind of ruin the feeling of their books.
  • But really important is to be yourself even as you perform.  Your genuine
    photo 3

    Layin’ down that fiction gospel, Missoula, MT.

    personality is more engaging than any airs you can put on.

  • If the reading can give the audience something the book can’t, that’s when it feels special.
  • Baker tells a story about a famous writer who visited town, and everybody’d read his bestsellign book, so he read a bunch of pieces he called his “B sides,” extras that most people didn’t know.
  • And to end the show, we reveal our secret plans for our next reading tour: The Books and Booze Happy Hour Reading Tour.  It’ll be in the South, in the winter, with writers in town we know, during happy hours.  There will be NO LIBRARY READINGS on this tour.
  • Tommy tells the story of his heckler during his reading in Boise.  It was awesome, folks.

Alright, that’ll do it for this episode.  Get out there and get in front of some strangers and share your stuff!