I first read Melissa’s work in a New York Times essay called “Look at Me, I’m Crying.” It’s a lovely piece about the ways people protect themselves, especially in the crowded streets and subways of New York. Because of the honest lyricism of her writing, I wasn’t surprised to find she’d also written a memoir—although I was surprised to learn it was about her years as a professional dominatrix. Still (or more likely, “hence”), I raced through the book in a matter of days, and it was so fascinating and honest and unsparing that I became thrilled at the chance to meet her (as she hosts a monthly music/reading series in the city).
Melissa was funny onstage and super friendly when I introduced myself at the bar. Months later, she’s kindly agreed to tell me about some of her most memorable reading experiences. Like all her writing, I can guarantee that you’ll be riveted all the way through—from hearing about her dad as audience member, to the acronym she uses for motivation to attend readings, to the lit event where she met someone who changed her life forever.
- What’s one of the most memorable readings you’ve given and why?
“This going to sound totally uncool, but I will always remember the first reading I gave with my dad in the audience. The first event on the West Coast book tour for the hardcover of Whip Smart was one my dad set up in his little town on the tip of the Olympic Peninsula. Now, my dad is a huge supporter, and believes in me, but (like most dads, and non-writers) doesn’t quite understand the unglamourousness of publishing. He thinks that being a writer will likely make me rich someday. So, when he told me he estimated an audience of over 100 at my reading, I was all, okay, sure, Dad, and prepared myself to look out at a bunch of empty folding chairs. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The man filled the house, and with an exceptionally warm and intelligent audience. They listened with rapt attention as I described my experiences as a professional dominatrix, and then responded with startlingly thoughtful questions. It was a great way to start off the book tour, and certainly heartwarming that my dad had so talked me up (he made posters!), but also meant a lot because up until that night, my identity as a writer had been, I think, largely abstract to him. And my book is not the easiest kind of memoir for a father to read, even one as open-minded as mine. He’d never seen me present my own work, or interact with an audience, and I think it really changed his understanding of my relationship to my work, and, perhaps even more importantly, other people’s relationship to it.”
- Any particularly intriguing (or conversely, awkward) audience questions that have stuck with you?
“I’ve had lot of readers ask, after the reading, if they can call me, because they want to tell me their story. They want to tell me the things they’ve never told anyone. I get emails like this a lot, too. It’s something of an awkward position to be in, because I am actually honored that reading my story inspired them to want to tell their own, and also that they finished it trusting me, a person whom they’ve never actually met. But I do have to gently decline the offer.”
- What’s a reading that you’ve attended that you’ll never forget?
“During graduate school, I struggled with not wanting go out to literary events, and knowing I should. My roommates and I devised a kind of mantra: JFG, an acronym for “Just Fucking Go.” If we needed it to, once we got to an event, it could easily turn into JFGH: “Just Fucking Go Home.” It totally worked. I’ve seen a great number of memorable readings as a result of JFG, and can probably credit it with co-founding my series, Mixer, too. Getting really great writers crammed into this little space, with a warm audience, and a couple drinks seems to be a recipe for great readings. The one that comes to mind at the moment is when Sini Anderson performed. I knew of her starting Sister Spit, and had heard great things about her work, but only knew her casually as my neighbor in Brooklyn. She got on stage with two musicians and no notes, and told a story about wanting to jump out a 9th floor window in SoHo, riding the short bus as a kid, God and goggles, and by the time she finished I was already half in love with her. It’s going on three years since then, and we’ve been living together for two of them, so I guess that reading made a pretty deep impression.”
I’d say! Thanks so much, Melissa.
Check out a BookStalker writeup of a Mixer event here.