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When Writers Read – Motel Girl

by Karen Tortora-Lee on January 15, 2009

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Webster’s Dictionary defines Theatre as … come on. You really think I’d start off like that?

Theatre as concept, theatre as concrete structure, theatre as war … for the purposes of these posts, “theatre” is any time someone stands (sits or lays) in front of a group of others and entertains them. So today rather than review a play, I’d like to exercise that notion and take a bit of a turn.

Author Greg Sanders is currently doing some live readings from his book Motel Girl. “These stories take the reader on journeys realist and absurd, meta-fictional and post-modern. Motel Girl is peopled by the colorful, the transcendent, the sane and insane – by egoists, self-deprecators, demons and drunks, by the well-meaning and by monsters” says the press release. Hmmm … that about covers all my required bases, as well as pretty much describes all the people in my circle. I’m already intrigued.

I sat down with Greg to talk about what it feels like to go from having your words speak for you … to speaking your own words out loud.

KTL: Hi Greg, thanks for taking some time to chat with me. First of all, congratulations on your book! I’m really excited that you’re getting out there, doing these reading. Tell me, did you decide to do this to promote the book, or because you wanted to hear the written word brought to life?

GS: Thanks Karen. I think I read for two reasons. The first is, as you say, to hear the written work brought to life, and doing so even points out places where I might be able to improve my writing next time around. You might think a phrase looks good and elegant on the page, but you might then notice that there are a few words that can be cut when you hear yourself speak it out loud. The second reason is business–to try to promote the book. I have an informal agreement with the publisher, Red Hen Press, that I’ll do about ten readings in the first year of the book’s life. Since Red Hen is fairly small, they depend on their writers to do a bit of promo. Well, there’s a third reason too–social. It’s generally a great excuse to get out, have a few drinks, and meet up with friends and strangers.

KTL: So, you’ve already done a few of these for Motel Girl. How did it feel?

GS: I’ve done two Motel Girl readings so far. The first was in Ithaca, NY, and then I did one earlier this week at The Half King, in Chelsea, which was great, and a solo show. There was a very sweet and warm vibe in the place. Although I’ve just started doing the rounds for Motel Girl, I’ve been doing readings for about ten years. I’ve read my stories at a bunch of venues in New York, sometimes hosted by a literary journal, sometimes hosted by a bar or restaurant. So it’s not an entirely new thing. It’s just that now I actually have a book, whereas in the past I used to just be able to point to literary journals where my stories were published. To the point of your question, it feels great to get up there and read a story. It’s the flip side of writing the thing, which involves a lot of isolation and silence.

KTL: When you’re standing up in front of a group of people … then it’s ALL YOU. You’re not an actor, reading someone else’s lines. This is you, speaking your words, front and center, no place to hide. Any pressure?

GS: I used to feel pressure, but now I just don’t want to screw up any of the sentences, and if I do I usually make a joke about it, or just read the flubbed bit again. I feel more pressure when it comes to selecting which story to read for which venue, and to ensure it stays within any given time limit. If you’re participating in a reading with other writers, you generally don’t want to go more than 12 or 15 minutes.

KTL: Did you ever consider having someone else read your work for you?

GS: Not really. I’m not sure what sucker I could get to do that, anyway. I think if it ever gets to the point of producing an audio book, the publisher would consider hiring an actor to make the recordings, though I’d even like to give that a shot if it happens.

KTL: How do you go about picking a venue for your readings? Is there a space that just wouldn’t work with your subject matter? Do you look for a vibe? A crowd? Or do you just go where the space is available?

GS: The short answer is that I’m a bit of a reading slut. If they’ll have me, I’m game. It’s really a toss up at times. You might read at a supposedly nice venue, but nobody shows up; or you might read at a hole-in-the-wall Monday night reading series, and the place is packed and energetic. Of course some venues are selective themselves, and won’t let you in unless you’re “known.” The Union Square Barnes and Noble, for example, practically laughed at me when I asked to read there. Others, like The Half King, have a submission policy. My publisher filled out an online form and sent the host a copy of my book, and he eventually emailed me with an invite.

KTL: Do you have acting in your background? Or playwriting?

GS: I was in a little theater group in high school, and I enjoyed that, but that’s it for acting.

KTL: Has doing live readings struck a chord with you … in other words, has hearing your stories read aloud given you the bug to see a full play of yours performed?

GS: One of the stories in Motel Girl, “PS2 Mouse Adapter,” was nearly adapted for the stage. An actor got in touch with me, said she enjoyed the quirkiness of the story and wanted to play the role of the main female character. We began to work together to write a stage play adaptation, but the actor then got a bunch of paying gigs so we’ve been out of touch. But yes, I’d like to adapt some of the stories for the stage or screen eventually.

KTL: Have you ever attended another author’s reading that really struck you?

GS: Unfortunately, the readings I remember the most are usually the terrible ones where the reader is up there for much too long, the bar is hot, your drink is empty, and the material is so-so. I won’t name any of those experiences, but they taught me to be quick about my own readings, to understand that often my audience is composed of people who are more interested in getting their next round than meditating on the existential issues raised by my short story. You’ve got to entertain to some degree, and not be precious about it. This is certainly not the rule, but if you assume that your audience is antsy, you’re more likely to do a decent job.

KTL: Here’s the bonus question section! Here’s your chance to go off topic, stay on topic, mention anything you’d like the readers to know about you, your body of work, Motel Girl, how it feels to be a writer … anything! For as long as you want! Go!

GS: Thanks Karen. I’ll just say that I’ve got a couple of new stories out and that I’m working on a new collection and a novel. You can get more info at

You can still catch a few of Greg’s reading of Motel Girl around town; check out the following locations and times:

Thursday, January 15th 2009, 7:00 PM

85 East 4th Street
NYC 10003
(212) 505-3360
Hosted by the Drunken, Careening Writers series

Thursday, January 22, 2009, 7:30 PM
Pete’s Candy Store
709 Lorimer St.
Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 11211
(718) 302-3770

Wednesday January 28, 2009, 7:30 PM
Bar on A

170 Avenue A @ 11th Street
NYC 10009
Hosted by the
Guerrilla Lit Reading Series

(212) 353-8231

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