A History of Live Readings Featuring Max Booth III

My first public reading was a big deal.

I am terrified of speaking to crowds. I am also terrified of one-on-one conversations. Any time I have to open my mouth and talk while someone listens, the chance of me being paralyzed by fear increases significantly.

I’ve had a speech impediment all my life. I was born tongue-tied, otherwise known as ankyloglossia, which is caused by “an unusually short, thick lingual frenulum, a membrane connecting the underside of the tongue to the floor of the mouth.” We didn’t know what was causing my speech impediment until, around the age of four, I tripped and hit my mouth on my brother’s barbell, knocking out several teeth. While at the hospital, one of the doctors asked my parents if they were aware of my condition. I assume they said no. I don’t remember the specifics. It’s possible they said “yes” and that they were waiting to see how long it would take for someone else to notice, like it was a bizarre game for them or something, but I don’t know why they would have said that. I am pretty sure they said no. But I cannot be certain.

If you ever have to give a reading and you’re struggling to choose what section of your book to use, I highly encourage the copyright page. It will always get a laugh.

Anyway, I had some surgery done soon after and my speech improved quite a bit. I went through years of speech therapy and years of getting made fun of by jerks and, presently, it’s much better than it ever was but yeah, I still can’t quite nail that R sound, especially when it’s in the middle or at the end of a word (speaking of which: do not ask me to pronounce “word”). One day, maybe? Probably not! But that’s okay. Eventually I’ll be worm food and none of this shit will matter. My whole point of bringing my speech impediment up in the first place is to explain the probable cause of my social anxiety and fear of public speaking (I’m sure spending all of my teenage years isolated in a motel room with only my parents to keep me company didn’t help matters, either, come to think about it).

Because of everything mentioned in the previous paragraph, I assumed—no matter what future my career as a writer took—that public readings would in no way be involved. Then, in 2015, I was invited to a reading by Eryk Pruitt up in Dallas, TX, to perform with an assortment of talented crime authors. One of those writers? My favorite person of all time: Joe R. Lansdale. There was no way in hell I could say no. I attended the event, I read my piece, and I got to hang out with my writing hero. Easily one of the coolest (and scariest) nights of my life. I’ve written about it in great detail on this website before, if you’re itching to learn about my terrifying drive back home.

Revisiting that linked article just now actually reminded me I’m slightly incorrect to claim the Lansdale reading was my first public book performance. At one point during the 2014 Printers Row in Chicago, I stood in the middle of the street and screamed out what was written on the copyright page of my debut novel. So, I guess that was technically my first reading, and you know what? I fuckin’ killed. If you ever have to give a reading and you’re struggling to choose what section of your book to use, I highly encourage the copyright page. It will always get a laugh. Trust me.

When I originally pitched this article to LitReactor, I assumed it would be a beat-by-beat recounting of every live performance I’ve participated in since 2015. Ha ha! I think now, looking back at Last Month Max’s utter foolishness. I couldn’t even remember what week I was supposed to turn in this article, how the hell was I going to remember dozens if not hundreds of readings? So, going forward, I will attempt to recount every reading that still sticks out in my memory. There is no way in hell I will be able to remember the dates—not even the years, if we’re being honest here—but since when has time actually meant anything, anyway?

WHO KILLED ANDREW HILBERT?

Okay, so this event I can actually recount the date, since it was heavily promoted online. January 14, 2018—Radio Coffee & Beer in Austin, TX. Seems like a decade ago at this point, doesn’t it? Before this event, I had probably done maybe half a dozen other readings, but it wasn’t until WHO KILLED ANDREW HILBERT? that I started to really squirm out of my shell and learn to enjoy the art of performing.

Here’s how the event was advertised: Who Killed Andrew Hilbert? is a murder mystery. Come solve the mysterious death of Andrew Hilbert as the suspects try to deflect blame with stories. Twists! Turns! Beer! Readings by Isaac Kirkman, Gabino Iglesias, Rios de La Luz, J. David Osborne, Robert Dean, and Max Booth III. Special guests!

First, before moving on with the article, I must link this beautiful essay written about Isaac Kirkman after he passed away earlier this year. RIP to one of the best.

Okay, here was the poster for the event, which I believe was then made into a T-shirt (I hate myself for not scooping one up when they were available):

I have to credit Andrew Hilbert for being the person to really push me when it comes to performing on stage. If not for him—and also this specific night—sure, yeah, I would have still accepted reading invitations when given, but no way in hell would I have started seeking them out like I do now (well, pre-COVID, at least...but more on that later). Andrew staged numerous amusing interludes between readings concerning his own murder. It was probably the first time it really connected with me that live readings should be performances, and it changed how I approached everything going forward. During this event I read the first chapter of a novel(?) I was co-writing with Andrew titled It Eats Dick! The story is about a boy who masturbates into a haunted sock. I know what you’re wondering and the answer is no, we never did finish writing it.

Here is a group photo taken of everybody who participated in the event after we regrouped at Andrew’s house.

Fun fact: sometime during this night someone peed on Andrew’s floor and did not clean it up. This floor pisser still remains at large. My money is on J. David Osborne. He seems like the kinda lunatic who would pee on a stranger’s floor just for the sick thrill of it.

ONE PAGE SALON

The North Door is a neat little venue in downtown Austin, TX. There’s a decent-sized stage and enough crowd room to really embarrass you if nobody shows up. I’ve done two readings there now, both of them during events labeled “One Page Salon”—which consists of writers reading one page from a work in progress. It is typically hosted by writer and filmmaker Owen Egerton. However, for the two times I was invited, Owen was not present, and Andrew Hilbert was the guest host, which is surely the only reason I was invited.

During the first One Page Salon, a man snuck in from off the street and tried to slip Andrew a 500-page manuscript to read. Andrew refused. An argument ensued and the strange man fled from the establishment, vowing revenge. Later, I read the very last page of a book that does not actually exist titled Who Killed Lisa Winslow?

Before getting into the reading, I informed the audience I had some exclusive news that I couldn’t even talk about online yet, that I recently sold a new novel titled Who Killed Lisa Winslow? to a big press, something like Penguin, and not only did I sell the book to a publisher but we also sold the film rights to Hulu, and they were already in the process of turning it into an original series set to air "next year." The page that I then proceeded to read was the most ridiculous ending to any book imaginable. I posted the “story” over on my Patreon if you’re interested in checking it out.

My second One Page Salon, I decided to mix things up a little bit and read some poetry...while dressed like a werewolf...with my tiny werewolf son next to me on stage. Also, the poetry was werewolf-themed. You can watch the entire video here (apologies in advance for the vertical screen view).

THE WEREWOLF BOOK

I once wrote a werewolf book for a publisher that, at first, seemed very cool. Then some shadiness started happening behind the scenes, then very strong (unrelated to the other shadiness) allegations came out, and I lost all desire to promote the book. But I’m still proud of the book, and I don’t know how I write an article about my live reading history without covering several performances centered around it. I am not going to name the novel here, but I’m sure you can figure it out. I do not recommend you buy the book, unless you’re reading this in the future when I eventually get my rights back, then sure, go ahead and buy it. If you’re really desperate to read it, I bet you can figure out ways to obtain it without the publisher receiving any money.

We did a book launch at Deep Vellum in Dallas on the day the novel was released. It was a long drive. I was already cranky about the event since I had a specific idea for how to make the performance something unique, something a little more exciting than a standard author reading, and when I brought this up to the publisher they basically informed me I would not be allowed to do it, that they wanted me to do something by-the-book and “expected.” Since they had organized the reading and promoted the hell out of the event, I felt obligated to listen to them. Then, as I tried pulling into the publisher’s office parking lot, this happened:

I totaled my car and, I would later discover, earned myself one hell of a concussion. Did that stop me from still attending the reading? Of course not! Here is the only photo taken of me from that night, evidently full-on concussed:

Actually, an entire photoshoot was done during the event by the publisher (it was even filmed!), but nobody seemed to care enough to ever post the material online, or answer my emails about them. Weird, huh?

Thankfully, I would have an opportunity to perform my original “book launch” idea a few months later at the best bookstore in the whole world: LA’s The Last Bookstore.

I don’t know if this is a weird thing to admit, but I sometimes think this specific event might’ve been the best night I’ve ever lived. It was...kinda perfect? I would tell you more about it, but why bother when Tiffany Aleman reviewed the performance over at 1428 Elm. This piece remains the only time someone has ever reviewed one of my public readings. What the heck. How cool is that?

One last werewolf-themed event before I move on. Despite living near Austin for several years now, I had somehow never stepped foot in the extremely cool Vulcan Video until The Publisher Who Must Not Be Named organized a cool event for all of their authors. We took turns reading from our books and answering questions from the audience, then we posed for this kickass photo outside the building:

Sadly, Vulcan Video is no longer in business, but I am grateful to have gotten the opportunity to perform there before shit got nasty.

SPEAKING OF SHIT GOING NASTY

This year sure sucks, doesn’t it? For, like, every reason possible. But the one I want to focus on in this article is, of course, the fact that I’m suddenly withdrawing from public readings. Somehow it’s still surreal to even think about how I am now the type of person who would miss getting up in front of a crowd and trying to entertain people. But it’s true. I miss the stage! Recently I did a reading over Zoom and it was bullshit. I mean, don’t get me wrong: I absolutely killed. But it’s not the same, you know?

The last public performance I participated in before the world ended happened back in January. Naturally, I was joined with my very best pal, Andrew Hilbert. This was a live recording of a podcast called Radar Talk Intimate (hosted by François Pointeau) at a venue in Austin called The Sahara Lounge. My reading consisted of chapter one of It Eats Dick! and Andrew’s reading consisted of chapter two of It Eats Dick! The entire event was a disaster, but a very fun disaster. Andrew and I could riff together on stage all goddamn night and never get bored. You can listen to the event in audio format over on Radar Talk Intimate.

I guess the reason this article even exists is because I miss performing on stages and entertaining people, and I wanted to take a trip down memory lane. I also miss my pals. Everything is stupid right now. Just so, so stupid. Please wear a mask and stop being so goddamn stupid. The sooner we get better, the sooner we can do cool shit on stage again.

Here is a photo of Andrew and I during our last public reading. It’s one of my favorite pictures of all time:

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