In addition to having a cool name, Maddie Margarita is the producer of Lit Up! OC (aka Orange County), which is a monthly author event that showcases the work of Southern California writers. (Note: I once may have had a drink or two called the Maddie Margarita, though the recollection of which is hazy and very possibly a false memory for the convenience of this article.)
In her former life, Maddie spent her time as a corporate executive and business owner. Eventually, though, she decided to “enter the real world,” which led to re-discovering her passion for fiction and ultimately to her writing novels. Most recently, Maddie had two shorty stories published in the anthology, It’s All In The Story, and is currently shopping her romantic suspense novel.
She belongs to Sisters in Crime (an organization promoting the professional development and advancement of women crime writers, and NOT a band of feminist outlaws), O.C. Writers, and serves on the Board of the Southern California Writer’s Association.
And, full disclosure, I was one of the three authors who Maddie selected to read at the inaugural Lit Up five years ago.
Casey: In the introductory paragraph above, I wrote that Lit Up is a monthly author event. Can you explain in more detail what Lit Up is, including the types of writing showcased?
Maddie: In the beginning, I imagined Lit Up as a kind of amped up literary salon for readers and writers interested in finding new authors and/or talking books with smart people. But after five years, Lit Up has become a community of people committed to supporting at writers at all stages of their writer’s journey. What differentiates Lit Up from most literary or book events is that we welcome both unpublished and published writers interested in sharing their work to our mic!
C: What was the inspiration that led you to create Lit Up?
M: Lit Up sprung from the abyss that exists between finishing a book and securing an audience. I knew many talented writers in my critique book who had written and independently published books but lacked the skills, desire, and/or platform to get it out to the public. I had also been to many book signings/author appearances where the author was asked unrevealing questions that gave me no insight into who they were as people or writers. That’s where I came up with Lit Up’s unique format. With the support of my critique partners from Pure Fiction League we launched one of Orange County’s most unique literary salons.
C: And by the way? “Lit Up” is an interesting choice for a name. Please, do tell.
M: Lit Up was intended to be illuminating—hence the name!
C: What is the “day-to-day” behind-the-scenes aspect of running/producing Lit Up, including how you find authors to read at the events? Is there an open submission or do you “hand select” the authors? What are the criteria that the author has to meet to be accepted for Lit Up?
M: It may not appear so, but identifying, stalking and vetting three talented authors every month is hugely time consuming! Luckily, we have an enormous amount of local talent in Southern California. As the Chief Talent Wrangler for the Southern California Writers Association, a member of Sisters in Crime, and a participant in numerous writers’ conferences – I have the opportunity to improve my own writing and network with other writers. It also helps that reading at Lit Up is a fun, satisfying experience for our authors so they refer their friends. Interested authors can submit a scene or chapter -approx. 2200 words – to firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration. We do not require that you or your work be published, just compelling and well-written.
C: You’re not just the producer, but also the moderator of the Lit Up events. Do you have to psych yourself up to put on a show, so to speak, or does it come naturally for you?
M: As for psyching myself up– I normally hit the bar next door for a few shots beforehand... Well, maybe the first couple of years! Now, I’m more excited than nervous. I mean who wouldn’t be? I have the chance to experience the work of new writers and offer a platform for them to connect with readers and fans they might never have met without us! I research every authors’ work and read their books when I can. When I can, I read submissions and develop questions beforehand. Lately, I’ve discovered I can develop effective questions while listening to the authors—which saves me three or four hours.
C: Many of the Lit Up audience are “repeat customers” and they really seem to appreciate not only the authors but what you bring to the table. Why do you think that is, i.e., why are you so adored?
M: Adored? Thank God you aren’t prone to exaggeration! I think people attend Lit Up because the people are friendly, the format is unique, and every month they have the thrill of the hunt. A chance to discover their next favorite author. What could be better than that?
C: How do you get the word out about Lit Up? Do you do any marketing? Is it more about word of mouth?
M: Lit Up has received support from Pure Fiction League, Southern California Writers, OC Writers and emerging and published writers throughout Southern California—from San Diego to Ventura up to Washington. Word of mouth has been strong, but Facebook, Meetup, and other social media has dramatically extended our reach.
C: Can you tell us about the venue? How important is the venue for Lit Up?
M: Our new venue is Bardot Bar & Coffee in Tustin, but we owe a debt of gratitude to our friends at Kean Coffee who supported us for three years. Bardot is hip and lends itself to reading and enjoying our authors. Jeff, the owner has been a gracious host and we look forward to many successful events in the years to come!
C: What is your definition of a successful Lit Up event?
M: For me, a successful night is as much the quality of the work and the connection authors form with the audience as the number of attendees. That’s not to say size doesn’t matter—because it does.
C: How important is it for you to engage the audience? How do you go about doing that?
M: The energy level and participation of the audience in our discussions greatly enhances the quality of experience and gives writers the encouragement to continue! For this reason, I work hard to engage the audience in discussions about the readings and point out what—from my perspective—makes each piece special.
C: What do you think the benefits are for the audience? Is it more about education/exposure or entertainment?
M: So, I guess there is a strong educational component to the event. We have such a well-read educated audience, and our authors are so smart, that everyone, including me, learns something new every night! But it’s the quality and the diversity of our authors that keeps people engaged and entertained. We’ve had a Pulitzer Prize nominated journalist, a best-selling author, and a talented emerging writer read on the same night!
C: After a reading, you engage the author in a Q & A. What is your goal in terms of the information you want to extract from the author?
M: Next to using enhanced interrogation techniques, interviewing unwilling and unwitting authors is one of my favorite past times! My goal is to extract bits and pieces of interesting information that provide insight into the writing and the writer’s psyche. I also attempt to reveal the author’s other writing and personal experience to provide context for the audience –also it’s a great commercial for the authors who seem to shy away from promoting themselves and their work.
C: In addition to running Lit Up, you are involved various other writing/story-related activities/communities as stated in the intro above, which sounds like a lot of time and effort. Why? What’s in it for you?
M: What’s in it for me? It’s funny how many people ask me that question. It’s hard to describe how enormously satisfying it is to be a small part of so many writers’ journeys. Critiquing a writer’s work is best done in a private setting. My job is to talk about the positive, extraordinary aspects of every writer’s work and encourage them to continue. This whole writing thing is a journey not a destination, and meeting and listening to our authors inspires and motivates me to write. Lit Up has provided me the opportunity to make so many new friends—you know who you are—and I am extraordinarily grateful!
C: You are a published writer as well. How has running Lit Up informed/influenced you, not as a producer of the event, but as a writer?
M: See above.
C: Lit Up just celebrated its five-year anniversary. What does this benchmark mean to you?
M: People told me Lit Up would never get off the ground. Now, five years later, we’ve provided a platform for over 150 writers and developed a strong and literate group of smart, fun people. How amazing is that?
C: What motivates you to keep running Lit Up?
M: See above.
C: What are you long term goals for Lit Up? For example, do you have any interest in expanding Lit Up to other locales? What about expanding Lit Up in terms of digital media, such as a video or an online magazine, for example?
M: The vision is for Lit Up to jump to a podcasting sort of event with audience participation. An on-line magazine would be amazing! Anything that we can do to increase our bandwidth, while still allowing time to write is an option.
C: How long do you plan for Lit Up to exist?
M: As long as our audience and authors get what they need!
C: Finally, where on social media can people find about Lit Up and upcoming events. And where can they find you?