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Regan McMahon

Home Story Delivery Service

Faith Adiele reading in the home of Susan Ito.

Faith Adiele reading in the Oakland home of Susan Ito.

On a cool weekday night, I rushed home from my job in San Francisco to my Oakland bungalow to quickly arrange chairs and put out cookies and wine before the guests arrived. They weren’t coming to see me, but rather were going to be there for a reading by an author/actor they had heard me rave about. I copyedited John Mercer’s 2013 collection of memoir pieces, Swearing in English: Tall Tales from Shotgun (a reference to Shotgun Players, the Berkeley theater company he belonged to for 10 years), and his second, The Long Arm of Lunacy: More Swearing in English, which came out in November, both published by 125 Records.

By the time his latest book came back from the printer, it was too late to secure nights at most bookstores in the busy fall season. So Mercer came up with the idea of a Home Story Delivery Service. He asked various friends to organize a crowd in their homes and he’d come deliver a reading—and bring a box of books to sell and sign. He ended up moving more books at my house than he had two weeks before at a retail gig.

Taking art directly to the people is a trend that’s growing among writers, musicians, and even fashion industry folks, who stage trunk shows in people’s homes. Without the support of deep-pocket publishers, authors these days have to do what they can to get their books in the hands of readers.

“Unless you’re in the 1 percent [of sales] at the publishing house,” says P.R. and lifestyle guru Susan MacTavish Best, “little marketing goes to your book, so authors need to be way more creative than before.” Best has been hosting writers and musicians in her homes in San Francisco and New York for years. “Fortunately,” she adds, “with social media and whatnot, they can be.”

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With Mercer Out of the Hospital, ‘Swearing in English’ Finally Has Its Big Night

John Mercer

John Mercer

Earlier this year, when Oakland actor and author John Mercer was due to take the stage for the opening night of his one-man show drawn from his memoir/essay collection, Swearing in English: Tall Tales at Shotgun, he was otherwise occupied: he was in the hospital with viral encephalitis, a life-threatening illness that would keep him there for 11 days.

The advertised shows were cancelled, and the book launch never happened. (You can read more about the memoir here.)

Now Mercer, who is a member of the Shotgun Players, has recovered and the show will go on. What was going to be a one-night show for November 11 at the Ashby Stage (across the street from Ashby BART station) sold out, so a show for Tuesday, November 12, at 8 p.m. has been added. (The performances will also serve as the long-awaited book launch party and signing.) You can click here for tickets.

“I have wanted to call it The Back from the Dead Show,” says Mercer. “After all, it’ll be only 11 days after Halloween. Or since zombies cannot be gotten rid of, no matter how much we want them to please, please go away, The Zombie Virus Ate My Brain Show. Both in appropriately appalling taste. Or, since its 11/11, we could call it The War Is Over Ceasefire Show.”

Mercer is in the meantime busy writing stories for his next book, and says he’ll return to acting in the new year when Shotgun presents all three parts of Tom Stoppard’s Coast of Utopia.

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Scottish Storytelling, Elvis, and Perfect Moments: Q&A with John Mercer

Swearing in EnglishOakland writer and actor John Mercer is a British expat from Leeds, in Yorkshire, who is a member of Berkeley’s Shotgun Players. He recently appeared on their Ashby Stage in Tom Stoppard’s Shipwreck and starred as Vladimir Nabokov in The Divine Game. His one-man show, Swearing in English: Tall Tales at Shotgun, directed by Christy Crowley, was set to premiere this month, but was postponed after he was diagnosed with viral encephalitis in May.

The rollicking, profound pieces in Swearing in English take readers on a wild ride, from Mercer quitting law after getting his degree (and taking acid) to sheep farming and herring fishing in Scotland to a cosmic encounter with Elvis in the Sierra to taking his son to spring training and trying to get an autograph from Barry Bonds. (Full disclosure: I copyedited the book for John, whom I met when our sons were on the same Oakland Little League team.)

The good news is that John’s health is improving. The bad news is that since he is unable to work, in the theater or at his day job as a cabinetmaker, he isn’t earning any money at the moment. As a way to support him during this difficult time, his publisher, 125 Records, is giving him 100 percent of the cover price ($15) of each copy purchased via its web site. (The book is also available for $18 at Pegasus Books in Berkeley and Oakland, or can be ordered from your local bookstore.)

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Otherwise Known as Piercing Perception

Geoff Dyer, the British novelist, critic and essayist, sums up his new collection of essays and reviews from the past 25 years, “Otherwise Known as the Human Condition” (Graywolf; 432 pages) as “a glimpse of a not-unrepresentative way of being a late-twentieth-early-twenty-first-century man of letters” — one who writes on assignment, covering a vast range of subjects, in addition to creating fiction. “It’s a job for life; more accurately, it is a life,” he writes in the introduction, “and hardly a day goes by without my marveling that it is somehow feasible to lead it.”

Dyer’s gigs include magazine essays, book reviews, and introductions to photographic collections and new editions of works by canonical authors. He swings from trenchant critiques (Ian McEwan’s “Atonement”) to you-are-there journalistic adventures (“The Wrong Stuff”) to astute art and music criticism (“Turner and Memory,” “Is Jazz Dead?”) to personal essays (“Sacked”), seeing his subjects with a piercing eye, punctuating his ideas with telling metaphors and imparting mind-blowing insights in every piece, and seemingly on every page. Continue reading

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