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Literary Death Match Winner Tracy McMillan Talks Performing in Front of a Crowd

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The audience at Literary Death Match last night was a sea of tortoise-shell glasses and skinny jeans -- to be expected at one of the most hyped-up bookish to-dos in Los Angeles. On the stage in front of them at Busby’s East, four writers read excerpts of their work, which were critiqued by a panel of judges that included Molly Ringwald and Michael C. Hall.

After a grueling round of readings, and then a quick round of musical trivia, one writer - Tracy McMillan (“Mad Men,” “Why You’re Not Married…Yet”) - was crowned the winner of the evening.

McMillan, a tall, reed-thin woman in her 40s with a sensual but playful way about her, read a piece she wrote just days ago about attending a couples’ retreat with her boyfriend. The retreat, she said, took place in a Double Tree hotel on “the wrong side of Culver City,” and involved hours of dialogue, problem-solving and learning how to listen.

Here, she talks to us about how it felt to get up and share her most intimate moments in front of a bunch of strangers.

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So you read a story you had written really recently.
Yes -- we went to the couples thing over the weekend. I’d been panning to read something from my memoir, but almost the moment the conference started, I thought, "I have to write about this, this is amazing." There was a lot to work with there.

I write television - that’s my day job and I love it - but there’s something about just being able to just write what you’re interested in. When you’re writing about what’s happening right now, something you’re trying to work out yourself, I think it’s just really immediate and I think the audience responds to it.

How was it being up on stage for the reading?
It’s a really fun audience so you feel really supported. I was surprised that the audience was really present, and that they were laughing as much as they were. You never know how other people are going to respond to what you’re written, especially when it’s so personal. It’s like, “hey does anyone else feel the way I do?” As writers we think we are very unique but no, we’re not.

I’m always trying to write and tell the truth in areas where I wonder if anyone else has the same problem. I think that there’s something really gratifying for the writer and the audience to share the experience of, “holy shit, I’m a mess; I’m trying to work it out.”

Were you nervous?
I was a little nervous, and then I went on after the teenage dominatrix woman (Shawna Kenney, "I Was a Teenage Dominatrix"). I was like, "dude, how can you beat that?" She walked off and I was like, "you're a tough act to follow."

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But I was nervous because you just never know how people are going to take it. There’s something about exposing your inner life in front of an audience, about letting yourself be seen by all those people that is a little bit terrifying, but it’s also a little affirming. You feel like, “oh hey, they all feel the same way I do.”

How did you feel about having your work judged?
It feels like everything is more in fun than anything else. I wasn’t too worried about being judged. You know, the thing about winning…the best part of winning is that you didn’t lose. You don’t know how you would have felt it you lost. I’m sure I would have felt fine, but it’s like missing a car accident. You feel the part about putting yourself out there and getting judged, it’s a little scary, but at the same time I’m a grown woman; I’m pretty sure I can handle criticism. Basically its all in good fun.

I was also sort of honored, that Molly Ringwald was willing to do it. She is an icon.

Why do you think Literary Death Match is such a fun event to participate in?
There’s something about what Literary Death Match is that allows people to not take themselves too seriously and really have a good time, and share real literary work. It’s tongue-in-cheek, and as far as the judging an the competition and winning and losing, the stakes are low; you can’t lose. Everybody wins.