Who by Fire by Diana Spechler: Guest Post and Book Giveaway

Are you a member of GoodReads?

I am, and I recommend it highly.

You can compare books with friends and also get great recommendations, as I did recently from Lara when I received an update on her bookshelf via email regarding the book Who by Fire by Diana Spechler:

I recently gave two books five stars. Then, when I started thinking about writing these reviews, I thought about offering the books to anyone who wanted them…but then realized that I simply cannot part with Who By Fire.

I was intrigued (seriously, go read Lara’s description and review), and then just a few hours later, I happened to get a message from Diana herself in my inbox about reviewing her book! Of course I jumped at the chance, but since I won’t receive the book for a little while (love you Poste Italiane!), I asked Diana if she’d like to guest post and offer a free copy to one lucky reader, and here we are.


1. In order to be eligible to win a free copy of Diana Sprechler’s book, Who by Fire, just leave a comment on *this* post by 11:59 p.m. CST (Italy time) on Tuesday, December 9, 2008.

2. Sorry, the contest is only open to readers with a US shipping address, but please feel free to leave comments for Diana regardless; there’s another guest post and contest coming next Tuesday for international readers as well!

Welcome Diana!


Moving to New York City is sort of like moving to a Third World country with excellent tap water. First and foremost, you must learn the language: walk-up, the L, bodega, Nolita. Then you have to lower your standards: You dine with mice. You live in a closet. During rush hour, you stand in the subway, resting your face in a stranger’s armpit.

You accept jobs you haven’t had since college, or jobs you wouldn’t have touched in college: You are twenty-seven years old and tending bar on the day shift. You are twenty-seven years old and walking a bouquet of poodles. You are twenty-seven years old and standing outside a comedy club, freezing your ass off for five hours on a Sunday, forcing fliers on innocent passersby.

“Comedy show!” you scream in their faces. “Everyone likes to laugh,” you shriek without cracking a smile. You are like a telemarketer in person. You are uncharacteristically aggressive. You are horribly annoying. Your job title is part of the foreign, exotic-sounding New York City lexicon:

You are a barker. You are one who barks.

I moved from Rhode Island to Manhattan two years ago, an impulsive, passionate, I’m-going-to-do-something-for-myself-and-pretend-I-usually-don’t decision, the kind that comes from reading too many women’s magazines filled with columns called Take a YOU Break and All About You, You Fabulous Woman!, a decision I called “liberating,” by which I meant, “similar to jumping off a sky-scraper.” I had no money, no plan, no job, just an East Village apartment that a friend said she’d sublet to me while she spent six months in Michigan.

For the first few weeks, I holed up in that apartment, surfing Craig’s List, first scanning the teaching jobs, then sliding gradually down the employment totem pole until I landed on an ad that said, “HOT girls needed to work the door at a HOT comedy club. Email pictures.”

I called one of my friends and read her the ad. “Can you believe it?” I said. “It’s like, demoralizing. I would never!”

Always one to look on the bright side, my friend pointed out, “It’s better than stripping. Or escorting.”

I didn’t tell her that I was broke and desperate enough to have considered both, that the only thing stopping me was my fine breeding, a.k.a. my mother’s voice in my head: “Sex is not a recreational activity…You can’t go to synagogue with your knees exposed!…The only man you can trust is your father.” But working at a comedy club was a far cry from prostitution. After all, I would be promoting the arts. That was honorable. And it was kind of sort of like participating in the arts, which is what I should have been doing. I’d had a novel in the works for several years, and I was starting to worry that by living in New York, I was only inviting distraction from it.

After I hung up with my friend, I realized I had forgotten to ask her if I could pass for HOT.

“Whatever,” I said aloud, and I attached a picture of myself to an email: Please consider me for the comedy club position.

Apparently, I was HOT enough to be a barker, which is sort of like being STRONG enough to arm-wrestle your aunt. My new ten-dollar-an-hour job entailed standing in front of the club and distributing fliers to everyone who crossed my path. If someone brought one of my fliers (bearing my initials) to a show, he or she would get a discount at the door, and I, in addition to my hourly wage, would get a cut of the ticket price. If a passerby seemed particularly interested, I was supposed to try to sell him an actual ticket on the spot. Again, I would get a cut of the ticket price. The potential seemed limitless.

My “training” was to spend a few minutes watching other barkers bark.

Mostly, barkers are aspiring comics, who forego the hourly wage and work in exchange for stage time. Some of them made me laugh: “Comedy show,” one of them yelled. “If you miss it, you’ll get cancer.” Others were the kind of guys who cat-call girls at the mall (sexual harassers dressed up as barkers): “Hey, gorgeous. What you got goin’ on tonight? You like comedy, baby?”

I watched, cringed, took mental notes. And then I was on my own.

Back in college, in the indulgent days of lit theory classes, years before I knew I would grow up to be a barker, I threw around words like “othering” and “exoticizing,” methods of alienation employed by the majority to render the minority either ridiculous or invisible. As a barker in the Village, like an American tourist in a Third World country, I was “other.” I may as well have been wearing a fanny pack.

Some passersby treated me with disdain (“I hate comedy. I seriously hate it. Who are you anyway and why are you talking to me?”), some with glee (“Aww,” one girl said to her boyfriend. She pointed at me. “She’s so cute!”). One old woman pinched my cheek. A few people hugged me and gave me their business cards. One man dropped to his knees and kissed my hands. A group of German tourists posed for a picture with me like I was Ronald McDonald. Some drunk guy tried to grind up against me, dancing to techno music no one else could hear.

“I feel like you’re about to have sex with me,” I told him, alarmed.

He made no attempt to correct me.

But by the end of my first shift, I had sold thirteen tickets, and unloaded well over a hundred fliers.

“Wow!” my boss said. “Thirteen is amazing.”

Of course I was amazing. I was way over-qualified. I had a master’s degree, for the love of God. Social skills. Life experience. And furthermore, I was HOT. The manager counted out seventy-six dollars for me, ten for each of the five hours I had worked, plus two per ticket sold. I went straight to the bank, raising my checking account balance to one hundred fifty-six dollars. I was only one thousand forty-four dollars away from a month’s rent. I was making it in New York City.

But my first shift as a barker had also happened to be the last summer-like fall day. I had worn jeans and a tight white T-shirt, my hair pushed back from my head with sunglasses. I still had my tan from the beach. I had sold every one of those thirteen tickets to men.

“Lonely men,” my boss pointed out. “The loneliest men in the Village.”

The day of my second shift, the temperature dropped into the twenties. No one is HOT in a wool hat and a down coat. No one is HOT in snow boots. My teeth chattered.

“C-c-comedy show,” I called. “If you don’t have p-p-plans tonight…”

People rushed by me, faces tucked into collars, hats pulled low over their foreheads, numb hands jammed into pockets. No one wanted to stop and talk. Even the lonely men wanted to get home and climb under the covers.

I sold four tickets.

The next week, I sold two per shift. The temperature continued to plummet. So did my motivation. During my shifts, I spent most of the five hours fighting hypothermia, distracting myself by talking to the comics that came by the club looking for stage time, or to the people who would come out of the bar next door to smoke cigarettes on the sidewalk. My sales dwindled to zero. I sipped coffee from the bodega on the corner. I breathed warm air onto my freezing fingers.

“We’re losing money on you,” my boss said. “I know it’s cold out, but you have to step it up. Maybe you need to work on your pitch?”

My pitch: “Great comedy show tonight, guys….Hey, do you like stand-up comedy?…Hi there. What do you have going on tonight?”

It wasn’t my pitch that needed work.

“I think I need to work on my life,” I said.

Being around aspiring comedians all day had become an uncomfortable reminder that I was ignoring my own dreams, neglecting my writing, not finishing the novel I desperately wanted to finish.

So I renounced my career as a barker.

I’d like to say I never had to work a dumb job again because my writing career took off and soared high above the New York City skyline. I’d like to say I’m living in a brownstone on the Upper East Side, that I’m VIP at every lounge in the city, that I can afford Broadway shows and boutique jewelry and Prada bags and all the other things that Manhattan dangles like diamond-encrusted carrots before the twitching snouts of the terminally broke.

But in reality, I picked up a job waiting tables at an Israeli restaurant, where I was literally the only American, where the Mexican guys who shaved shawarma off the spit spoke Hebrew, and the rabbi who checked the lettuce for bugs spoke Spanish.

But here’s the thing about arriving in a strange land: Eventually, it stops being strange. Within a few months of living in New York, I knew rudimentary Hebrew and rudimentary Spanish. I could read the subway maps with fluency. I knew which bodega sold the cheapest toilet paper, what to spray to kill roaches, and which bars had the best happy hour specials. And yeah, eventually, I did finish my novel.

Best of all, though, whereas New York makes some people hard, it’s made me a little softer. Or at least, a little more empathic. Whenever I see a tourist poring over a map, I ask if he needs help. At bars and restaurants, I tip 25%. And whenever I pass a barker in the Village or Times Square, I stop, take her flier, look her in the eye and thank her. And then I ask whoever I’m with if he thinks she’s as HOT as I am.


Thanks so much Diana!

Remember to leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of

P.S. If you aren’t eligible for the contest but stll want to leave a comment, please note that you’re “international” so I don’t include your name in the drawing. Thanks! And be sure to check out The Scribbit Message Board for lots more giveaways!

49 Beans of Wisdom to “Who by Fire by Diana Spechler: Guest Post and Book Giveaway”
  1. 12.02.2008

    I love Diana’s writing style and can’t wait to read her book. I’m state side so throw my name into the hat. Thanks Michelle for introducing Diana to us.

    Ice Tea For Me’s last blog post..NaBloPoMo – NoMo

    I know, don’t you just *love* this post?! Best of luck in the contest!

  2. Gil

    Looks like you are having a bit of fun with your blog these days.

    Who me? Always 🙂

  3. 12.02.2008


    I also love her writing style — funny– sassy –sensitive!! I look forward to reading the book!

    Agreed, Diana! And thanks so much for following directions 🙂

  4. carrieitly

    Can’t get over all the fantastic 5 star reviews! I want in on this goodness!

    I can’t wait to read the book either, Carrie 🙂

  5. 12.02.2008

    Golly, comedy club barker wasn’t a career choice when I was young and much warmer. I wanted to be a bar maid. Didn’t do that, either.

    Judith in Umbria’s last blog post..Tilda and the fashion scene

    Mai dire mai, cara….

  6. I want to read the book too but I’m not Stateside. Maybe we can do a a book exchange if it’s not released in Italy.

    nyc/caribbean ragazza’s last blog post..Photos from Piazza Navona’s Christmas Fair.

    Excellent idea, NYC. I’m getting a copy (shipped by mom at some point) so when I finish it, we can do a swap–looks like a lot of people here in Italy will be interested, so I’ll send out an email to everyone who comments here once I’m done reading to see who would like to be on the list 🙂

  7. Tina

    “sort of like moving to a Third World country with excellent tap water.”

    Ha! I actually do live in a Third World country with excellent tap water! 🙂

    That was beautifully written and it made me think of my cousin who is living there. I’ll have to check up on her.

    Besos from Argentina

    Tina’s last blog post..My Thanksgiving Dinner

    Glad you enjoyed, Tina, and *so* glad to hear about your tap water!

  8. joanne at frutto della passione

    What a great way to start my morning, no US shipping address, but certainly looking forward to hearing more about Diana.

    joanne at frutto della passione’s last blog post..The North Pole Website of the month December 2008

    Will be sure to let you know when the book is making the Italy rounds Joanne 🙂

  9. 12.02.2008

    Great post, I will buy this book on my next trip to the States, and when done reading it I will post it on the Sisterhood (by the way, thanks for taking care of it). INTERNATIONAL.

    Beatriz’s last blog post..Ten things: Happiness and thanks.

    *Hoping* to get everything with the Sisterhood of Traveling Books settled this month/early January…would be awesome if you could put up a copy too!

  10. Hi, another International here! I loved reading this, it’s my ambition to visit New York one day, I haven’t made it yet but I still live in hope. I like the gritty humour here and I’ll certainly look out for the book. I thinks she’s HOT don’t you?!!

    amanda@A Tuscan View…’s last blog post..Something to ponder

    Absolutely Amanda! Will also let you know when the book is making its rounds 🙂

  11. 12.02.2008

    I LOVED THIS GUEST POST!!!! It was awesome! Diamond encrusted carrots… hehehe… What a great read would love to read her book! Please include me in the International draw! <3 <3 <3 Thanks for sharing her!

    Carm’s last blog post..Coathanger Art

    I’m with you, Carm! Although there’s no international draw, per se, at least one copy of the book will be floating around Italy shortly, and I’ll be sure to let you know when it is 🙂

  12. 12.02.2008

    Sounds like a fantastic read!!! I am crossing my fingers Great guest post, too!

    My Melange’s last blog post..On Missing Paris

    Best of luck Robin!

  13. 12.02.2008

    Fabulous guest post! I think what you wrote about here is what Bono tries to capture in U2’s “New York”. It definitely is a strange land, and I grew up in it.

    If your post reflects your novel writing, I’m rushing to get Who By Fire immediately!

    jen of a2eatwrite’s last blog post..Fight the Hate

    Excellent U2 observation Jen 🙂

  14. 12.02.2008

    That post both made me homesick for NYC and reminded me why there are reasons to live elsewhere. Thank you for introducing us to Diana. I have a stateside address, so please include me in the drawing. Also – Michelle — are you feeling a bit better?

    City Girl’s last blog post..I Got A Blog Award!!

    YES! Feeling a lot better, thank you 🙂

  15. Kristin

    Definitely reads like something I would like! Count me in for the drawing … and if it’s good … a possible book club nominee!

    Ooh yes! I hope your book club will approve 🙂

  16. 12.02.2008

    This is a crazy coincidence for me! I was recently in a Borders here in Austin and picked up “Who By Fire” and started reading it…..I got really far and said to myself that I’d pick it up on Amazon.com soon! If I don’t win the contest I will for sure buy it on December 10th!

    It’s a great read so far! Thanks Diana for your personal account of moving to NYC!!!

    Please count me in for the drawing!

    Eryn’s last blog post..“What is it to you?”…seriously people!

    Destiny! Love it! Best of luck 🙂

  17. 12.02.2008

    Looks like a great book. I’ll have to check it out. Thanks for the guest post.

    Paunchiness’s last blog post..Turkey Tummy

    Cute name…and post title 🙂

  18. 12.02.2008

    This sounds fantastic, and I love discovering new books and new authors! I can’t wait to see who wins!

    Heather’s last blog post..Return to Literacy

    Best of luck Heather!

  19. 12.02.2008


    Okay, not really on the international, but I’ve read the book, so please don’t enter me in the contest.

    I just had to add my two cents…I loved this book! Loved it, loved it, loved it.

    softdrink’s last blog post..In Memory of Dewey

    Thanks so much for chiming in; I can’t wait to read this book!

  20. Rebecca

    Great post, great writing, and would love an opportunity to read this book!

    Good luck Rebecca!

  21. 12.02.2008

    Sigh. I totally love Diana, and I’m thrilled to hear you (and one lucky reader) will be reading Who By Fire soon! 🙂

    Lara’s last blog post..Very good things.

    Thanks Lara! And thanks for bringing Diana and her book to my attention 🙂

  22. 12.02.2008

    Wow! Thanks to everyone for all the kind words! I’m glad you liked my blog post. If you’d like to feature my book or me on your blog, please get in touch! I’d love to hear from you.
    Diana Spechler

  23. 12.02.2008

    This was a real treat to read. Toss my name in please for an opp to read Diana’s book. I have a US address—yes, I read the rules 🙂


    Romancing Italy’s last blog post..Tango update…

    Hee hee…thanks Bev 🙂

  24. 12.02.2008

    Loved Diana’s post and am adding her book to my Amazon Wish List – funny, upbeat and observant: three excellent qualities for a writer and she’s got ’em all. Brava Diana. I’d like to enter the contest too – am in the States for several months. It’s not like being in New York, but it’s ok. Thanks for a great post!

    Fern Driscoll’s last blog post..The Best Thing We Ate This Week – Crimson Pie

    Best of luck Fern!

  25. 12.03.2008

    This sounds like a really fun book – sign me up for the drawing!

    jenn conspiracy’s last blog post..RESULTS: Panopoly of Persimmon Chutney

    You’re in Jenn!

  26. 12.03.2008

    Hi, I live in the US. I would love to win Diana’s book. love her name 🙂 enjoyed her her writing. thank you!

    Diana’s last blog post..On Twilight and kitties

    Hee hee…it *is* a great name, isn’t it? 😉

  27. 12.03.2008

    Me too! Me too! Having lived in NYC for 4 years, I can relate to many of these experiences. This post made me smile 🙂

    Piccola’s last blog post..Shameless Plug: il Presidenzialista

    Glad you enjoyed Piccola!

  28. AppleTree

    Lovely style…

    Agreed 🙂

  29. 12.03.2008

    The book sounds very interesting. And one of my goals for the upcoming year is to read more.

    Andrea’s last blog post..Glad it wasn’t me

    Excellent goal 🙂

  30. Siyi

    Wow, the excerpt really caught my interest and has me impatient to read more! If I don’t win this book, I’m going to go buy it myself!

    Excellent; best of luck!

  31. Diane

    I can’t wait to read this book!! Sounds like she is my inner-writer come to life!! Thanks for all the info!

    Best of luck Diane!

  32. 12.03.2008

    I interviewed Diana! She was awesome 🙂

    Carm’s last blog post..Who by Fire: Interview with the Author

    As were your questions, Carm! Love it!

  33. Bobbie in Alaska!

    I would love a chance to win this book. I am always looking for new material to read. I haven’t even heard of this book – maybe I need to get out more! Thanks, Michelle!

    Hah, maybe it just hasn’t made the rounds in Alaska yet, Bobbie…good luck!

  34. Ha. I *always* wanted to live in NYC … when I was a little girl in southeast Texas I would run away – and by that I mean hide under my bed – to NYC when I was upset with my parents.

    Count me in the drawing… I’ll be in Texas soon and can get it there.

    Cherrye at My Bella Vita’s last blog post..Celebrating Christmas in Italy, Part II: Christmas Eve Dinner

    Oh my goodness, under my bed is the *last* place I would go. Ew! I got some romantic thoughts of moving to NYC right before I came to Italy…we almost might could have met there 😉

  35. Nick

    I love Diana’s writing style. Brilliantly captures some of the feeling of NYC in what feels like a personal way.

    Glad you enjoyed Nick! And best of luck!

  36. 12.05.2008

    That first blurb is wonderful and leaves me wanting to read more! Thanks for introducing us to Diana!


    Seattle, WA

    My pleasure Keva! Good luck!

  37. 12.07.2008

    Ahhh, New York City, say no more.

    Hah, indeed 😉

  38. 12.09.2008

    That is so funny! I never knew so much about “barking” before. And this being the season of thanks, I’m very thankful to live in my small town. 🙂 I would love to win this book!

    Best of luck Alyce!

  39. amandasue

    Wonderful guest post, it was fun to read! I’d also love to be entered for this book thank you!

    Best of luck!

  40. 12.10.2008

    This sounds so interesting – I look forward to reading it.

    Dori Fritzinger’s last blog post..A Moment on my Soap Box!

    Sorry Dory, you missed the deadline by a couple hours, but I still hope you’ll get a copy of this and enjoy it 🙂

  41. michelle


  42. Kathy D

    Looks like a Great Read…..

    Hope you like it Kathy!

  1. [...] I was very much entranced by Diana’s humorous and honest writing style when she did a guest post o... thepomegranateblog.wordpress.com/2008/12/03/who-by-fire-interview-with-the-author
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  7. [...] may remember when Diana Spechler, author of Who by Fire, guest posted here? Well today I’m sharing my ... bleedingespresso.com/2009/06/who-by-fire-by-diana-spechler-book-review-and-giveaway.html
Michelle KaminskyMichelle Kaminsky is an American attorney-turned-freelance writer who lived in her family's ancestral village in Calabria, Italy for 15 years. This blog is now archived. 

Calabria Guidebook

Calabria travel guide by Michelle Fabio



Homemade apple butter
Green beans, potatoes, and pancetta
Glazed Apple Oatmeal Cinnamon Muffins
Pasta with snails alla calabrese
Onion, Oregano, and Thyme Focaccia
Oatmeal Banana Craisin Muffins
Prosciutto wrapped watermelon with bel paese cheese
Fried eggs with red onion and cheese
Calabrian sausage and fava beans
Ricotta Pound Cake