Sometimes, you just need a place to tell your stories.

That was the quandary Mike Nees and his friends faced last year. After conducting monthly writing workshops, the group had a good selection of fiction and nonfiction pieces they'd crafted, but no way to get them out to others.

"We always had these great stories, but we really didn't have a venue for sharing them. We looked around and saw there were poetry slams, but no venue for spoken-word stories. That's where we got the idea," Nees said.

Last summer, Nees and his writing group - they call themselves The Sex Brigade - held a spoken word Story Slam competition at Malelani Cafe in Ventnor.

The event was a big success, with more writers and spectators than the cafe could accommodate.

So tonight Nees and company are trying again - this time at the new Noyes Arts Garage: Stockton College in Atlantic City.

And from early indications, it seems the

6 p.m. event is going to be another success.

"At our last one, we had 40 people in attendance and 20 performers - we had to turn people away. This time, we already have more than 30 signed up," Nees said Wednesday night.

Nees hopes the early interest doesn't discourage folks from coming to check out the event - or from signing up to tell their stories. While there's a limit to how many writers can perform during the free 2 1/2 hour session, there's no telling who might get cold feet when it comes time to getting up and sharing a personal tale with the Arts Garage crowd.

Not that there is anything to worry about. Nees, who works as a case manager for the South Jersey AIDS Alliance, said he and other members of his writing group work to make the story slams a welcoming environment.

"At the last one, we had people off the street mingling with Stockton professors. We really liked that vibe," he said.

"We are a place where people don't have to worry about stepping on people's toes or being too subversive or deviant," Nees said. "We want to tell all the stories that the city has - and they might not always be the most traditional. We have a lot of different voices in the city."

Story tellers are limited to tales of 500 words or less - which translates into a spoken word performance about five minutes long.

At the group's last event, the storytellers ranged from those who brought well-polished works to perform to those who approached it from a more spontaneous type of storytelling.

"I've seen both styles get a pretty good response," Nees said. "What's more important is making a connection with the audience. Everyone's story has a potential to connect in different ways."

The audience is not the only group judging. The Story Slam is "a friendly competition," with awards given in a variety of serious and humorous categories.

"The last time, we had a middle-aged lady who told about reading her first Playgirl magazine. She got the Made Us Blush award," Nees said.

One key to success is not to hold back, according to the writer. The audience seems to respond best to storytellers who are risk takers and aren't afraid to delve into personal territory in their compositions.

The story slam comes as the Arts Garage gears up to expand its calendar of special events, said Kate Catanio, assistant to director.

Upcoming events include a community mural art project, film screenings, book signings and classes. she said.

Nees would like to add another story slam to that list. If tonight's event proves to be a success, the group would like to return to the garage in the fall or winter.

"It depends on the feedback we get from our audience," he said. "But I'm confident we are going to get a good response."

Contact Steven V. Cronin:

609-272-7242609-272-7242

If you go

Story Slam competition held 6 to 8:30 tonight at The Noyes Arts Garage: Stockton College,

2200 Fairmount Ave., Atlantic City. The event is free. Performers must register in advance by emailing 00Nees@gmail.com or onsite starting at 5:15 p.m. For information, call 609-652-8848609-652-8848, or visit artsgarageac.com