For the last 11 years, local novelist Alice McDermott carried on her tongue the bitter taste of second place. But in 1998, the former National Book Award nominee (for That Night) became a National Book Award winner (for Charming Billy), and victory champagne has never tasted sweeter. McDermott, who works with fellow literary luminaries Stephen Dixon and John Barth (also a National Book Award champ) at the Johns Hopkins creative writing program, specializes in warm, witty stories about contemporary Irish-Americans trying their damndest to keep on living. The formula seems to be working. The charming McDermott reads from and signs copies of Charming Billy at 7:30 p.m. at Barnes & Noble, 4801 Bethesda Ave., Bethesda. Free. (301) 986-1761. (Sean Daly)