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“Readings Right, and Readings Wrong” by Violette Malan

February 1st, 2012

Over the course of my career I’ve given all kinds of readings, from story books to pre-schoolers (to support early literacy) to academic papers on 18th-century pastoral poetry (to support my academic career). I’ve had everything from great experiences (the kids really liked the animal noises) to eye-rolling ones (someone should have told the hotel hosting the NEASECS Conference that we would need lecterns) to amazing ones (people turned out at 8:30 on a Saturday morning to hear about the georgic).

I’ve had a room full of people show up, and I’ve had no one show up at all. I’ve arrived at places that invited me, only to find no one there who knew I was expected, and, I’ve been taken out for dinner first. Altogether, a pretty mixed bag, and I don’t think there’s a single writer out there who can’t match me, story for story. So why am I taking you on this trip down readings-I-have-done lane? Because in January I found someone who did everything right!

As some of you already know, I took part in the ChiSeries this past January 11th. This reading series is AKA the Chiaroscuro Reading Series, which is sponsored by the fine Canadian indie publishing house, Chizine Publications. The first and most important thing I can say about this series is that, well, it’s a SERIES. To start with, this means this is not their first readeo. It means that they have some experience in throwing a reading, month in, and month out. So they know what’s important about the physical set-up, things like lecterns, seats, tables, lighting, and so on. They also know about the “people” aspect of things. There’s a well-chosen mix of readers. There’s someone to meet the readers, look after them, make sure they’re comfortable and watered. Let’s not forget introducing them in an entertaining way, and breaking-up the readings so that the audience has a chance to go to the bathroom and order drink/food. No one feels read AT, everyone feels read TO.

It also means they have group of regular attendees who are likely to show up every month whether they’ve heard of you or not—which, incidentally, means you’re not just reading to the converted.

Did I mention that the venue is a bar? Okay, a small bar, but that means they can book the whole room, so you have no other groups or noisy neighbours to contend with. It means there are refreshments and food for readers and attendees—the kind of food and drink you actually want and willingly pay for, not the kind you take to be polite. The bar’s within easy walking distance of public transportation, also a big plus.

I’d also like to make clear that I’m not myself a ChiZine author. That’s right, they’re sponsoring a reading series for everyone who reads and writes speculative fiction, not just as a showcase for their own authors. And while they do have their own book table there, they also have Bakka-Phoenix, the specialty F&SF bookstore, on hand with a table for the rest of us.

And if all of this wasn’t enough, I RECEIVED AN HONORARIUM. That’s right, and not just me, who had to travel to get to the event, but the other authors as well. Chizine are pros all the way, and they treat their author guests as pros.

So take notes, if any of you out there are planning to start a reading series. My special thanks and applause go to Sandra Kasturi, Helen Marshall and Dave Nickle, as well as my fellow guests, Shari La Pena and Douglas Smith.