This afternoon, I went to a reading by Catherynne M. Valente at Pandemonium, the Boston science fiction and fantasy bookstore. I don’t usually go to readings, I suppose because what I enjoy is the reading experience itself and what I want are the writer’s words inside my head, not echoing in a room at a convention somewhere. But Cat is one of my favorite readers. And she does something that I have always admired, which is incorporate other forms of performance into her readings. The last time I saw her, she was touring with S.J. Tucker. This time, between two of her readings, there was dancing by Katie Lennon. Cat doesn’t just read: she puts on a show. I think more writers should do that.
Here are two photographs, one of Cat reading and one of her signing books:
Cat read two sections from The Habitation of the Blessed, which were both gorgeous, as her prose always is. I’m reading the book now, and so far I think it’s my favorite of her books.
Afterward, a group of us went out for ice cream, to one of those independent ice cream parlors that have unusual flavors. I ended up with spiced chestnut, which was quite good. And for a couple of hours, we talked shop. Writer’s shop is like any other shop. We talk about what we’re working on, what we’re going to be working on. We talk about publishers, editors, agents. Sales and marketing. What we thought about the carnivorous giraffes in Un Lun Dun. Why no one deals with the fact that Ozma of Oz is transgender, and what we would do with it.
I think it’s important to have conversations like these. They give me a sense that I belong to a community, but perhaps more importantly, they give me different ways of thinking about the industry I’m in, which is the writing and publishing industry. There are writers in my field who have done truly innovative things, both in terms of their writing and in the marketing of their work. Cat is one of those, and I’ve learned so much not only from reading her work but also from watching her approach to her career over the years. She reminds me to be courageous in writing the stories I want to write, and creative in how I get them to my readers. Not a bad lesson to remember, I think, on a Saturday night over ice cream.