Learning How to Reading: “We heckled readers, we heckled each other.”

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Chapter 13: An Interview with Lindsay Hunter

Read chapters 1-12 here.

This series of interviews with writer/curators aims to explore why and how to have a literary reading—a good literary reading—a good literary reading that gathers a welcome, diverse, excited, and inspired audience—a good literary reading that gathers a welcome, diverse, excited, and inspired audience while also creating a supportive environment for readers. (Please comment with stories, commentary, and advice about readings at which you’ve performed, attended, or hosted.)

Before you read this, go listen to Lindsay Hunter read. Lindsay needs no introduction, but that should do. Besides being a fantastic reader, she was also a host of one of the few flash fiction reading series I’ve come across.

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Name: Lindsay Hunter

Location: Chicago

What series(s) did you run and for how long?

LH: I ran the Quickies! reading series with my co-host and co-founder, Mary Hamilton, from 2008-2011. Mary moved to LA then and it just wasn’t the same after that.

Could you also give me a brief run-down of how your readings were run in terms of structure?

LH: Quickies! was a showcase for flash fiction, and readers had to read a complete piece of fiction in five minutes or less. If they went over even a second, they were whistled off stage. This guaranteed that: the reading kept moving, there was excitement, and if the piece sucked, hey, it was going to be over in 5 minutes!

What could a person expect when attending one of your readings?

LH: People who came to our readings could expect an environment where anything goes. Quickies! was held in the Innertown Pub, which had a pool table right in front of the stage and a jukebox with plenty of Bob Seger. There were some nights when bar patrons played pool right through a reading. But it was a great, fun, accepting atmosphere where a lot of cool stories were read.

How did you get your readers? Or was it an open mic and people just showed up prepared?

LH: All readers were selected beforehand. Mary and I had a Google doc with lineups we’d pre-scheduled months in advance. If someone needed to drop out, we’d find a replacement in our community of writers. Mary and I also read at each reading; we started the series so we could get more practice at reading out and so that we’d be forced to write something new each month

Eventually we moved it to bimonthly, as a monthly series started to feel too cumbersome. And we made it a 4-minute time limit to add more excitement. People were getting too good at not being whistled off!

You’re the only person I’ve talked to who has run a flash fiction series. Had you been to other flash readings before you started yours? Or was this something you and Mary came up with and just tried with little precedent?

LH: We hadn’t gone to any before we came up with Quickies! – we’d actually gone to a lot of readings where it would have benefitted EVERYONE if there had been a time limit. It seemed to us that many readers at those events weren’t considering their audiences, that they were only reading for themselves, in love with their own words. It started to feel like torture. We wanted to create something fast and fun, and Mary was already writing a ton of flash fiction, so it seemed like a fun experiment. I hadn’t written any flash prior to the start of the series, and I ended up putting two flash collections out!

And, we wanted to avoid only booking known names. We wanted a true mix of newbies and experienced writers. We wanted to give chances to writers like us, who wanted desperately to be a part of the lit community but weren’t sure how to get started aside from just going to events. People would email us submissions or approach us at readings, or other writers would introduce us to friends whose writing they loved. The community just began to snowball. It was truly wonderful.

Besides readers being strictly held to 5 minutes, what were some other ways you tried to prevent Quickies! from being another traditional reading?

LH: As far as staying nontraditional, we really looked at it as something we wanted to be entertaining. We bantered onstage and we booked people we were excited about. We heckled readers (good-naturedly) sometimes; we heckled each other.

Was this during grad school or after? Or both?

LH: It was right after grad school. I was working at 2 a.m. in a hotel in DC and lamenting to myself that this could NOT be my post-grad-school life. It had to mean something, all this work I’d done, this passion I had. I couldn’t just watch it slip away now that I didn’t have grad school forcing me to produce. Mary and I had batted around the idea of our own event, so I sent her an email from that hotel room saying we had to get started, and it had to be now. And Mary got the ball rolling from there.

Excellent. How would you describe the turnouts you had, what was the make-up of the audience?

LH: It varied from month to month. We get really snowy, bummer winters. So some December or February readings were pretty light. Other nights it’d be a packed house. But it was always an audience excited to be there, excited to drink with friends and hear something new.

What’s the funniest or weirdest thing that ever happened at a Quickies! reading?

LH: There are lots! One time, the reading devolved into a crazy dance party. People were dancing on tables, rubbing butts, throwing drinks, the whole nine. It was a ton of fun. Another time, a man walked in, listened for a bit, then yelled “UGH, MORE SEX?” and left. One reader read a story about ska music, so Mary and I invited him back onstage so we could all skank during another reader’s story.

Do you still go to readings? I imagine you give them often, but do you attend other readings now that you don’t run one? Are there any in Chicago you particularly like?

LH: I go to fewer and fewer! I have a 2 1/2 year old son and two crazy dogs and a husband I really like and a full-time job, so it’s hard for me to leave my home once I get there at the end of a workday. I’m not even super aware of what readings are out there! Someone asked me this the other day and I was like “Hmm, I’m not sure – it’s like there aren’t as many these days.” And a friend I was with looked at me like I was nuts and was like “Are you kidding? There are MORE.” Haha! So I’m out of touch these days.

The last thing I wanted to ask is about the difference between flash on the page and flash performed really well. Did you ever hear a story at Quickies! that you’d read before on the page, and it was completely different hearing it live?

LH: Great question! I think it can definitely happen – if a writer is really performing something onstage, it almost brings it to life in a wholly different way than if you were just reading it on your own. And vice versa! Some readers were so shy, so apologetic in the little time they had on stage, that the power of their story could be lost. I worry about that in my own work. I want the written stuff to be just as exciting, as provocative, as if I were standing at the microphone yelling at the crowd. That’s very important for me.

Because I can’t read for everyone.

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Lindsay Hunter is the co-founder and co-host of the groundbreaking Quickies! reading series, a monthly event that focused on flash fiction. Her first book, Daddy’s, a collection of flash fiction, was published in 2010 by featherproof books, a boutique press in Chicago. Her second collection, DON’T KISS ME, was published by FSG Originals in 2013 and was named one of Amazon’s 10 Best Books of the Year: Short Stories. Her first novel, Ugly Girls, was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in November 2014. The Huffington Post called it “a story that hits a note that’s been missing from the chorus of existing feminist literature.” She is hard at work on her next collection and novel.

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About Author

Tyler Barton is one half of The Triangle, the fiction editor of Third Point Press, and an MFA candidate at Minnesota State University. His published stories can be found at tsbarton.com. Follow him @goftyler.

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