Readings of Chapel Hill, or, An Evening of Awesomeness

I’ve never been to a reading before. No, not a palm-reading or a spirit-reading or what have you (actually, I haven’t been to those either, but that’s not the point), a book reading and signing. There haven’t been any local ones, and it’s a long drive to where they have been.

But when Natania Barron told me I should come to Chapel Hill to hear her read with Jeff VanderMeer and Mur Lafferty, I decided I’d give it a shot. I was supposed to work that day, so I figured that if I got it off, I’d go. I walk into work the next day, check my schedule, and one of my friends says she needs to change a shift. Voila. I was free Thursday.

Chapel Hill is about a 3 hour drive for me. Not bad for a day off. Well, bad if the directions are entered wrong, and Google says ‘that address doesn’t exist’. Natania, the sweetheart that she is, told me where to go, and endured a couple of ‘where the hell am I?!’ calls after that. 14 miles of unintentional retracing, 10 cop cars and a sore butt later, I arrived. Slightly embarrassing, but hey, I made it, right?

We carpooled over to Chapel Hill, to save losing me again, and went to dinner. And dinner was heavenly torture. I don’t get good, unique food around here. So the Mediterranean deli was a treat. Fresh pita, spanikopita, tabbouli…I’m spoiled.

Jeff VanderMeer is a dangerous man to eat near. He has a bad habit of making people laugh. So does Mur Lafferty’s sister.

Dinner over, we trucked back down the sidewalk to the comic book shop. This was bringing back fond memories of Dragon*Con, in the way that memories of Hell always seem happy with the fuzz of time and emotional trauma laid over them.

Chapel Hill Comics is a lovely shop. Bright yellow and blue walls, an excellent selection, great staff, and a stage to throw the sacrifices…er, authors…on. A crowd of about 40 people ended up showing, including a couple of Outer Alliance members, Clockwork Cabaret, and fellow Aether Age devotee Sam.

Jeff introduced his fellow readers, pulling out salacious facts that he claimed to have gleaned from the internet. Such things included Natania’s master of oil-rig puppet shows, and Mur’s prison sentences. Super-heroes, Weird West and Fungi-punk followed, and then the improv.

Oh lord almighty, the improve. “Give us a setting!” We gave them ‘Dark side of the Moon’. “Well, that’s a short story,” says Mur, clutching her throat. “Gurgle!”

“There’s a dome on the dark side of the moon!”

“Oh, we get to breathe, yay!” general authorial relief. “Give us a character!”

“A bear!”

Silence.

Silence.

“Is it a talking bear?”

“Is it a man with a bear totem, a man who wears bear clothing…” asks Mur, fishing for help. The crowd is merciless.

“Give us another character!” This, because our brave authors might either be A.) slow to catch the twisted evil that is this crowd, or B.) clutching desperately at some silly hope of redemption.

“A squid!”

Oh dear. The authors are now giggling AND speechless.

“Another character!”

“A bitter cosmonaut!”

Oh. At this point, they give up, and start the story. The story is somewhat a collection of hysterical laughter, the sound of authors being thrown under the bus, and debates about the miracle squid. And kids, those authors, they’ve got this self-preservation thing DOWN! There was more passing of this story than a hot potato.

Finally, it was revealed that the talking bear was stuffed, the squid was preserved in formaldehyde, and the bitter cosmonaut was slowly pickling himself on the dark side of the Moon. Having depressed Mur, Jeff called it signing and beer time.

But that, kids, is a story for tomorrow!

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