I am crazy fortunate. Every three months, I get to invite four or five local fiction writers and three musicians or bands to participate in Fictlicious, a quarterly event I host at The Hideout in Chicago. I pick a theme for the evening, then writers read flash fiction and musicians play originals or covers based upon that theme. It’s a great time. Every quarter when the show rolls around, I feel incredibly lucky to be surrounded by all that creativity and talent. It's like that “Who would you invite to dinner?” meme, only mine actually happens.
I started Fictlicious because I couldn’t read at one of the established fiction reading series. Not that I was excluded or cruelly rejected—I would have had to approach someone and actually ask to participate for the possibility of that to happen. But since no one hacked into my computer to read the stories I wasn’t submitting or peered through my living room window in the hopes of finding some insecure writer slugging it out with her laptop, the only way I was going to participate in a live reading series was if I bum-rushed the stage. Or started my own.
Obviously it would have been easier and made far more sense for me to just come right out and ask if I could read one of my stories … or at least stalk a reading series, showing up month after month until I became a fixture. But even that felt too brazen, too audacious. Yes, I was a writer, but they were Writers. Real writers. As in, published. As in, MFAs. As in, living in Logan Square or Wicker Park or maybe even Pilsen or Bridgeport. They had chapbooks, for chrissakes! Asking felt presumptuous and disrespectful.
So two years ago I recruited some writer and musician friends, and off we went to Lizard’s Liquid Lounge to put on a show. Owner Liz Kavanagh is very receptive and supportive of just about any imaginative endeavor. I highly recommend anyone starting their own live-joke-and-knitting circle, poetry slam, mosh pit or reading series to run it by Liz for a hosting venue. The inaugural event turned out great. The audience was overwhelmingly enthusiastic, and all the writers and musicians had a great time.
But we quickly filled the joint and realized the nature of fiction reading requires a separate space instead of an open bar where poor, unwitting patrons can’t chat because they stumbled upon a gaggle of writers with a microphone. Armed with one night of success, I approached The Hideout to host and that’s where we’ve been ever since.
I know it seems odd that I wanted to publicly read what I wouldn’t even submit. But why I wanted to read—what I loved about Quickies, Story Club, 2nd Story, and Sunday Salon, in addition to being enraptured and intimidated by the talent of the writers—was because of their familiarity, camaraderie and community. Their collective creative energy was palpable.
As writers, we crave silence most of the time, begging for solitude for a few hours or minutes to write. But as our own disciplinarians, taskmasters and cheerleaders, it’s tough to keep talking to ourselves in a vacuum on a daily basis—to keep motivated, on track, and to stop ourselves from saying fuck it all, closing out of Word, calling it a day and opening up Hulu.
Creative community is validation. In our heads, we like to tell ourselves that what we’re doing is good/worthwhile/important/rewarding, but like all our other rationalizations, we don’t necessarily believe it. So creative community can reaffirm the voice that keeps us going.
Community also fosters creativity in immeasurable, invaluable ways. One of my favorite parts of Fictlicious is hearing original stories and songs inspired by the show’s theme. It takes the writers and musicians out of their usual headspace and down a path they might not have gone on their own. After interacting at a show, writers and musicians are inspired, their perspectives shift, ideas spark. Frequently, partnerships and collaborations form.
That community is tangible for the audience as well. There is an energy at Fictlicious that I like to think is special. At the show, it isn’t just about the writers and musicians—the audience is there to really listen, rooting everyone on. They are participants in the creative community, not just spectators. This is a critical and very intentional part of the show. If I don’t craft a show for the audience to enjoy, they don’t come back and we won’t have a show.
If you’ve ever been to a really good reading series, you have likely seen the audience with eyes closed, listening earnestly and respectfully, trying to take in the full intent of the writer. It’s wonderful. It’s intense. And it can be exhausting. It’s hard to stay that focused for back-to-back-to-back stories without giving the audience time to process and breathe. Music is another form of storytelling, sometimes fiction and sometimes not, and it’s inclusion makes each fiction piece fresh and, in turn, the fiction allows each song stand alone.
Chicago has so much more than a rich, vibrant literary and music scene—we have a diverse, robust creative community where anyone can find inspiration and a home. The Fictlicious community happens quarterly at The Hideout, and while I won’t hack into your computer or peep into your living room window to check out what you’ve been writing, I hope you’ll approach me and ask if you can share a story or song. We have a community that would love to tell you that what you’re doing is so much better than Hulu.
In addition to writing stories for fun and her own amusement, Micki LeSueur is a freelance copywriter, writing fiction posing as non-fiction for major corporations and their advertising agencies. She is also the founder and host of Fictlicious, a live reading and music series, and its podcast series. LeSueur is also the president and founder of Coat Angels, a local not-for-profit proving warm winter coats for cold Chicago kids.