At the end of November, I held my first reading of Theft By Chocolate, attracting an audience of 70 people with standing room only. And it was held in a bicycle shop in a semi-industrial area of Toronto. Huh? How did that happen?
As odd as it may seem, the unique setting could not have been more sublime. I had teamed up with ChocoSol Traders, a distinct chocolate-making cooperative to host the event. I knew I had connected with the right group upon first contact with ChocoSol founder, Michael Sacco, and ChocoSolista, Lauren Baker. The way they spoke about chocolate and the crafting of the delicacy was poetic and intriguing. Furthermore, their concerns about community, on micro and universal levels, combined with their conscious and progressive notions about relationships with farmers and their crops and ethical notions about agriculture and production all resonated with me.
So the idea of having the reading set in a spot somewhat off the beaten path for downtowners, in Toronto’s Junction neighbourhood, seemed oh-so right rather than oh-so risky. All I hoped was that there might be more people at my reading than at J.K. Rowling’s first reading – which according to Lifetime’s recent made-for-TV movie, Magic Beyond Words, was only about a dozen people.
And then something magical happened – RSVPs started rolling in faster than I was able to keep up with. I suddenly found myself suffering from “careful what you wish for” syndrome. Ironically, I was in the middle of doing Deepak Chopra’s 21-day meditation series on abundance, but holy smokes, I did not expect it to work that quickly!
Before I knew it, I was facing some dilemmas I could never have imagined. Would we have enough space for everyone who wanted to attend? Was it fair for me to ask ChocoSol Traders to keep their commitment to provide complimentary drinking chocolate and chocolate samplings to my ever-growing audience?
The ChocoSolistas were gracious beyond words, but some scrambling ensued nonetheless. Realizing that my voice might not project to such a large crowd, my friends rallied and provided not just a simple mic and amp, but a full-fledged PA system that could have amplified my voice in a sports arena.
Another friend dusted off not one, but two, HD cameras to record the event – which actually came in very handy in the end. And a number of friends stepped in to help with meeting and greeting, book sales, and managing a raffle.
But the most unexpected turn of events came when I turned up at ChocoSol, a couple of hours before the reading, to discover ChocoSol had enlisted the help of the bicycle shop located on the ground floor of the building, Issie Cycling Services, to accommodate the burgeoning crowd. Okay, I thought, we can make this work. And we did.
Bike shop owners Issie and Kathleen had scrubbed the shop clean and we settled on doing the readings among the throngs of bicycles, and the chocolate tastings and education component in ChocoSol’s loft space upstairs.
As people arrived, they seemed a little confused (why wouldn’t they be, I was). But in the end, a rolicking and enlightening evening was had by all – some called it the “funkiest and most fascinating event they had attended in ages.”
I did three readings from various parts of Theft By Chocolate: The Chocolate Burp; Terrorists in the Museum; and The Bug Room – all of which elicited waves of giggles, some white-knuckling, and some humbling applause.
Following the first reading, the enigmatic Michael Sacco took over and mesmerized the crowd. He spoke of chocolate’s abundant healing properties and expounded on the food’s history, from its Mayan origins as nourishment of the gods and use as currency to its transformation by the Europeans whose production processes (most of which have stayed with us until today) unfortunately strip cacao of most of its antioxidants and remarkable qualities.
Without complaint, the crowd ascended a staircase to the ChocoSol loft where Michael discussed how the ChocoSolistas create their artisanal chocolate using methods reminiscent of Mayan practices.
Everyone had an opportunity to taste cacao in its pure form, to sample a variety of flavored chocolate, including some infused with spicy peppers that led to beads of sweat forming on people’s foreheads, and to purchase some of ChocoSol’s scrumptious wares.
I somehow managed to pull people away from the chocolate and get them back downstairs for the final two shorter readings and for the raffle, a gift assortment of ChocoSol products, which was won by audience member, Kim Ireland.
I then surprised everyone with an additional contest - anyone at the event who submits a review to Attica Books (Eloise@atticabooks.com) by December 31 is eligible to win a mini Kobo eReader. Entrants who submit a review and who also post their review on an Internet site such as Amazon, Kobo, iTunes, or Goodreads, will have two chances to win the electronic reader. The draw will be a random one.
For a first-time published author, I could not have had a more unforgettable evening. After completing the first few pages of my first reading, I managed to chill out and truly enjoy sharing some of my favorite passages from Theft By Chocolate. In between readings, it was a delight catching up with old friends and long-time supporters and extremely gratifying meeting so many new people who ventured out on such a chilly, early winter evening.
To add to the feeling that someone had sprinkled fairy dust on me, I sold dozens of books both that evening and from orders received the following day from people who had either attended the reading or had heard about it from friends in attendance. As a result of the sales, I was able to raise some notable donations for some great causes. For every book purchased from me directly, $1 is being donated to American Forests, an organization that plants trees all over the globe ($1 = 1 tree); and $2 for every book sold is being donated to the eLibrary Project which is putting electronic readers into the hands of children in disadvantaged schools in South Africa.
1. Introductions (link not yet live)
2. Thank You's (link not yet live)
3. The Chocolate Burp
4. Terrorists in the Museum (link not yet live)
5. The Bug Room
6. Culture of Chocolate (link not yet live)
7. Making of Artisan Chocolate (link not yet live)
1. Hosts: ChocoSol Traders
2. Videography: Michael De'Ath
3. Audio Visual Support: Nick Cuda
4. Still Photography: Andy Kulchyckyj