Twice in the last week I’ve done what I used to do a lot, but don’t much get to do these days due to a blessedly full writing and personal life: I visited book clubs in person to discuss my latest novel.
In both cases, the evenings were arranged by readers who have been incredibly supportive of my work in the past. One, Lloyd Russel, is a terrific book blogger who also happens to run a book club at Recycled Bookstore. The other, Fran Vella, not only has organized a number of private events for me and other authors, but also gave my second novel, The Wednesday Sisters, to Andy Grove of Intel — who later attended a library reading I gave, and provided me with a lovely photo of the Intel gang from a real-life moment that is explored in my novel.
I came away from both book club evenings feeling incredibly honored at the time and care readers take with my work, and absolutely awed at their intelligence and thoughtfulness. Last night, at one point as I was describing how I’d had to change one scene in a pretty big way after I visited the location, Susan, who was sitting to my left, reminded me of exactly how I’d described the landscape in question in the end (it feels very awkward to quote my own writing, but bear with me here, this quote reflects on Susan), as
a river so narrow you could almost step across it if the years of water flow hadn’t cut so deeply into the earth.
Honestly, I wrote that line, and I remember writing it because I was so astonished at the smallness of the bridge across the river, and still writing this post this morning, I had to find the passage in the book to get it right. It’s not the most memorable line in the book by any measure, and yet Susan just quoted it out of the blue. How did she do that?
And that’s just the easy example to describe. I can’t tell you how many very thoughtful and thought-provoking discussions we had at both gatherings, most of which defy easy summary and/or would spoil the plot for anyone who hasn’t yet read the book.
I think often that at these kinds of evenings, I learn more than my readers do about my work. There are the little things, like whether my strong woman characters are…shall we say “likable enough”?
But there are bigger things, too.
One gentleman last night noted as we were talking that he felt manipulated–but in a good way. The comment made me realize that I’m not doing that on a conscious level as I’m writing first draft; as I’m writing first draft I’m probably as manipulated by my subconscious as the reader is in the end. But when I’m editing, then yes. I want the reader to feel the things I’m feeling as I’m writing, and I use the writing skills I have to that end.
When, as happened at each gathering, a reader tears up just talking about particular scenes, that is I suppose the effect of some writerly manipulation, but I want you to know that it is incredibly moving to me as a writer, to see that reaction. So incredibly moving to find readers are moved by moments that also move me to tears.
It’s why I became a writer, I think: because as a reader, I am moved by these little black marks on white pages to imagine whole worlds–worlds in which my own emotions make sense, and are understood and even shared.
Another gentleman last night, after the formal discussion, told me privately that he found my first novel, The Language of Light, and The Race for Paris, incredibly similar (and he loved them both!). I’m not sure I’d realized it until he said it, but they have a very similar sensibility, which is a little different than the books in between. They are, now that I think of it, the only two that have been in literary prize territory, too. Anyway, his comment have left me thinking about the arc of my writing, and where I’m taking it next.
I’m pushing two projects forward now, and my heart is in one but the other is so much easier. These two visits have reminded me of the importance of having your heart deeply engaged in a book, both as a reader, and as a writer.