Monday, December 3, 2012

The Special Chair

For the month of December, we're offering Sharon K. Souza's Christmas novella, A Heavenly Christmas in Hometown, (read 1st chapter here) for $5, including shipping. It's a fun story for the entire family, in a beautiful hardback, with dust-cover  To order, email Sharon through our Contacts page. Order early to ensure you have it before Christmas.

I used to dream of standing before a book club of smart, interested readers who loved a book that I had written. I saw myself answering their questions about my characters, the setting, the unexpected twists of plot, the symbols and hidden meanings.

I'm here to warn you, dreams come true. And that's good - if you're flexible about how the whole scene will play out.

Happily, Sharon was with me to hold my hand.

The difficulty began the morning I was to meet with her friend's reading group, when I stood before the mirror and thought to myself that I didn't look like an author. I looked like me.

I did my best with the makeup and hair, tried on a few erudite expressions, shook my head and tossed them away, then got in the car.

Annette's home was wondrous: we all sat in an intimate family room/kitchen. If Mr. Tumnus had hosted the Narnia-War Drobe Book Club in the home of Mrs. Beaver, it might have looked almost as welcoming. There were delicious treats and hot coffee.

And there was a special chair just for me, front and center. Already, both good and bad, for an author who, for all her dreams, craves both literary success and personal obscurity.

I started by reading a selection from the first chapter, and found to my relief that, even though it was only me sitting in that special chair, I still felt proud of what I had written. I straightened my back and sat a bit taller.

Then it was time for the readers to talk. They began shyly, but soon warmed to our conversation, and to my relief, they did like my book. They asked good questions - great questions - some of which made me blush. They seemed to see more in the story than I saw, but I already knew the magic of storytelling: that things creep in below the author's line of sight, and wait to be discovered like Christmas presents. They certainly came as a gift that day, when I sat nervously in the spotlight.

With readers like these, who asked such great questions, who made me so comfortable, I began to doubt my earlier judgment. Maybe I did l look like an author, after all. I'd have to check.

Then came the best question of all, a question so astute, it left me speechless:

"On page such and so, how does this character turn up in this place when just two pages before you have her in that other place?"

You can see me, can't you? The mouth opens. The mouth closes. The face goes slack.

I look to Sharon, who is laughing - with me. Because then I am laughing, and so is everyone else. "Because," comes my only possible answer, "I goofed."

No one ever told me - as I am telling you - that an author's dream moment could make me feel less like Nicole Krauss, the author of The History of Love, and more like her main character, Leo Gursky:

A few months ago I saw an ad in the paper. It said, NEEDED: NUDE MODEL FOR DRAWING CLASS. $ 15/ HOUR. It seemed too good to be true. To have so much looked at. By so many. I called the number. A woman told me to come the following Tuesday. I tried to describe myself, but she wasn’t interested. Anything will do, she said.

To have so much looked at. By so many. And anything will do.

They even gave me a little Japanese Maple. It's growing in my back yard, and it's beautiful.

Please share your book club stories, from the "special chair" or from the couch. I love to read what you have to say.


Susie Finkbeiner said...

My former boss hosts a book club. In that group are several of my former co-workers, friends from a previous church, and just...well...friends. They plan to read my book and have me come to discuss it with them. They informed me that they spend a certain amount of time critiquing the books. And they insist that I be there for the portion. Ugh. Ack. I'm more than a little terrified by the idea.

Kathleen Popa said...

Susie, see if you can take Sharon with you. She knows when it's time to laugh.

Susie Finkbeiner said...

Ooo. Good idea. Sharon? What do you think? Michigan in the spring is just lovely!

Patti Hill said...

Katy, I feel your pain. I was invited to attend the first meeting of a local book club. I only knew two of the ladies, one the organizer and the other a neighbor I'd known for years.

It was an intimate group of only 7 of us, which I took a lovely sense of comfort first.

My neighbor happened to bring a list of six things I could improve in the novel. SIX! She said, "I have six things I think would improve the novel. Would you like to hear them now?" I said yes.

Mouths dropped open around the table as the neighbor critiqued the "weaker" parts of the story. My face, I'm sure, flared red because I was embarrassed and angry. I remember thinking that her points were hardly worth mentioning, but she did. I simply nodded and thanked her for each point.

Later, in the parking lot, my neighbor said she only meant to help me.

"Gee, thanks."

I don't think it's appropriate for a book club to negatively critique a story in front of the author. The moderator should have said, "Why don't you give Patti your notes when we're finished?"

She had notes!

And Sharon wasn't with me!

In the end, I was thankful for the humbling. I probably needed it. This was my first book. The whole experience was a bit heady.

I'll be writing on Wednesday about questions you can ask the host to avoid other pitfalls book club appearances. Don't be scared off by my experience. Some of the most wonderful experiences I've had as an author have been in book clubs.

Patti Hill said...

Katy, I forgot to say that I'm reading a book--that I'm enjoying--where one of the characters changes gender and not in a surgical way. I'm sure the author simply changed her mind at some point and didn't catch the early references to "he" rather than "she." Happens to the best of us.

Kathleen Popa said...

Patti, you're a stronger woman than me. How did you keep from crawling under the table?

Sharon K. Souza said...

Oh, Patti, I'm laughing. He in stead of she? HOW could that have passed unnoticed by anyone? Did she have an editor???

Katy, it was a nice day at Annette's, and a nice group of women in the book club. I'm glad I was there with you. Patti, I wish I had been there with you! What an experience. I look forward to your list of dos and don'ts on Wednesday.
Susie, you'll love visiting with the book club. I hope it's a wonderfully positive experience -- the first of many. I'd love to be there! I wish all 6 of us could be there! Michigan in the spring ... it has a nice ring.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Unless you did two at Annette's, I was there, also. I added the photo to the post. :-)

Megan Sayer said... made me giggle. A lot.
Oh dear.
I do remember a time, in my younger years, when I took great delight in picking books to pieces and harping on about the bits that were poorly conceived or poorly written, or just plain annoying. It's not until you've been through that writing process yourself though, and sweated a book from the pores of your skin, that you can fully appreciate what another author has gone through. I'm much, much gentler with books these days.
But I've never been in a book club with the author of the book. That would be weird/cool/awesome/I'm not sure. Amazing, but a completely different set of rules.
Surely you would go in with a completely different set of expectations and/or questions than if you were just discussing the book among friends?

(actually, as I said the other day, I've only ever met three published authors in the flesh. Wonderful, wonderful people they were, too!)

Bonnie Grove said...

This is nice. I've done a number of book club meetings, and while most went well, I have visited book club hell.

Susie: seriously, don't agree to sit in a room while people you know critique your novel. It's your choice, really. But there's no way I would agree to that.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

I've done a few book clubs, also. The most difficult was long-distance by speaker phone. It went fine, but it's really difficult when you can't see people and read body language, etc. You feel at a disadvantage. With the last one, the group quickly veered away from the questions and wanted to know about the process the book went through. Where the idea began, how I got from point A to point B. Maybe they didn't read it! :)

Susie Finkbeiner said...

Bonnie: I will gladly follow your advice. Thank you.

Cherry Odelberg said...

I didn't think, I didn't think book clubs were for critiquing authors. One would assume, when an author is invited, it is because the folks like the book or the author and want to ask questions of interest.

Agreed that criticism should happen in private - unless invited in a writer's group or writers' seminar.

It does appear that Katy's book club questioner asked a legitimate and polite question and that made me wonder; just where are the copy editors these days?

Kathleen Popa said...

Yes, Debbie was there. I remember, she surprised me by showing up at Sharon's, and it was wonderful! And the ladies at this book club really were very nice. I don't even think the lady who asked the very good question wanted to put me on the spot. She was just curious.

Kathleen Popa said...

Megan, come to think of it, I used to do the same. I think what I was really saying was, if that author made that mistake, I'll bet I could write a book too. Turned out, I was right.

Kathleen Popa said...

Susie, Bonnie gives good advice.

Cherry, I had a good copy-editor. But she seems to have been human, like me.

Jennifer Major said...

SIX things?? I'd be tempted to say "I have two ideas that will improve this conversation, and that involves either you hushing up, or me leaving."
But most likely I would sit in stunned silence until someone helped me out.
I haven't done the book club thing, yet. But I know I'll INSIST we NOT have a lonely chair!!

Sharon K. Souza said...

I've had very good experiences visiting book clubs, and they were always, as Cherry suggests, because the group liked my book and wanted to ask me questions. Cherry, you're absolutely right. That isn't the place for critiquing the author. My experiences have been so pleasant, that so far it's my favorite thing to do as an author promoting her work. And the group that Katy met with (I'd also been their guest at one time) were very positive and happy to have Katy there. The setting was lovely. As someone who has the privilege of seeing Katy's WIPs, I was one who should have caught the mistake. But like Katy so graciously says, we're human.