Our book club here in Bay View has been doing a series of local authors, and today was my turn! I got to attend a book club meeting about my first novel, Almost There. It was fun. And terrifying. And I was insanely nervous, but hope I didn't look it.
We now interrupt this blog post for a moment of shameless promotion! Because those of us who self-publish (and even many who don't) must be brave and force our more introverted selves to jump up and down and wave our arms and beg people to please please please read our work (please please). So buy my book! Links for everywhere to buy it in every available form can be found HERE.
Also, those of you who have read it and have not yet put up a review on Amazon (or GoodReads), please take a moment and do so because that would help me more than you realize. I appreciate so much the kind emails and comments I've received. Sharing some of those thoughts online in a place like Amazon might actually help get my novel into the hands of people who don't personally know me, and that would be exciting. Now back to our blog currently in progress:
I really like our book club. I tried a different one about ten years ago, and at the first meeting I discovered I was the only one who read the book. I excitedly told everyone all about To the Lighthouse and how interesting I thought it was, from the stream of consciousness technique used to tell the story to the particular relationships in it. The other women kept drinking their wine and looking down at the copies of the books in their laps with puzzled expressions saying, "Huh, it sounds like it might be interesting!" The second meeting was not much better, and by then I realized I was sort of ruining everyone's good time by wanting to, you know, talk about books.
This book club grew out of a Facebook discussion that began with, "Does anyone know of a book club I can join?" and several of us chimed in, "No! But I want to join it when you find one!" and then we just declared ourselves a book club and the Bay View Book Club was born. It's been a great way to get to know more people in the community. The first meeting had more than a dozen people. Since then it's been a mix and match selection of about half that each time, but someone always posts the upcoming books and dates and meeting places and whoever wants to come can come. It's nice because it's not any more demanding than you want it to be. And everyone reads the books.
I think I did okay discussing my book at the meeting. My biggest problem when I have an audience is I tend divert the topic away from myself if I want to feel less self-conscious. When I'm nervous I prefer to talk about my family because it makes me happy and calms me down. I could easily get by at social gatherings on stories about my brothers alone. (This might be something peculiar to our particular sibling group. Barrett diverts attention from himself to the point that at his own wedding he made a plug for my book--complete with holding up a copy--and I think Arno once told me that in an interview for a position at a university he rambled on so much about his brother and sister that the interviewer finally said, "Well, maybe I should just hire one of them.")
In any case, it was exciting to talk to readers who hadn't seen earlier drafts and to hear what they liked and what they thought worked. All of them cried while reading the book (which I chalk up as a success since they were supposed to), and it was helpful to know things I added late in the final edit turned out to be good choices.
I think the most amusing thing for me in discussing my novel so far has been hearing how people who know me personally can't help but fill in pieces based on how they know me in real life, even though it's fiction. People who knew me in college interpret certain details differently than people who knew me in high school. Friends in Ohio picture Ohio, friends in Michigan picture Michigan, people in Milwaukee see hints of our current neighborhood. My relatives can't not see the daughters as my daughters. My best friend saw herself as the best friend until she hit the chapter about high school, and then she told me things diverged so far from reality she was forced to finally let that go. One person today asked if my own husband collected Rubik's Cubes, and a friend who knows me better in the group laughed and said, "No, that's all her. Have you seen all the cubes at the violin store?"
The truth is in some ways all of the characters are me (I am the mother, I am the working parent, I am the musician, I am the cube collector....) and none of them are. It was an exercise in seeing what I could create that was new. To see if I could invent characters and relationships that feel real but don't exist. And I think I did a pretty good job of it.
The nice thing is that beyond being curious over what might relate specifically to my life or not, people in the book club wanted to discuss things related to the construction of the book. I really enjoyed that. I'm honored they took the time to read it. Because at the end of the day writers just want to be read.
My mother's book club out in Michigan is also planning to read Almost There, and I've been invited to attend that meeting as well. I'm looking forward to it! And by then I should be less nervous about the whole idea, I hope.
The hardest part about not having an agent or a publishing house behind you is the sense that you are hidden. I think I wrote a good book and I'm proud of it. I'd like more people to find it. It's not for everyone, and it is designed to make you cry, but there's a lot to it and I wish I were clever enough or connected enough to get it out there farther than I can throw it.
Although, I am getting less shy, and that helps. (See shameless promotion above.) And now when I don't know how to tack an extra charge onto something at the violin store I simply make people buy my book. A guy recently asked me if I would deliver a cheap bow out to his hotel downtown because he was in Milwaukee for Irish Fest and didn't have transportation. I really didn't want to drive downtown during rush hour, and I was trying to figure out what was a fair delivery fee if I did, when I simply told him, "Yes, I will bring you the bow, but you have to buy my book." He asked, "What's it about?" and I replied, "Does it matter?" and he admitted, no, no it didn't. So that's one way to sell books. Probably not a model I should be presenting at seminars anytime soon, but hey, you work with what you've got.
So, again, my book is here! Go get one! And if anyone out there with a book club (that actually reads the books) is interested in doing my novel
and would like to have me answer questions, I'm happy to travel
anywhere within easy driving distance, and I'm also available on Skype. (The worst that happens is I get nervous and you hear a funny story about my brothers or my kids, and that's pretty good, too.)
If you're interested, here are other books we've read by local authors who have come to our book club discussions:
All the Lonely People by Jess Riley
Friends Like Us by Lauren Fox
Badlands by Tom Biel
Rain Clouds Over Zuni Station by Catherine Koons Hubbard
(The only down side to thinking about books is realizing how many you will never get to. But damn I love books.)