Boundbytheword Blog

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At the mercy of the book club… June 30, 2011

We all need a dose of medicine now and again. Everyone knows how the song goes…A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down…

If a good shot of medicine can make you better and still taste sweet, I say take it. Drown yourself in it. We’re talking metaphorical medicine of course, not anything as radical as a cough syrup cocktail or nose spray festival. The medicine for me came in the form of a book club, aptly named “The Bent Pages”, who took on my novel Debris as their featured book selection.

Let me start by saying I completely admire people who organize or attend a book club. I’m thrilled that there are actually people who digest and then dissect words that authors have painstakingly crafted. That they try to understand what a writer’s motivations were, and want to understand the characters and place themselves right in the little rural town sketched on the page is commendable.  As a writer, it gets me giddy. It’s also scary as hell, but it’s much like parachuting that way. It’s terrifying but exhilarating, and at the last moment you have to seriously ask yourself “What did I get myself into?”

I first put my novel out for review when my dear friend Rhonda offered up her book club to take on Debris. I jumped at the chance. I wanted to get a pulse on my work from readers. I get regular feedback from writers as part of a critiquing circle, but this was different. They were readers, not writers and that meant they could be ruthless when it came to the story.  When I got the manuscripts back from Rhonda I was elated. Six women had read my book and offered feedback and supportive comments that motivated me to delve into edits again. It also encouraged me to send out a new batch of queries (as the courage to do so happens only when I have the strength to serve myself up on a platter). The inner critic in me wondered if Rhonda had threated the book club ten harsh whacks with the Da Vinci Code if they didn’t give me a good review, but in the end the feedback boosted my confidence as well as caught some copy edits and offered some areas for improvement. What a gift!

My second book club opportunity came when another of my dear friends, Margareta, went out to lunch with her dear friend Karen. After mentioning that she was reading Debris, Karen offered her book club as reviewers. I was up for round two with a newbook club, and they invited me to join them the night of their meeting to sit in on the conversation. Yahoo!  Eeks!

When I arrived there last week, I was blown away. The spread in the kitchen rivalled that of a baby shower, which I suppose is fitting since Debris is officially my first born novel.  There was plenty of wine and food to help me cope with any critiquing jitters I had going on. The women were warm, inviting, and in a stunning twist – as nervous as I was. They hadn’t had a real author attend one of their book club events.  “A real author?”  I loved them already!

Besides the manuscripts they handed back to me with comments, critiques and kudos, they also had segments of the evening that they delegated to character, plot, wildcard topics and author (my favourite). Since I didn’t have a bio easily accessible to them, one of the members – Jayne – decided she would interview me, CBC Radio style.  For anyone who knows me, it goes without saying this was euphoric for me. Seriously? You’re going to ask me questions about my life and then the whole group will sit captivated while I talk? And you’ll laugh at my jokes?  Bliss.

The night was a great success. The women were candid and precise about what worked for them, what they wanted more of, and what was…well, meh. I came away with ten manuscripts filled with comments and suggestions from seasoned readers who take book club very seriously. They even ended the night with famous chocolate brownies – in homage to one of my main characters, Helen (who bakes them whenever life gets tough).  The woman of “The Bent Pages” really take it to the next level. For their review of novel Water For Elephants, they dressed in character. Wow. I can only remind them how much fun reviewing my next book – Life as a Teenage Mutant (set in the 80’s) would be for them. Can you say Madonna dress up?

Note to my favourite-ever book clubs: it’s ready and waiting for your eager pens when you want her!

For writers out there – find yourself a book club if you want honest feedback about your manuscript.You won’t get more enthusiasm and honesty than this.  If you are an avid reader, or part of a book club, offer yourself up to writers that are hungry for feedback!  We want you…desperately.

Thank you, thank you to Rhonda’s Book Club at the Pub, and The Bent Pages. I owe you one!