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January 23, 2012

Why I Love Book Clubs

Filed under: writing — Tags: , , , , , , , , — jennifer @ 11:41 am

Sometime last April, months before Velva Jean Learns to Fly was published, I received an email from a woman named Linda Newby, a travel agent in Anaheim, California, telling me how much she loved the book. Through a good friend with ties to Penguin, Linda had come across an advanced reading copy (we call them ARCs) of Fly and was particularly drawn to it because she is a private pilot who wanted to fly from a young age.

In August, she wrote me again to tell me about her book club and to ask if I might be able to attend if they chose Velva Jean as one of their reads. I said of course! I talk to book clubs whenever I can– usually, depending on where on this globe the club is located, by conference call– because there is nothing better than meeting readers and hearing an impassioned discussion about characters you’ve created.

On Thursday I pulled myself out of 1946 and took the time to get my hair blown out by an actual professional so I would look presentable and not like a writer deep in the throes of researching and outlining. My boyfriend baked bread and we braved the traffic down to Anaheim, where we spent the most delightful three and a half hours with the most delightful group of women this side of my family. Linda, our host, had decorated her gorgeous home with model airplanes and flying-related knickknacks. Then there was the food! The wine! The crackling fire in the fireplace!

Best of all was the women themselves and the rather heated and in-depth discussion of Learns to Fly. Book clubs are terrific reminders of why it is I do what I do. Even when the ladies were arguing over Butch Dawkins and what he should ultimately mean to Velva Jean– some like him, some don’t like him– it’s a strange, surreal, Christmas-Day-kind-of-feeling to sit and listen to readers discuss so passionately, so enthusiastically, so insightfully characters and a story I’ve created.

After dinner and before dessert, I read the first chapter of the new Velva Jean book to them (her daring and dangerous spy tale, to be released in August). The book is still being edited, so this was the first time sharing it with anyone outside of my editor and my early readers. I fought the urge to mark a few things as I read– little things that I’ll tweak when the copy edits come back to me next week– and instead, I just focused on reading. The book club was a wonderful audience, attentive, appreciative, and warm. Velva Jean and I felt very welcomed.

I left Linda’s house not only feeling energized from the lovely evening and the dynamic, engaging company, but from being part of their discussion. I also left with new insights– not just into Fly but into Velva Jean and all that lies ahead for her. As I move forward on Velva Jean’s next adventure, it makes me look with a kind of renewed clarity at her, at Butch, at Johnny Clay (who inspired a very fluttery and collective group sigh), at others she may interact with, at what she will do and where she will go. And as I settle back in at my desk (as I did Friday, Sunday, today), knowing those readers are out there waiting to see what I’ll come up with makes me gladder than ever to be here.