The women around the table raised their hands and slapped the table with disgust as they complained about the man named Vaughn Harlan.
Who could blame them? He was, after all, an enabler of the behavior which resulted in the unexpected, violent start to my novel, HOW SWEET THE SOUND.
I laughed as the members of the book club went on to talk about him and the other characters they found to be particularly infuriating as if they were holding a Monday morning gossip session at the local coffee shop. This is the part about writing a novel I hadn’t expected—when the fiction becomes reality. And it’s the reason why visiting with book clubs is my favorite part of the publishing journey. It’s one thing to have imaginary people carrying on in your own head. It’s a whole other thing when they begin carrying on in the heads and out of the mouths of others.
“Tell me everything you liked—and especially what you didn’t like—about my book,” I tell the book club members when I introduce myself, because what riles them up is what makes the book real for them. What riles them up is what makes the story come alive and stick to a reader’s heart. And when a story sticks to the heart, it has can change a life.
“I hated Princella,” said one woman at a book club I attended in a dimly lit restaurant. “She was too much. Over-the-top. No one in real life is that mean.”
I was not offended by her truthful disdain for the way I’d shaped the character. I was, however, surprised by the response of the woman sitting next to me who had been particularly quiet most of the meal.
She studied the red wine as she twirled it around in the rounded bottom of the glass, then looked across the table at the woman who’d just spoken. “You’ve obviously didn’t grow up the way I grew up. [Princella’s] pretty mild compared to the women I’ve known.”
The conversation burst wide open after that, tears fell, laughter rang out. I soaked in the banter of real people talking about how characters I’d imagined so long, shaped and re-shaped, edited and tweaked had become so much more than fiction.
Not unlike Pinocchio, they’re real people now.
Alive in the hearts of readers.
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