Speaking to a Book Club

Speaking to a Book Club

A book club recently decided to read The Wysman and invite me to speak at their meeting. Actually, I should say “our” meeting because it’s a club I belong to. I swear I didn’t suggest the book! Someone else did. The members are all avid readers though, so they decided that having an author to talk to would be interesting. I was, of course, happy to oblige. I love talking about writing.

I must say it was a different kind of meeting. Usually, all the members speak up with lots of insights and comments about the book. In this one, I did most of the talking, which I suppose is what they asked me to do. I assume they would have felt awkward talking about the book in their usual way with me right there.

Even though this was my book club, however, I think some things I did would be useful in speaking to any book club. Here are two suggestions.

1. Ask for questions ahead of time

One thing that worked out well was asking for questions ahead of time. Only one person responded, but she sent half a dozen, and I used those as a list of topics to raise. Being able to do that meant they didn’t have to put themselves on the spot by asking something during the meeting.

Some questions they asked

  1. How does a book get published?

They were interested in the differences between self-publishing, small press, and Big Five publishing. I don’t think they wanted to publish themselves. They just wanted to know how it all worked.

2. Why did I use a quasi-medieval period setting? Where does the idea of wind reading come from? (One member said she looked up “wind reading” and found only “anemometer.”)

Most of the club members don’t read fantasy, so they were unfamiliar with its conventions. This meant I had a chance to talk about some of the history and questions behind fantasy’s familiar tropes.

3. Why did a character they liked have to die?

This was fun to answer because I could talk about why bad things have to happen in a good story. I also confessed that I felt bad about killing this character, but, as is the case every time I do it, I got a little thrill. I justified that by saying it meant I’d pushed beyond what was comfortable for me.

2. Consider talking about issues raised in reviews

My publisher sent out Advanced Review Copies of The Wysman, and there’d been enough time for reviews to be written and for commonalities to develop among them. I thought club members might have some of the same reactions, so I picked three things from the reviews: the two most common reactions plus an outlier that I found super interesting.

Reviewers agreed the book has a slow start. I confessed I was worried about that ahead of time and tried to fix it, but evidently didn’t succeed to any great degree.

Reviewers also agreed they liked having a disabled central character. Talking about that was really interesting, because it raises some questions about representation that club members were eager to respond to.

The additional thing I picked out as interesting may be related to the disabled character question. One reviewer liked the book and said many good things about it. But she said she didn’t believe Jarka, the disabled character, was male. That allowed us all to talk about readers’ gendered expectations.

One caution: Only do this if you can talk about the reviews without becoming defensive. If you frame them as things to think about, they (and you) come across much better.

Do it! It’s fun

If you get a chance to speak to a book club, absolutely take it. I had a great time, and members said they did too.

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The Wysman

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Born with a crooked foot, Jarka is granted the chance of a lifetime to get off the streets and apprentice as the king’s advisor. This glorious opportunity turns sour, however, when Jarka starts suspecting that the kingdom is responsible for the unnerving disappearances of his fellow street kids. And when someone very near and dear to his heart becomes the latest victim, Jarka finds himself scavenging through an ancient history of long-hidden evils, desperate to unveil the truth and figure out where the king’s true loyalties lie, before the magic can be beat and bled out of him.   

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