Reading this description of author Alix Strauss' visit to a book club to discuss her new novel, Based Upon Availability, really makes me wish (besides that I'd like her to visit my book club of course) that I lived closer to the shore--much closer. Read on to hear how this author felt talking about her book and characters with the "Reading Club with a Drinking Problem."
There’s something wonderful about being surrounded by bright women. Being surrounded by bright, lovely, insightful women who have read your work and want to talk to you about it is as close to utopia as one can get. Knowing there was a catered novel-themed luncheon and that we’d be spending the day at the beach after the discussion (which was across the street from the host’s house) was the icing on the book club cake. Such was my experience last month when I was an invited guest in Long Beach. Started in 2005, the 20-plus women discuss a book every month and call themselves A Drinking Club with A Reading Problem. Aside from creating the menu, whoever is hosting is also in charge of leading the discussion.
Based Upon Availability, my new novel, delves into the lives of eight women, who pass through Manhattan’s swanky Four Seasons hotel. While offering sanctuary to some and solace to others, the hotel captures their deepest secrets and most raw moments as they grapple with family, sex, power, love, and death. It was my hope to ask and answer the age old question ‘what happens behind closed doors’ while examining the walls we put up as we attempt intimacy, and inspecting the ruins when they’re knocked down.
Chef Peter created a 4-star-hotel-worthy meal consisting of: a spinoff of the famous Waldorf salad – complete with warm chicken, beets, walnuts, and a savory mustard vinaigrette; a second salad offering salmon and white fish on a bed of arugala; grilled asparagus and sautéed mushrooms as sides; and for dessert, homemade chocolate chip cookies, biscotti, canolli, and strawberries.
After lunch the women sat in a circle – some took to the floor, others sat in foldable chairs, some were cushioned on the couches – and dove into dissecting the material. I’ve always wanted to be part of a book group. It’s a terrific way to bond with others over something very specific and tangible. Watching total strangers share their thoughts and feelings about something I’d created was mesmerizing. I loved watching the ladies gesticulate while inching forward in their seats as they got into a lively talk about my characters. I adored hearing who they felt sorry for, who they felt changed the most, and if they could be friends with any of the characters.
The biggest discussion revolved around two characters – Robin and Vicki – who are camping out in suite 1512, and if Robin was justifiable in her actions. More than sibling rivalry, Robin has been mentally and emotionally tortured by her older sister for as far back as she can remember. In the 48 hours that Vicki is visiting, leaving her lawyer DC roots behind, the two-some display anything but sisterly love. Pushed to a breaking point, Robin finally reacts – in a most surprising manner. Without giving too much away, many of the women reacted most to this part of the novel. They questioned whether Robin’s outrageous behavior was warranted, and if Vicki deserved what was done to her. I’d never considered this. I just thought ‘how realistic are her actions and what kind of change will it bring about for the character.’ Many also wondered if Vicki would learn a lesson and change her behavior.
The group was also interested in the main character, Morgan, the hotel manager who can’t move past the death of her older sibling. They were fascinated in her intense need to connect to others, and her odd behavior – she snoops though guests’ rooms, helps herself to their pills, sprays their perfume, tries on their clothing, and leaves the scene cleaner than a cat burglar.
The hardest part was remaining silent as the women animatedly dissected my work and asked each other questions, to which I knew the answers. It was also great to be the judge, and settle the disputes, or at least share what my intentions were when I created a specific character, or why I wrote a scene a certain way.
At 2:00 pm, guests gathered themselves, retrieved their beach gear from their cars: portable nylon chairs, small umbrellas, tubes of sun block, terry towels, and proceeded across the street to capture some afternoon rays. With or without the allure of the beach, this Manhattanite wouldn’t have missed this opportunity – a gift really, for anything.