First, a reminder that our Book Club Girl on Air show with Susan Henderson, on which we'll discuss her novel Up from the Blue, which has received nods in the last week from both NPR and the New York Times, is tomorrow night, Tuesday, Oct 26th at 7 pm ET! Set your reminder for the show here and return to the same link to listen and participate live tomorrow night. Be sure to register on the site before Tuesday night so that you can participate in the chat session from the beginning.
Second, Susan Henderson took part in the New York City National Reading Group Month event last week at Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn. And here, she shares her experience that night talking about the art and business of writing with fellow authors. Thank you Susan for sending us this report and we can't wait to talk to you tomorrow night!
Last Tuesday, the Women’s National Book Association (the original WNBA) hosted a celebration for National Reading Group Month at the Greenlight Bookstore. I was honored to be a part of that night to help draw attention to books that stimulate discussions of literature, social issues, and humankind.
Before I talk about the panel discussion, however, I’d like to talk a bit about Greenlight, a brightly-lit indie bookstore that opened one year ago in the Fort Green area of Brooklyn. For those of us who are bombarded with news about the poor state of publishing, the falling number of readers, and bookstores struggling to stay afloat in the age of Amazon, this store is like a literary oasis. It was packed full of customers, touching books on the shelf that had been important in their lives and pulling down new ones to tuck close to their chests. I spoke to a woman I’d never met before who had tears in her eyes describing a poem to me, I overheard others swooning about Jennifer Egan’s Goon Squad, and several of us wound our way to the children’s section, where we reminisced about Winnie the Pooh and Make Way for Ducklings. The bookstore’s founders, Jessica Stockton Bagnulo and Rebecca Fitting, will be hosting multiple book clubs at the store, including one aimed at middle school students, whose first discussion will focus on Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. This is a long aside, I know, but like most writers, I’m a reader first, and nothing excites me like a room full of carefully-selected books and the people who love them.
But let me get to the panel, which was the focus of the night. Five of us had the pleasure of discussing the process of writing, selling, and marketing our books with moderator Roz Reisner. The authors—and I hope you’ll check them out—were Sheri Holman (The Dress Lodger), Rick Moody (The Four Fingers of Death), Emily St. John Mandel (The Singer’s Gun), and Jackson Taylor (The Blue Orchard). We talked about revisions—how all of us felt our work was better, not compromised, because of the input of our agents and editors—but that there were parts that got cut that we missed like phantom limbs. Some of us mourned the loss of those passages, and others of us found ways to slip a few back into the manuscript during the final edits.
There were some clever ideas for working without the distraction of the internet. Rick actually writes in his car, where he’s completely unplugged. And Emily uses a product called Freedom (you can find it at www.MacFreedom.com), which locks you off the internet for up to eight hours at a time. Research was a surprisingly popular topic, not just among the panelists but with the audience, as well. The word “research” embodied everything from reading non-fiction books, to interviewing people, to Sheri attending a dissection and holding the lungs. Unanimously, the panel cautioned against letting too many facts get in the way of the story, or even assuming there is an actual truth to track down. Instead, they suggested to look for details that inform your characters and inspire your imagination.
As far as the market goes, Rick said it’s the toughest he’s seen in his 15-year career. Writers are expected to play a key role in promoting their books, and tours go through fewer cities. But writers have never gone into this business because it’s easy. They go into it because they like to wrestle with social issues and relationships and words. They like to start dialogues about the kinds of issues people rarely discuss in daily life.
Finally, we talked about letting go of the book, letting it belong to each individual reader who interprets the story through his own life experience. Of the many book clubs Jackson visits, he said each brings a different focus to the book and a different take on the characters. What enrages one reader inspires another. And this is the thrill of sending a book into the world—and we know this as readers—because books are personal. We have fierce attachments to characters and subject matters. We have strong opinions about the books we quit after a single chapter and those we recommend again and again. It was an honor to have this conversation with other book lovers, and I want to thank everyone who was a part of it.