A very cool thing happened. I was invited to attend a book club last week to discuss my novel Stray. Ah! What an honor, but yes, it sounds much more flattering than it was. Had it been a more random thing, I’d feel like I reached some level as a writer. As it was, a wife of a friend was in a book club, and chose the book for their monthly discussion.
Originally, it was scheduled the day after the Ann Arbor Marathon, and that made me reluctant. I’ve been known to turn into a depressed haunting demon monster and suck peoples souls out of their nostrils the day after the marathon. And who wants that, right? Fortunately it was delayed a week.
Also, I had the whole question of, "would you want the author of the book being discussed to be present at the book club?" Does that make it harder to say critical things or to just say, "you know, this book was crap and I couldn't even finish it, pass the artichoke dip please." That said, I have had everything from A to Z said about both of my novels, and can handle any and all thoughts, and may perhaps be more critical than others.
So, I decided that as long as there was a consensus among the members that they wanted me there, and that they had read the book and enjoyed it enough to talk about it, then I was in. I do feel like it's a very good novel and love talking about it, but, we all love our children don't we.
What they decided was for me to come for the second half of the meeting so they could get speak unencumbered before I arrived.
So, I went there with free copies of my second novel, The Jade Rabbit, in hand. I was nervous, I was flattered, I was flabbergasted, but there are a three things I could talk about all day long: My kids, my running, and my books.
As expected, it was a casual, fun group, we all told jokes, shared interests in other authors, and they asked me general and then specific questions about the novel in between our discussion of random irreverent topics.
I shared how the characters in the story were actually pretty watered down versions of the real addicts I work with. Many were surprised when I shared how at least one client a month died of an overdose after leaving the clinic where I worked, and how the setting was a real place, and ironically, only a few miles from the backyard where we were sitting. And the whole theme of interconnectedness of the novel, how ‘we are all flowing in and out of each other all the time’ was a theme that seemed to resonate well.
And yes, I was gloating inside. The questions they asked regarding Stray were a bit affirming to me that I had hit the right cord. The ambiguities and uncertainties and conflicts that I had hoped to elicit in the reader had them asking the questions I would have put in the back for a book club discussion guide, had I actually believed anyone would ever read the novel.
For example, (and this will not mean much if you haven’t read Stray, and I’m tip-toeing around potential spoilers.)
Was Tom a good counselor?
Regarding a certain death in the novel, was it a mercy killing, euthanasia, or murder?
What was the deal with James Whites father?
The blind man who’s walking around with the red-tipped cane, did he exist and what did he represent?
Oh, it was cool to discuss these issues, but the thing was, I didn’t really answer them. Truth was, I don’t have answers. I have speculations that I wanted to grow in the readers mind, but no ultimate truths. I ask myself these same questions and let them ping-pong around my own skull.
The lack of clear cut explanations may have surprised a couple readers, but I think that’s how fiction and stories work best. Each of us presupposes an interpretation of the events of the novel, as well as a ‘what happens after the print says “the end” and it's our very own. If not, it would be called “non-fiction”
I could have shared to them how each of the characters from Stray was doing since the novel ended, because, of course they have lived on in my brain and are still living their lives, making decisions, causing problems. But to do so would be to maybe wreck the already created image.
I don’t want to know if Tony Soprano got shot when the door of that restaurant opened to the tune of “Don’t Stop Believin,” and, my guess is, the creators of Sopranos couldn’t tell me anyways. The important thing is, I was invested enough to care, and it was very cool that a small group of folks were invested enough to care what happened to Thomas Cleaves, Rachel, Jason Boston, James White, the dogs of Argos Animals Shelter, and that mysterious blind man with the red tipped cane who goes tap-tap-tapping down the sidewalk every morning.