Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Meeting with a book group

Last night, I was a friend's Meet-the-Author guest at her book group's monthly meeting. The group has been discussing books for at least twenty years, and they recently decided to read the books of local authors and invite the authors to the discussion. I was the third this year (which may reflect the literary activity in my little town).

The nine women liked Getting Oriented, but had trouble with all the characters, keeping them straight at the beginning of the book. (The tour guide, ten guests on his tour, his boss back in Chicago, and more.) They didn’t have any suggestions on how to fix that, nor was it a problem once they’d read into the book; it’s just that there are a lot of names to keep straight. But they recognized that too few people on a tour would also be a problem with veracity. My friend had printed out my book group guide and whenever the conversation flagged, she asked one of the leading questions.
They wanted to know how I constructed the book. I said that having the tour gave me a structure and a movement through time. I also said that I’d originally tried to keep every chapter rigidly to a single day, but it was clear that was too strict and now events from one day slop over into the next chapter where it makes sense. I did not know how the book was going to end when I started, and I wrote a biography for the main characters so I knew something about them.
They said my love of Japan came through clearly, and felt they’d learned a lot about the country in the book. At the same time there was enough of a story to pull them through; it is not simply a travel guide. They wanted to know why I had the sex scene in the book. I said I wanted to show the main character’s gradual recovery from his depression, and being sexually attracted to a woman (and doing something about it) was one way to show his being on his way to recovery.
They wanted to hear me speak Japanese, which I did. (On the other hand, as I pointed out, I could have said almost anything and how would they know?) Two school teachers had exposed their students to Japanese and calligraphy, so they were interested in the language.
Two women said they'd like to write and I talked about how to start (get up early, sit at the desk, and do it). One woman asked about writer’s block. I said what I believe: It's a symptom, not a disease, and once you recognize the disease, the block tends to go away. Usually, I think, it’s a symptom of fear—fear of failure, fear of offending someone, fear of revealing too much. My suggestion and cure for writer's block, which I have suffered: Realize every first draft is crap, and just write without thinking. You can always go back.
For show and tell, I brought my hanko and an ema, like the votive prayer tablet I'm holding in the picture above, and some pictures from Japan showing real places the fictional tour visits. I inscribed and stamped books the ladies had bought and told stories about tour-leading that aren't in the book. I had a wonderful time.

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