Tell Me About It: An Author Visits a Book Group

What a wonderful experience to have articulate readers tell me about their experience reading my book.  I’ve attended several book groups now, groups that have been meeting — typically monthly — for years. The one I attended this past week had its genesis 17 years ago. I’m so impressed by the longevity. And the always thoughtful questions they pose, and comments they make.

It’s only a little terrifying. 🙂

A couple of common areas of inquisition tend to come up.

They ask if characters are based on people I know and the truth is – thankfully – they are not. I say thankfully because perhaps I’m a wimp. Memoir (non-fiction) requires bravery I am not capable of. I dwell enough on my flaws, errors and poor judgment. Better off thinking about someone else’s.

The other surprising aspect of facing a roomful of people with questions about my book is that I find myself remarkably inarticulate about some aspects of the book. For example, I am often asked why I didn’t name/make my setting a real place. While the setting is inspired by my hometown in combination with nearby river towns, I didn’t call the town either Inver Grove or Red Wing (the site of the real crimes that set the book in motion).

Instead, I named it Somerset Hills, a name which borrows “Somerset” from a location near where I live now with the “Hills” of Inver Grove place names, like Inver Hills.

One reader came up with a really satisfactory explanation for why the place is fictional and I asked her to write that down and get it out on Goodreads or elsewhere. Can I summarize what she said here? I’ll try. She said that making setting fictional gave me more leeway to do what I needed to do (and believe me, she put it far more eloquently than that).

Others chimed in to say that using a real place would bring in lots of criticism if the details weren’t “just so.”

I’ve stumbled around trying to explain this to Mary Ann Grossmann, the St. Paul Pioneer Press book reviewer.

I guess the real answer has something to do with wanting to make my home territory larger. Dust it off and send it out into the world, giving it a presence that it deserves. I want the reader who picks up the book in a New Zealand library to find the place real enough, but also magical, just like I found the China of Pearl Buck’s novels. The Russian countryside of Tolstoy.

I want the setting to be more than just an address, a geographical description, a point on a map. It’s somewhere out there, a place you visit only in a book, but want to revisit again and again.

I want it to feel like a faraway place that exists only in once upon a time.

I guess that’s the explanation. Hope it makes sense! So thank you to the book groups that have invited me, the hostesses that have warmly invited me to their homes, the readers who have gathered to read and comment on my book. I appreciate you!