A Revelation and a Lesson in Reality

Moving from California to Connecticut, coast-to-coast, during the first months of the COVID pandemic resulted in flying out of an airport almost devoid of staff and passengers. I sailed through Security with only two other people in line. In fact, the airport was a ghost town, as was LaGuardia when I reached New York. No coffee shops or stores were open, but, warned ahead of time, I’d brought my own travel cup and, of course, my kindle loaded with eBooks.

It had been 23 years since I had lived in CT and discovered that I knew not a soul any longer except for my son and daughter. I searched the Obituaries pages for news of long-lost friends and called up a newspaper I used to work for but no one had heard of my fellow reporters from so long ago.

Needing to get back into the writing community I joined the New York chapters of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and renewed my Authors Guild membership, but there were no actual meetings scheduled except for Zoom. Like most writers I thrive on in-person contact where we have an opportunity to pick up characteristics of other humans, locales, and other, often small, details we put to use in our books.

I cast around for any group related to writing that met in person and this month, lo and behold, I was told of a women’s book club that was actually meeting at a coffee shop. There was also a memoir group at someone’s home. I’d been to several book clubs in California as their speaker when one of my books was the subject of discussion but what would it be like sitting on the other side of the table? I’d been treated with great respect, gentleness, and politeness each time with questions that were easy to answer and expected the same for this author and his work.

Instead, it was a revelation and a lesson in reality.

The book under discussion was a pretty hefty novel by a renowned author.  I was struck the most by everyone’s intensity, enthusiasm, and deep knowledge of each character and their supposed intent; the proposed meaning of every scene, and talk about the author’s hidden message on almost every page even if there were none. It was fascinating to hear that three members said they were in disagreement with the author because one character didn’t really mean what he said and other members backed her up. Another lady said a character should not have done what she did and offered an alternative to what the author wrote, and yet another lady said two of the characters should never have had the argument they did if only they had done so-and-so.


Suggesting rewriting parts of an important classic to suit varying ideas about where the plot and its people should have gone gave me an introspective that I knew was impossible to achieve. There are a couple of classics wherein the author addresses the reader as “dear reader,” in his/her books but I doubt it is a plea for understanding the book’s intent. Authors cannot please everyone, and occasionally cannot please themselves when they re-read a book they wrote years earlier, perhaps, and see one or two parts they’d like to edit.

I enjoyed the back and forth between the ladies who were diplomatic in their critiques despite opposing opinions. One tended to hog the limelight by going on and on until the group leader gently cut her off. I was surprised that 4 or 5 of the 14 in the group remained mute the entire time but the others made up for their silence with well-articulated points of view, albeit wishing the author had written some scenes a bit differently.

As the newcomer I mostly listened and didn’t reveal I was an author.  Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered but I was there to discuss someone else’s work.  Only at the end did I disagree with the general conclusion that the main character had redeemed herself by her ringing endorsement of a couple in love rather than try to split them apart as she had earlier in a book-long fit of jealousy. One member asked if the author wished readers to come to like his previously nasty main character at the end by having her do a complete turn-about of herself.

My take was that she was self-serving by pretending to have changed in order to receive everyone’s good wishes instead of their usual disparaging remarks when she dissed them ad nauseum. She was congratulated and basked in their comments, but to me she was still living up to her me-me-me attitude. My statement was then discussed and agreed to by a slim majority of members, while others said they hadn’t thought of it that way but, yes, it made sense.

Perhaps had the author been at this meeting he would have been flabbergasted at the suggestions for changes, as sensible as they were, and probably even a little daunted at the thought but, all in all, I liked the fact that these book clubbers genuinely loved books and discussing them in depth was important to their lives. I am glad I joined and plan to attend every month.

Should I take a lesson from the discussion? Yes, very much so except I am still writing what I want to write. If a reader finds problems in a book that is fictional the author can be excused. What have been your book club experiences?


Jill Amadio is a ghostwriter and cozy mystery writer. This is her new novel.

A leggy wildflower of a girl, teenage Sofia runs away from rural Oregon to big city Portland where she meets and marries a charismatic Saudi Arabian later known as 9/11 hijacker #13. While a slumbering America embraces feng sui and pizza she is present when terrorist sleeper cells are organized in her home, maps of landmark buildings, airports, and bridges are studied, and teams of recruits take flying lessons.

IN TERROR’S DEADLY CLASP, a novel, is based on her true story, providing a rare, chilling glimpse under the radar of the terrorists’ daily lives as they enjoy strip clubs, fast food, and freedom from their religious rules. After warning the FBI of the Arabs’ photo sessions, driving several men into America illegally from Mexico, and other suspicious activities, she goes undercover for U.S. intelligence agencies with deadly consequences.

Why Writers Should Join Book Clubs

What inspired you to become a writer? If you’re anything like me, your love of writing has its roots in a love of reading. Some of my most treasured childhood memories are of weekend mornings curled up on the sofa with my mom while she read to me. We started with the L.A. Times comic section: Brenda Starr, Little Lulu, Nancy and Sluggo. Before long, we moved into books.

I yearned for the day I could read on my own, and once I learned to make sense of all those letters on the page, I never lost my love of reading. From Black Beauty and Jane Eyre, to Hemingway and Fitzgerald and . . . well, you get the idea.

Over the years, my taste in fiction narrowed, and I realized I was limiting myself to a couple of categories: women’s fiction, because that’s mainly what I write, and mysteries/thrillers because they’re so darn interesting and fun to read. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but a writer-reader really should diversify.

Writers need to read, not just the kind of writing they do or want to do, but all kinds of writing. Reading the work of other writers broadens your horizons and makes you think. It expands your perceptions. It feeds the muse and keeps her interested in you.

But how to choose what to read from the endless choices of good books out there? Publishers Weekly tempts me every week, and friends are always recommending their own favorites and often foisting them on me.

And that’s where the book club comes in. When I had a chance to join a local reading group, I jumped in and have not regretted it for a moment.

The “Brown Bag Book Club” (so named because it meets mid-day) is sponsored by Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse, a delightful independent bookstore in La Canada, California. We’ve read current bestsellers and lesser-known novels, and without exception they’ve been wonderful reads. Most have been books I would never have chosen on my own but am ever so glad the book club selected them. I’ve entered worlds I never imagined and discovered the work of some amazing novelists. The experience has only strengthened my commitment to my craft and left me in awe of the writing; it’s made me want to write even more, and to do it better.

It sure doesn’t hurt that Sandy Willardson, one of our book club moderators, is a fantastic cook who brings a delectable dessert to each meeting. We’ve sampled a pumpkin mousse, gingerbread, a chocolate truffle tart topped with strawberry soufflé. . . yikes, this is making me hungry. Not all book clubs are blessed with this little extra, but it sure helps break the ice!

An important side benefit of belonging to a book club: when we meet to discuss the month’s selection, and I hear the other members’ reactions, it gives me priceless insight into what they found compelling in the book, and what turned them off. It makes me think about my own values, and what I consider a successful novel. Does my writing measure up to my own standards? Probably not as much as it could, but the book club discussions are a significant wake-up call.

We live in a hectic world, and it’s usually hard to find time to work on our own projects, to write our stories and novels and to study our craft. It’s easy to forget that big old world of fiction out there, and belonging to a book club is a wonderful way of reminding oneself that writers need to be readers.

%d bloggers like this: