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On Rewriting Your Manuscript: My First Book Club

For nearly a year now, Trish has been participating in a monthly book club with our friend Becca and several other ladies I don’t happen to be familiar with.  She has really enjoyed it, as much for the opportunity to get out on her own and hang out with grown-ups at least once a month, as for any real appreciation for the books they’ve read.

We’ve talked about the books some, and I’ve even gotten to eavesdrop on a couple she listened to as audiobooks. I’m not really in any fair place to judge, but I will anyway: lots of these books sounded awful. Just…plotless, meandering, character-driven dreck.

The book they read in November was different. It had rich and dynamic characters, but they were big and exciting and caught up in a fast-paced adventure that took place in an imaginative setting that not only intrigued them, but sparked rich discussion and debate (at the book club, and also at home).

I know all that for two reasons. The first: December’s book club met at my house. The first Tuesday of the month, I got home from work and quickly devoured a couple slices of cold pizza while Trish was setting out the sumptuous feast for her guests. Then I took the kids back to their room where we’d be banished for the next three hours.

Meanwhile, the doorbell started ringing. Guests showed up, each of them bearing some new delicious treat, and while I tried to read a book to the one-year-old at the same time I was fending off a makeover from the three-year-old, they settled in to talk literature, philosophy, and world politics.

I did my best to eavesdrop, but I really couldn’t hear a thing. It drove me crazy. I mean, sure, I had a fun time playing with the kids…but I really wanted to be part of the conversation going on out in our living room.

An hour and a half later, I got my chance. Trish came back to peek in, check on the kids, then she jerked her head toward the living room and said, “You want to come meet everybody?”

I nodded, more enthusiastic than you might have guessed (unless you already know the punchline here, anyway). I handed the baby over to Trish, then walked down the hall and into a living room full of women I didn’t know. All eyes turned to me.

Then the one I would come to know as the Talker raised her chin, and said, “Okay, first things first. We’ve been talking about this book all night and we’re all agreed on one thing: when they make a movie, you have to make sure they get someone hot to play Ghoster.”

Reason number two: the book was Gods Tomorrow.

I laughed and agreed, then I sank down on a chair opposite all of them and we talked. It was fun. They all loved the book. (Several admitted afterward that they’d been dreading something awful when they agreed to read a book written by the husband of someone in their book club, but they all agreed they were pleasantly surprised.)

The conversation was incredible, too. We talked about where the story idea came from, and various elements of the science fiction universe (they were curious in particular where I’d gotten the idea for the Hippocrates watch).

We talked about the naming conventions — how I’d worked Greek and Egyptian mythology so heavily into a near-future sci-fi setting — and about the characters, and about what life in that world would really be likely.

And, for more than an hour, we talked about privacy. That’s the biggest theme of the series. What would life be like without privacy? What could we do if we had access to all that information? I had readers on both sides of the debate, right there in the room.

It was invigorating. It was so much fun. Talking with them (and listening while they descended into arguments among themselves), I saw little flaws in my storytelling, ways I could tighten it up or make it clear. I also saw what worked (and a surprising amount of it worked), and how certain characters and certain plot developments resonated differently with different readers.

None of that was accidental, of course. I put hundreds of hours into building that story to be something worthy of a discussion like that. It was quite a thrill to see the end product in action, though.

Not bad, really, for my first book club.

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