A couple weeks ago, I spoke at a book club. My first one! I've spoken to aspiring writers before, discussing all aspects of the writing business, but never to readers who weren't interested in being published. And man, was that different!
These ladies read everything, mostly fiction, but all genres and not usually romance. Some authors they've read more than once. Jane Austen and I are tied at four for having the most novels read by the club. Since Jane's no longer with us and they're reading my fifth novel soon, I'm about to become the most read author. Take that, Austen! (This may be the only contest in which my books beat out Jane Austen's.)
Here's what I learned that was unexpected, and fun - readers get to know your books. I mean, they KNOW them. Better than I do! These ladies would speculate about minor characters whose names I couldn't even remember and wonder if they'd have a bigger role in the next book. Or whip off the name of a store like they shop there all the time. It was all so real to them.
At first I was dumbfounded, but on the drive home I figured out why I was so dense about my own creations. I wrote and re-wrote and edited those books until I didn't want to see them again. I changed characters' motivations and backgrounds half way through the story in order to work something else into the plot. I even changed some of their names. The book in my head is littered with sub plots that were cut or revised, and people who changed from happy-go-lucky to closed off and brooding. But my readers know only one version. It's unmuddled and smooth, and it works.
And that was the BEST compliment anyone could give me - my fictional town and people became real to them, at least for a few hours. That's any writer's ultimate goal, and that book club overwhelmed me with how well it worked for them. What a thrill! Thanks, ladies!