Thursday, February 02, 2012

Book clubs and the way they see your characters

I spoke to a book group last night, eight ladies, about Skeleton in a Dead Space, the first Kelly O'Connell Mystery. The subject of Kelly's character kept coming up. Most of the ladies liked her a lot. The hostess, my friend who had invited me (Joyce is on the far right in the picture above), found her a bit rash, though she didn't use that term in any derogatory way. But the discussion set me to thinking about how different people perceive a character in contrast to how the author (creator) perceives him or her. A recent review had good things to say about the book but found Kelly remote, snobbish, self-absorbed. Since I incorporated so much of myself into Kelly's character that came as a shock. So did rash, which I would never apply to cautious me. Others in book groups have thought Kelly placed her children in danger by bringing Teresa into her house (this only makes sense if you've read it). In one group, when I was trying to define a "cozy" by saying sex and violence take place off-stage, a woman said "Oh, that's why she never goes to bed with Mike." I had to bite my tongue to keep from revealing secrets of the second book.
My oldest daughter told her mother-in-law that Skeleton is a "highly autobiographical" novel, and of course in many ways it is. The single parenting, the conflicted feelings about an ex, the love of old houses, all come from me. I am puzzled that I, loving to cook, created a heroine who isn't a cook and takes her kids out to eat or orders pizza--but Kelly gets better at meals in subsequent novels. And no, my ex wasn't murdered--he died last week of natural causes--and he was never as slimy as Tim in the book. Nor have I ever been in a physical fight, which Kelly is in the book. So there's some me, some not. And, sigh, there was a Mike Shandy in my life but only briefly. I should be so lucky!
In another sense, I like to think that Kelly is the kind of person I am. One reason I blog and blather about family and Jacob and daily life is to give readers and potential readers a sense of who I am,
what kind of heroine they can expect. So when she comes out rash, snobbish, self-absorbed, I'm befuzzled.
Last night I said to the group, "Oh, but she helps Mrs. Glenn...." and then I realized that's the second book. Kelly and her world are so famliar to me now that I forget there are two books others haven't read.
But I hope Kelly grows and changes in the subsequent books (two are written, and No Neighborhood for Old Women launches as an ebook the week of April 8, probably appears in print a month later). You'll have to tell me. Meantime, most of last night's wonderful women liked Kelly, didnt' think she was rash, selfish, a poor parent, any of those things. And I think I made some more friends for Kelly.
Speaking to small book clubs has been one of the most rewarding experiences about publication of Skeleton. Women in these groups (I've yet to speak to one with a man in it) are open and honest in their reaction. Yes, they criticize but mostly they're very enthusiastic about the book--and I think they've helped me make Kelly's character grow.
About men as readers: I've wondered if the Kelly books are chick lit, wondered if men would read them. Several have and have told me good things, plus several women told me their husbands enjoyed the book. And last night, Joyce, the hostess, said her husband and son were both looking forward to reading it. I asked if she thought it was chick lit, and she said not at all, it had a lot of elements that both men are interested in. So another worry down.
A bonus today: I took out an ad, yet to appear, in the newsletter of a neighborhood that borders Fairmount, the setting of the Kelly mysteries. The woman I dealt with wrote today, apologizing for not getting in touch sooner. She was absorbed in getting the newsletter out and now she's reading a mystery that she can't put down and so can't be bothered with email, etc.--it was Skeleton. What a nice compliment.

1 comment:

Kim said...

Hi Judy, it's Kim from Joyce's book club. That night you said that the neighborhood itself is a character in the book. This made me realize that I think the houses themselves are also characters in the book. When you described the house that Kelly ends up buying, I swear I fell in love! Thanks again for sharing your time and stories with us. I can't wait to read the next book!