Last summer, I was invited to join a book club. I belonged to one many years ago when I lived in New York state and realized how much I had missed it. It didn't take me long to accept the invitation.
We studied "The Shack" for several months and when we finished, the group decided on its next project. I was surprised when they all agreed to read "Angels Unaware." And embarrassed. I offered to drop out while they read it, but was voted down.
"We want your input," they said.
"Angels Unaware" is my first published novel and frankly, by the time it was out in print and e-reader, I was throughly sick of the editing and rewriting process. I hadn't even looked at in in months. So in a way, it was like reading an unfamiliar work.
But not quite.
The women attacked the book from an entirely different perspective. They called Jordan, Kat's selfish and controlling husband, "Jerk Man." Then they divided a sheet of paper into columns and listed all his good qualities on one side and his faults on the other. The faults led by far.
Like all writers, I try not to make my heroines too perfect or my villains too evil. They must have a flaw or a redeeming quality or no one would believe in them. So, I tried to point out places where I had had Jordan act, if not nobly, at least a little less self-centeredly. "Look," I said, "where he tells her he's sorry she's sick and offers to pay for a second opinion."
"Huh. Just like Jerk Man to throw money at a problem," sniffed one member.
"He must have a reason to act like he does," mused another. I had a hard time keeping my mouth shut before I gave away too much of the plot.
"Well, she might have questioned where all that money came from at some point. She just accepted it."
As they argued, I had the feeling they were talking about people they knew, friends or acquaintances whose foibles they were dissecting. It was hard to remember Kat and Jordan were just words on paper, people who lived only in my head. Except now they were living in someone else's head as well.
Although I tried to accept their opinions, it was a little like parading my first-born child at a tea party and hearing everyone both praise and criticize my darling's every feature and mannerism.
I don't know if I'll go to the next meeting. They might enjoy reading the book more without worrying about hurting my feelings. (Although no one has yet -- they seem to like the book and ask innocently why it isn't on the best-seller list.)
On the other hand, how many writers get to hear their readers react honestly to what they've written? A carefully written and thought-out review is great, but to see someone read a passage for the first time and blurt out an emotional response is entirely different.
So they hate Jordan and cheer for Kat in her struggle to discover herself. And that is exactly what I hoped would happen.