Wheatfield Near Fort Pierre, South Dakota. Photograph by Robert Clements

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Not-So-Stuffy Book Club

Red Ruby Heart underneath the lights.
I love book clubs, as I mentioned in the last post, because, for the most part, people have read the book and I am pleased, as an author, to be able to discuss the book in more detail. I have read in a home where I sat on a wooden chair in front of where the big screen television usually comes down and read and spoke to participants seated in big red chairs looking down at me - sort of the Supreme Court of book club discussions. I have driven to Alna, Maine to meet with a former co-worker and her group of friends in a gracious home by a beautiful hearth, then taken my leave to drive home - an hour away - to Portland under the watchful eye of a full moon. One of my dearest friends, Becky, held three book clubs - each with its own personality. All of them added up to extraordinary experiences.

I've gone into a middle school to meet with teachers after school, to the 4th floor of a condominium where one of the women began crying over Carlie's disappearance and wanted comfort  and an explanation from me regarding my decisions as Carlie's creator. (It's fiction, folks.) Discussion and questions - and reactions -  indicate to me that I, as a writer, have created a world real enough to care about. And that tells me that I've done my job, for the most part. I've met an amazing group of people, and I feel lucky to have been invited into their homes and hearts.

Decoration for book club meeting at Kathy Leighton's house.

Steamed mussels with garlic and wine, prepared by Brian.
But I wanted to spotlight one book club, because the women in this group should be noted for their spirt, their devotion to keeping their book club alive - for ten years and counting - in many ways, and because it was so damn fun to be a part of the group for one night. Called the Not-So-Stuffy-Bookclub, the night was held at the home of Kathy Leighton, as suggested by her friend, Laura, via my very good friend and sister-of-the-heart, Charlotte Brown. Kathy is tiny and full of light and energy, and the friends that attended this special night were all women of substance and laughter, all Florine's type of women - in life. Most of them are mothers and some are grandmothers. All of them are professionals and some are retired. They are great women.

Amazing blueberry cake, made by Kathy Leighton.
What I want to say is, Thank you, Kathy Leighton.
She (with some help from her husband, Brian, and their dog, Sandy) cooked seafood, supplied wine, and decorated the table with red ruby hearts and stars. This was such a wonderful thing to do - so creative and thoughtful. If this wasn't enough, she also had Brian set off fire crackers at an un-timed moment during the evening (a fire cracker raid is a crucial early part of the book). We sat around a large table with lit candles and discussed the book, and we talked about their lives and the book club, which celebrates their January meeting with a Yankee swap, wherein a gift that they may have received that doesn't suit them is put up for swap. They dress up in costume for some books. They live whatever they are reading in some special way. And my book was no exception to them. They had some very good questions and some observations that should have occurred to me, that challenged me as the author of the book to pay more attention to small details (details that I thought I had covered). I felt so welcomed and part of their experience. It was a rare and unexpected, delightful evening.

Sandy (Sandra when she's bad), the golden retriever.
It took me three years to write the book, working evenings after a full-time job, working weekend mornings, and whenever I found a block of time that I could sit down and enter Florine's world. I gave away my television set. I drew back from many friends and acquaintances. Some friends were lost along the way, some were gained. The world spun and changed even as I stopped time for this little, fictional world where so much happened, where so much mattered.  I came out of this experience with a book, feeling as if I'd been gone for quite some time. I re-entered the world a changed person, a little shaky. I fell in love and moved away to a foreign country (You cannot tell me that southern Maine and South Dakota are in the same country.) I left my little crooked house on my little street in East Bayside, Portland, and I left my full and fabulous life to follow my honey. There, among the plains and the prairie, I've been trying to regain my footing. Shortly after I moved, the book was published, and has been published, thus far, in four languages. None of it seems real, at times. It's been joyful, but unsettling. I've had to resort to pepto-bismal tablets on nights that I read. My introverted nature has had to step it up a notch, into some semblance of extroversion that I can exhibit in short bursts. I've had to learn new skills and develop an insight into the reasons why I make up other worlds, at all.

But that night, in Kathy Leighton's home, I felt, well, vindicated for my choices. I love talking about my work. I love talking about what I'm passionate about, what I do best. I felt grounded in their belief in my work and in my words. I felt welcome and wrapped up in their warmth, their humor, and in their full lives.

Forsythia, West End, Portland, Maine, April 12, 2012.
Bob has arrived in Portland and spring is proceeding along, after a languorous, false start. It's chilly, but blooms are touching the landscape with bursts of color - forsythia and hyacinths and scilla (it's great to get to say these words once a year). Again, with the changes. Again, with the moving back to South Dakota and the Black Hills. Unlike last time I moved, I am going forward with a full and grateful heart, anxious to start the next chapter. We're moving into a rental house in Spearfish, where I will have a small room with a door to close. When that door closes, I will enter other worlds, go to that lonely place that exists outside of every day conversations and shy of relationships. I will leave that room changed, every day.

I am humbled by those who have opened their worlds to me and held my girl and her world in their hearts, and let me know that it has meant something to them.

Thank you.

The "Not-So-Stuffy" Book Club. Kathy Leighton, the hostess, to the left.

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