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Monday, March 25, 2013

When a Reader Loves a Character

Whenever I do a book signing, I always insert a little "Thank You" note into the book. As a new author, I am genuinely appreciative when a reader buys my book and I want to thank them for their support. I find that readers like feeling a personal connection to the author and I provide my email address and encourage them to drop me a note.

It is an unanticipated pleasure when I get an email from readers. I truly enjoy hearing what their experience is as they venture deeper into Jessica's story. They will tell me where Jessica is, what just happened in the book and what plans of theirs just got messed up because they became too engrossed in reading and lost track of time. I'm not sorry they burned dinner, forgot to pick up their kids, or stayed up too late reading and had a rough day at work because of Jessica. Those little mishaps are music to my ears.

The note also tells readers that I am happy to do a book club for them, so Skype and I are getting to be good friends. Candidly, the thought of my face being plastered up on someone's big screen TV in their living room is a bit unnerving, but if that's what a reader wants, I'm happy to oblige. The conversations I have during these clubs are really enlightening. What makes The Charity so compelling for them is the love they have for the main character, Jessica Wyeth.

They tell me how approachable Jessica is and how much they can relate to her yearning for roots and a community where she can belong.  They admire her strength but are not put off by her being a strong woman. They cheer her on and bask in her successes without reservation. After the book clubs, I'll often get a message that reads, "What would Jessica be doing right now?" I respond immediately by looking out my office window and checking the time. Mid afternoon and sunny? Jessica is riding. Late evening? Bedding down the horses for the night.

The prospect of a sequel is something all the readers ask me about. They really want to know what more happens to Jessica. They have a sense that my ending was not of the "...and they lived happily ever after" variety. True, a sequel is in progress. However, I am as interested in hearing what the readers think happens next to Jessica as they are in what I'm going to make happen. It's proving to be challenging to capture the essence of what resonated with them because I respect that the feelings they have for Jessica are very real.

An example of that came in an email last week. A reader told me that she saw a sign in her apartment building that someone had some furniture for sale and did anyone need some good stuff cheap? The sign had the little fringe of paper at the bottom where the seller's phone number was printed. The reader immediately felt excited. Yes! She knew someone who was moving and was in need of furniture. Her hands were just about to tear off a phone number when she paused. 'Wait a second,' she thought, 'I don't know anyone. That was Jessica I was thinking of!'

I respect the very real feelings my readers have. At first, I felt my job as a writer was to make the reader feel excited or scared to compel them to keep turning the pages. Now I appreciate that in addition to those feelings, are the very real connections and bonds that are equally as compelling.