I was reminded of the movie My Dinner with Andre when an homage of it was done on Community, one of my favorite shows. It kind of describes my experience with my cousin Kim, who decided to read the Sky Brooks series. Unlike the movie, we weren’t old friends that went to dinner to discuss our lives. In fact, we didn’t have dinner at all. We had a series of phone calls and text messages as we discussed the book and Sky’s life. Hmm, okay, maybe it wasn’t anything like my Dinner with Andre and I just wanted to tell you that I liked the movie and Community. You should check them both out. Anyway, my not-dinner with Kim was still an enlightened discussion about someone’s life and a world—Sky’s.
I guess I should explain why this means so much to me. One of the dilemmas of writing and being an author are all these unspoken rules, professional expectations, and expected rules of engagement with your readers. I truly respect the anonymity and the rights of my readers and would never cross those bounderies, but whenever a reader contacts me, I have to rein in the over-enthusiastic writer (and curious kid) in me that is jumping for joy and want to ask them a million questions: “Who’s your favorite character and why?” “Did you see that coming?” “What did you like and dislike about the book?” “What was your favorite scene?” “What went through your mind when (insert scene or act) happened?” “Who should Skylar date?” “How did you feel during this scene?” And the list goes on.
I feel that is is an imposition as well as a takeaway from the reading experience to ask the readers that contact me a barrage of questions. So I pull back and keep it simple, wishing that I could ask more questions. I put my enthusiastic kid in a corner and give her a long time out.
Beta readers are great and I love mine, but their experience with reading my story is different than the average reader. They are introduced to the story in its infancy and in its rawest form: with plot holes, character inconsistencies, and long-winded prose and all. And many of them read it again after the changes are made. They aren’t necessarily reading for enjoyment, but to look for problems with the story so that I can fix it. They never have the opportunity to read my books for the first time through untainted lenses. So they don’t have the actual reader experience.
When Kim read my book, I was able to ask all my questions with impunity. After all, what was she going to do? We’re related—she can’t escape from me J, and even if she tried, she has to see me at the next family reunion.
Kim reading my book gave me the fix I needed. Each morning I awoke to a multitude of texts: “I did not see that coming” “What a (add your preferred expletive)!” “I am going to kill Skylar,” “Damn Winter!” “Ah.” “They can’t be couple—okay, maybe they should be a couple.” “I really hope he/she gets killed.” “God, I hate her/him.” “Wow, I love him/her.” “This person should be a couple.” “Aw.” and so much more. I loved it.
She provided me the opportunity to experience what it was like reading my book in real-time and the opportunity to see if the story that I was trying to tell was in fact what the reader experienced. I wished I could say that her experience was everything I wanted the reader to have. But I was able unleash my curious author and get detailed feedback about her thoughts. There were two scenes in Midnight Falls that I wondered how my readers would respond to. As Kim gave her feedback on the scene, I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I am not saying that she represents all my readers, but it was refreshing that someone understood the method behind the madness and voiced it without a filter. And I will never forget my dinner (texts and emails) with Kim.
If you are reading this blog, my assumption is that you like my series (unless you are a hate reader, and if so, I am going to just put it out there –that’s just weird). No matter where my muse takes it, I am always thinking about the readers’ experience. If they were my cousin Kim, would they send me a text? What would that text read? Are they frustrated, angry, happy, satisfied, on the edge of their seats?
I guess I am writing this blog with the realization that because of the writing industry and social protocols, there are certain limitations I have with interacting with my readers. Honestly, I’ve never contacted an author (I am just weird that way). But if the reader feels comfortable, I want to hear from them. Even a review that lays out all the things you liked and disliked will make me do a happy dance with jazz hands. I am forever grateful for the opportunity to bring readers hours of entertainment. As always: Happy Reading!