by Julie Kramer
Back in fifth grade they'd discussed stories like Tale of Despereaux and Because of Winn Dixie. But now the girls are high school seniors and had selected my debut, Stalking Susan, a thriller about a TV reporter who discovers a serial killer targeting women named Susan.
The moms confided they were pleased that their little ones are now reading grown up books and they can discuss them like peers. The daughters seemed seemed happy, too. In fact, two of them were also writing book reports for school credit about Stalking Susan. So we discussed the theme of how grief changes people, the behind the scenes operations of newsrooms, and my own path to publication.
Some of the girls explained that they'd actually had a book club pre-discussion texting each other as they stayed up late, turning pages. One kept texting, "Wht happns nxt?" Another responded, "U hav 2 finsh 2 fnd out."
The mothers said the biggest reward of their book club over the years has been how it has helped them form relationships with their daughters. They've been able to bring up issues like curfew, bad friends, or future careers without getting personal.
In the past year I've spoken to more than twenty book clubs about either or both Stalking Susan or Missing Mark. The smallest club had six members. The largest, more than a hundred. Each book club has their own dynamics. One group dressed up as the characters from my book. Okay, it was close to Halloween. Another club wore orange jumpsuits. Okay, they represented a captive audience - inmates at the Minnesota women's prison.
For authors, book clubs are the new way to tour. Having your characters or plot debated by a group of readers is an enormous compliment. Some mostly want to hear me talk. Others have a format with a moderator and questions, and sometimes I even learn new things about my books during our discussions.
If a book club lives far away, I sometimes invite them to come to me. Once, eight of us piled in a big SUV and drove around my town of White Bear Lake while I pointed out real life locations where fictitious events happened. Places where bodies were found. Places were love was declared. We even drove across the ice on White Bear Lake so we could get a good view of the house where a final confrontation between heroine and villain occurred.
When discussing Missing Mark -the story of a wedding dress for-sale want ad that leads to a dangerous missing person case - I bring up a woman's sentimental attachment to her wedding gown and play a game with the book club. I ask, how many still own their dress? Some of the audiences are relatively tame, and all have their silk or satin garments tucked away in an upstairs closet. Other times the book club members learn something new about each other. Once a woman conceded she still had both her wedding
gowns. Another time two of the women present had actually burned their
dresses as a ceremonial end to their marriages.
No such emotional flares at the mother-daughter book club. One bonus for me, I got to gauge two generations of readers' reaction to my prose in one sitting. And after I left, they voted to read Missing Mark next.
Julie Kramer is a winner of the Minnesota Book Award, and the RT Book Reviewer's Choice for Best First Mystery. She has also been a finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark, Anthony, Barry, and Shamus Awards. Her third book, SILENCING SAM will be released June 22.