When Words Take Wings

When I confided to a fellow writer that my novel would soon be published, he told me, “You know, once your story goes public, it’s no longer yours.” I knew, on some level, that he was right. Still, I couldn’t imagine what it would feel like to have the words I’d so carefully chosen, the characters I’d brought to life, and the scenes that sprang from my imagination interpreted differently than I’d intended.

I didn’t have to wait long to find out.  

When Bear Woman Rising was published in August 2020 during the Pandemic, I had to abandon my plans to visit book clubs in person to promote my novel. Fortunately, technology came to the rescue. To date, via Zoom, I have visited five book clubs as guest author in a coast-to-coast virtual tour that included readers from ten states. I saw each meeting as an opportunity to describe my writing process—to explain where I found inspiration. I shared how I tried to develop compelling plot lines and create convincing characters that jumped off the page and, I hoped, into reader’s hearts and minds.

Every single book club meeting reinforced my friend’s observation and brought home the realization that each reader interpreted my story through the filter of that person’s life experiences. Their hopes and fears for my characters evolved from their own, and what most interested them in my story was determined by their preferences, not mine. Thus, Bear Woman Rising took on its own life in the imagination of each reader. Further, the more I listened to readers, the more I was reminded that the joy of reading evolves when readers imagine how characters look and sound, when they see for themselves the places I’ve created, and when they envision how they hope the story might end.  

So, I’m grateful to the book club members in Nashville, Tennessee who shared their hopes and fears for my female characters--readers who could personally relate to the difficulties Jesse and Kara faced. I was moved by book club members in Hood River, Oregon who could relate personally to so many of my character’s ordeals. I appreciated hearing from those members of the Silver City Book Club in New Mexico who wanted to know more about the Alaskan setting, and those who always wanted to go there but hadn’t had the chance. I’m happy to have brought them a taste of the far north. I’m thankful to the members of the Unitarian Men’s Book Club of Portland, Oregon, who shared their “male” perspective on the relationships portrayed in Bear Woman Rising and demonstrated a keen interest in the Alaskan wildlife and the scientific research described in the book. And finally, to the Lawrence College Women Class of ‘63 who put my book on their monthly Zoom agenda and asked the most challenging questions, you kept me honest.

So, valued readers, I hope to participate virtually in many more book clubs. After hearing from readers like you, I came to understand that my words serve as catalysts for your imaginations. During book club meetings, I learned how many different ways my story connected to individual readers. For this author, that magical connection is truly the best reward of all. Most importantly, I learned to listen to readers. And I feel certain that I learned more from you than you ever learned from me.

If you are Interested in knowing more about the evolution of Bear Woman Rising from this author’s perspective, select Bear Woman Rising for your book club. Get more info. I hope to be Zooming with you soon.

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