By: John Searles
The holiday rush, the crazy snowstorms we’ve been having on the East Coast…none of that can stop the 50 Book Clubs 50 States Challenge! In fact, I’ve met with a whole bunch of fun clubs across the country over the last couple months. Check out the map below where all those pretty colors represent a state I’ve met with so far. As you can see, we are getting closer to our goal. And so, here’s my updates on those meetings, including a fun trivia game, an amazing pair of snowflake leggings, and lots and lots of wine, which I’m starting to realize is essential for all book clubs!
One of the women in this smart and spirited club announced that the night we were meeting also happened to be her 50th wedding anniversary. When I asked why she was not with her husband, she told me they’d celebrate another time since she wanted to chat with me instead. Yes, I felt flattered and incredibly honored that this lovely woman chose yours truly over the man she shared her life with for half a century. That said, the pressure was really on to show her and her pals a good time!
Thankfully, things went great. The wine flowed and so did the conversation. I love to hear about the members of these clubs and their lives and friendships and what other books they’ve read. We talked about all that and, of course, we talked a lot about HELP FOR THE HAUNTED. One thing they wanted to know: Is the cantankerous character of Rose based on me when I was a child? I told them no, that I was often the “good kid” growing up. And this led me to tell them about an event that was held on the night before the book was published. The one and only Wally Lamb interviewed me in front of a full house at The Cherry Lane Theater in Manhattan. (That’s us in the photo below, where we look like we are performing a scene from a play on stage!) At some point Wally asked if I always felt the need to be “the good kid” growing up. Before I could answer, a loud scoffing noise came from the audience. I looked out into the crowd to see my brother who was the one making the noise. Apparently, he did not think I was the good kid and couldn’t keep from letting everyone in that theater know it. Anyway, we all had a good laugh about that one!
One of the most challenging things about this, er, challenge has been getting the Skype Gods to cooperate. At the start of each meeting, there is usually some back and forth on both ends until at last I see the club and the club sees me. At that moment, we all let out a great big “YAY!” But when it came to this meeting, the Skype Gods conspired against us, and the great ladies of Nebraska and me gave up and switched to Facetime instead. Since I was on my cell phone and so were they, it was not easy to see everyone at once. And for that reason, the group passed the cell around. It felt like each of them was taking turns holding me in their arms…and I told them so. We had a blast with lots of laughs and a lively discussion about Help for the Haunted.
Most of the clubs drink wine when we meet, but this club actually calls their group “Read Between the Wines,” which cracked me up. (I’ve actually realized that a few of the clubs have some sort of alcohol in their name.) This Friday, for example, I am meeting with the “Books, Broads and Booze” club in New Hampshire. How can you not love a club by that name?) But back to the great state of Texas and our eventful evening together. The night we met via Skype was happened to be the night when hundreds of protesters were out on the streets here in NYC. As a result, there were endless sirens outside my apartment and helicopters making a racket overhead. All of that had my puppy Ruby barking like mad. And if that was not distracting enough, I had decided to light a fire in the fireplace of my old apartment. Since the evening was so incredibly windy, soon a major back draft started blowing clouds of smoke and ashes into the living room. It is not easy to have coherent discussion in the midst of so much mayhem…and yet, we did! Thankfully, this incredible group of woman did not seem to mind that all the noise and the fact that my living room looked like the aftermath of Mount Saint Helen’s, which made me love them even more.
Another thing that I thought was great about the Texas club: The members play a trivia game with whatever book they’re discussing. At this meeting the questions were written by a very nice woman named Claire, who happily billed herself as “John’s official stalker fan” (now I know I’ve arrived, since I finally have a stalker…thank you, Claire!). Some of her questions included: “How much did a certain character get paid to make an important call in the book?…Why was Rose sent away?….” and so on. It made for a lively discussion.
And, finally, at the end of the meeting, my self-professed stalker asked if I am a pilot as well as a writer, since she had seen the profile picture (that’s it below!) on my Twitter page. Never before have I wanted to lie and say , “Yes, as a matter of fact, I do fly planes. I also climb Mount Everest every few years, run marathons around the world and hunt wild game in my spare time.” But, sadly, I’m not any sort of Renaissance man. Writing books takes all my time! As for that photo, it taken when a friend of a friend flew me across the Long Island Sound from my house in Sag Harbor to my niece’s birthday party. It was such a fun day and my niece was so happy that I made it my profile picture.
After each club meeting, I’ve started jotting down notes so I can recall the details for these blog posts. In the case of Chicago, my note only says: “ADORED THESE LADIES SO MUCH. WE LAUGHED A TON. AND I LOOOVED THE SNOWFLAKE LEGGINGS!” See the leggings in the photo on the woman seated on the sofa? Pretty great, huh? Well, when I told her so, and explained that as a former Cosmopolitan editor of 17 years, I had an opinion about such things, she was thrilled and couldn’t wait to brag to her a daughter that a Cosmo editor approved of her fashion choice. Oh, and I should mentioned that of course we talked about the novel too, it’s themes, the character motivations, the surprising twists in the story they did not see coming, and all the rest. It was a book club meeting after all!
Stay tuned for updates coming from my meetings with California, two Colorado clubs and New Hampshire, including a recipe for Bourbon Mashed Potatoes!