‘Mouths in Tight O’s’ and Other Book Club Critiques

It was a hysterical sight: seven women around my dining room table contorting their mouths into approximations of a tight O — a literary descriptor I am apparently quite fond of.

“You use it a lot. I had to stop reading and try to picture it,” said one as she pursed and stretched her lips. The rest quickly followed suit.

I nearly fell off my chair laughing at the group grimaces, but that’s the kind of feedback you’ll get when you ask a book club — your own book club — to review your first novel.

In a burst of bravado, I had assembled my fellow readers, all close friends, to review a polished draft of “Deliver Her” — my tale of a distraught mother who hires a professional transporter to drive her teenage daughter to treatment in New England, a voyage that goes dangerously awry.

Our book club disbanded several years ago, but when I timidly ventured last year that I was working on “a little something,” the club pledged to reconvene if and when my “little something” materialized. Which is why, after sating ourselves with chili, dried meat snacks (okay, so foodie book clubs might find themselves a little challenged by my debut effort) and plenty of wine, we were at my table and getting down to the business of book-clubbing.

Was I scared?  Only a little. It was right up there with wearing a bathing suit in front of co-workers — worse than being naked.

But since I already had gathered feedback from about two dozen first readers, my authorly skin had thickened slightly.

Good thing: roaring out of retirement, my book club took this assignment quite seriously. I think it was one of the rare times every last member finished a book before our meeting. It was as though we’d never disbanded — these women with whom I had soldiered through nearly three dozen books over three years.

We kicked off in 2008 with “Glass Castles” by Jeanette Walls and wrapped up with Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” — this last reviewed in a local bar. It was with no disrespect to Ms. Gabaldon that we closed the book on our club that night after a long, satisfying run — including a holiday gathering with spouses that centered around Anita Shreve’s “A Wedding in December,” Ginny’s white coconut cake a masterpiece. Some of the men even took a shot at the book.

After all, we weren’t that kind of book club, a strict one with all the rules. We were as much about the laughter as the literature.

Disbanding didn’t stop us from being friends. It just meant that books aren’t the main reason we get together anymore.

Except for tonight. This night, in my home, with my book, the club was reenergized, well-prepared.
These readers had a lot to say about “Deliver Her.” Their suggestions were heartfelt, astute and most of all, supportive, and deeply influenced the second iteration I sent off to an encouraging literary agent just before Christmas.

We so thoroughly enjoyed ourselves we even talked of resurrecting the club. After all, our children were older and less demanding, we reasoned; there are even empty nesters among us. Time will tell. Maybe a film club this time around: no prep required.

In the meantime, I am extraordinarily grateful to these women and to all my first readers for their time, feedback and encouragement. I will acknowledge them properly when “Deliver Her” sees the publishing light of day — in print or in Paperwhite.

For now, I plan to swallow hard, bare all and invite them to follow me here and elsewhere while I work to deliver “Deliver Her” to the masses.

And just for the record: when I checked my draft, tight O appeared only once in 320 pages, though overall, I lean on this letter far too heavily. After all, Word’s search results don’t lie:  

  • Pursed in a tight ‘O’
  • A perfect ‘O’ of white hair
  • The gaping ‘O’ overhead
  • The white ‘O’ around his mouth
  • Mouth open in an ‘O’ of surprise

O no. I will be energetically employing the other 25 letters in future projects. Stay tuned.

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