Creating compelling, convincing, credible, lyrical, unforgettable prose is, or should be, the ultimate goal of every literary writer. Getting – and keeping – the attention of readers is a necessary ingredient for achieving the desired outcome: eliciting a reaction.
A mere response is inadequate. It says, quite simply, “Okay…” Nothing more or less. A reaction says, “You got me! I can’t put this story down.” A connection between the author and the reader is forged, a relationship evolves, and expectations are raised. When this experience takes place in real time, it is palpable, inspiring, and memorable. This is what the committed writer lives for, savors, and appreciates.
I had such an encounter with the Book Babble, a literary book club whose members reside in Southern California. Allow me to relive this marvelous event by sharing it with you.
“…I came away from the Babble Book Club meeting on March 7th  emotionally and physically drained – on a high which very nearly defies description. I loved being back in California – there is absolutely no place like it. The weather was perfect and on Saturday, one could say the stars were in perfect alignment and the Universe abundantly blessed the day for an experience none of us could have anticipated.
I opened the session by asking each member, and my guests, to describe her feelings immediately upon finishing this collection of short stores in one word. I recall hearing such terms as exciting, courageous, and wanting to know more.
My fourth question took us into a discussion so deep and intense I had to share it:
- As you read the stories of Cecilia Jackson Jones-Mayes, Anna May, Leylah Rose, Aunt Bertha, Iris, Georgia Earnestine, Audra, the single and straight sister, Ophelia Kempton, Sisters in the Name of Love, Lavonne, Deirdre, Nedra, and other female characters, which of them most closely mirror your understanding of womanhood?
The winner, hands down, was Lavonne Bearden, the overburdened, fed-up wife from Mother’s Day who’d had enough. As I read aloud the closing passages of this story…I realized book club members were reading with me and their energy just lifted me up.
Lavonne was carrying the day until one member said reading Sisters in the Name of Love reminded her of just how meaningful her relationships with fellow members of the book club are. She proceeded to give each woman a colored rose, just as LaVera does…this experience absolutely took our collective breath away. My cousin assured me this grace-filled act of love wasn’t lost on anyone. As I read the passage aloud, beginning at “…LaVera moved slowly around their table laying a single long-stemmed rose in front of each woman…” again, sisters were reading with me. I still have my rose!!! Toni, who beautifully brought this passage to life by enacting it, confirmed that she, too, had to “…hit three florist shops before finding one with the combination of colors she wanted…”
Jimmie Ralph Dickson, from Audra’s Wedding, was the minor character who delighted. He elicited a great deal of sympathy. Once again, my sisters read with me…His description of Audra’s explanation for kicking him to [the] curb, gift-wrapped grief, struck some nerves. Leylah Rose, Porgie’s soon-to-be ex in The Dutiful Wife was a big hit. I read portions of her letter to him, but it was the closing passages…describing his mother and her attitude toward her son which resonated.
Anna May and the Preacher, the title story, brought the house down. I read this story in its entirety…I have no idea how long we met – when we finished I was astounded by my feelings – I felt exhilarated. More importantly, every aspect of this trip affirmed, reaffirmed, and validated my calling and commitment to being a literary author. I feel so good about embracing my passion. I deeply appreciate the gift of connecting with these sisters…
All in all this opportunity was such an incredible gift and one for which I am truly grateful. I autographed everyone’s book…I fully understand this is Anna May and the Preacher’s time. I am humbled to be the vessel through whom these stories came to life.
I am closing with a quote which is a perfect summing up: “All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you: the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse, and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer.” Ernest Hemingway, Old Newsman Writes, Esquire [December 1934]¹
¹ Excerpted from letter to Málaga Smith, dated March 17, 2015.