[Note from Frolic: We’re so excited to welcome author Wendy Wax to the site today. She went undercover…to a book club!]
I didn’t wear a disguise or change my name or pretend I wasn’t a writer when I joined a local book club.
I also didn’t mention that I was there because I’d started writing The Break-Up Book Club, a book about four very different women who meet and bond through a book club that might meet in a historic carriage house, and that I had no idea who those characters should be.
The thing is, I’ve spoken to a lot of book clubs over the last twenty-plus years, but I haven’t belonged to one since my then-neighborhood book club met to discuss my first published novel, a discussion that lasted about ten minutes before the wine kicked in and the topic turned to our neighbors. Specifically, the neighbors who didn’t happen to be there.
Luckily, my close friend Dana Barrett, a former bookseller turned media personality who’s interviewed tons of authors (including me) hosts a book club fittingly named Dana’s (we drink, eat & talk about the) Book Club. Before Covid, the group, open to new members, was listed on MeetUp.com and met at a nearby restaurant that offered the book club discounted drinks and appetizers.
Dana had recently moved into my high-rise which meant I’d have a built-in ride to book club. Not to mention a ride home, which seemed like a good thing given the discounted drinks.
I confessed my intentions to Dana and figured that since new people often attended, I could show up as often as I need to, become the Jane Goodall of the biblio world, then use my observations to create a diverse and interesting mix of characters for my story. Afterward, I’d quietly disappear.
I rode to my first book club meeting with Dana nervous yet eager to suck up everything I could. (And I’m not just talking about the drinks.) I wasn’t the only newbie that night, and once our food and drink orders were in, Dana introduced herself, then asked everyone at the table to do the same.
When it was my turn, I gave my name, mumbled that I was an author, and attempted to look innocently interested in the people around me.
That night’s group included a few regulars: a mother and daughter, two best friends, and a man and woman whose relationship I couldn’t quite decipher. I dropped my gaze when I realized that I was staring at the lone male at the table. (According to Dana there’s always been at least one male book club member in the group, sometimes more.) Hmmmm. A co-ed book club could open up all kinds of story possibilities. So would a group like this one that didn’t live in the same part of town, let alone the same neighborhood.
Under the guise of checking texts, I made notes about how the book club members differed and how that affected the conversation and the opinions offered. The mother and daughter saw the same story very differently from each other. So did the two besties. I noticed that while the group was welcoming to everyone, the longtime members’ connection with each other was obvious.
At each meeting I surreptitiously studied the regulars as well as the first-and-second timers to see how they interacted. Channeling Goodall, but without the khakis, I ferreted out the members’ backstories and observed their interactions. I noted how meeting in a public place rather than someone’s home affected group behavior. Although I’d always been aware of how subjectively we view the books we read, I was still surprised at how differently the members of the group reacted to the same book. And how passionately they defended their reactions.
At first, I said very little. After all, I was there as an observer, and my goal was to learn enough to create my fictional book club and make its members as realistic as possible.
I also tried not to drink too much for fear of missing something that might help infuse my story. But even as I watched and imagined, I began to feel a part of the group. I started to share opinions that were more from me the reader than me the author. It felt good.
As I ate and drank and watched the others each month, a diverse cast of characters began to take shape in my mind.
There was Judith, an empty nester questioning her marriage and the supporting role she’d chosen. Former tennis star Jazmine would be a top sports agent juggling a career and single motherhood. Erin’s high school boyfriend and fiance’ would develop cold feet, and Sara’s husband would take a job out of town saddling Sara with a difficult mother-in-law who believed her son could have done better in the wife department.
The secondary characters who filled out the group in my head were also unique; some of them took me by surprise. The Break-Up Book Club is not, as they say, ‘your mother’s book club.’
I’m still a member of the group on MeetUp.com and I still pay attention to what the group is reading, but by the time the pandemic forced the meetings to become virtual, I was deep into my novel and stopped attending. (Partly, I think, because I didn’t want real members slipping into my fictional ones. And because I’ve always avoided reading other authors’ books while writing one of my own.)
Bottom line, belonging to a book club is way different from speaking to one. I’m glad I got to find that out again. I’d apologize for joining under false pretenses, but the truth is, authors are always watching and listening. So, if you have writer friends, or an aspiring writer in your family, chances are that bits and pieces of you have already found their way into a character or a plotline.
Who knows? You could have already inspired a bestseller.
About the Author:
Wendy Wax, a former broadcaster, is the author of sixteen novels and two novellas, including My Ex-Best Friend’s Wedding, Best Beach Ever, One Good Thing, Sunshine Beach, A Week at the Lake, While We Were Watching Downton Abbey, The House on Mermaid Point, Ocean Beach, and Ten Beach Road. The mother of two grown sons, she has left the suburbs of Atlanta for an in-town high-rise, that is eerily similar to the fictional high-rise she created in her 2013 release, While We Were Watching Downton Abbey.
The Break-Up Book Club by Wendy Wax, out May 18!
On paper, Jazmine, Judith, Erin and Sara have little in common – they’re very different people leading very different lives. And yet at book club meetings in an historic carriage house turned bookstore, they bond over a shared love of reading (and more than a little wine) as well as the growing realization that their lives are not turning out like they expected.
Former tennis star Jazmine is a top sports agent balancing a career and single motherhood. Judith is an empty nester questioning her marriage and the supporting role she chose. Erin’s high school sweetheart and fiancé develops a bad case of cold feet, and Sara’s husband takes a job out of town saddling Sara with a difficult mother-in-law who believes her son could have done better – not exactly the roommate most women dream of.
With the help of books, laughter, and the joy of ever evolving friendships, Jazmine, Judith, Erin and Sara find the courage to navigate new and surprising chapters of their lives as they seek their own versions of happily-ever-after.