I have been asked by a handful of Ottawa book clubs (and one near my cottage as well) to drop by when they discuss my mystery novel, The Beggar’s Opera.
Last night, the Lights and Laughter Book Club had me over. That was my first book club, and what a lovely bunch they were!
Not only was it held in the gorgeous back yard of an Old Ottawa South house (we sat outside on the deck, next to a stunning water feature , but I was offered white wine and dessert. (So nice, and so unexpected!)
The group had a list of questions they had prepared before I arrived. Some of these were about Cuba, some about writing, and then there were some general observations about The Beggar’s Opera as well.
Now, I can’t remember all the questions, I’m afraid, particularly after having a glass or two of that very nice wine, but Lauralee, the organizer, has promised to send me the list. When she does, I will post it so that other book clubs can use them if they choose.
But here are some that I do remember and my responses to them.
Why did the characters immediately confess when questioned? Would this happen in real life?
Well yes, I think it happens quite often. Russell Williams confessed to terrible crimes once the interrogator commented on Williams’s wife, who had finally got her dream home. Williams reacted by saying his wife didn’t like all the searches. The detective was skilled enough to pick up on that. He suggested that Williams could put a stop to all that inconvenience by telling him what happened. Williams confessed moments later.
Did I outline the book ahead of time? And, did I know when I began writing what all the twists would be?
Well no, the story evolved quite organically. I knew what the epilogue was from the beginning, and so I knew where I was going but not exactly how I was going to get there. The twists developed as I was writing the story. The clues that were planted throughout (a labyrinth, as one of the book club members described it, where you had to figure out the pices of the puzzle as you went along), were put in later when I went back through the manuscript deciding how much to give away.
Had I spent much time in Cuba, and where did I do my research? Had I ever been inside a Cuban family’s home?
The answer is no: I have been there, yes, and I spent time with locals, but I wasn’t fortunate enough to be invited into a Cuban home. I did most of the research on the Internet.
It was interesting that one or two members of this club had gone to the Internet themselves to verify facts in the book, but this club has members who are professors, researchers, and administrators as well as one editor. I was happy to find out that my research held up under the close scrutiny of this bunch, particularly when so many of them had actually been to, and worked in, Cuba.
Much of the discussion centred on Hector Apiro as a man who had come to terms with his condition (he’s a dwarf) and was at peace with himself. How did I come up with that character? someone asked.
Apiro came out pretty much fully-fledged. I knew from the beginning what he would look like and how he would behave. I always saw him as grounding the plot, and as a character with so many strengths that once his his disability (for lack of a better word) was accommodated, it would soon be forgotten.
Ramirez, however, evolved from a man who initially sensed ghosts to someone who saw them.
The feedback about The Beggar’s Opera was really great to hear. Perhaps the nicest compliment of all came from one of the group who mentioned that she didn’t much care for mysteries, but really loved this one. The fact that each of them had read the book (which apparently isn’t always the case with their book club selections) was also deeply gratifying.
We ended the evening with me signing everyone’s book (and one bookmark, as a book had been loaned out but not recovered) and then everyone took photographs. As one member, said, “this session has now been documented”!) It was a great night (and really, what could be nicer than to spend an evening with interesting people who love books?)
Thanks again, Lights and Laughter — it was really fun!