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April 1, 2008

Bliss at the Cheesecake Factory, Part I: The Author's Perspective

Posted by carol
Amanda Eyre Ward is the author of three novels, the most recent of which is Forgive Me. Here Amanda reminisces about being a recently-published writer and making a special connection with a book club. The Bookies in Springboro, Ohio, a town outside Dayton, were among Amanda's first fans, and they recently had the chance to meet the author in person. Tomorrow Bookies member Jane Schreier Jones will share her side of the "blissful" story.

I wrote my first novel, Sleep Toward Heaven, alone in my pajamas, laughing and drinking coffee and hoping --- but not quite believing --- that someone besides my mother and sisters would read the book. (In truth, I don't even think my mother and sisters finished the early drafts I sent them, unless I promised they had cameo appearances.) Then there was a time when my writing friends had read it, and then an agent (my agent --- a phrase I could not stop repeating, even to myself), and then many editors who didn't buy it and one who did.

I was headlong into writing How to Be Lost when Sleep Toward Heaven was published. I remember a dreamy reading at BookPeople, the wonderful store in Austin, Texas, where I live. My editor and my aunt flew in, and I read from the book, and then we had drinks at the Stephen F. Austin hotel downtown, overlooking the capitol, and I lay in bed that night and thought, I will never be happier than this.

But then more people read the book, which is something I knew might happen, but never planned for. My mother-in-law, my grandmother's priest, high school boyfriends, Sandra Bullock. I began to get e-mails from people who were not related to me, but who had read my novel. I was terrified.

A few readers asked me questions about my work. Unaccustomed to being an authority on anything (I had been fired from numerous jobs, couldn't cook, and my wardrobe needed, as my fashionable sister put it, more basics), I reveled in answering questions about my writing process. Amazingly, as soon as I published, my start-and-stop methods of writing were considered a coherent process, not just something weird I did when I pretended to stay home sick from work.

One day, I got an e-mail from a book club in Ohio. They asked me to call in and talk about Sleep Toward Heaven with them. Still sort of stunned that anyone in Ohio (where I had no relatives or high school boyfriends) had come upon my book, I agreed. We had a spirited discussion, and I was left wishing I had a book club like The Bookies (as they called themselves) of my own. Joanne, who had first contacted me, told me that if I ever came to Ohio, they'd take me out to dinner.

Over the years, I moved to Maine and Massachusetts, where I visited a book club and then, after a few glasses of wine, asked to join. I published How to Be Lost and Forgive Me. And when planning my paperback tour, I asked my publicist if I could visit Dayton, and meet The Bookies in person. (I had e-mailed Joanne for the first time in four years, telling her I might be in town, and asking her if the dinner invitation was still on. She responded right away: OF COURSE!) Joseph Beth Booksellers in Cincinnati and Books & Company in Dayton agreed to host me, and the next thing I knew I was eating 4-way chili at Skyline, nervous and thrilled to meet some of my first fans.

We made plans to meet after the reading at The Cheesecake Factory. I spotted The Bookies as soon as I walked behind the podium to read from Forgive Me. There were many strange faces, but one lovely brunette caught my eye and winked. She was sitting with a group of grinning women; somehow I knew that they were The Bookies. It was like seeing old friends.

Dinner could have gone on forever. We ordered platters of appetizers and bright-colored cocktails. We talked about kids and books and writing. We jotted down names of novels we needed to read. We were still calling out jokes and laughing as we bundled in our coats to head back into the snowy Ohio night. In my hotel room, I picked up a pen and wrote and wrote, feeling honored that book clubs like The Bookies were waiting so hungrily for a great novel.

One of The Bookies, Jane, admitted late in the evening that she was working on a novel herself. In her confession, I remembered what it was like to write a book in my pajamas. So many nights, I wondered if anyone would want to read my work. I told Jane to keep faith. When she publishes her novel and has her first reading, I'll be in the front row, ready to hear what she has to tell me.

---Amanda Eyre Ward, author of Forgive Me, Sleep Toward Heaven, and How to Be Lost