Stella Leventoyannis Harvey

O day of days when we can read! The reader and the book, either without the other is naught. Ralph Waldo Emerson

I should feel vulnerable and intimidated before entering a room of book aficionados. I wonder if I will have anything to say of value. Will they feel good about the discussion we’ll have? The participants are not discussing just any book. They’ve chosen my novel this month. I’m grateful and frightened. Excited and terrified. I am as eager to please, as I am to facilitate the thoughtful discourse I hope will come.

What questions will they ask? Will they adore the novel? Or despise it? Will they empathize with my characters and their story? Will they love and respect them as much as I do? I don’t think I’m thin skinned, but my characters might be. You never know how one might react.

Who are these people I’m about to encounter? Most of the time I know one person in the group, usually the person who invited me to their book club. I revert to my high school self and wonder, will they like me?

None of these feelings of insecurity stop me though. Fool that I am, I love walking into the unknown, love whatever it is I’m about to discover about these folks. Besides, who wouldn’t like the opportunity to talk about books?

I had the pleasure of attending the CALL book club in Calgary on April 7th. After I gave a brief presentation about the history and background of Nicolai’s Daughters, I read excerpts from the novel. The ten book club members, each with a copy of my novel in hand, followed along as I read. I couldn’t have asked for more generosity.

Questions about my characters, the novel’s storyline, the political and economic situation in Greece, and my writing process came forward in the meeting, as did queries about my favourite books and authors. The discussion was engaging. The women identified the references to Greek mythology throughout the novel, the archetypes. They appreciated and understood my characters, warts and all.

“Kalavryta was a stunning context through which the wounded could be viewed and ultimately forgiven. The discussion of the multi-dimensional nature of each character was helpful,” one member wrote to me after the meeting.

As with all the other book clubs I’ve attended, the participants were engaged, well read, enthusiastic, and asked questions that deepened their understanding of the novel. Seeing my novel and me through their eyes, I understood more about myself, my motivations for writing.

“You say you love meeting people, coming to meetings such as this. Does it not take you out of your routine, your process?” another book club member asked.

Yes, it does take me out of my practice, a practice that sees a novel built ever so slowly layer upon layer. Day in and day out I commit to leave my real world, return to the one my characters occupy. This is how my novel came to be. And yes, it is painful to go back into the writing world, to find my characters after an absence. It takes a while for them to speak to me again. They are as head strong and defiant as overindulged children.

But meeting new people via book clubs, book tours and presentations bolsters my resolve to return to the imaginary world, tell another story, bring my characters, particularly those who have been misjudged, to life so their ‘wounds’ can be aired and perhaps healed. I say perhaps, because there are no guarantees in fiction. Even for the author.

I’m honoured and feel incredibly fortunate to meet the people who have read my novel. Readers and authors go hand in hand, as do readers and books. For me, readers enrich my worldview and give me reason to explore, write, tell stories.

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