I am over the moon that Chris Bohjalian is my featured guest author today, a big day for me with the paperback release of “The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove.”

When my super talented, french-fry eating blogger friend Rebecca Shinsky, creator of The Book Lady’s Blog, asked for names of panty-worthy authors (a term for literary adoration), Chris was my pick. I’d loved him since Midwives.

Who knew a few months later, I would actually meet him at the BOOKS ON THE NIGHTSTAND retreat in Manchester, Vermont. He did not disappoint. A great talent, for sure, but he’s also, and more importantly, a really great guy.

When I asked Chris about one of his most memorable book club moments, this is what he had to say.

I speak to a lot of book groups via speakerphone or Skype, and I always have a terrific time. It wasn’t all that long ago that my books sold briskly, but only among people related to me by blood. I try never to lose sight of that.

And the thing I love best is how candid readers are. The sort of women and men who commit themselves to book groups tend to view reading as a communal experience and are not especially reticent. They tell me precisely what they think of my books: What works and what doesn’t.

Not too long ago, I was speaking with a group that had just finished my 2004 novel, “Before You Know Kindness.” It was one of those discussions that would have made English professors proud of the way their students could put Tolstoy or Wolff in their place. (“The problem with Anna, Professor, and why she doesn’t succeed as a character. . .”) Even my reasonably healthy ego was a little ragged by the time the group had finished eviscerating my characters, my pacing, and my prose.

The next day I got an email from the group’s leader, thanking me for spending a half-hour with them the night before. Apparently, this group rates every book they read for posterity on a ten-point scale, as well as the author’s persona on the telephone or Skype screen.

“You were so charming with our group and so insightful,” the leader wrote. “We gave your book group presence a 9.6 to be precise.”

I noticed there was no rating for the novel, and so I wrote back, curious how the book had scored.

“Do you really want to tug at that thread?” the leader emailed me. I wrote her that I did.

“The book only earned a 4.1,” she confessed, and then added – apparently trying to make me feel better – “but isn’t it more important to be a good person than a good writer?”

I am not completely sure Hemingway would have agreed. But I appreciatedthe candor.

My sense is that if your book group dives into Susan Gregg Gilmore’s “TheImproper Life of Bezellia Grove” – new in paperback this week – you’llgive both her and her book a perfect ten.

Happy reading.

Chris Bohjalian’s thirteenth novel, “The Night Strangers,” arrives on October 4. Beware: It’s a ghost story.

And you can follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisBohjalian.

Posted August 2, 2011 at 8:58 am · 4 comments · Leave a Comment


  1. karen grace, August 2nd, 2011, 3:37 pm

    Chris, that is such a lovely (and characteristically self-effacing) review of yours. Back in the old days, I use to live in Starksboro and I'd occasionally see you at the gym in Bristol. Years later I heard you talk at Barnes & Noble, and more recently you addressed my high school faculty and staff convocation at SBHS. On each encounter I've been impressed with your modestly and "realness."
  2. Candice, August 2nd, 2011, 5:56 pm

    Before You Know Kindness is one of my favorite books. I have recommended it to countless people. I give it a 10!
  3. Susan Gregg Gilmore, August 3rd, 2011, 6:50 am

    Oh Karen, wow, that is kind of a 6-degrees-of-separation-kevin-bacon thing you got going with Chris. And you're right he is very real guy.
  4. Stephanie, August 7th, 2011, 9:13 am

    Chris, I've read all of your novels and am a huge fan of your work and have seen you speak twice and an equally avid fan of you as a person and a speaker. But Before You Know Kindness is my least favorite of the work you still allow in print (Before You Know still ranks above your early crime novel....). At the time I read it, I was a vegan and involved with a number of animal welfare groups. I had really high expectations for the novel, at least partially due to how thoroughly you research beforehand. I recall there were a number of things, like the 'vegan' sneaking baloney of all things that just didn't ring true. Anyway, I just thought I'd make the comment. Overall, I truly treasure your novels and any chance I get to hear you speak!

Leave a Comment

Susan Gregg Gilmore