In July, I launched the GREAT BEZELLIA BOOK CLUB GIVEWAY. And today I announce the winners, READ BETWEEN THE WINES, a book club from Cleveland, Tennessee.
Now every book club that discussed THE IMPROPER LIFE OF BEZELLIA GROVE will receive a little something (should arrive next week!) But our grand prize winners, the club that hosted the most authentic luncheon or dinner with a 1950s or 1960s theme, wins the following:
#2 A Name of the group’s choosing (approved by the author) included in my third novel.
#3 A Skype, i-Chat, or Phone Call with Random House Sales Rep and Books on the Nightstand co-host Ann Kingman. Ann will highlight the best books of 2011 for book club reads and give you a peek into what’s coming in 2012.
#5 Advanced Reader Copies (limit 12) of my next book. Be the first to talk about it!
READ BETWEEN THE WINES has been meeting once a month for nine years. They don’t have a favorite genre but love any book that encourages lively discussion. They pick a classic every Spring and loved to be pushed beyond their “normal” taste zone. And with a name like READ BETWEEN THE WINES, I have a hunch they aways have a very good time.
Congratulations to this most wonderful and enthusiastic book club!
A few weeks ago, I spoke to a book club in one of Nashville’s area retirement homes. It was down the street from my childhood home. This was not my first visit there, and I always look forward to spending time with my more aged friends. (Besides, they treat me to fabulous lunch with the best banana pudding.)
Only one or two of the residents had lived their entire lives in Nashville, the setting for The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove was set. Most, however, did spend their adult lives there. It was fascinating for me to gain their perspectives about this story, placed in those final dark hours before the Civil Rights movement really took hold. They were interested in looking back. Instead, they wanted to discuss how things had changed in their lifetimes, for the better. They were open minded and forward thinking, and I left wishing I could spend more time with them all.
At end of our discussion, a woman came up to me and wanted to ask a question that she had not felt comfortbale asking in front of the group.
“I just want to know if there is some romance in this book?”
“Yes,” I promised her. “More than in my first.” Then I shared with her a story about writing the love scenes for this book. I explained how my daughetrs do not like to think of their mother knowing anything about a passionate sexual encounter. I explained that I sent all of the love scenes to a friend and asked if she thought I had explained them appropriately, accurately, but a bit poetically. My friend reported that I had hit the mark but that my girls were so going to know that I’d had sex now!
The elder woman and I laughed. And she said, “Good, I still like a little action.”
I’m still thinking about that day and don’t know that I quite have the words to describe what it meant to me. But I do know that I’ll be going back.
I remember my first tweets with Jennifer Lawrence of JENN’S BOOKSHELVES. It was winter, 2010. A blizzard had slammed into Washington, DC, and Jennifer posted a tweet commenting about the white outside her window. A longtime resident of the city myself, I tweeted back @jennsbookshelf. We exchanged a few more comments and that was that.
Then The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove was released some six months later, and Jennifer posted a review. She wrote, “I can’t recommend this book enough to you. If there is one book you must buy this summer, this should be it. I will forever cherish the gift Gilmore has given to me, through the characters in this book and her overwhelmingly powerful prose.”
Of course, this caught my attention. And of course, I loved it! As did my my mother! I posted a tweet and thanked her for her generous words, and it was only then that the real conversation began – one that has touched on race, prejudice, interracial relationships, children, and yes, the weather!
As a lover of books, it’s not a surprise as to how many book clubs I’ve belonged to over the years. When Susan asked me to write about my favorite book club experience, it really was hard to limit it to just one. That said, I opted to write about the book club I moderate at my local independent bookstore, One More Page Books.
This book club doesn’t have a fancy name, it’s pretty simple: OMP Book Club. That’s where the simplicity ends. At each of our meetings, we have approximately 8-10 members joining us, the perfect size group for a book club discussion, in my opinion. Our group is very dynamic; we have women of all ages and from all different backgrounds. Some are single, some married, some widowed, some divorced. Despite our different backgrounds, we are all able to come together and discuss something we all have in common: the love of books.
In the five months we’ve been together, we’ve discussed some pretty outstanding books, including Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin, Skipping a Beat by Sarah Pekkanen, Pictures of You by Caroline Leavitt , These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf and Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese.
My favorite experience would have to be our first meeting, the one in which we discussed These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf. I admit, I was impressed with the turnout! We announced the book club and gave customers just two weeks to pick up and read the book. I’ll admit it, I prepared myself for failure. I was certain that it would be just me and Eileen, the store owner, discussing the book. When eight people showed up, I was floored. Considering the store had only been open for a few months I thought this was a tremendous turnout!
Since then, our book club has continued to grow, not only in size but in the friendships and relationships that have blossomed over the past few months. It’s great to come to an event at the store and see other book club members in a social setting, or to talk to one another on Facebook or Twitter. It’s a bond that I hope continues to blossom; I am forever thankful to this group of women. They give me an outlet to share and talk about books that I love. They trust my selection in books and I’m always impressed about the lively discussion we have surrounding each of the books. They allow me to see other perspectives on the books we discuss, viewpoints I would have never discovered otherwise.
Now that Borders bookstores are closing, now is the time to take advantage of the wealth of independent bookstores many of us have in our community. It is in these stores that readers are introduced to a completely unique community of readers and have the opportunity to form relationships like the one I have found at One More Page Books.
Blogger Becky Brothers and I met in a bookstore in Chattanooga. Sadly, the indie store has since closed but our friendship has only thrived! Becky is one of those amazing young women whose thirst for knowledge and whose love of books is absolutely voracious. She never ceases to amaze me with her energy and sharp wit.
When Nashville flooded in May of 2010, Becky (also a mother, English teacher and tutor) spearheaded a campaign to put books back in Nashville’s affected classrooms. Her campaign, A DRY READ, was a huge success with hundreds of books being donated.
Here Becky shares her thoughts about the definition and power of book club.
Like most people who love to read, I spent long hours of my childhood with books. My fondest early memories of my parents are those precious story time minutes before bed: my mother laughing so hard at Ramona and Beezus or Bunnicula she couldn’t keep reading; my father home from work, just out of the tub, smelling of Lava soap and aftershave, reading Charlotte’s Wed to me while I cried big, silent tears into his clean white T-shirt. I actually had trouble learning to read because I loved being read to more than anything in the world. It felt suddenly very unfair, very cold and lonely, to be asked to read a book alone, and in silence.
But just like learning to ride a bike, once I could do by myself, there was no turning back. I read with a voracious appetite everything I could get my hands on. To this day I think my own writing has been permanently helped (and hindered!) by Anne of Green Gables and three back to back readings of Louisa May Alcott’s An Old Fashioned Girl. I was content to read by myself, happy to have my books and those worlds all for me. But in eighth grade I had a wonderful English teacher who saw something in me; she nurtured my love of reading and did the unthinkable: she let me choose whatever I wanted to read for credit at school. That unthinkable freedom, paired with her careful responses in the reading journal I did for her, sparked something new in me: reading wasn’t just good, it was empowering.
Everyone who knows me says they’ve always known I would be an English teacher, despite my thoughts of law school and journalism. My dabbling in music school was short lived; you can’t exactly curl up with your piano on a rainy day. It’s nearly impossible to keep an afghan on your lap while you play Beethoven. And a warm cup of cocoa? No way. It’s cold before the first movement of the sonata is done. Books were friendly things, even when the reading was hard or slow. But it was still so lonely when the book was done, the class discussions over.
But at the end of graduate school, I finally found a reading home with other teachers, the wonderful and dedicated teachers of Central High School in Louisville, KY. They face many challenges in their jobs, but they’ve never accepted the idea that reaching their students would include anything less than authentic reading and writing experiences. They are pressured every day by the state and local school boards to raise test scores, raise test scores. An endless parade of dumbed down reading curriculum is thrown at them. They are threatened. But they stand by their ideals; they know their kids aren’t fooled by programs and phony workbooks, bubble sheets and stats. These kids don’t buy what the system has to offer them, not believing in the promise of a diploma. So these brave teachers dig deeper into what really matters: Reading (with a capital “R”).
We would sit around the lunch tables in our break room, stuffing our lunches down for our 20 minute break, and talk books, non-stop. I was the new kid—a 23 year old teacher fresh out of grad school in 2001. I was overwhelmed by all of the stress every new teacher faces. My department chair looked at me and said, “Read something.” She was right. In the next few months, I read everything in our book room, a tiny store room stacked floor to ceiling with titles hand-picked by the teachers, not the school board, bought with money we raised ourselves. The school’s funding ran out in April. We were out of toilet paper and light bulbs. But we kept reading and buying new books and talking books at the lunch table and carrying over those authentic, grown-up conversations into our classes.
My classroom became a real reading group. I knew I had found a reading home because the other teachers, all of them, embraced what Mrs. Doctorman had let me do: kids in our classes also had the unimaginable freedom to choose whatever they wanted to read. And we let them have at it. My biggest challenge was scarfing down everything in the (then) tiny Young Adult section of Barnes and Noble and the great local indie, Carmichaels. I read Patricia McCormick’s Cut, Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, Walter Dean Myers incredible book, Monster, and countless others. I lay in bed at night worried about certain students, wracking my brain, “What would finally get Marcus to read?” The very best moments were when one of my students, especially when it was one who struggled to read, would be so moved by a book that he would jump in front of the class, voluntarily, and witness about what an amazing story he’d just read. One student was in a terrible accident while I taught there; she came back to school with mild brain injuries. She read Sharon Draper’s Tears of a Tiger, cover to cover, in 2 days. When she came back to school with it finished, she told me, “I’ve never read a whole book in my life. This is the first one I’ve ever finished. For real.” She was almost 19.
Our lunchtime round table was a place to really debate books. I’ll never forget coming to them all fresh off of reading Sapphire’s book Push. This was almost a decade before the movie; I’d never read a book so awful, so dirty, so honest. It was the perfect portrait of everything wrong with the world: incest, abuse, illiteracy. Some of my colleagues were scared to put it on their shelves. I told them they had to. We did. We almost got fired for it. We fought for it. Parents threatened us when we put books with gay and lesbian characters out for our students. We knew it was worth the risk.
I miss that book club, that breakfast club, the club of my kids and colleagues. I witness about books everywhere I go now. Finding the right book club is hard, just like finding the right book can be hard. Now that I use Goodreads and Facebook and Twitter, I’m connecting with like-minded teachers and readers everywhere and it’s a good fight. I know there are lots of struggling kids out there searching for something; they just don’t know it’s a book yet.
When I was asked about my most memorable book club experience, one sprang immediately to mind. But since brevity isn’t my strong suit, I’ll start at the very beginning.
Not long before my first novel Bloodroot was released in the winter of 2010, my editor at Alfred A. Knopf introduced me to my publicist and said, “This is where you go from being a writer to being an “Author.” I soon discovered exactly what she meant. There’s more to having a writing career than the writing itself. There comes a time when the business of publishing enters the equation. Some aspects of the publishing world have been easier to adjust to than others. I found myself speaking for the first time to audiences of hundreds, being interviewed live on both radio and television, traveling for weeks at a time. As jarring as the transition was from being a writer, spending most of my time at home in Tennessee hunched over a notebook with pen in hand, to being an“Author,” expected to emerge from my cave once in a while and promote my book, I grew used to and even came to enjoy the events I was once intimidated by.
But there was one unexpected pleasure of “Authoring” that I embraced right away, no adjustment period necessary. From the start, I loved talking with book clubs. I was first approached by local groups, often with colorful names like The Book Divas and Wine, Women and Wisdom. Soon after, requests began to come through my publicist for conference calls with groups all over the country. In contrast to the nerve-wracking live interviews and the speaking engagements before large audiences, sharing an informal discussion of Bloodroot over the phone or over a meal in a reader’s home felt like taking my shoes off after a long walk. At first I accepted every invitation I received. I couldn’t resist, even though I should have been working on my second novel. I was fed so well in those first months after Bloodroot was released that I must have gained at least five pounds.
When I began editing my second novel under a deadline, though, I had to take a break from visiting book clubs and from other events whenever possible. It was time to return to my cave and put my nose to the grindstone. For a couple of months last winter, I rarely left the house, working up to twelve hours a day. There were still events on my calendar and I must admit that I dragged myself to some of them, reluctant to abandon my edit (which was turning out to be more like a rewrite) with a deadline looming.
Then one day I came up for air and checked my schedule to realize I had a book club meeting on the horizon, an invitation I had accepted back in the fall. I’d been looking particularly forward to this one, hosted by a woman named Edie from my hometown. When we met at a local fall festival we clicked right away. She was warm and funny and smart, and we had a lot in common. She told me about her blog, Life in Grace–“an eclectic mix of posts on cooking, homeschooling, faith, decorating and crafting”–and when I checked it out, I discovered that she’s a great writer as well as a delightful person. As much as I needed a break from the editing process, and a meal with Edie and her book group would provide one, I wasn’t in a good emotional place.
The writing wasn’t going particularly well at that moment, and when the writing isn’t going well, I’m not happy. I wasn’t sure how it would feel to visit a book club and talk about my work in such a tired and frustrated state of mind.
Reminded of Edie and the upcoming meeting, I went to her blog for the first time in weeks. I was shocked to find there an outpouring of love and sympathy from her hundreds of followers and friends. Over the holidays, Edie’s lovely home on the lake had burned to the ground. I couldn’t stop thinking about the countless photos she had posted of the gorgeous art she’d made and of her remodeled kitchen, all the work she had put into making her home comfortable and beautiful. My writing woes seemed small in comparison to Edie’s loss. I was heartbroken for her, and sent my own note of sympathy. I doubted she would be ready to host a book club within weeks of the fire but, to my surprise, I received an e-mail from Edie saying that her neighbor had offered her home to use for the meeting and she’d like to keep our date. I was so touched, so impressed by her strength. On the way to the meeting, I passed the burned shell of Edie’s house. There was little left standing. I later learned Edie had passed by those ruins herself that morning for the first time since the night of the fire. I didn’t know what to expect, what her mood might be given what she’d been through.
When she greeted me at the door with shining eyes and a smile on her face, a weight lifted off my shoulders. I forgot about the work I had left behind on my desk, forgot my worries and fears that I would never finish my second novel. For the two hours that I spent with Edie and her friends, a group of women every bit as kind, brilliant, warm and funny as she is, I didn’t have a care in the world. We delved into some deep topics of conversation, but there was lots of laughter, too. I left there feeling like I’d been to church. The next day Edie wrote to say that our meeting had been a healing experience for her, and I feel the same way. Looking back on that unforgettable day, I can see how, more than a writer or an Author, I’m a human being. As much as I need time to write, I need fellowship. In the year and a half since Bloodroot was published, book clubs have provided a sweet source of that. So, to all those who have called to chat about Bloodroot or invited me into your homes, I hope you’ll accept my sincerest thanks in return.
I’ve asked some of my favorite authors and bloggers to write about their favorite book club moments. During the course of the next four months, I’ll be sharing these with you. (Hope you had a chance to read Kelly O’Connor McNees‘ posting from last Friday!)
Of course, it’s really not fair to ask of others something I’m not willing to do myself. Then again, I could talk on and on about my favorite book club moments. After traveling 30,000 miles visiting with readers, you bet there’s not just one!
But something special happened last week and I wanted to share this with you first.
I met Melissa Hagen Klug at the Books on the Nightstand Retreat in Vermont last April, an amazing weekend in and of itself and much more about that later. It deserves an entire post of its own.
Melissa loves Southern lit. OK, I liked her from the start. And she’s the Director of Marketing for Glatfelter a company that makes the paper for the books we read. What a perfect girl!
Last week I was traveling and did not notice this Facebook post right away. Needless to say, I was so touched when I saw that she and her wonderful co-workers (many of whom came to Vermont!) had participated in the AVON Walk for Breast Cancer in San Francisco. Their team was aptly called the Paper Girls Wear Pink, and they had named my daughters as one of the reasons they walked. I cried.
My oldest daughter, Claudia, inherited a mutated BRCA 1 gene and underwent a prophylactic mastectomy with reconstruction in January. Claudia looks and feels great, and I am one very proud mama! Claudia has been a role model for many women of all ages, particularly her younger sisters. (for more about Claudia’s journey, check out her blog.)
We don’t know yet if my younger two daughters carry the same mutation. If they do, they will have their sister to look to for strength. And they will know that they are supported and loved by people like Melissa and her Paper Girl friends.
Melissa and all the Paper Girls Wear Pink and many others like them are the true blessings in our lives since we lost my husband’s mother to ovarian cancer and first learned of this genetic mutation. And it is through words, through books, that Melissa and I found one another and a very special friendship began.
I am convinced more than ever that books do have the power to heal.
And please visit the Paper Girls Wear Pink web page if you’d like to learn more about their walk and the opportunity to give!
A few weeks ago, I asked a favorite novelist to share one of her best book club moments. Perhaps it was unfair of me to ask someone to chose just ONE. But here is the delightful response from dear friend and most talented writer, Kelly O’Connor McNees, author of THE LOST SUMMER OF LOUISA MAY ALCOTT.
The Glenview Book Club
This seemingly simple question—What is your all-time favorite book club experience?—is actually pretty difficult for me to answer. Over the last year or so, I’ve visited with dozens and dozens of readers in person and via Skype. Each time I’ve been thrilled with the generosity of these women and their insightful questions and discussions about Louisa May Alcott’s life and work. Of all the outreach we authors do to connect with readers—blogging, posting on Facebook and Twitter, writing guest posts for book blogs, reading and signing in bookstores and libraries and at book festivals—visiting with book clubs is my favorite. How can I choose just one “best”?
The most inspiring, dynamic club I’ve met recently has to be the ladies of a book club in Glenview, Illinois. Fate brought us together—and by fate, I mean I invited myself to their meeting. I can be surprisingly rude that way. A few members attended a reading I did at a bookstore in a nearby town, and as I signed their books, one of them mentioned their club was planning to read The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott for their next meeting. “Can I come too?” I asked, disregarding everything my mother taught me about manners. Fortunately for me and my pride, they were up for it.
Here is what I learned when I arrived: This club has been meeting for 30 years! Some of the original members have moved away, and new readers have joined, but the book club has been going steady for three decades. Can you imagine how many life events, happy and sad, this group has experienced over the years? Babies and weddings and funerals . . . I told them that they themselves, the story of their club, would make an awfully good novel.
Oh, how we gabbed! About Louisa and Little Women, about her “deadbeat” father Bronson, as one member put it, about how things have changed for women in the last 150 years—and how they haven’t. They told me about some of the books they’ve read over the years, the books they loved and hated, and the books they can’t remember. The hours flew by. Great quantities of wine and cake disappeared.
When I finally said my reluctant goodbyes and headed out to my car, I checked my phone. There were two messages from my husband. The first was from about nine p.m. He sounded cheerful: “Well, you must be on your way home now. See you soon!” The second came in around ten. “Hi, sweetie. I’m just getting a little bit worried. You’ve been gone a really long time. You can’t possibly still be at that book club meeting—can you?”
I quickly called him back to explain that, indeed, it was very possible! I have a feeling the husbands of these ladies have been leaving voicemails like this for years. What a great night!
Visit Kelly’s blog for updates about the novel and to read interviews with writers.
31 DAYS OF BOOK CLUBS AND BEZELLIA GROVE . . . a great big Giveaway and Celebration of National Reading Group Month
Bezellia Grove is growing up and coming out in paper on TUESDAY, AUGUST 2!
To celebrate, I’ve planned a special, and I do mean, SPECIAL, celebration and giveaway. Here’s the skinny:
All Book Clubs who choose THE IMPROPER LIFE OF BEZELLIA GROVE as one of their reads during the month of October will receive the following:
Free Skype, i-Chat or Phone Call with me.
Maizelle’s Pound Cake Recipe
Personalized Book Plates
Your Club Featured on My Blog and Author Facebook Page
Now for the GRAND PRIZE. Drum roll here . . .
The Book Club that meets during the month of October and hosts the MOST AUTHENTIC Southern Luncheon or Dinner with a 1950s or 1960s theme will receive the following:
A Name of the group’s choosing (approved by the author) included in my third novel
A Skype, i-Chat, or Phone Call with Random House Sales Rep and Books on the Nightstand co-host Ann Kingman
Ann will highlight the best books of 2011 for book club reads and give you a peek into what’s coming in 2012
The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove necklaces that feature the new paperback cover (limit 12)
Advanced Reader Copies (limit 12) of my next book. Be the first to talk about it!
In addition to the above. I, along with a gang of my very favorite author and blogger friends, will be writing special posts all about and for book clubs on my blog from now until the end of October. During October, National Reading Group Month, you’ll find a little something everyday. Hence the name of the celebration, 31 Days of Bezellia Grove. You never know who will turn up so stay tuned!
Finally, you can schedule your club’s chat with me. Take a quick look at the calendar and pick an available date and then email it to me at email@example.com. And don’t forget to support your local indie!
Park Road Books
Address: 4139 Park Road, Park Road Shopping Center, Charlotte, NC 28209
Owner: Sally Brewster
The staff over at Park Roads Books has been so supportive of me and my work – hand selling Dairy Queen for years – already spreading the word about Bezellia – and I can’t wait to get there. According to owner Sally Brewster, it’s a store you can’t help but love. In fact, she was a sales rep for a publisher and called on the previous owner of the store and it was love at first sight. She ended up working for them at Christmas for 10 years. She eventually bought it when the original owner decided to retire.
The location is a dream come true. Park Road Shopping Center is the oldest strip center in the Southeast and the gentleman that currently owns the property was the lawyer of the original owner! Sally is happy to say that Porter Byrum is the best landlord in the world. He loves Mom & Pop stores and does all he can to encourage local business.
Fiction is the main draw for Park Road Books with children’s books being a close second. Current top selling books by Southern authors include “The Queen of Palmyra,” “The Sweet By and By,” “The Well & The Mine,” “South of Broad” and “The Help.”
A key element that keeps customers coming back for more is Park Road Book’s commitment to Southern hospitality. Sally and her team will do anything we can to help anyone out, whether it be a ride somewhere, deliver a book or help with their increasingly forgetful father. To top it off, they are also dog friendly and now dog-staffed. Yola (isn’t her picture cute!?!) has been working there since last November and she has quite a fan club of both humans and canines. She also recommends a book every month. This month is “The Little Pink Pup” by Johanna Kerby.
Last night I introduced Bezellia Grove to the Nashville community at my hometown bookstore, Davis-Kidd. It was like the best family reunion . . . ever! Better than that . . . it was like THIS IS YOUR LIFE Susan Gregg Gilmore.
Treva Horne was there, the woman who held my mother’s hand the day I was born. Tricia Saperstein (and her precious mom) and Betsy Bass, playmates from the first grade, were there. Babs Young, Mary Addison Hackett, Jennifer Herbert, Ann Hunt, Olivia Miller, Currin Mifflin, all buddies from the sixth and seventh grades were there, too.
That’s not all. Karen and Rick Miller were sitting on the front row. Heck, this book was born at their dinner table! Book club friends, editor friends, mothers-of-my-daughter’s-friends friends were all there. And amazingly talented writer friends like J.T. Ellison whose next mystery thriller, The Immortals, will be released October 1, River Jordan whose next book, The Miracle of Mercy Land will be released on September 7th, Lisa Patton (Whistlin’ Dixie in a Nor’Easter), and poet Lisa Dordal, my roommate at the Sewanee Writers Conference, were all at the bookstore cheering me on. And my Davis-Kidd family, wow! OK, I know they had to be there to run the store, but I love this staff that has supported me on this book-writing journey from day one.
Simply put, I was so touched. I just wanted to stand there and take it all in, memorize each and every smiling face.
No doubt having a book published is a big, wonderful deal, but having your friends surrounding you on such a special evening is absolutely incredible. Thank you for the giving me that moment.