“Do I have to slap you?” Kris asked as she finished setting up for the February meeting of the Deer Park Moms Book Club at her house, while I flapped around her kitchen in a tizzy of nerves. She had set a beautiful table with Russian-themed food and drink, and the lovely aroma of frying pierogies wafted from the kitchen. “Because I will.”
I’ll be honest. My friends regularly tell me I’m crazy. Of course, they say it lovingly, but I’m type A and more than a little neurotic, and so they’re usually right. I was suffering from a heaping helping of crazy in the hours leading up to the book club event, where I was scheduled to be the evening’s guest author while they discussed Part 1 in my Kings of Brighton Beach series.
I knew I shouldn’t be so nervous, but I honestly couldn’t help myself. Kris, one of my closest friends, had convinced her hundred-member book club to read the first three episodes of Kings of Brighton Beach and invited me to be their guest on discussion night. She claimed to love the series, but she also loved me. How would this group of strangers feel? I was going to have to sit in the same room with a small group of them and look them in the eye as I found out. This was a risk for me, as I’m the kind of person who can bypass praise and focus in on the one even slightly negative word or phrase in a review and let it plague me. But I also worried for Kris.
My friend had stuck her neck out and convinced the hundred or so members of the book club to give me a try. The book club favored literature and women’s fiction, choosing serious if at times light-hearted reads. They had recently Skyped with Liane Moriarty, a bestselling author, about her book The Husband’s Secret. Moriarty is a famous author with a critically acclaimed and thought-provoking book. Hardly anyone had ever heard of me or reviewed my book, and my crime family saga had no literary pretentions whatsoever.
Maybe it wasn’t book club material. Maybe I wasn’t.
“They said they liked it. The comments from the group are all positive,” Kris assured me.
Now, I have a particular talent for twisting situations and words into worst case scenarios. In thriller writing, this skill makes for an exciting plot. In life, it creates numerous difficulties. Of course the comments were positive, I thought. No one would want to hurt Kris’s feelings. But they might not let her suggest another book for a good, long while.
Kris did have to slap me.
The book club members were all friendly when they arrived. I nervously chewed the inside of my cheek while I waited for them to settle in and fill their glasses with the Georgian wine I’d contributed. And, yes, I’m crazy enough that I worried about whether they would like that, too. Kris gave me a warning look from the doorway, and I plastered on my best calm face. As the women traded animated gossip about the school district and then launched into detailed critiques of the local grocery stores, I knew they wouldn’t hold back in sharing their opinions on Kings. These women were going to be honest and specific and maybe even a little harsh.
“This isn’t the kind of book I would normally read,” Leticia, the founder of the book club kicked off the evening’s discussion. The knot in my stomach tightened as she explained, “There was blood on the cover. I don’t like violence.”
What was I doing here? My professorial skills would see me gracefully through the evening, but I felt like a deer in the headlights at the very moment it knows it’s about to become roadkill.
“But I loved it! It had everything. The intrigue. The family relationships. A classic love story. It was like watching a mob soap opera.”
“It’s the Russian Sons of Anarchy,” one of the women said.
“I couldn’t stop reading,” the woman next to me said. She explained that she read the three episodes in Part 1 over a few days. “I stayed up late the first night, and I was a bad mother in the morning. Then I stayed up late reading, and I was a bad mother in the morning. And then I stayed up reading the third night, and I was a bad mother in the morning. You made me a bad mother three days in a row!”
“I hate you!” another called out. “I need more. When is the next one coming out?” I told them the next installments would be released in August. They told me to hurry up and get them out faster. April maybe? Could I make it happen by July? They could settle for July.
Then the real dish started.
“I love how you ended it. There were loose ends, but it was so satisfying.”
“Aleksei is such a douchebag. When are you going to kill him off?”
“How could you let Inna get raped so many times? That poor woman!”
“I think Maya is absolutely fabulous.”
“Maya? How could you like Maya?” They argued heatedly about their favorite characters and the direction of the twisty plot, and they made exciting guesses about what was coming next. Was Sofia really dead? Is Inna Nick’s sister? How could Katya not know her husband was a mobster, and what would happen when she finally found out? Would there be more romance between Inna and Vlad? Could I maybe fix Katya up with Nick—after I killed Aleksei, of course?
“Listen to us, talking about the characters like they’re real people.”
I was listening, with delight and a profound sense of gratitude. These busy women had gifted me with their time and intense attention—reading, showing up for the book club, and bringing their heartfelt and honest insights. I might write gritty scenes, but I’m a sap in real life. My eyes were wet with tears for the rest of the long and wildly wonderful evening. They were so animated and heated in their opinions. Even with my crazy goggles, I couldn’t see them as being merely polite as they talked and argued and shared my passion for this series over the next few hours.
“How do you know so much about the Russian mob?”
“Because her husband is in the mob! It says so on the book jacket.”
“No, it says he tells her he’s not,” someone said. Kris burst out laughing and cast me a beatific I-told-you-so grin.
“Why don’t people know about this series?”
“It should be a movie or a mini-series. How do we make that happen?”
I was so overcome. For me, this was an unprecedented gift, the realization of a closely held dream. They loved the series as much as I did. I had finally found the long-awaited readers whose investment in the story made me want to keep writing not only for myself but also for them. I do know how the series ends, how all the threads tie together, and I promised them I would finish.
I rolled home very late that night. Gene was waiting up for me. “How did it go?”
I broke down then and started to cry. “They loved it,” I said.
“Of course they did.” He laughed at me and hugged me tight. “And it’s a good thing. I really didn’t feel like having anyone killed tonight.”