Jim Hayman: Like most published writers, from time to time I’m invited to participate in a variety of literary events. Readings and book signings at bookstores and libraries, panel discussions and larger scale events like the Summer Book Fair in Boothbay Harbor.
Among my favorite, however, are the invitations I get to join book group discussions in someone’s home. The surroundings are generally intimate, six to eight readers sitting around a living room or dining room table, sharing a glass of wine or a cup of coffee and engaging in in-depth discussions with interested readers all of whom have read and generally enjoyed readings one or the other of my books.
Earlier this week I was invited to attend a men’s book group in nearby Cape Elizabeth which had read and wanted to discuss my second thriller The Chill of Night. Eight men attended. All were avid and educated readers. All had enjoyed the book.
I was pleased that much of the conversation on this particular evening centered around how real and true to life the central characters and the problems they faced in The Chill of Night felt to these readers.
A couple of the men brought up a conversation that comes early in the book between my hero McCabe and his girlfriend Kyra in which Kyra tries to explain to McCabe the reasons for her reluctance to marry him. And McCabe stuggles to understand why he feels getting married is so emotionally important to him.
Another topic for discussion was the depth of anger the ex-priest John Kelly feels toward the Catholic Church over the sexual abuse scandals and how they have influenced him to break away from the Church and provide refuge to abused runaway children. A couple of the men in the group said they felt certain that I was a Catholic or lapsed Catholic who was enraged by the scandals. I’m not. I was brought up in a non-practicing Jewish family in New York.
Most of the conversation centered (as it often does among people discussing The Chill of Night) around the portrait of the twenty-five year old female schizophrenic, Abby Quinn, who experiences the trauma of witnessing someone she knows very well commit a brutal murder. I was pleased these readers felt Abby’s terror and pain as immediately and intimately as they obviously did. And that they understood her as well as they did. Abby was one of the most challenging characters I’ve ever tried to write. Her illness was something I worked hard to understand. In the process of creating Abby and writing much of the book from her point of view, I literally became, for a time, this vulnerable young woman. To this day she remains someone to whom I feel very close. A member, I suppose, of my immediate family.
Just as I did with Kyra and John Kelly and Abby, I try very hard, often struggle, to make all of my characters as real as I can and the dilemmas they face go well beyond the dynamics of plot because I want to provide my readers with genuine human connections.
To me, when it works, that’s the most satisfying part of writing fiction. And when it doesn’t work, as it sometimes doesn’t, it’s also the most frustrating.