by Jule Selbo
The second book in my Dee Rommel Mystery Series, 9 DAYS, is out and it’s fun to get feedback from readers.
Some of the reactions come in through the message feature on my website, some from family (mine’s a big one so there’re lots of opinions), some from friends, or from people in my condo building in Portland, or from the “regulars” I join at my favorite (nearly daily) haunts.
The best feedback is people sharing tidbits from their own expertise or snippets of their life stories in relation to my imaginary character’s life. A breakfast buddy at Becky’s (Commercial Street, Portland) teaches scuba diving, and he wondered if Dee Rommel might, one day, be looking for an odd item like the ones he’s discovered buried deep underwater in the rocks and sand of Casco Bay. And then I got a story of an emotional wedding-anniversary-dive he took with his recently passed wife.
Another buddy has a ham and cheese omelet every morning and is now retired. He used to build swimming pools in peoples’ backyards. He’s unearthed some suspicious bones, trinkets and oddities.
Another coffee-drinker is an Auto Parts guy, he finished 9 DAYS and wanted to remind me that catalytic converters and other parts in some cars can be made with precious metals like platinum, palladium, rhodium, silver and gold (and that’s why the market of stolen parts is always hopping).
A book club member living in midtown Portland (the club had read 10 DAYS and invited me to eat cheese and drink wine with them) was a city history buff and told me that Dee (whose father loved history) would definitely know about the underground tunnel that connected the old Press Herald on Congress Street and its printing facilities – and the other underground spaces of Portland (seems there were a lot of subterranean bowling alleys at one time). He winked at me and told me access could be arranged.
A woman at the Armory Bar at the Regency Hotel (Milk Street, Portland), after reading 10 DAYS and 9 DAYS, asked what Maine locations Dee might be traveling to in 8 DAYS. I told her I was working on a scene in Yarmouth – she knew the histories of the Catholic, the Universalist, the Congregational and the Baptist churches in the town’s center. (Her grandfather and father had been pastors and I got details of the vagaries in growing up a preacher’s kid.) I don’t imagine Dee as a regular church-goer, but that didn’t negate me thinking that an empty church, at night, in a winter storm, might be a good hiding place for someone…
My family’s got a funky, unheated, thin-walled cabin with nice views of loons on Damariscotta Lake. I have a morning routine – up early to make the 6 am opening at Moody’s Diner (Route 1 in Waldoboro). I carry a notebook with me and write while I chew on scrambled eggs and toast.
One of the waitresses (Shelly) has read both Dee Rommel books and loves to talk about which supporting characters she wants to come back in the next stories. Just the other day she gave me a semi-glare and told me she needs (expects) to know – soon-ish– more details about bad-guy Billy Payer (10 DAYS) and how he might be involved in the assault that left Dee with a permanent injury. Shelly seemed a bit vexed Billy didn’t have a larger presence in 9 DAYS. Since I’m working on 8 DAYS now (about 1/3 of the way through) – I almost told her I hadn’t planned to get back to Billy until 7 DAYS or 6 DAYS – but I went home and decided that it might be a good idea to keep that “B” story alive more “soon-ish” – now it’s become a “C” story in 8 DAYS.
After Moody’s Diner I usually head back to Jefferson (where the funky camp is) and stop at the Jefferson Market on Route 32 for any needed supplies. Lyn, the owner of the market, has put a small bookshelf full of “local authors” near the checkout counter.
She’s been selling 10 DAYS for the last six months and has now added 9 DAYS. Customers who buy the books relay their thoughts to Lyn – who relays them to me. Some have worries/premonitions regarding Dee’s boss (private investigator Gordy Greer) and why he’s pushing Dee so hard to get her own license. Some have opinions on the relationship Dee has with her mother. Or insight on Dee’s lovers. Even about her best friends – and why the hell can’t Dee get a dog?
I realized that most of the feedback is not focused on the specific, stand-alone plots of the books. It’s questions and/or concerns pertaining to the character of Dee. About her self-esteem issues and the massive chip on her shoulder and will she ever be able to open her heart.
That realization made me think of a Michael Connelly interview I read. Connelly (Bosch series, Lincoln Lawyer series and more) mentioned that readers are often providing reactions and fodder – and that it enhances his writing. Not specifics (he’d stop them if anything turned into a pitch and quickly recite, for legal reasons, that he could not listen to story ideas). His readers’ input tended to focus on the flavor or history of Los Angeles or experiences or thoughts on father/daughter relationships.
Connelly also stated that he always kept in mind the words of Joseph Wambaugh (The Onion Field, Choirboys,and the Hollywood Station Series and so much more): “The best crime novels are not how cops work on cases; it’s how cases work on cops.”
Of course, it doesn’t have to be a cop. It can be a private investigator (like Dee), an amateur sleuth, or anyone investigating…
I guess the readers’ questions and interests are helping me see what’s bringing them back to the next books. I have 8 more to go and I want them to keep reading.
Although it’s not my nature to write to please someone else (therein lies madness I think), but it IS my nature to question if what I find interesting is interesting to others. And it feels good that readers are finding Dee interesting.
Who likes to talk to readers about their books and characters and who doesn’t like to talk about them at all? Who does it help? Who does it hinder?