Becky here. I’m thrilled to host Dawn Dixon today so she can tell you about the terror and exhilaration of debuting her novel, FAUX FINISHED.
Have Book Club, Will Travel
This article originally appeared in the February 2022 Writers and Publishers newsletter.
“Home again, home again, jiggety-jig,” I mutter unhappily as I pull up to my friend Carol’s smart brick ranch house. Its book-club day and I’m the speaker. After the traffic-laden thirty-five-mile slog, I pause to shush my nerves and stare at the paraphernalia in the back seat. This includes copies of my book and a large foam-core-mounted display featuring pictures of the novel’s main characters. Sort of like the white board of suspects one sees on television in a police squad room. My own humble show-and-tell.
Through the bay window I see my hostess, Carol, flitting among her guests. She’d invited me to speak to her monthly book-club mavens about my new (and first) murder mystery, Faux Finished.
The group hadn’t read the book yet, so, this was, in effect, a dreaded cold call in front of ten strangers. But here’s the thing. While deeply honored to explain my experience as a newly published author, I’d spent MY WHOLE LIFE AVOIDING PUBLIC SPEAKING AT ALL COSTS. I told Carol this when she’d made her request. She pooh-poohed my fears.
“For heaven’s sake, Dawn, these are just ordinary people who love to read, like me,” she said. “Just tell them about yourself and the book. Why you wrote it. How you wrote it. That kind of thing. I told them you would sign any books they might want to buy. Piece of cake.”
I recall these words as she streams out the front door in floating yoga-type draperies and holds out her arms to welcome me, a wine glass in her hand. I relax a bit after she laughs at my stricken face and assures me I will not be sacrificed to the book gods.
Once in the crowded living room, she hands me a glass of red wine. After a sip or two, I breathe easier. Everyone is cordial. We circle the cheese, nuts, and other nibbly bits on the dining room table. Flowers adorn the counter and the family dog sniffs from one visitor to the other. We find our seats. I sit in front of the fireplace, set up my display, titled “Murder Wall” in heavy black magic marker.
I created it early in the writing process. I’d imagined my characters a certain way and cut out magazine photos of celebrities or those I felt embodied the characters. I pasted the pictures on eight-by-ten white paper and taped them to my office wall. It wasn’t fancy, but the crookedly written names and pictures helped drive my writing.
Like I chose a picture of Jennifer Aniston as the protagonist, Bridget, because her movie persona was feisty, appealing, and somewhat ditsy. Henry Fonda I’d pegged as her dad, Richard, a college professor and a deeply trustworthy, kind man. Etc.
To make the Murder Wall portable, I mounted the pictures on foam core. Voila! A visual aid. Always good, I reasoned, in case I panicked during my talk.
By this time the ladies, softened by fruit of the vine, stare curiously at the display.
I launch into my little speech. You know the one. I’d always loved to read and wanted to write a book, even as child. I went to college as a journalism student and graduated, still wanting to write a book. I got a full-time corporate communications job, a child, and husband, and that dream sort of faded. Still, I wrote newspaper articles, newsletters, feature pieces, magazine stories, poetry, whatever, on the side. Finally, I enrolled in an online novel-writing course and got my start. The book still took years to finish, during which family problems interrupted my creativity.
“But, here I am, finally,” I say. “I met a small-press publisher willing to take me on, for I’m grateful. However, even as the book publishes, COVID-19 rages and two fan conferences in which I’m to participate in 2021 are canceled. I realize I must rethink a marketing plan.
“And here I’d thought when I typed ‘The End’ in 2021, I was done. I’d written a book. Nothing else to do but write the next one, right? Wrong.”
I read aloud a couple of pages of the mystery, careful not to give away any important plot points. Trying not to sound monotone. Trying not to act overly dramatic. Generally just quaking in my boots.
Then the questions.
“I know you said you always wanted to write a book. But why did you write this particular one?” one woman said.
Ah. Here she got to the heart of it.
“I set the book where I went to college. In one aspect, the book was an homage to UNC Chapel Hill. I set the time frame during a week of March Madness mania in town. Basketball fanatics live and breathe there, and the UNC-Duke game is always fraught with emotion. I set the murder scene in a fictitious country club, similar to the one I joined in the past. This was a life I was familiar with and could describe with irony. With gusto. A family unravels. There’s a difficult teenage daughter, problems with a secretive mother, divorce. I was familiar with those too.”
When I smiled, everyone smiled with me. We all knew about this stuff.
Other questions include the following:
Q: How do you write? Do you have a regular daily schedule?
A: No. I’m a seat-of-the-pants–a pantser–writer. I write a lot when I do write, but it’s not every day. I plan to be more organized with the sequel though. I hate outlining, so that’s a challenge.
Q: Do you base any of the main characters on real people?
A: Well, without giving too much away, I did base the first victim on an ex-husband. But don’t worry. He is very much alive and well today.
They all laugh.
Carol stands and makes my day. She announces my book will be the assignment for the next month. I hadn’t expected that. The women line up to buy a signed book. I’m shaking, I’m so proud. One woman says she has a friend in Chapel Hill who might be interested in doing my book with her club.
I leave the meeting in a gleeful frame of mind. This time I’m not muttering, I’m belting out, “Home again, home again, jiggety-jig.”
Readers … have you ever had the author of a book come to your book club? Did you enjoy that? Writers … what’s your version of a Murder Wall?
Dawn Dixon (Cotter) won Malice Domestic’s William F. Deeck Grant for Unpublished Writers. Her story, “Under the Boardwalk” appeared in Peace, Love, and Crime: Crime Stories Inspired by the Songs of the 60s. Faux Finished is her first novel. She adores writing screenplays and really bad poetry. Dixon claims Charlotte, North Carolina, as home, and the UNC Chapel Hill as her personal utopia. For now, she and her partner rock on the front porch in South Carolina’s Low Country, where she swears the lizards and alligators roam.