Book Clubs, “The Beginning of After,” and the many faces of one novel

In June, the lovely ladies of Epic Reads selected “The Beginning of After” for their monthly Book Club, and HarperCollins created a terrific Book Club Discussion Guide for it. You can download the guide from Scribd at this link. It’s pretty and filled with questions that make you go hmmmm.

Now that TBOA is out in paperback and more likely to be a book club choice in general, I’ve been thinking about how no two people will read the same novel the same way. It’s an amazing thing, when you think about it. The printed words on the page are identical for each person, but that person’s unique life experiences and emotional state of being, his or her sensibilities at that moment in time, will own those words differently. As a reader, I’ve always known this. But it wasn’t until I became an author and watched “The Beginning of After” make its way into the world that I understood the power of it.

Obviously, I have my own relationship with my book. I know what it means to me, and how the process of writing it changed me…not just on the outside with career-y stuff but deep down, where Laurel will always live and show me new things about myself. But since the story’s been out there, I’ve had the privilege of seeing — from online reviews, chatting with readers in person, and emails I’ve received — what this book becomes to other people.

For many, this is a book about grief and how to cope with it. The college student who stumbled upon “The Beginning of After” in a bookstore, still reeling from the death of her best friend in a drunk driving accident. The young woman who lost her dad when she was twelve years old and thought nobody would ever understand what that felt like. The girl whose sister is dying from cancer, trying to figure out how to say goodbye. The thought that this book helped any of these readers who shared the pain of their losses with me — well, that means everything. And more.

For others, this is a book mainly about love. The love between Laurel and Nana. Laurel and Meg. Laurel and her family. And, of course, Laurel and certain boys in her life. (There’s a special place in my heart for the readers who just want to talk to me about David. Yes! David! David! David!)

Then for many readers, this is a book that celebrates hope and strength. They focus on Laurel’s struggle to create her “After” and how that resonated for them. Maybe they haven’t lost someone, but they’ve made it to the other side of something big: an illness, a divorce, an addiction. They are survivors. Hear them roar.

I got to experience this range of interpretation first-hand when I was the guest of honor at a local book club gathering to discuss “The Beginning of After.” There were eight women there of various ages. They each had a story that somehow lined up with Laurel’s, yet each story was completely different. How cool was that for me? I actually can’t tell you. It was that cool.

I’ve also done Skype chats with book clubs that are not local. These were very fun. I would do them again, as my schedule allows. If you’re reading “The Beginning of After” in your book club (or classroom, or school/library reading program), please don’t hesitate to contact me about my availability.

Oh, and for any book club gathering, may I recommend this recipe for Noodle Kugel that comes straight from Nana herself. It’s ridiculously easy and gratuitously sweet, and Nana wouldn’t have it any other way.

Now in paperback

Books have chapters, and lives have chapters, and the lives of books have, well, chapters. I know that’s awkward circular logic, but I’m going with it. Because that’s exactly what it feels like today, the day my debut novel “The Beginning of After” is released in paperback.

I wanted to sit down and compose some meaningful thoughts about this occasion. At first, the only notion I came up with was that I’m just grateful the new edition will carry my book into the hands of more readers. After yesterday’s bombings at the Boston Marathon, my head’s been swirling with many of the same thoughts that originally drew me to a story about tragedy, survival, strength and hope, and the bonds we share in spite of, or perhaps because of, the very very bad things that can happen to any of us in this life. But I don’t feel able to articulate anything further, because I’m still messed up about these events, as I imagine we all are.

However, I’ve been blogging for over two years now, and my archives are full of some interesting posts I’ve written about TBOA. I’m going to use this book re-birthday as an excuse to share them again, as well as some other links I’d love for readers to be aware of.

In Praise of “Standalone” Novels
My response to the frequent inquiry about whether or not there will be a TBOA sequel.

“The Beginning of After” Blog Tour
The Before and After of nine game-changing events in my own life. I hope all these links still work. I love these posts and still can’t believe how personal I got. Yikes!

YA Fiction and the “Death Cliche”
Some thoughts.

About that cover
An element of the book’s success so far is due to this gorgeous, eye-catching cover. I was not always a fan. Read on.

Also, if you check out the Facebook page for “The Beginning of After,” you’ll see a photo album of guys who readers tell me they picture as David. It’s fun and delicious. Feel free to suggest your own!

I recently created this YouTube playlist of all the songs I listened to while brainstorming and writing the book. Each one inspired me in a different way. When I hear this music, it’s like hanging out with Laurel again.

And finally, I need to share this book trailer my awesome friend author Phoebe North created. Because it’s beautiful, and it makes me verklempt.

“The Beginning of After” by Jennifer Castle – Book Trailer from Jennifer Castle on Vimeo.

Thinking of all those Afters in Boston today, sending warmth and light northward.

Two months to pub date is a great excuse for a giveaway

When you’re in the throes of finishing a book and your publisher have given you a release date that feels about ten lifetimes away, it’s hard to imagine that yes, at some point, this thing you have written will be a shiny bound thing that sits on a bookstore shelf. I’ve said and typed the date “June 4, 2013″ so often that it has stopped feeling actual. But time has a way of zooming and hey, now. Look. That iconic-to-me calendar day, when YOU LOOK DIFFERENT IN REAL LIFE is officially published, is TWO MONTHS AWAY. That’s like, a mere 8 episodes of “Smash.”

As such, I’m in a generous, celebratory mood, and have put together this fabulous prize pack of a signed (and dedicated if requested) ARC of YOU LOOK DIFFERENT IN REAL LIFE, a signed (and dedicated if requested) paperback of THE BEGINNING OF AFTER — the lighter, floppier version of my first novel that comes out on April 16 — plus a handful of bookmarks for both books, because why the hell not.

Beginning of After and You Look Different in Real Life giveaway prize pack

*waves spokesmodel arms*

To enter, leave a comment on this blog post about your favorite documentary or reality TV show. Extra entries for following me on Twitter and tweeting about this giveaway. I will make this giveaway open internationally, and it will run until midnight on April 16.

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