A Good Home, Books, Canadian Gardens, Food, Gardens of An Honest House

When Readers Write

Photos by Hamlin Grange

One of the most enjoyable experiences I have as a writer of a newly published book is hearing from readers. It happened with my first book, A Good Home: I got hundreds of notes and cards from readers.

Book photos - cards from Readers

This time, a new thing happened: readers started emailing me while still reading the book. Bloggers whom I knew and many readers whom I didn’t, wrote as they finished a chapter or part (the book has 3 parts).

I love it! 

I also love the surprises involved.

Jeanne at Still A Dreamer posted a beautiful remembrance of her dad’s garden.

I savoured every flower, every memory she described. Then, at the end of her post, came a surprise connection to An Honest House. A smile warmed my soul.  I was glad that reading about our farmhouse gardens had triggered Jeanne’s happy memories.

Blog Photo - White garden Bridal Wreath and Arbour

But when – over just 2 days — readers in 3 different countries wrote to praise “all the great food” in An Honest House, I was stunned.

The only great cook in this house is my husband. Could I really have written so much about food? It sent me scurrying to reread my own book. 

Eureka! There it was, dozens of mentions:

Blog Photo - Afternoon Tea Ladies

blog-veggies-in-basket2

Food growing and being harvested from the garden.

Blog Photo - Garden harvest Basket tomatoes pumpkin

Food cooking on the stove or fresh-baked from the oven.

Blog Photo - Cake 2

Pots of jelly burbling.

Blog Photo - Jelly in Pot

blog-photo-verandah-red-currants

And there it was: 

Blog Photo - Apples in Bowl

The joy of making apple pies, apple crepes and jellies – from our own rare apples.

Blog Photo - Kitchen harvest table

The delight that comes from knowing that almost every ingredient in a meal has come from one’s own garden.

Blog Photo - Tomato Yellow

blog-photo-herb-garden-parsley

Family and friends having supper — cooked by our resident chef.

Blog Photo - Robert Family Visit Dish CU

Blog Photo - Robert and Family on the Verandah
Above 2 photos by Robert Vernon

And, of course, the hilarity that follows my guests’ discovery that I’ve ruined yet another simple dish.

~~

Running gag among family and friends:

Me: Hi there. Will you please come over for supper?

Them: Ah…hmm… who’s doing the cooking?

~~

I learned that sometimes, what you think you are writing and what the reader is getting may be not exactly the same. I knew that I wanted to infuse this (sometimes painful) book with my family’s gratitude and joy in life’s simple pleasures. But it took my readers to tell me how much I’d written about food.

So:  ever wanted to write to an author whose book you enjoyed?

Do it. You might tell them something they didn’t know. 

 

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82 thoughts on “When Readers Write”

  1. Long ago, when writers only had a website, after I finished a book I loved, I’d go in search of their email address. I remember being shocked the first time I received a response.They always seemed so happy that I took the time to write, that I continued. If I have a hard copy of the book, I’ll print the email and tuck it inside. When I shared my interest in writing, many would recommend craft books or other helpful resources.

    1. I’m glad to read this, Jill. I’m not surprised. The writers whose books I’ve found moving usually reply to my notes too. I even had a reply on Goodreads to a book I’d read years ago. That was so nice.

  2. Cynthia, it goes to show your memoirs are yummy reads in more ways than one. I thoroughly enjoyed the cozy warmth your mentions of meals and recipes added to your books. You invited the readers for dinner–so to speak–and we loved it.
    Blessings ~ Wendy

  3. A beautiful, thought-provoking post encapsulated with love, laughter and the sharing of homegrown, homemade food!

    It can be difficult to reach out to others we don’t know, even to tell them how much we appreciate something they have created, or how they have touched our lives in some positive way. Isn’t is wonderful when the connections do happen?

  4. Lovely, lovely post! Your gatherings look a lot like our gatherings at the little house in the big woods. What can be better than a get together with good food and good friends? So looking forward to reading your books!

  5. Cynthia, thanks again for the link to my post on my Dad’s gardens and for helping me stare out the window and remember. BTW, I took that rose trellis photo when I was 9 – it was my very first camera. I’m pretty sure I have color photos as well, but they would be in slide format and I have no way to capture them.
    And p.s. – I have been enjoying the many food references in your book as well!!
    Jeanne

  6. So fantastic to realize such a thing when one claims they cannot cook! Appreciation is the genesis of so many art forms. Writing is one.
    I enjoyed the food references in your book and wondered about some of the Jamaican dishes.

    1. So here’s the thing: I can only cook ONE Jamaican dish. I made the mistake of learning cooking from my Chinese relative (Aunt Pat in A Good Home) and she was not a good cook. Her kids tell me she became a very good cook later, for which I’m glad.

      1. Okay, alright, I realize that sounds strange. I should have said she was Jamaican too. (as you know, there’s a significant Chinese population in Jamaica – since the late 1800’s, actually – and some of them are intermarried with the rest of Jamaicans. That aunt was a champion table-tennis player, and she inspired me, so I played too, though at a much lesser level.

  7. How exciting to discover something new in your own book! One of my most clear impressions after reading your book(s) is of the love you all have for each other. A loving family will talk to each other and of course will eat together. A kitchen is a good place to be for both activities.
    In my researches into anxiety, (its causes and ways in which to allay it) I find that eating is calming. Our far distant ancestors would only eat when they were in no danger and all was well in their village or tribe. Our bodies still respond to the same stimuli so we can over-ride our anxiety by eating. I know the last thing my daughter wants to do when she has an anxiety or panic attack is to eat anything, but apparently eating mints or chewing gum works just as well. I have yet to find out if this really works. Elinor is not a good guinea-pig – she resists help at every opportunity.

    1. Hmmm… Interesting that chewing gum or eating mints works for dear Elinor. I didn’t know that fact about our distant ancestors. And I do think you’re right: eating together is a good thing for families. Among other things, it can help to confirm the loving bonds of family and belonging, even if we don’t realize that when we are younger.

      1. I really enjoy large family gatherings and always did. My father never did and always managed to wander off somewhere just when he was wanted! He preferred being with friends; I know he didn’t have a very happy childhood as my grandmother was a bit of a tartar!

  8. My mother was often a distracted cook (still is) and her grandchildren began to refer to some of her efforts as ‘burnt offerings.’ I love the looks of your harvests!

  9. So . . . will the next book be a cookbook!? Think what fun that would be! I remember reading somewhere that one of the most difficult things for a writer to make interesting is a description of a meal. What this means, for the discerning reader or literary critic, is that we should be very mindful of what happens in a book, what’s being communicated, when an author goes to the trouble of including a meal . . .

  10. Lovely post. Very interesting idea that what the writer shares and what the reader receives are not always the same. I had to smile reading your post becuase in our home, we love to enjoy meals together and with friends, and it is usually my husband who cooks. I think people appreciate that – So I can relate! By the way, I recently finished A Good Home, and I absolutely loved it. Yes, I will be reading An Honest House next.

  11. I have wanted to write to the author of a book I just finished. What holds me back is usually the feeling that it would never be read and just get a form letter response. The other problem, of course, is that many of these authors are no longer with us.

    1. Aha. Well, unless you hold seance, the latter will be difficult, Jason. But as for the former: I’d write. You may well get a reply. My husband still cherishes the letter he got from Henry Miller.

  12. You guys have made such a homey home that you no longer realize how enticing it is to your readers! From the food, to the honesty, to the gorgeous gardens and care . . .

  13. Great post Cynthia and congrats on the reviews. Indeed we’d love nothing more than to chat about our books with our readers. And it’s always interesting to learn another perspective they took on our writing. 🙂

  14. That certainly is very rewarding and a huge pleasure: to hear back and to interact with people who have read your book. Very nice!

  15. How lovely to get such wonderful feedback–and funny, too. I suppose readers who don’t know you are reading what you write with fresh eyes, and they may see things in a whole new and different light.
    Congratulations on the great reviews!

  16. Now isn’t that a pleasant surprise. Your readers noticing and enjoying parts of your book that if they hadn’t pointed them out to you, you wouldn’t have been aware of the fact that they were so prevalent. It is not surprising to me, some of life’s best moments are when family and friends are gathered around the table.

  17. Absolutely loved the post and the photographs! So happy that you are getting so much response from your readers. I wish I were doing a better job expressing my gratitude for the books I enjoyed…

  18. Hi Cynthia, I’ve been starting books for a while now and never finishing them. I have a sort of series in mind for children on sexual health and empowerment (in light of the new curriculum on sex ed in Ontario)…I was wondering what your thoughts might be, advice of sorts perhaps, on practical ways to follow through and get the first book published. Thank you 🙂

    1. Hi Jill:
      I have no expertise in this area, Jill. Top of my head thoughts:
      Check out what’s currently on the market to make sure your idea is fresh and different in some way.
      Maybe talk to someone at the ministry of education/an Ontario school board about where the gaps are?
      Decide what age group you’re writing for.
      Read blogs/articles dedicated to writing for children. They sometimes have very helpful advice on how to get published.
      But I also think that if a writer feels passionately about writing a book, the thing is to get started. Write.

  19. Sharing meals together is central to family life. Now my chidren are grown up, our most precious moments together are spent over the dinner table. It is only natural that food featured so much in your lovely book. Growing veg for the family is such a joy and like you, I am lucky to have a resident chef. A great combination- someone to grow it, someone to cook it and all your loved ones to eat it.

  20. I was disconcerted way back with my first novel to find that readers don’t read the book you wrote, they read the book they have come to themselves. That sounds a bit obscure, but it is only where the book meets with their mind/experience/imagination that they engage. People would tell me about the story I had written and I barely recognised it. Like you, I would rescan the text in wonder. I find this revealing now, both for myself and getting to know friends better.

  21. I find cooking a bit of a challenge. I’m a vegetarian and my husband is not, so I’m frequently making two small meals out of necessity. Food savers run amuck as I find it hard to cook creatively for one. Needless to say, I relate to your running joke, but I absolutely enjoy entertaining a great deal. I’d really rather start with desert and coffee and go backwards, ha! If I had any room left, maybe I’d eat dinner. Congratulations on touching readers enough for them to reach out and tell you so, that’s a fantastic accolade!

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