OK, so I got my first bits of feedback on my novel tonight. I read a scene from the middle of a chapter early in the book, one that is still basically in "first draft" status. It was scary not only because I've never done this before, but also because the passage contains the "n" word in several places, and this was a very noisy restaurant, so I was going to have to yell. And you know how that goes: You'll be yelling something, and all of a sudden, just before you say something awful, the whole place goes quiet. . .
That didn't happen. I did have to yell, and my dinner companions still had trouble hearing me. But when I was done, the woman next to me said, "Is that the beginning of your book? I would definitely keep reading!" and I wanted to pump my fist. My friend Andi told me she couldn't believe I could write convincingly about something I had not experienced, and that was welcome confirmation that all this background reading I've been doing is paying off.
But best of all, really, they were asking questions about the characters and the situation that would be already established in the book by this time, but which were not clear from this excerpt. I was pleased to find myself coherently explaining things like the Fort Pillow massacre and the role of the USCT at the Crater. The first woman wanted to know something about the characters' backgrounds, and I explained that J.T. was a carpenter before the war, and Fanny was working as a housekeeper. She told me, "I thought so, from the way they spoke," and I knew I had nailed the dialogue!
Experienced writers, I am sure, take this stuff for granted. But not beginners like me.
There was no critique--this group will not be good for that. But it was good for me to try a reading and not have everybody suddenly find excuses to leave the table, or perhaps worse, just sit there in dead silence. When I do hook up with a proper reading group and read for some criticism and suggestions, it won't be so scary.
Or so I'm hoping.