McAndrews_JenniferIn the past few months I’ve been lucky enough to experience something new: meeting readers.

Before I give the wrong impression, I need to clarify that I’m not talking here about meeting people who have read my books. Meeting those folks is always lovely and flattering and makes me completely self-conscious and is a whole separate therapy session. No, what I’m talking about here is readers–readers of mystery, romance, thrillers, sci-fi. Anyone who reads fiction. Those are the readers I’ve been meeting.

See, being a writer changes a reader. It used to be I would wander the bookstore and pick up whatever book piqued my interest. The bookstore was aisle upon aisle of adventures just waiting for me to embark upon them. But when I decided to get serious about the writing game, I got serious about my reading. I stuck to that one aisle that featured the genre in which I was writing. I read books that were well-reviewed, books that were popular, books that no one could agree on. And instead of being transported by the story, I watched for every plot twist, every crafty turn of phrase or character reveal. I deconstructed story arc and character arc and kept an eye out for the clever red herring and buried clues.

I told myself I was still an avid reader and book lover. But books had become less about adventure and more about learning. Instead of being eager to curl up in a corner chair and read, I had to remind myself to read by adding it on my daily to-do list. Which meant reading for fun had mutated into reading as work. Worse, I caught myself saying “I force myself to read every day.” And I had to wonder when had that happened? When had something I once loved turned into a chore?

9780425267967But then the first installment in my stained glass cozy mystery series Ill-Gotten Panes went out into the world. And so did I. I took a break from attending conferences for writers and instead looked into conventions for readers, events where I could talk about Panes and about the second book in the Stained Glass series, Death Under Glass, in hopes of generating reader interest. And the most marvelous thing happened. Me talking about my books opened the door to lengthy conversations about other books.

Now, this is a simple thing, but it was a thing I had lost sight of. Ask a reader if they’ve read anything good lately. Ask if they’ve read this or that author, what they think about the latest best seller or what they think should be a best seller. And if you’re lucky, as I have been lucky, you’ll meet one, five, a dozen or more people who get genuinely excited by talking books. How had I allowed myself to miss out on this?

At each event, people spoke to me about books with enthusiasm I typically find only in diehard sports fans (I know this because I am one). There were raves and pans, dismissals and praise. But always, a certain light, a certain energy that transferred from the person telling me about a book right over to me, the person who needed that energy to remember that books are wonderful things.

As a result, I’ve got a whole new selection of fiction waiting to be read, books that were recommended to me by people whose excitement was so contagious I had to write down title and author and get my mitts on a copy. I’ve stopped thinking of reading fiction as work and returned to thinking of reading as fun. And while I’ve kept reading as an entry on my to-do list, I’ve done so because there should always be something enjoyable on a to-do list, something you’re eager to cross off. Few things could be better for that than reading.

So now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go read a book. Maybe you’d like to do the same ☺