Book Club Meets Fan-head (my virtual visit to Arcata, California)

Last night I had my first virtual visit with a book club! We discussed my novel, Practicing Normal. We’d planned on skyping, but ended up using Facetime because there were technical difficulties with skype. I’m happy to say it was fun – much less painful and awkward than I anticipated.

The group was at a library in Arcata, California (Redwood country). They met at 6:30 their time, which was 9:30 my time, so it was pretty late for this early-to-bed girl. I skipped the wine with dinner and managed to avoid yawning the entire hour. There was no chance of a yawn, really, this group was engaged and fun.

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What to wear had been a particular concern of mine. As it turned out, because we were using Facetime, only a small fraction of me (shoulders up) was visible on their screen (along with the ceiling fan above my head). I tried to find a way to secure the phone so that it was angled down at me, thus removing the view of the fan AND forcing me to tilt my head up and erase any trace of a double chin. Alas, it wasn’t possible unless I held the phone myself and then that would give the group a lovely view of my underarm as well. (I’m waiting for Apple to develop a selfie tripod for just such an occasion.)

Utilizing my iphone instead of my computer, meant the little selfie of me that appeared on my screen at all times was miniscule. In fact, I couldn’t see myself without my glasses (which I didn’t wear- ah, vanity). I could see enough to know I hadn’t moved out of the picture, but I couldn’t see a single wrinkle on my face. This was a good thing.

The women on the other end, were friendly and interesting and said nothing about my wrinkles or the ceiling fan on my head. The computer monitor was passed around so they could introduce themselves and I gave them each a friendly wave and promptly forgot their names. I’m not that great with names in person, so via computer it was a lost cause. No matter, names weren’t so important once we jumped into the book.

What I loved most about the entire experience was that these women who live in a town very different from my own, on the other side of the country, told me the characters in the story were like people they knew. The story was familiar. They recognized the struggles and motivations and hang-ups and heartaches that weaved through the story of an ordinary family just trying to be normal.

Once again, I’m reminded that there is so much more that unites us than divides us. It’s a comfort amidst the current issues facing our country.

After only one virtual book club experience, I’m certainly no expert, but here’s five things I gleaned from my hour with the ladies of the Arcata library:

5-Tips-for-Virtually (2)

  1. It’s awkward for everybody, so just relax. Not having eye contact with them felt really weird at first. When I talk to a group of people, I like to gauge how well they’re understanding me by eye contact, facial expressions and body language. That was impossible in this situation. So, I just pressed on and looked at my little phone screen and pretended I could see them and they were nodding their heads and smiling.
  1. Talk slow and wait for the other person to finish speaking. I’ve always hated talking on cell phones because I’m the kind of person who gets excited and talks right over top of others which doesn’t work so well on cell phones, consequently there’s a lot of, “What? Sorry, I missed that?” I’ve had to learn to slow down and listen for the other person to finish before speaking (an important lesson I sorely needed). In this situation, there were occasional gaps in the sound or if several people spoke at once, I couldn’t always know exactly what was said. Waiting until they finished and then pausing a moment to be sure no one else had anything to add, gave me a chance to figure it out what was said and consider my answer, before I responded.
  1. Talk as if you are in the room. I’m a handsy talker. My hands are in constant motion as I speak. I also like to move. While I couldn’t move much or I’d have been out of the range of my little cellphone camera, I could move my arms and gesture even if they couldn’t see it. This helped me to sound and feel normal as I spoke. It also helped me relax.
  1. Dress simply with nothing to distract. Before it was time for our meeting, my husband and I set up a test run using his phone, I realized that my earrings (which were cut glass) wobbled and reflected as I spoke. Plus, the shirt I was wearing showed a lot of skin and had a small stain. I also realized that wearing my hair up made me look nearly bald. Before the call came through, I changed into a simple long sleeved black t-shirt and silver earrings and took the clip out of my hair. I didn’t want what I was wearing or my lack of hair to distract from what I was saying. (Besides, black makes you look much slimmer on camera!)IMG_2972
  1. Don’t be afraid of a skype-book club meeting. Any chance to connect with readers is a chance to connect with readers! I loved talking to these women about my book, the story, and their lives. There is no way I could have traveled to California to talk to a dozen women in a book club on a Thursday evening in August. And yet, now I’ve made a real connection with them, one I hope lasts. At the conclusion of the book club, I encouraged them to visit my website and blogs, to stay in touch, just like I would have done in person. And hopefully, I just extended my fan base all the way across the country!

So, now I’m looking for more opportunities to skype (of Facetime) with nonlocal groups! If you’ve got a book club, library, writers’ group, or classroom who’d like to chat, please reach out and let me know. Meanwhile, I’ll work on solving my fan-head problem.

Thanks for reading! If you’ve got any of your own tips for virtual book club visits, please share!



p.s. If you’d like to contactbme about visiting your group, send me an email to

Author: Cara Sue Achterberg

I am a writer, blogger, and dog rescuer. I live in the darling town of Woodstock, Virginia in the Shenandoah Valley with my husband and three rescue dogs (who rescue me on a daily basis). Find more information about my books, my dogs, and all my writing adventures at

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