Seating at Tuscan Market & Wine Shop in downtown Arlington Heights was at capacity last week, with more than 60 patrons packed into its intimate space.
The occasion was the start of its fifth year of hosting book club meetings, complete with the featured author in attendance and a glass of wine and hors d'oeuvres.
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It makes for a winning combination, said patrons on hand, including some who had waited outside for the doors to open, just to get a good seat.
"I like the variety of books," said Megan Specht of Arlington Heights, one of the first to find a seat at the bar. "There are very few book clubs that I've seen where the author actually shows up."
For the shop's new season, organizer Debbie Smart chose the debut novel by Palatine author Amy Gail Hansen, "The Butterfly Sister," published in September by HarperCollins Publishers.
When a paisley print suitcase shows up at her home, the story begins, a young woman tries to return the luggage to its rightful owner, her former college dorm mate. But then she learns her friend disappeared two days earlier, and the suitcase is the only tangible evidence as to her whereabouts.
"We hold half of our dates for local authors; we're committed to promoting the local writing community," says Smart, a former Barnes & Noble manager and current trustee for the Arlington Heights Memorial Library.
She added that upcoming dates will feature award-winning authors Deborah Crombie and James Rollins.
Hansen's psychological thriller appealed to the mostly female audience, who peppered her with questions on everything from the strength of its female characters, to its setting at a women's college and use of violence at the end.
"I wanted to write a good book with a gripping plot," Hansen said, "but one that still had resounding characters."
Smart opened up the discussion by asking Hansen to describe the writing process and what it took for a first-time author to get published.
Hansen responded by describing her early career as an English teacher, at both Woodstock High School and Wauconda Middle School, before working as a freelance journalist and ultimately as a writer.
The idea for her book came about innocently enough, she said. When she went to grab her suitcases for her honeymoon, she found a former classmate's luggage tag on it instead of her own.
Hansen then recalled loaning the suitcase to her friend five years prior, but it immediately set into motion the possible storyline for a mystery.
"I wrote the first draft in 18 months, and it was 140,000 words," Hansen said. "What you see now is 80,000 words, so that tells you a little about the revision process."
Hansen went on to describe her quest to find a literary agent -- it took a total rewrite of the book before she landed one -- and ultimately getting published.
Her hard work appears to have paid off. Hansen has sold nearly 10,000 books, including paperback and eBooks, and she already is working on her next one.
Meeting a local author and hearing about the writing process firsthand appealed to many of the readers in the audience.
"I like getting a chance to meet them," said Janet Southall of Arlington Heights. "It's interesting hearing about how they get published."
One of the few men in the audience, Kevin Kivikko, of Arlington Heights, agreed.
"I like to read, and this stretches my horizons beyond my normal genres," Kivikko said. "Plus, I'm interested in the process."