Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for The Fine Art of Insincerity includes a Q&A with author Angela Hunt. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
The ‘Grandma gene,’ is such a great conceit for the novel. Is this the single idea that The Fine Art of Insincerity sprang from?
Yes. Since my grandmother married five times and one of my relatives duplicated her record, I once jokingly referred to a “grandma gene” that likely skipped a generation . . . and thus the idea was born.
What sort of research was involved in the writing this book? Was it geared more toward looking outward and observing, or looking inward and meditating?
Probably equal parts of each. Actual research required a trip to St. Simons Island to spend a week in a rented beach house. My mother, my aunt, and one of my cousins went with me, and we shared “grandma stories” while we were there. Of course, not everything in this novel is drawn from real life. Eventually I had to create characters and spin their unique story problems.
The Fine Art of Insincerity is a fantastic title for this book. While I’m sure each reader will draw his or her own conclusion, who do you think is the most insincere character? Is being true to oneself as important as being true to others?
Choosing a single character as the most insincere is difficult, because they all have a claim on the title. But I think Ginger scores points for not being honest with herself—her personal ideas and convictions were terribly inconsistent, but she wasn’t able to see those inconsistencies until her sisters pointed them out. Only then could she see that her shifting stands had actually inflicted pain on her loved ones. We all have those blind spots—and we depend upon those who love us to help us see them.
You write a great blog titled A Life in Pages with all sorts of fun video links and random thoughts on popular culture and peculiarities of life. How has blogging changed your relationship with your fans? Do you have any favorite blog entries from the past couple of years?
Well, bless you for reading my blog! I do try to put something up every day, but warn people not to expect writerly profundity with every sunrise. I think blogging helps my readers see me as a real person and not merely a writer, and when we connect person-to-person, we connect as friends. The blog has led to some lovely unexpected friendships with people across the United States.
The epigraph to this book is a wonderful passage from 1st Corinthians, and sets the tone well for the rest of the story. How did you pick this particular passage? Was it a muse, or did you come to it after you had finished writing the story?
The idea to use 1st Corinthians 13 came to me during the second or third draft. That passage seemed to sum up all I wanted Ginger to realize—that no matter how much she talked about caring for and worrying about her sisters, if she didn’t really love them, all her efforts were worthless. A lot of us spend a lot of time talking about people we could love . . . if we didn’t spend so much time talking.
You are a star of the Christian writing community, and firmly ensconced in it as a speaker, teacher, writer, and role model to many. Do you think that with this comes a certain responsibility with what you are writing? Do you ever hold back or edit yourself because of this role?
Yowsers, I’ve never thought of myself as a star. A veteran, certainly, and I have the gray roots to prove it. When I write, I feel a dual responsibility: I don’t want to disappoint my Lord or my reader. Since I write for people beyond the church as well as those in it, I try to incorporate genuine characters involved in honest, sometimes gut-wrenching situations. I feel responsible for providing a story that will surprise, challenge, and entertain. A story that will transport the reader to another world, invite them to slip into another character’s skin, and experience some aspect of God’s truth.
How much of the plot of this novel did you borrow from real life? Is Grandma Lillian similar to your own grandmother? Did you have many “girls only” weekends akin to the one Penny, Ginger, and Rose shared in the novel?
Lillian is modeled after my own five-times-married grandmother, a woman with an eighth-grade education and four daughters to feed and clothe. My grandmother never married a man wealthy enough to leave her a beach house—I doubt she even knew anyone that wealthy—but she did the best she could. She did wear a girdle until the day she died, and she did call each of us grandkids into her room and assure us that she loved us best. She made the most delicious fried apple pies and sang the silliest songs . . . and we all adored her.
And while I do have two sisters, I was thinking more of my mother’s relationship with her sisters when I envisioned the “girls only” weekend. My mom and the aunts often get together, and have proven to be the glue that holds our extended family together.
Why did you decide to set the book on St. Simon’s Island? Was there something in particular about the place that leapt out at you while you were in the process of creating these characters?
I chose St. Simons because my mom and her sisters love the place and have spent several weekends there. If a writer has to spend a week researching a locale, why not set the book in a charming, historic spot?
You have written a great number of novels, non-fiction books, and even children’s books, but what in particular will you remember about the process of writing this book? Was this a story particularly special to you? It is very intimately written even though it is fictional.
This book will always be special to me because it sprang from my family’s shared history. And because I am Ginger in many ways (being the first-born, the bossiest, the one with a to-do list perpetually at hand), writing this book served as a cautionary tale for me. If I’m not careful, if I don’t stop and listen, I, like Ginger, can be at risk of hurting the people I love most.
Being the consummate writer, you are always working on something. Can you give us a glimpse into the future and tell us a little about what you are working on next? Do you think you will ever re-visit the characters of Penny, Rose, and Ginger?
(Laughing) I think I’ll be content to let Penny, Rose, and Ginger rest . . . but you never know what the future holds. At present I’m working on a story about three people who meet on a train trip through several Southern coastal cities. To research the book, I traveled the same route with my cousin Ginger (who bears no resemblance to the Ginger in) and took hundreds of photos. So for the next several months, I’ll be thinking about trains . . . Insincerity and three characters with interesting challenges. Sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it?