Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Going to The Bad includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Nora McFarland. 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.
TV news photographer Lilly Hawkins is back, and this time the story she’s chasing is her own. It’s Christmas Eve, but Chief Photographer (“Shooter”) Lilly Hawkins and her comrades at KJAY-TV are experiencing anything but a silent night. From the moment the police scanner announces Lilly’s home address as a crime scene, life as she knows it is over. Murder has struck closer to home than she ever imagined, and the investigation leads Lilly to discover long-buried family secrets.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. At the beginning of Going to the Bad, Lilly is torn over how to respond to Rod’s marriage proposal after accidentally finding an engagement ring in his pocket. What does Lilly’s conversation with Leanore about her hesitation to marry Rod reveal about Lilly? If you have read other installments in the Lilly Hawkins series, how does this characterization compare with what you already know about Lilly?
2. How does Lilly react to the potential loss of someone she holds so dear? How does her reaction differ from Rod’s? How do you personally cope with grief? In what ways are you similar to or different from Lilly?
3. Nora McFarland provides brief glimpses into each character’s personal history, shedding light on their actions and motivations. Which character in Going to the Bad did you find yourself feeling the most sympathetic toward? What is it about the character’s story that elicits your compassion? Which character in the story did you find yourself struggling with the most?
4. Describe the relationship between Leland Warner and Lilly’s uncle Bud. What secret bound them together? What impact did it have on them individually, and how did this secret propel the narrative?
5. Throughout Going to the Bad, “Thing” consistently shows up in unexpected places and at unexpected moments. How do Lilly’s feelings toward Thing change over the course of the novel? What significance does this seemingly small character play in Lilly’s emotional development?
6. Were you surprised by what Lilly learned about her father? Have you ever had a similar experience of learning something about a friend’s or family member’s personal history?
7. Throughout the story, Lilly repeatedly states that there’s nothing she can learn about her uncle Bud that will change the way she feels about him. Did you find her conviction admirable or arrogant? How is that conviction tested when Lilly learns the truth about Carter King? Did your own opinion of Bud change?
8. What surprising role does Bouncer play in Lilly’s personal evolution and the ultimate solving of the murder investigation? In what ways are Lilly and Bouncer similar?
9. Lilly’s work on the murder investigation is interspersed with humorous exchanges with various characters from KJAY and the police department. How did the use of humor throughout the narrative influence your reading? Which character’s sense of humor did you enjoy the most?
10. There are several families in Going to the Bad, each with multiple generations. What are the dynamics of each family? In what ways do the members both love and harm one another? How have Lilly, Bouncer, Junior, and Brandon all been shaped by their families?
11. Were you surprised to learn the identity of the murderer? Why or why not? What was your impression of this character up until the final revelation? Which character did you guess was the murderer? If you guessed incorrectly, describe what made you suspicious.
12. Describe the most surprising twist in the plot from your perspective. What did you enjoy the most about the story line?
13. If you’ve read any of the previous installments in the series, how has Lilly’s world changed? What effect have advances in technology had on the KJAY news department? How have Lilly’s friends and coworkers changed from the start of the series to the end?
14. At the end of Going to the Bad, Lilly says good-bye to her uncle Bud. Have you ever had to say good-bye to a loved one with a terminal illness? Do you think Lilly handled the situation well? What does it say about how she’s changed?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Nora McFarland was inspired to start writing based on her own experience of being a Shooter for a local television station. In the biography section of her website, www.noramcfarland.com , she writes: “I recognized almost immediately that the job was a perfect set-up for a mystery. Shooters, as they’re called in the industry, work grueling hours at a frantic pace and report on everything from heinous crimes to bizarrely comical feature stories.” Devise a character and a setting for a mystery based on your own personal experience. What would be your character’s name? What kind of mystery would your character solve?
2. Spencer Quinn, New York Times bestselling author of the Chet and Bernie mystery series, called Nora McFarland’s second novel, Hot, Shot, and Bothered, “fun, funny, tautly suspenseful and very smart. Lilly Hawkins, the heroine, is irresistible. I couldn’t put it down.” Write your own blurb for Going to the Bad and share it with your book club members!
3. Play a game of “Two Truths and a Lie” at your book club meeting. Have each book club member prepare three state- ments about themselves—two that are true and one that is a lie. In any order, share your three statements with the group and then vote on which statement is false. This classic ice-breaker will test which book club member is the best detective!
A Conversation with Nora McFarland
How did it feel to complete the final installment in the Lilly Hawkins trilogy?
It’s very satisfying, but also a little sad. I’m emotionally invested in Lilly and she’s been a big part of my life for the last five years.
What was your inspiration for creating the fictional newsroom at KJAY and its cast of characters?
I’ve worked in several newsrooms, and they each had more than their share of eccentrics. I don’t know if journalism attracts people with distinct personalities or if the job sharpens their character traits. There’s an enormous amount of pressure and tense situations, so it may be the latter. They say pressure makes diamonds, but I think in the news business they’re slightly irregular diamonds, which is a lot more fun.
How did Lilly’s growth and transformation by the end of Going to the Bad compare with what you initially imagined for her character?
I’ve always wanted to end with Lilly and Rod getting engaged. For someone who’s protective of themselves and used to holding back, that’s such a huge step. I had difficulty getting to that moment in an organic way because of everything Lilly was going through in this book. The trauma of losing Bud and the tension in her relationship with Rod made it all the more difficult to take that step. I even wrote a draft that ended with Lilly telling Rod she wasn’t ready for marriage. Fortunately I was able to find a moment that felt right in a later draft.
What was the most enjoyable or memorable moment in the process of writing Going to the Bad?
Writing Bud’s death was very emotional for me. I was actually crying. I know he’s fictional, but I really loved the old guy.
Going to the Bad weaves an intricate web of secrets and relationships. How challenging was it to architect all of the connections and deceptions?
I wrote a twenty-five-page outline and got feedback on that. It helped enormously because I was able to eliminate characters and plot points that were easily confused. Then I made more changes as I was writing.
The characters in Going to the Bad react to and handle loss in many different ways. Why was it important to you to portray these different reactions?
I like to pick a theme and have it reflected in different ways by the supporting characters’ stories. Lilly’s main character flaw is a fear of abandonment, which is really just a fear of loss. For the final book I knew she needed to overcome that and made it the focus of the book.
What have been some of your favorite or most memorable interactions with readers of this series?
When I’m working, I’m in a bubble and forget that other people are eventually going to be reading my work. Sometimes a stranger will e-mail to let me know how much they enjoyed one of the books and the bubble pops. It’s a wonderful surprise and means a lot to me.
Has writing this trilogy changed you in ways you didn’t anticipate when you first started writing? If so, how?
I’m a very different writer now then when I began the first book, A Bad Day’s Work. Back then I had the luxury of writing only when I felt inspired. Now I’m much more disciplined and keep to deadlines. It can be difficult with humor. Being funny even when you’re depressed or anxious is a challenge.
Where do you think your sense of humor comes from?
Most of it I have no control over it. A sense of humor is probably something that we’re all born with to various degrees. If anything has influenced me, I’d say it was watching tons of old screwball romantic comedies and even sitcoms like WKRP in Cincinnati.
Have you always been a fan of mysteries? What are some of your favorite characters or series?
I’ve been reading mysteries for as long as I can remember. I’m a huge fan of Ross Macdonald, and his work inspired Going to the Bad more than anyone else’s. Most of his books involve characters’ long-buried secrets coming back to haunt their children. I doubt I was as masterful at constructing my plot, but he was definitely my inspiration.
You used to work as a community relations manager at Barnes & Noble. How did this experience influence your decision to start writing? What are some of your favorite bookstores?
I always wanted to write a mystery, but it wasn’t until I began working in the bookstore that I committed myself to making the attempt. Working in the presence of so many books inspired me, but the authors who came to the store also played a big part in my finishing. They were all very supportive and encouraged me in ways I’ll always be grateful for.
I love Barnes & Noble for obvious reasons. I’m sad that they carry less stock than when I worked for them, but I understand the business pressures that led them to make those decisions. In Southern California, where I used to live, I love Book ‘Em Mysteries in South Pasadena and Mysteries to Die For in Thousand Oaks. The owners really know their customers and do a fantastic job serving them. In New York, the Mysterious Bookshop is like coming home to the mother ship.
What are you working on now? What can readers expect from you now that the Lilly Hawkins trilogy is complete?
Right now I’m working on a fictional book about a pandemic flu like the one in 1918. I’m also plotting a humorous mystery for children set on an island off the Georgia coast. Someday there is a fourth Lilly Hawkins book I’d like to write. Since all the books take place in roughly a day, I think it would be fun to write one set on Lilly and Rod’s wedding day. It would be a disastrous turn of events, but they’d eventually get to the ceremony and live happily ever after.