This reading group guide forThe Shepherd’s Songincludes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers. 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 Shepherd’s Song tells the story of Kate McConnell and her unparalleled faith in God’s master plan. The day before suffering a terrible car accident, Kate copies, by hand, Psalm 23 for her wayward son Matt. This little piece of paper makes its way around the world, touching the lives of twelve distinct individuals, all in need of God’s powerful words. In the end, the psalm makes its way back into Matt’s hands, bringing the story full circle and fulfilling Kate’s mission to spread God’s love.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. The story of The Shepherd’s Song begins with Psalm 23 on page xi. Reread the psalm aloud to your group. How does the psalm act as a framework for the novel? What is Kate’s relationship to the psalm? What is yours? If you could summarize Psalm 23’s message in just one sentence, what would it be?
2. “She felt the ambulance sway, then the jolt of a sharp turn. ‘Help.’ Kate gasped again as pain stabbed through her side. ‘Stay with me.’ A way of dizziness. Then nothing” (5). Return to this opening scene in the ambulance. What first impression does Kate make on you? How would you characterize her?
3. When John McConnell learns of his wife’s accident his reaction is one of determination: “There will be a way to fix this. There is always a way to fix things” (13). Do you agree with John’s statement? Discuss the ways in which what he says is true and the ways in which he is wrong.
4. Discuss how second chances are a theme for the novel. Who gets a second chance in The Shepherd’s Song? Who doesn’t?
5. On page 20 Kate’s last thought is revealed: Please, let me life count. What do you think Kate meant by this saying? In your opinion, is her last wish realized?
6. How would you describe John and Matt McConnell? How would their lives be different without Kate? Use one word to describe the impact Kate had on her husband and son.
7. “There was something almost irresistible about nice clothes. It was like he could become someone else, someone worthy” (25). In what ways does borrowing Matt McConnell’s peacoat change Chris’s life?
8. On page 71, François wonders aloud to himself, “But how in the world do you restore a soul?” Answer François’s question, using examples of times in your life when you felt your soul needed restoring.
9. The sight of his newborn son turns Patrick’s life around. Revisit the scene of Patrick’s homecoming on pages 87–88, taking note of the many ways in which Patrick realizes God’s love all around him. Why do you think children so often bring about such realizations in life? Has this happened to you?
10. Why do you think Marra chooses to tell her life story through tattoos? If you were to summarize your life in an image, what would it be and why?
11. To which story did you most relate? Which story touched you the most? Why?
12. Discuss the ending of The Shepherd’s Song. On what note does the story that began this book, end? What are the most poignant lessons you take away from the book?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. On page 168, Judy describes her Thanksgiving traditions to Roland, making his mouth water in the process. Host a faux-Thanksgiving dinner with your book club. Have each member bring a dish that is important to his or her Thanksgiving tradition. Over dinner, have each member share a personal recipe and why that particular dish is so important to him or her. Take a moment to thank God for the many ways in which your own cup runs over, and after, discuss with your book club Roland’s encounter with Judy. Has there ever been a “Judy” in your life?
2. Cornelia’s short story about Little Bunny gives a lot of insight into her own life and character. Reread Cornelia’s short story on pages 188–189. Then have each member write his or her own “Little Bunny story,” using Cornelia’s as a model. Share the stories out loud with the group; explain how your story reflects some aspect of your life. 3. Continue in the vein of The Shepherd’s Songby reading either Andy Andrews’s The Butterfly Effect or his The Traveler’s Gift. What common theme can be found in the two novels you’ve read? How does each touch on the notion of faith changing the world?
A Conversation with Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers
1. The two of you are seasoned children’s book authors, but this novel marks your debut into the world of adult fiction. What are the differences between writing for children and writing for adults? Is one more challenging than the other?
BETSY: There are more similarities than differences. Everyone likes a good story, and although the themes may be more advanced for adults, the basics are the same—tell a good story and tell it simply.
LAURIE: Our years of writing for children helped us to hone our skills. Children are a discerning audience, and they detect any trace of the artificial. To keep a child turning pages requires an economy of words and a constant reward of action as the story moves forward. These are things that adults like, too.
2. What is it like to co-author a book? You touch on this question briefly on page 206, but it would be wonderful to hear more about the writing process and how the work is divided between the two of you.
BETSY: We use a common document online that we can both access, so either of us can make changes at anytime. We’ve found this to be much more convenient than sending attachments back and forth by email and ending up with multiple copies of the manuscript.
LAURIE: Usually one of us will start a story; the other will then jump in and add some backstory, or another character, or a plot twist. It’s fun to go into the document and read what’s new. This method also requires trust. Twenty years of publishing experience has helped. We both have worked with a variety of editors, so we’ve learned how to let go of passages and ideas.
BETSY: The interaction makes it fun. This is how it goes: The phone rings. “Hey.” “I have some bad news.” “What?” “I just killed Cornelia.” “No! You can’t kill Cornelia.” “Sorry, it just happened.”
LAURIE: Or sometimes . . . “Hey.” “Hey, guess what? Chris is engaged!” “What? Our Chris? To the girl in the red beret?” “Oh, I’m so happy for him.”
3. You write that as sisters you meet often to pray about your next book project. Briefly describe the power of prayer in your lives and how prayer and faith are tied into your careers as writers.
LAURIE: Prayer makes collaboration possible . . . especially as sisters. We are both different people with different personalities, but we have the same God. As we both surrender our work to God, we come into alignment with each other.
BETSY: We discovered early in our attempts to write together that when we prayed, we could remove our egos from the writing and allow God to work through us together.
4. On page 179 the character Cornelia writes that “writer’s block was simply fear.” Do you two agree?
BETSY: You caught us being ourselves! Cornelia was a fun character because we could tap into our own fears and insecurities as writers.
LAURIE: Most writers struggle with fear—fear of failure, rejection, exposure, even fear of success. Writing authentically requires courage. You have to be willing to be vulnerable and open yourself up to the possibilities of rejection. Cornelia was also fun, because we were able to show her conquer her fear—a hope we have for us all!
5. What would you name as the major theme(s) of this novel? Is there a lesson you hope readers will take away from this story?
LAURIE: There are so many powerful themes that flow from the twenty-third Psalm. God’s deep love and care for us and His protection and blessing. The idea of second chances permeates the book. God is constantly seeking us and restoring us.
BETSY: As we read scripture we are continually called into second chances, to start over again like Roland, to heal like François, to restore relationships like Patrick, to begin to know God like Matt. No matter what has happened in our lives or what we have done, God is always ready to welcome us back into the fold.
6. The Shepherd’s Song is about so many different people in so many different situations. Does the format of this story represent our shared story as human beings living together on the same planet?
BETSY: Although Zoey was Chinese, there are students all over the world who leave their homes to go to other countries for educational experiences; and although François was French, men and women everywhere lose spouses to cancer. And across the world women are in abusive situations, people lose jobs, deal with loss, estranged relationships, discouragement.
LAURIE: The issues in The Shepherd’s Song are universal issues, and the beauty of the Bible is that it crosses cultures to heal and give hope in all life situations.
7. Were any of the characters based on people you have known? On historical figures? On yourself?
BETSY: Characters are multilayered, and the different layers come from different places. Physical traits can come from someone we know or a stranger we spot on the street. Personality traits can also come from people we know or someone we read about in the paper.
LAURIE: Sometimes characters just come straight out of our heads, with no connection to anyone.
BETSY: The feelings of the characters come from our own experiences. Grief, pain, love, shame, fear, all are in some way and at different levels common experiences for everyone.
LAURIE: During the writing of a story characters evolve, and quickly they become real people to us.
8. What was it like writing about characters from so many different cultural backgrounds? How do you go about doing this authentically?
LAURIE: More than writing about cultures, we were writing about people. A Kenyan runner running across the plains of Africa. An olive grower looking out over the Bay of Naples. A wounded soldier in a hospital in Iraq. These were all people, people in different settings. Reflecting the culture authentically was important to us.
BETSY: There is so much diversity within our own communities that we found we had, right around us, many resources to draw from. Each story that reflected a different culture was read and critiqued by a person of that culture.
9. Why Psalm 23? What special place does this particular psalm hold in your hearts? What important message do you each find in this psalm?
BETSY: We both remember this psalm from childhood, in the King James Version. Although we used a more modern translation in The Shepherd’s Song, the old words still resonated with us. In our minds He still leadeth and restoreth us!
LAURIE: Psalm 23 is the most well-known scripture passage in the Bible. The challenge for us was to look at these familiar words in fresh ways and imagine how God could work in a person’s life through each phrase.
BETSY: As we studied the psalm and meditated on the truth behind the words we developed a different understanding. Psalm 23 is such a beautiful picture of shepherd’s role and therefore God’s role in our lives.
LAURIE: From the opening line “The Lord is my shepherd,” where God is confirmed as completely in control; and throughout each line where he is looking out for our well-being and loving us sacrificially; to the final line with a remarkable promise of dwelling with Him forever.
10. What’s next for the two of you as writers?
LAURIE: When we showed up at the coffee shop two years ago and prayed “Here I am,” we began a journey that took us into writing The Shepherd’s Song. We love the idea that through fiction you can show how holy words can heal and give hope and change lives.
BETSY: As long as God continues to give us ideas, we will continue to write.