Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Time Flies includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Claire Cook. 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.
Years ago, Melanie followed her husband, Kurt, from the New England beach town where their two young sons were thriving to the suburbs of Atlanta. She’s carved out a life as a successful metal sculptor, but when Kurt leaves her for another woman, having the tools to cut up their marriage bed is small consolation. She’s old enough to know that high school reunions are often a big disappointment, but when her best friend makes her buy a ticket and an old flame gets in touch to see whether she’ll be going, Melanie fantasizes that returning to her past might help her find her future…until her highway driving phobia resurfaces and threatens to hold her back from the adventure of a lifetime. Time Flies is an epic road trip filled with fun, heartbreak, friendship, and explores what it takes to conquer your worst fears…so you can start living your future.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1) Time Flies begins with the sentence, “When my cell phone rang, I’d just finished cutting up my marriage mattress.” When her best friend B.J. asks narrator Melanie what’s up, she blows a sprinkling of sawdust off the phone and says, “Not much. Same old, same old.” How does this opening set you up for the rest of the book? What does it make you want to know?”
2) Melanie became a metal sculptor after moving to Atlanta. “Creativity had consoled me my whole life,” she says, “and conquering a new medium was something I could control. And if I was really, really honest, a part of the draw was that Kurt hated the idea.” Do you think this is part of the normal push and pull of a long-term marriage? Can you share any examples from your own life?
3) When Melanie’s highway driving phobia resurfaces, it takes her by surprise and throws her for a loop. What are you really, really, really afraid of? Can you imagine it ever crossing the line into a full-blown phobia? Why or why not?
4) Melanie and B.J.’s high school class reunion committee has decided they’re not going to mention either the year they graduated or how many years it’s been. They’re simply going to call it The Marshbury High School Best Class/Best Reunion Evah. How many years do you think it’s been? What are the clues?
5) Music plays a huge part in the stroll down memory lane for the characters in Time Flies. Do you think that’s true for everybody? What one song most reminds you of high school? Why?
6) Speaking of memories, Melanie’s son Troy accuses her of turning her memories of his childhood experiences into a Disney movie. What does he mean by that? Do you think all moms have that tendency?
7) Clearly, Melanie and Marion have some deep-seated sister issues. How do you see it? Who’s mostly at fault? Do you think it’s unusual to have a sibling that drives you crazy? Did you ever “borrow” anything from a sibling’s room when you were growing up? Did you get caught?
8) Throughout the book, Melanie and B.J. call each other Thelma, Louise, Romy and Michele. Why? Is there another movie that speaks to you about female friendship? Do you think in some ways Time Flies is a midlife takeoff on Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion? More baggage, more wrinkles, but the same need to impress?
9) When Melanie receives an email from Finn Miller, she jumps almost immediately into full retro crush mode. Why do you think it’s easier for her to do this than it is for her to deal with Ted Brody? What’s the lure of old high school crushes? Who’s yours?
10) What does finally getting a tattoo after all these years signify for B.J.? For Melanie? If your best friend talked you into getting one, what would it be? Real or temporary?
11) Why do you think Melanie and B.J. have stayed friends all these years? What do they do for each other? How would their relationship be different if they met as adults? Do you have high school friends still in your life? Why or why not?
12) Have you ever gone to a high school reunion? Will reading Time Flies make you more or less apt to go to your next one?
Enhance Your Book Club
1) Dig up your high school yearbooks and bring them to your book club meeting. Pass them around and give out your own awards: Worst Senior Picture. Most Embarrassing Yearbook Quote. Most Improved Hair Since High School.
2) Take turns flipping through your yearbooks and finding your old high school crushes. Search for them on Facebook. Do not actually friend them unless they’re really cute and you’re really single.
3) Download the songs mentioned in Time Flies, or your own favorites from high school, for your book club meeting. Blast your playlist and dance away. Work it. Own it.
A Conversation with Claire Cook
One of your favorite sayings is “Midlife Rocks.” Why?
It’s a great time of life! You’ve figured out who you are, and I think finally letting go of trying to be all things to all people allows you to live the life you want to live.
After decades of procrastination and sixteen years as a teacher, I wrote my first novel in my minivan outside my daughter’s swim practice when I was forty-five. At fifty, I walked the red carpet at the Hollywood premiere of the movie adaptation of my second novel, Must Love Dogs, starring Diane Lane and John Cusack. If that doesn’t allow me to say “Midlife Rocks” I don’t know what does!
I love sharing my story because I think it’s important to get the word out there that when it comes to becoming a published author, or whatever your buried dream might be, there’s no expiration date. I don’t even think there’s a “best by” date. In one of the many gifts of midlife, I’ve learned that I don’t have to write everybody’s books, just mine. One of my gifts as a novelist is to make people laugh. And also to recognize themselves and their quirky families and maybe feel a little bit better about them. I play to my strengths. I understand people, so my novels are character-driven. I’m a huge eavesdropper, which has taught me to write dialog that rings true. I try to bring my unique qualities to write the books that only I can write.
You have an active website and use social media, including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads, to communicate with your readers. How do you find this helpful?
I think social media is a great way to help new readers find my books, and I’m lucky that I really enjoy it. The challenge is not getting so sucked in that it encroaches on my writing time.
Having direct communication with my readers even helps me write my books. I can ask a question and get instant answers, and I know my readers enjoy being a part of the process. While writing Time Flies, I asked everybody to share their favorite songs from high school, as well as old clothing and makeup memories. It was fun for all of us and also gave me some great authentic details for the novel.
I also love hearing what resonates for readers in my books, and I think it’s helped me become a better writer. So if you’re reading this right now, I hope you’ll connect with me! website, facebook, twitter, pinterest, goodreads
What’s your process for writing a novel?
When I’m writing a first draft, I write two pages a day, seven days a week. So, essentially, I’m living in the book, thinking about it all day long. I’ve noticed my best ideas come in the shower, on the elliptical machine at the gym, at red lights when I’m driving, and when I wake up in the middle of the night. I jot things down all day long – on notecards, in notebooks, on the backs of receipts.
I don’t outline, because it would make it feel like a term paper. I try not to think too much or try too hard, because when I do, my writing goes flat. I have a sense of who my main character is, and because my books are written in the first person, my entry point tends to be capturing my protagonist’s voice. Then, because I’m essentially writing slice-of-life novels, I think about what makes the book begin today instead of another day. Once I find that little explosion, then I have my jumping off point. The characters react to that and there’s a ripple effect. I just keep following those ripples….
I love talking about my books, but only after they’re written. For me, talking about a book that isn’t written takes some of the energy away from it, and I start to feel that I’ve actually finished today’s pages, when I haven’t written word one.
You seem to know a lot about metal sculpting. Have you done it yourself or did you research it? What is your interest in it, and why did you give this artistic expression to your main character in Time Flies?
I choose professions for my heroines that I think my readers will find interesting, and I often hear from readers thanking me for giving them ideas for their own lives. I do tons of research for my novels, because I think those authentic details are crucial for believability. As for my own personal experience with metal sculpting, I have tried it under close supervision, and I found it really, really hot, loud, and scary. I am a metal sculpting wimp.
Why did you choose to focus on phobias in Time Flies?
I stumbled across the fact that forty percent of women experience a full-blown phobia at some point in their lives, often brought on by stress, and I was really struck by that and wanted to learn more. I also absolutely hate driving on big, busy highways, and would drive only on back roads in some cities if I could get away with it. I know lots of other women who feel the same way, so I thought it would be relatable.
Reinvention appears to be a theme in your books and in your life. Besides reading your novels, what advice would you would give to women contemplating their own reinvention?
First of all, know that you’re not alone. Almost every woman I’ve talked to over the years has gone through, or contemplated, some kind of reinvention in her life, often more then once. Beyond that, my top five reinvention tips:
1. Rise above the negativity. Whatever the motive, lots of people will tell you why you can’t or shouldn’t do whatever it is you want to do. You just have to decide to do it anyway. You might want to protect yourself a bit in the beginning, too. I didn’t tell anyone about my first novel until it was finished. You don’t need anyone’s permission – just do it!
2. Be who you really are. The big buzz word these days is branding, but I think of it as authenticity. This is the first job I’ve ever had where I wasn’t pretending, or at least trying to pretend, to be a slightly different person. Who I am and what I write are totally in sync. There’s tremendous power in that!
3. Confound expectations. If everybody’s doing it, it’s already been done. Put a little surprise in everything you do. Originality counts!
4. Do something nice for someone. It’s easy to get needy when you’re struggling to figure out what’s next, but many of the great things that have happened to me were triggered by something nice I did for someone else. People talk; your actions determine what they say. As one of my characters once said, karma is a boomerang.
5. Get your tech together. Everything you need to know about the world you want to conquer can be found online. Get your computer skills up to speed – fast! Take a class or find a computer mentor. Research. Network. Create an online presence on Facebook and Twitter. The Internet is a great equalizer – and there are so many opportunities out there just waiting for you to take advantage of them!