Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Wallflower in Bloom 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.
Deirdre Griffin is more than ready for her fifteen minutes of fame. After years spent launching her brother Tag into the celebrity stratosphere as a New Age guru, Deirdre resents sacrificing her own life to keep him in the spotlight. Throw in two meddling Deadhead parents, two sisters, and an on-again-off-again boyfriend who announces he’s getting married (to someone else), and Deirdre is ready for a fresh start. Borrowing Tag’s fans to submit herself as a last-minute replacement on Dancing With the Stars, Deirdre finds herself in unfamiliar territory—in the spotlight.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Discuss the sibling relationships in Wallflower in Bloom—How does birth order influence Deirdre and her siblings’ personalities? How they treat one another? What is the worst thing one of your siblings has ever done to you?
2. How does Deirdre’s own self-pity hold her back? What do others see in her that she does not see? Did you identify with any of her insecurities? If so, which ones? Did you think any of the traits she felt insecure about were actually assets?
3. Deirdre realizes she and Tag remember many of the same events from their shared past in different ways. What has shaped each of their perceptions? Have you ever encountered something similar with your own siblings, or even friends?
4. Deirdre and her family use chiasmus—a figure of speech that inverts meaning to prove a larger point—throughout the book. Look back at the beginning of each chapter. Which do you think is most applicable to Deirdre’s life? To your own life? Can you think of a chiasmus Claire might have used in the book?
5. In what ways do Deirdre’s close ties to her family ground her? In what ways do they hold her back? How has Tag manipulated Deirdre through the years? Do you blame Deirdre for letting him have so much control over her life?
6. Compare Tag to other celebrity gurus, like Tony Robbins or Deepak Chopra. What do you think makes their philosophies so popular? Who is your all time favorite guru?
7. Discuss the differences between Steve and Mitchell. Do you think Deirdre’s new relationship will play out better than her previous one? Why or why not?
8. How did Ilya, Fred, and Ginger, form a support system for Deirdre in Los Angeles? Were you surprised by Deirdre’s reaction when the goldfish died? Why did that put her over the edge? Have you ever reacted that strongly to the loss of a pet?
9. What is it about dancing that gives Deirdre the strength to reclaim her independence? How is the act of dancing tied to her younger self? Why is that important? Did Wallflower in Bloom inspire you to dust off any dreams of your own? Have you signed up for a dance class yet?
10. Can you identify a specific moment in the novel where Deirdre, the self-proclaimed wallflower, begins to bloom? Do you think there’s a bit of a late-bloomer in all of us?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Create and serve thematically appropriate refreshments. ChocoVine Cha-Cha’s, anybody? Or maybe something decadent with Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food ice cream and Ring Dings? (Make sure you send a picture—and the recipe—to Claire via her website or Facebook or Twitter.)
2. Think of your own favorite chiasmus and discuss them with the group. To get started or to read examples, visit www.drmardy.com.
3. Who would be your dream cast for the next season of Dancing with the Stars? (Besides Claire, of course!) Discuss your picks with your book club. Don’t stop there – suggest them to the DWTS producers!
4. Sign up for an introductory ballroom class at a local dance studio, or pick up an instructional DVD to try at home with your book club. Try the cha-cha, samba, foxtrot, or other dances typically performed on Dancing with the Stars to see how out-of-her element Deirdre may have felt!
5. Watch an episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show with your book club. How do you think the show inspired Deirdre? If you could move anywhere in the world, where would it be? Share your dream cities with the group.
6. Go to ClaireCook.com to contact Claire and see if she’s available for a Skype visit when your book club meets to discuss Wallflower in Bloom. Or post your questions on her Facebook wall or Tweet them to her.
A Conversation with Claire Cook
Out of all the reality shows on television, why did you choose Dancing With the Stars as the backdrop to Wallflower in Bloom?
Wallflower in Bloom began in kind of a crazy way: GalleyCat asked its Facebook readers which author they’d most like to see on Dancing With the Stars. Amazingly, I was one of the authors nominated, along with David Sedaris and Jodi Picoult!
I have the best readers ever, and they got all excited and started voting like crazy – and I won the vote! GalleyCat sent the petition off to the DWTS producers.
It was all over Facebook and Twitter, and everyone started asking me if I’d really do it. “Of course, I would,” I said, my knees shaking. “Not just for me, but for midlife women everywhere.”
I totally would have done it, shaky knees and all, if Dancing With the Stars had ever called, which they didn't! But I have to admit it was a lot less stressful to turn the experience into the jumping off point for Wallflower in Bloom.
What was intriguing to me was the thought of a non-celebrity suddenly dropped into a celebrity world. And then I started thinking what if the heroine was the personal assistant to her famous brother, who was the family star. And what if she somehow used his connections to find her own fifteen minutes of fame?
Then I went back to my wonderful readers and asked them what they thought I should write about next. The comment that sparked the most enthusiasm and discussion was "all the sizes we have in our closets." Body image and insecurity seemed like a great fit for the book that was just starting to emerge, so I went with it.
And somehow, into all this, Deirdre Griffin and the rest of the characters were born. For me, a big part of the joy of being a novelist is the mysterious way a novel comes together. I love, love not knowing what's going to happen next!
You never give Deirdre an exact age in the book. How old do you envision her?
I intentionally left Deirdre’s age open, as I’ve done with many of my heroines, because I wanted to leave more room for my readers to put themselves in her shoes. So it doesn’t matter how old I envision her. How old do you envision her?!?
Deirdre focuses heavily on her flaws. What do you think is her best quality?
Self-deprecation?? Just kidding, but I do think Deirdre’s flaws are a part of her charm. And like many of us, she’s her own worst enemy. But she’s also smart and resourceful, kind and funny.
What makes Tag so magnetic to his fans? His empire appears to be based on phrases found on the Internet—is he the real deal, or a hoax?
Ah, the million dollar questions. What isn’t based on phrases found on the Internet these days? And what are the magic ingredients of charisma? When you try to analyze celebrity, the pieces don’t seem to add up to the whole. But when you meet someone who has that It thing (and a good publicist!) you know it.
How did you do research on the ins-and-outs of DWTS? Did you visit the set?
My research for this book was extensive, but all virtual. The professional dancers, the celebrity dancers, the hair and makeup people, the costume designers—everybody associated with DWTS—are all on Twitter and/or blogging and/or on Facebook! Add to that the official DWTS website, the media coverage, the paparazzi photos plastered everywhere, and it felt like I could get a clearer picture of the pieces that I needed to first imagine and then write the novel online than from a seat in the audience or a backstage tour.
Just a few years ago, I’d never have been able to write a novel this way, so it was also another nod to the power of social media. And I think it helped me hang onto the outsider feel of the book. Deirdre Griffin gets her fifteen minutes of fame, but she remains one of us—she’s definitely a non-celebrity visiting a celebrity world.
You incorporate social media throughout the book. How have Facebook and Twitter helped you connect with your own fans?
Well, first of all, I have to say that I never use the word fan, because it would feel like I think I’m somehow cooler than my readers! If anything, I’m their fan, and I never forget for a moment that without their support I wouldn’t have the best job ever. That being said, I love hanging out with my readers on Facebook and Twitter. They cheer me on, tell me which parts of my books resonate for them, and thank me for writing their lives—it doesn’t get much better than that!!
You have seven brothers and sisters. How did your own sibling relationships come into play when writing about Deirdre’s relationships with her siblings?
Being part of a large family, in my case five girls and three boys, teaches you that it’s all about perspective. We’re all the center of our own universe, and that totally changes the story from each sibling’s point of view. In a way it’s like that old game of telephone. By the time something one of us says goes from Massachusetts to Georgia to California to Rhode Island to Virginia, it’s become an entirely different animal. And right this minute I’m doing a quick run-through to make sure I didn’t leave out anyone’s current state of residence, so there’s that, too!
Diane Lane starred in the movie adaptation of one of your previous novels, Must Love Dogs. Whom do you see playing Deirdre?
The truth is I’m probably the last person to answer that question. I’m way too close, but I’d love to know who my readers think should play Deirdre! I’ve been lucky enough to have other novels optioned and come close, but Must Love Dogs has been the only one to make it all the way to the big screen so far. But I’m absolutely crossing my fingers for Wallflower—I’d love to see it as a movie.
How well do you think Deirdre actually did on Dancing with the Stars? In your mind, did she go on to win the mirror ball trophy?
In my mind, it really doesn’t matter. What mattered is that she took a risk, got out of her comfort zone, dug down deep, and went for it.
What’s your favorite chiasmus?
Please don’t make me answer that!!! I have finally, finally stopped waking up in the middle of the night to write down a new chiasmus. Who knew that an idea for fun chapter headings would turn out to be totally addicting. But I think a chiasmus contest for readers would be great. Stay tuned…