This reading group guide forWish You Were Hereincludes discussion questions and a Q&A with author Beth K. Vogt. 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.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. In Wish You Were Here, Allison Denman is a bride-to-be having second thoughts about the dress she’ll wear for her wedding in five days. The dress is actually a symbol of Allison’s uncertainty about marrying her fiancé, Seth Rayner. Why do you think she allowed things to progress so far without expressing her doubts? How could she have talked to Seth about her doubts? Do you think he would have understood?
2. Allison shares an unexpected kiss with her fiancé’s brother, Daniel, which causes her even more confusion about marrying Seth. Should Allison have told Seth about the kiss and that she was having second thoughts? Was it best for her to try to forget about what happened and focus on the wedding? If Allison were your friend, what would you advise her to do? Have you ever done something impulsive and regretted it? Did you confide in anyone?
3. Allison makes it almost all the way down the aisle on her wedding day, and then she runs away. Should she have said “I do,” based on her six-year history with Seth? Have you ever found yourself confused about what to do in a relationship? Is it possible to be attracted to two men at the same time? What truths does God offer us when we are uncertain about our choices?
4. Seth is determined to marry Allison even after she returns her engagement ring and says they wouldn’t be happy together. While Allison’s best friend, Meghan, tells her that Seth isn’t a villain, were his actions those of a man who truly loved Allison? Did they demonstrate another motive? What do you think he could have done to win Allison back?
5. Allison suspects her sister’s boyfriend, Evan, looked at X-rated sites on her computer. Should she have talked to Hadleigh about it before her sister brought it up? Should Allison have confronted Evan with her suspicions? What should she have said? Have you dealt with the issue of pornography, maybe with a family member or a friend? How did you approach the topic? What scriptural truths did you share?
6. Daniel believes he’s not the right man for Alli, so he sets her up on blind dates and then tells Seth where she’s living, even though she doesn’t want Seth to know she’s moved to Estes Park. Was that the right thing to do? Or was Daniel thinking only of himself?
7. Seth knows he’s always been his father’s favorite son, and Daniel knows he’s never been. Should parents have favorites? Have you seen this happen in families, maybe even in your own? Consider the biblical example of Jacob and Esau (Genesis 25), in which parents chose favorites. What problems were caused because Rebekah favored Jacob and Isaac favored Esau?
8. After running away with Allison for two years, Allison’s father returned her to her mother, agreeing to walk away from his daughter. Allison tells him doing so was his “get-out-of-jail-free card.” Her father insists he was trying to let her have a better life than he could give her. Did he do the right thing by staying away from his daughter all those years? Should he have gone to jail for abducting Allison from her mom during their divorce? If he served time in prison, could he then try to have a relationship with his daughter later?
9. Struggling with how to handle her feelings for Daniel and her attempts to be friends with Seth, Allison believes the right choice has to be the hardest choice. Her aunt Nita challenges her by asking, “Is the hardest thing always the right thing?” What do you think? Have you ever made a decision under the assumption that it was the right thing to do just because it was the most difficult choice? What helps when you are faced with difficult choices?
10. Allison’s view of God has been shaped by her relationship with the men in her life—first her father, then both of the Rayner brothers. When she finds a Scripture passage that says, “Light, space, zest—that’s God!” (Psalm 27:1, The Message), Allison admits that’s not how she sees him. Who or what has shaped your view of God, and how would you describe him? Is your view based on what others have told you or on what Scripture reveals about him?
11. Do you think it’s possible to have a romantic relationship with the brother of the man you were going to marry? Was Allison right to reject Daniel at first because he was Seth’s brother, even though she loved him? Did you understand why, months later, she sent him a “Wish You Were Here” postcard? What—or who—had changed to allow them to have a relationship?
12. What was your favorite scene in the book? Which character in the book are you most like?
A Conversation with Beth K. Vogt Wish You Were Here is your first novel. What kind of challenges did you face? Did your original plans for the novel differ from what you ended up with?
Challenges? How do I choose? Maybe alphabetically? The transition from writing nonfiction to fiction was, at times, painful. My mentors—and I am blessed to have several—had to talk me down off the ledge several times. Why? I had a lot to learn. Storyworld—excuse me? I’m a trained journalist. I write tight. If I say my heroine walked into a room, figure it out. Four walls, a floor, and a ceiling. I learned that style of writing doesn’t work on the “Dark Side” of the writing world.
I wrote and revised Wish You Were Here for three years. Three. I had a lot to learn, remember? At one point, I thought: I need to increase the tension in this book. So, I turned the novel into romantic suspense. I went to an advanced My Book Therapy (MBT) writers conference with fifty-plus thousand words. During the weekend, author Susan May Warren told me, “Beth, you don’t write romantic suspense. That’s not your voice.” Susie was right. The suspense angle was a beginner’s attempt at ramping up tension. I went home and deleted all the suspense scenes. I had twenty thousand words left. I still had a story left too. And the desire to keep going.
Wish You Were Here has a recurring theme of doing things for the right reasons and, more important, doing them for yourself. Have you had any experiences that informed this theme?
Several years ago, I identified myself as an “Accidental Pharisee.” I wanted to be all about God’s grace, but really, law is so much easier. Just tell me what to do or what not to do—I can handle those kinds of directions for life. God’s grace, which he says he lavishes on us, is scary. It’s limitless—no boundaries. I want to embrace the truth in Romans 5:2 (The Message): We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory.
So, yes, I’ve done things for the wrong reasons. I wanted to make sure I was getting all good marks from God and that I was keeping everybody in my life happy. In doing so, I wasn’t being true to who God created me to be.
What kind of role has faith played in your writing? What kind of messages do you hope to convey through your characters?
I write because I believe God created me to be a writer.
Olympic champion Eric Liddell said, “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure.” I believe God made me a writer. When I write, I feel his pleasure. At a few precious times, there has been a tangible sense of God’s presence as I sat at my computer working on an article or a story. My “writer’s verse” is Psalm 90:17 (NIV): May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the works of our hands—yes, establish the works of our hands.
I thought long and hard about Allison’s and Daniel’s relationships with God and decided I wanted them to both believe in God, but to have mixed-up ideas—wrong ideas, really—about who God is. That was true in my life and I think it’s true for other believers. Many people have a relationship with God that is based on error. They don’t yet understand who he is and what he offers us. Why? Maybe they’ve been taught something wrong or maybe they’ve been wounded by life, and that hurt causes them to believe something untrue about God.
Seth’s and Daniel’s treatment of Allison could not have been more different: Her relationship with Seth was borderline abusive, but her relationship with Daniel was accepting and supportive. These differences seemed especially intriguing given that Seth and Daniel are brothers. What were you trying to illustrate with their contrasting personalities?
My main goal with Seth and Daniel was to highlight what can happen when one child is favored over another child. I’m not saying the favorite child grows up to be abusive. I want my readers to step back and look at what happened to Seth and Daniel long before they met and fell in love with the same woman, and then see how it affected the brothers. Daniel knew he wasn’t the favorite son, and he knew Seth was. Daniel chose to distance himself from his father—and in some ways, found freedom to be himself. Seth, however, accepted the mantle of favoritism and found that it weighed heavily on him.
Aunt Nita is a particularly multifaceted, passionate character who possesses just the right measure of wisdom and doubt. Did you have any inspirations for the characters in Wish You Were Here? Who is your favorite character? Why?
We all need an Aunt Nita! She is a wonderful mixture of all the friends who have offered me encouragement and wisdom when I’ve doubted myself or faced struggles. At times I wove in actual bits of advice others gave me. (You know who you are!) And the name “Nita” is based on bestselling Christian author Donita K. Paul, who invited me to join a fiction critique group at her house when I was a trembling novice.
My favorite character? I’ve seen other authors say they can’t choose a favorite character; that’s like choosing a favorite child. And I certainly am against that, aren’t I? Can I say Banzai, the llama?
If I had to choose, I would say I love how Allison changed through the story. She embraced who she was, grew closer to God, made the choices of her heart, and dared to risk loving the right man—no matter how wrong it seemed.
Allison’s mistakes ultimately lead her to finding true happiness. Has anything like this ever happened to you?
Now there’s a funny story . . . I met my husband, Rob, about five weeks after I broke off an engagement. No, I didn’t leave the guy at the altar. There was no frothy dress. Everyone told me I was crazy for letting this “perfect guy” go. When I met Rob, I was so not interested in getting romantically involved—and I told him so.
And yet, God used Rob to lead me to my faith, and he also used Rob to show me what romance really can be like—thirty-one years and counting!
Are there people in your life who help you get through difficult times, the way Allison’s best friend and aunt helped her?
My husband was in the military for twenty-four years. We moved more than I ever planned on. One lesson I learned: Friendships have seasons.
The benefit: I have been blessed with a worldwide circle of friends. I do not know what I would do without my girlfriends. As my daughters were growing up, I taught them that you need your girlfriends.
Two quick stories: When we lived in Florida, I was experiencing some extreme heartache because I was working through my childhood sexual abuse. At one point, I left my house for the day, looking for a place to go to rest (hard to do with three small children). Where to go in a small town? McDonald’s? The local mall? I drove around and around and got the impression to drive to my friend Fran’s house. When I drove up, she was standing in her doorway, looking out. I walked up to the door and she said, “Rob called and said you were having a tough day. I prayed you would come here.”
Second story: Our move to Colorado was tough because I left behind close friends, and it took a while to make new friends. I had an unexpected pregnancy and, after some complications, was told I needed a hysterectomy. In tears, I called my friend Pamela, who lived back in Florida, to share the news. Five minutes after we finished talking, she called back and said, “Faith [another friend] and I have decided you need your girlfriends. Can we come out before your surgery and help?” The tears flowed again. They came out and we had a girls’ weekend before the surgery, and then they took care of my toddler and filled my freezer with meals before they left.
I’m thankful to say I’ve developed close friends in Colorado too—ones who know the real me.
Do you have a special place you like to write?
I have my own office in our home. Well, it’s mostly mine. There’s another desk in the room where my husband works some and where our daughter does schoolwork and continually asks if I’ll help her browse Amazon.
But it’s painted according to my preferences: one bold red wall, and then the others are a warm harvest yellow. I have my favorite sayings or photos on the walls, including the cover of Baby Changes Everything, my first book. I invested in a new desk, a red ergonomic chair (yes, I have back problems), and two computer monitors—an editor’s delight! My daughter and her BFF just made two signs for my door. One reads: Yes, I can talk. The other states: BRRR! It’s Cold in Here! Enter If You Dare! I’m not divulging who made which sign.
How have your past nonfiction works affected the way you craft fiction? How are they similar and different from each other? Which do you enjoy writing more?
There’s that “more” question again. In some ways, nonfiction is easier because it’s what I am trained in—it’s what I know. It’s like breathing. Write a lead. Be short. Concise. Beginning, middle, end. Breathe in. Breathe out.
Some people will see my name on Wish You Were Here and think, “She’s arrived! She knows what she’s doing!” I know what I’m doing—and I know what I still need to master. In my next book, I am focusing on storyworld and weaving in spiritual truth.
The truth is, I enjoy writing both—and I enjoy editing. But my focus is now on writing fiction. I write fiction like a journalist. I write tight. My chapters tend to be shorter than some authors’ chapters. My journalism training is part of my voice.
What are you working on now? It felt like the story of Allison Denman is just beginning. Can we expect to see her again in a sequel of Wish You Were Here?
I will never say never to revisiting Allison and Daniel’s story—or possibly a closely related story. My agent, Rachelle Gardner, and I talked about whether Seth could ever have a healthy relationship with another woman. And then there’s the story with the Air Force helicopter pilot and the female family physician who has never been “picked” . . . and the one that popped into my head when I walked out of a bank and saw an armored car and thought, “I’ve never been in a bank holdup. What if . . .” Any teasers you’d like to share?
Oftentimes, I distill my stories down to questions. Ones like:
• Do opposites attract or combust? (Answer: Yes!) • What if your attempts to be yourself reveal your deepest fear: You’re nothing but a failure? • Does life only start after the “I do”? • Where do you run for refuge?