Valerie Joan Connors, Author


Discussion Questions - A Better Truth

1.     This novel crosses genres. Where do you see the novel fitting on a bookstore shelf? Do genres matter to you?

2.     Willow has a brain that is different from most people’s. She has mental illness but also the ability to see the future. Why do you think the author gave her both?

3.     There are many kinds of caretakers in this novel. Who are the caretakers? How do they matter to the story?

 4.     Do you think Willow’s ability to see the future helped prevent an earlier breakdown by giving her advance notice? What do you think caused her breakdown this time? Do you think if Walter had been kind to her that Willow would have avoided one? Why is Garrett without the problems Willow has?

5.     How does this book treat the subject of parents and parenting?

6.     Do you think Walter has a mental illness?

7.     Did the ending surprise you? Why do you think the author ended the book this way?

8.     Discuss what the title means.

 9.     What role do pets play in this novel?

 10.  What does the Stephen King epigraph mean to you? Why is it there?

Author Interview - Summer 2016

1.     This is your fourth novel and first thriller. What made you decide to write a thriller? Will you write another?

 A Better Truth didn’t actually start out to be a thriller. That sort of evolved during the writing. Once I started putting in some thriller elements, I realized I was having so much fun that I committed to following through with it. When you get into the realm of characters that don’t necessarily think or act like the rest of us, the story can take all sorts of crazy twists and turns. 

2.     Were there any particular challenges in writing a genre title? Did you emphasize plot more than you have in other books?

 The hardest part about writing a mystery/thriller was remembering who knew what, and when they knew it. And, I had to make sure I didn’t give too much away too soon. This, by the way, also makes it challenging to prepare a book talk. It’s hard to talk about the book with out giving away any of the surprises. But yes, the plot line had to be well thought out so everything came together at the right time. I’m generally a “seat of the pants-er,” as opposed to an “outliner,” so I had to keep my timeline chart handy at all times. 

3.     What tips do you have for writers tackling a new genre?

 Read, read, and read some more! For a writer, reading is the best continuing education around. The desire to dissect and analyze other authors’ styles does take a bit of the recreation out of reading, but it’s a great way to figure out what works, what doesn’t, and why.

4.     Why did you decide to write about mental illness in this novel?

Willow’s character came to me fully formed, as someone whose life moved at such a manic pace that it became too much for her. But as I got to know Willow, I discovered that there was something much deeper that contributed to her inability to cope with her own life. As a novelist with a full time job, I guess it’s not too big a stretch to see where the idea came from, that feeling of being on a treadmill, unable to keep up. I can understand how a person could crack under the pressure, particularly if there was something else at work. In Willow’s case, she has something in her past that she’s trying very hard not to remember. That stress along with everything else in her life could easily become unmanageable.

5.     How did you make certain your portrayal of mental illness was accurate?

 I have a friend who is a retired psychiatrist as well as a novelist. She worked in forensic psychiatry with the criminally insane. I asked her lots of questions, which she generously answered for me. And of course, I did a lot of research and reading throughout the process of writing the book.

 6.     Willow can see the future. Why did you give her this gift?

 That was one of the things about this book that developed organically. Willow has issues from the past that she needs to come to terms with, but she’s terrified to look at the real truth. It seemed like a good way for her to shake things loose and finally deal with them, a glimpse of the future to offset a flashback from the past.

7.     Your ending is a big surprise—and a risky choice for an author. Can you tell us why you ended the book the way you did?

Yes, the ending was a surprise to me as well! It was added when the book was basically finished, during the final edits. One of the themes that keeps appearing in this book is that things aren't always what they seem, so I decided it would be a fun twist for the ending. And, I wanted to leave the door open for Jason and Grace, because I want them to reappear in another book. My intention was always to revisit Willow, and now it will be all three.

8.     How do you decide to name your characters?

 I knew Willow would be the name of the protagonist in A Better Truth before I started writing it. The rest of my characters usually name themselves. Sometimes I’ll put a name in, thinking it’s just a place-holder when I’m in the zone and pouring out the words, but after I’ve lived with it a while, I’ve already begun to know them by those names. Most of the time they stick. I also look at a lot of name lists on the Internet for ideas if I get stuck, especially when I’m thinking of last names. First names are easy.

 9.     What themes carry across all of your novels? 

I seem to return to strong women who prevail in the end. And most of them feature a woman searching for a more peaceful lifestyle. I suppose I have to admit that part is autobiographical. Also, my books tend to have a bully for the strong women to stand up to. That part is not autobiographical. I’ve never tolerated bullies for very long.

 10.  Do you write a book a year?

Yes. I’ve released a book a year since 2013. When I retire in a few years, I might write two a year. I imagine I’ll try.

11.  How do your ideas come to you? 

Ideas come from everywhere, all the time. The idea for this novel came from Van Michael hair salon. I had a new stylist cut my hair, and her name was Willow. I thought, what a great name. She was tall and blonde, and I started to picture my character that way, although the fictional Willow is a little older, with curly hair instead of straight.

The idea for A Better Truth popped out in the middle of writing Shadow of a Smile. I let myself stray from Shadow just long enough to write the first chapter about Willow so I wouldn’t forget. Then I put it aside.

The way my ideas usually arrive is sort of like the old Magic 8-Ball, where the answers float to the surface when you turn it upside down. They mostly come to me when I’m relaxed, like in the shower, or when I’m asleep.

 12.  What’s your new book about?

 Like with Shadow of a Smile and A Better Truth, I’m currently torn between two ideas. Maybe three. I’ve been thinking about bringing the characters from my first novel, In Her Keeping, about a tiger sanctuary, into a new book called Keeping Her Promise, where my characters go to Africa to fight trophy hunters who kill lions for fun. Like with Cecil the lion, only I’d make sure things turn out much better for the lions.