Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Hot, Shot, and Bothered includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Nora McFarland. 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.
In Hot, Shot, and Bothered, the second Lilly Hawkins mystery, Lilly uses her top-notch “shooter” skills to cover a deadly wildfire burning in the California mountains. But the natural disaster isn’t all she ends up covering after a dead body is found near the scene of the fire. When the dead woman turns out to be Jessica Egan, someone from Lilly’s own past, Lilly decides to look into Jessica’s death herself. What she discovers isn’t pretty.
QUESTIONS & TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION
- The novel opens with Lilly Hawkins chasing after a coroner’s van in pursuit of a big story. How does this affect your initial impression of her? Does this seem consistent with Lilly’s character in A Bad Day’s Work? In what ways has she changed since that novel? Compare and contrast the portrayal of her character in both books.
- Lilly takes great pride in her ability to take care of herself and do a job most women wouldn’t or couldn’t do. Does this trait help or hinder her career? Discuss the effect it has on her relationships.
- Lilly is one of the best camera operators, or shooters, in the news business. How is this job different from what a reporter does? Why do you think Lilly chose to be a shooter rather than a reporter? Use examples from the novel to support your opinion.
- What we do for a living often affects how we view our surroundings, our experiences, and even the people we meet. How does Lilly’s profession influence her view of the world?
- The local police believe Jessica Egan’s death was an accidental drowning. What causes Lilly to doubt this? How much of that doubt is based on her knowledge of Jessica’s character and how much on hard fact?
- Lilly insists on carrying her own equipment, won’t make reference to her relationship with Rod in public, and generally doesn’t like to show vulnerability. Why do you think she acts this way? Is there anyone she’s willing to let her guard down around? If so, who and why?
- Lilly initially keeps her relationship with Jessica a secret from everyone, including Rod. Why do you think she does this? How does Rod react once he finally learns the truth? Is his reaction what Lilly expected? Is it what you expected? In what way do you think his reaction influences how she feels about him?
- Social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, are mentioned several times throughout the novel. What role does social media play in the story? How does social media affect Lilly’s ability to solve Jessica’s murder? Discuss the role social media plays in spreading news and solving crimes. Identify ways in which these outlets can be positive and negative, both in the novel and in the real world.
- Because Lilly works for a smaller news operation, she finds herself in a position where she has to partner with the “big guys” to get the story. How does her opinion of the L.A. shooter change as she gets to know him better? Is this consistent with Lilly’s relationships in A Bad Day’s Work?
- We all have fears that affect how we behave and even who we become. Rod has stage fright and Lilly is afraid of intimacy. Eventually they both overcome their fears and are able to grow in new ways. What fears do you have and in what ways have you taken steps to overcome them? How were you changed by this?
- Though Lilly was covering for Jessica and taking money for doing so, she eventually returns the money, saying: “Everyone needs a way home, even if they never use it.” What do you think Lilly meant by this? She later gives the same money to Rod, saying something very similar. Compare and contrast the exchange of money in both cases and discuss what Lilly meant by “going home” in each situation.
- Callum, Lilly and Rod’s boss, essentially tells Lilly to drop the drowning story or risk ruining Rod’s career. How does Lilly choose? Why does she make this choice and how does it affect her relationship with Rod?
- Jessica made a compromise between her beliefs in animal rights and her desire to find a cure for the disease that killed her mother. How does this discovery influence your opinion of Jessica? Have you ever come to a point in your life where you had to make a similar compromise? Identify other characters in the novel who are forced to weigh what they want with the realities of what it will take to get it. Do you agree or disagree with their choices? Explain your opinion.
ENHANCE YOUR BOOK CLUB
- Jessica was a staunch animal rights activist and she lived her life as best she could in support of her beliefs, even to the point of changing her diet. For your next book club meeting, plan a potluck and have everyone make and bring a vegan dish (and the recipe) to share. Discuss in your group reasons why animal rights activists and devotees may choose to live a vegan lifestyle.
- Lilly sees the world through the lens of her camera and the filter of what is newsworthy. Try looking at the world through Lilly’s eyes. Take out your video camera or cell phone and see what (real or imagined) stories you can stumble on. How did looking through the lens of a video camera change how you saw your neighborhood? What did you find yourself looking for or gravitating to when you were behind the camera? Did you find that your perspective change? In what ways? At your next book club meeting, share and discuss what you discovered with the group.
- To learn more about Nora McFarland, visit her website at http://www.noramcfarland.com. If you haven’t read A Bad Day’s Work, consider selecting it for your next book club pick. Discuss with your group the ways in which you think the author’s history and background influence the stories she tells. How is the first novel in the Lilly Hawkins series similar to and different from the second? Did the author’s style remain consistent? What themes and topics does the author seem to touch on in both books?
A CONVERSATION WITH NORA McFARLAND
Hot, Shot, and Bothered is the second novel in a trilogy starring Lilly Hawkins. Did you have an idea how the entire trilogy would play out before you started writing the series? If so, did Hot, Shot, and Bothered turn out as you planned? If not, how did it differ from your original expectations?
I know exactly where I want Lilly to be at the end of the trilogy in terms of her growth and the changes she’s made in her life. The rest isn’t mapped out, and even if it were, I’m sure it would change as I wrote. For example, I originally planned for the third book to be about a wildfire, not the second. I switched them after having a hard time mapping out Bud’s history, which is essential to the story I’d had in mind. Now I’m going to explore Bud’s background in the third book.
How did the process and experience of writing your second book compare to writing the first?
I had to do it much faster and the stakes felt much higher. When I wrote A Bad Day’s Work, I didn’t even have an agent, let alone a book contract. There was a big part of me that never thought anyone would read it. When I wrote Hot, Shot, and Bothered, I had contractual deadlines and all the pressures that came along with them.
You’ve created a very strong and independent character in Lilly, yet you’ve also given her weaknesses and vulnerabilities. What guided you in developing Lilly into such a well-rounded character that readers can relate to?
I’ve never been a fan of stories where the main character is a generic nice guy or gal. I believe some of the obstacles that the main character faces, and the dangers they encounter, should be of their own making. I don’t have any interest in writing stories about characters who are passive or perfect. We all make mistakes and we all change over time. I want my characters to reflect that.
Readers saw several of the characters from A Bad Day’s Work reappear in Hot, Shot, and Bothered. Was it always your plan to bring them back for the second novel? What is it about these characters that made you want to keep them around?
I love the fictional newsroom at KJAY and everyone who works there. I hope that at least some of those characters will appear in every Lilly Hawkins Mystery. And of course Uncle Bud is a hoot to write.
I also keep coming back to these characters because it’s a terrific way to highlight how Lilly has changed. She began A Bad Day’s Work with shallow or mistaken views of her friends and co-workers. By continuing those relationships, it’s easier to see the way Lilly is growing and changing. It’s also fun to allow those characters to experience their own growth. Teddy and Freddy, for instance, are getting to the age where it’s no longer as much fun to be out partying every night. They’re looking at their lives and trying to figure out what the next step looks like.
This novel is centered on the murder of an environmental and animal rights activist. Why did you choose to make Jessica a vegan and member of PETA? Are you also interested in environmental conservation and animal rights?
I do support those causes, but not to the degree that Jessica Egan’s character did. Mostly I wanted to show someone who saw things in black and white, but who as she got older couldn’t sustain that kind of absolute belief. To a certain extent learning to compromise is a healthy part of being a mature adult, but too much of it can ruin you. Lilly is terrified of the latter.
In this series, you take on murder and other serious topics with a touch of humor. What role does humor play in your writing and in your life? How do you think injecting humor into serious stories affects your readers’ experience of the work?
The humor comes from my personality. There was a point when I was outlining Hot, Shot, and Bothered that I tried to sit down and plan the humor. I couldn’t come up with a single joke. But once I began writing, it just happened. It’s my natural voice. The few times I’ve tried to write something serious, it came out as pretentious and dreary.
You were a shooter yourself for a time. Did you encounter any life-threatening situations similar to the ones Lilly often finds herself in? Did you have any particularly memorable experiences behind the camera?
Nothing as dangerous as Lilly’s adventures. There was an incident where someone threatened me and the reporter I was with. There had been a gang related drive-by shooting and we went out to do live shots from the block where it happened. Several young men appeared and threatened to hurt us if we didn’t leave. My reporter and I were both very shaken, but unharmed. That was unusual and the only time something like that ever happened.
The more memorable experiences all involve crime scenes. Most of the dead bodies I saw were under tarps. The worst was if the body under the tarp was small because you knew it had to be a child. That was more upsetting than seeing an uncovered adult body.
Lilly isn’t the only female character in a male-dominated field in this book. Was this a conscious decision on your part? What appeals to you about strong female characters like Lilly and Firefighter Bell?
I decided that Lilly needed a friend—someone who she didn’t supervise and someone closer to her own age than Leanore. When I was doing research into wildfires I came across an article about how difficult it was for women to become firefighters. It’s a grueling process with physical requirements that many of the strongest men fail. The women who do make it often have to take the test several times. I had a flash that a woman with that kind of determination and discipline was the perfect friend for Lilly. I hope Bell will be a recurring character.
Throughout the novel, Lilly struggles to keep part of her past a secret from Rod. When he finally finds out the truth, he doesn’t respond the way Lilly expected. Was this what you planned all along, or did his reaction surprise you as well? What were you saying to readers with this choice?
I always planned that Rod wouldn’t be bothered by Lilly’s past. His character is very accepting of other people because he craves that in return. What I didn’t expect was that he would make the joke about the salamanders and lizards. That came to me as I was writing the scene. I was also surprised by Lilly’s reaction. I think she’s a little annoyed with his almost unconditional acceptance because she genuinely believes that actions have consequences. Later, when she runs into Cathy who’s become a pariah after making offensive comments on TV, Lilly feels compassion for her and better understands Rod’s viewpoint. She even repeats to Cathy what Rod had said to her.
How do you think Lilly has evolved as a character since your first novel? Was this evolution deliberate or do you feel like your characters take on lives of their own?
Lilly is more in control of how she appears. She’s a little better at holding back what she’s thinking and feeling, which is part of gaining maturity and discipline. Her worldview has also become more nuanced and she has much better relationships with other people.
All that was planned. What was a surprise is that Lilly is a little sad about those changes. Lilly looks at the young intern Cathy who, although impetuous and unwise, has a purity and truth to her. Then she looks at Ceasonne Polignac who has the wisdom and self-control of age, but is tired and full of regret. Lilly worries that by finally growing up she’s sacrificing something in herself that’s honest and strong. She also sees what happened to Jessica Egan, and how she began to compromise, and this frightens her as well.
Social media like Facebook and Twitter also play a role in Hot, Shot, and Bothered. Are you active in social media? How do you feel about social media in general? What do you think about its influence on our world today, particularly where the news is concerned?
It’s funny, but when I originally wrote A Bad Day’s Work I made Lilly twenty-four years old. My editor felt that Lilly wasn’t credible as a person in her early twenties because she didn’t use enough social media. In particular she didn’t send text messages or Tweets from her cell phone. My editor was right and I changed her age to thirty-one before publication.
But in a very short time the world has changed. Tweeting, YouTube, Facebook, and other social media aren’t just for young people anymore. Everyone has a cell phone with them at all times. My ninety-one year old grandmother has a Facebook account. Whether it’s GPS, emails, or status updates, everyone is logged in somewhere.
This has sped up our access to everything. Word of mouth can spread in minutes. Videos go viral and rack up enormous hits overnight. We all have access to first-hand accounts of disasters and revolutions as they’re happening. The danger is that there’s no filter. No one is fact checking. No one is corroborating stories.
What can we expect from the next book in the Lilly Hawkins trilogy?
Lilly’s Uncle Bud has always been a bit of a shady character. In the third book, something from his past comes violently back to haunt him. As Lilly tries to uncover the truth and protect Bud, she becomes the target of a killer who wants to keep his own secrets buried.