This reading group guide for Friend Me includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author John Faubion. 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.
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Rachel and Scott’s marriage had gotten a little stale. Faced with just the kids at home and Scott at work until late at night, Rachel decided to log on to a new website—VirtualFriendMe.com. From that moment on, the family’s life began to spiral out of control. One woman—Melissa—manages to manipulate both Rachel and Scott using the website’s interface, learning their deepest secrets and driving a wedge further between the couple. When Rachel faces a near-death experience, Scott decides to come clean about his online relationship, and together Scott and Rachel resolve to stop Melissa before she can do more damage to their family. Friend Me
is about love, family, and the faith needed to overcome new obstacles in the digital age. Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. The epigraph to Friend Me
quotes Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” What is true, honest, just, etc. about the concept of the VirtualFriendMe website? Why do you think Rachel was initially attracted to the site?
2. Why do you think the story begins with Melissa’s point of view? Is Friend Me
ultimately her story?
3. How would you characterize Melissa Montalvo? What are her motivations for doing the things she does? How does her past inform her future?
4. Discuss Scott and Rachel’s marriage issues. Would you consider their problems out of the ordinary? Why or why not?
5. In this day and age, questions about fidelity and the Internet can be tricky. At what moment do you think that Scott crossed the line into infidelity—if ever? Did his interactions with Alicia make him unfaithful?
6. Do you think that Scott is a good husband? Do you like his character? Do you blame him for what happened to Rachel—or was he also a victim?
7. On page 134, Scott argues with himself, “maybe there was a virtual love? Something was happening….no, he couldn’t be falling in love with her” (134). Do you think there is such a thing as “virtual love”? What is the difference between Scott’s love for Rachel and his love for Alicia?
8. How would you describe Rachel and virtual Suzanne’s relationship? Did the relationship change over the course of the story? How so?
9. What irony can be found in Melissa’s nickname for Rachel—The Other
10. Revisit the scene on page 215 when Scott asks little Scotty about the new babysitter Alicia. What was your reaction when Scotty says, “she told us that we could just call her Mommy”? Do you think that this was a red flag for Scott? Why do you think he did not confess his virtual relationship to Rachel in that moment?
11. Do you think Scott and Rachel could have fixed their marriage problems without the wake-up call they received in the form of Rachel’s near-death by poison? Can you make the argument that the attempted murder acted as a silver lining in this case? Why or why not?
12. Discuss the ending of the novel. Were you surprised to learn that Rose killed Melissa? Who do you think is the hero or heroine of this story?
13. What role does faith play in Friend Me
? Without faith, do you think that Rachel and Scott could have defeated evil? Enhance Your Book Club
1. Friend Me
touches on many themes relevant to popular culture, particularly the Internet and how our privacy can be compromised with the click of a button. These same concerns are the focus of the popular television series Catfish
. Have a TV night with your reading group and watch a few episodes of the show. Afterwards, discuss with the group the ways in which the show is similar to Scott and Rachel’s story. Did Melissa “catfish” the couple?
2. The concept of a friend online that could be as real as any friend in reality is interesting—and still very new. The author, John Faubion, has brought his concept to life on his website. Log on to www.christiansuspense.com/suspense-home/virtual-person-friend-me/ with your reading group. Spend a few minutes on the site, and afterwards, have a conversation about friendships in the digital age. Do you think that friendship can exist in many forms? Why or why not? Give examples from your own life or from other stories you have read.
3. Continue on the trend of strange romances and read Illusion
by Frank Peretti with your reading group. What similarities can you draw between the two stories? What differences? Has anyone in your reading group ever had an unconventional relationship? A Conversation with John Faubion 1. Is this your first novel? Describe the experience of writing, from the idea for the story to the final draft. Were there any surprises in the writing process? First novel?
Yes, at least the first anyone will ever see. The earlier one (on the back side of my hard disk) is consigned to darkness forever. The Experience.
The whole virtual friend concept came to me one day in a software design meeting. I was not thinking about writing it as a novel. The idea appealed to me as a way to generate income, and do it in a way that would be totally fresh and unique.
I was pretty excited about the idea, and told my wife about it that evening. I was all ready for her to provide some enthusiastic encouragement, but instead she said, “Don’t you dare do that. Can you not see what people would do with it?”
Well —no, I hadn’t thought about the dark side of it. I was still all wrapped up in the coolness
of the idea. But she was right. In the end, she said, “Why don’t you just write about it? It would be a great story.” I’m glad she did.
Now I’ll tell you some things about the writing process. Not what makes it hard, or time-consuming, or frustrating. I’m going to confess something else. I really got into my character’s personas.
Here’s a single example. Too much of this, and I’ll embarrass myself. When Melissa tells Scott her real name for the first time I get really emotional. If you are conflicted about my villain (and she is truly a villain), then I am more so. Melissa’s whole life has crystallized down to this one poignant moment. He loved me for what I’ve been to him. Will he love me as I am?
Dismiss entirely the fact that she’s all about killing his wife and children to have him. Can you get into her head and heart here? It’s frightening, and that because it is so, so, human. Jesus said, “The first shall be last.” Melissa, however, sees the world entirely through the lenses of her own desires. Nothing else matters. She, and her perceived needs, are all that matter.
When I write about Scott’s weakness, I feel it. And Rachel? I’ve seen Rachel in the eyes of not a few discouraged wives. The point is, when I write these characters onto the page, I feel all the things they feel. Perhaps that is common for writers, but it caught me by surprise.
In the early drafts of Friend Me
, I didn’t like Scott very much. If I caught myself being sympathetic to him I had to back off and consider my own character. Did I see too much of myself in him? It was pretty scary.
I’d like to see people read the book, then consider the whole question of “virtual love.” Of course, there is no such thing. It’s just a construct for narcissism and loving yourself. “Rejoice in the wife of thy youth.” “Drink waters from thine own cistern.” That’s real. Surprises?
I didn’t know until I was more than eighty percent done how it would end. So that was just as much a surprise for me as it was for you. 2. Questions raised by this novel are very current questions, ones that remain still largely unresolved. In your opinion, what does constitute infidelity on the Internet? When do you think Scott became unfaithful in the story?
I’m going for the quick and easy answer here, simply because it’s not that complicated.
When Jane asked him, “Male or female friend?” Scott replied, “Female.” At that point, he’d crossed over. He was done. When a guy does that, he’s made a sharp turn onto the wrong road. He became unfaithful.
Want to make it more complicated? We can talk about him putting work before family, and on and on. But those things can change in an afternoon. However, when he said, “Female,” he was g-o-n-e. Guys understand this.
Do we think that only only sexual sin was in scope when Jesus said in Matthew 5, “But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart”? When a husband chooses some woman other than his wife as his confidante, companion, or female best friend, he’s turned down the road of infidelity. 3. Who is your favorite character in the story and why?
Easy. Melissa. She’s really bad. But doesn’t it bother you when you find yourself sympathizing with her? Imagine how enjoyable it is to write about character like that.
My second favorite is “all the rest.” 4. One of the joys of this story is the shifting point of view—from Melissa, to Rachel, to Scott. The reader gets to experience the inside story of all three, very different characters. What was your experience like from writing from a female point of view? Was it more difficult to write as Melissa or Rachel than Scott?
Melissa’s character was the most fun to write. Absolutely no question about it. Are you familiar with Satan’s five infamous, “I will’s” in Isaiah 14? Her character has that sense to it.
Scott’s character was difficult only because I was forced into so much self-examination.
Rachel’s was the most difficult. I still don’t understand women. The things that make sense to women don’t make sense to me. Whatever you may think I know, I only know from observation. My faithful wife Beth, my heroic agent Linda Glaz, and equally tenacious editor, Amanda Demastus, were constantly on my case about improving Rachel. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I heard, “No woman would _______.” You fill in the blank. So I’m totally indebted to the wise women who nudged me along into grudging assent as to what a woman really
As to whether or not I was successful in writing from a female point of view, I will leave to you. I hope you’ll write and tell me. Correct me, if you like. It’s all welcome. 5. What would you name as the major theme(s) of this story?
Being real and being faithful.
The epigraph to Friend Me
is Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
We live in an age where people choose to exist in virtual worlds. Facebook is an example, but not the only one. Each of these virtual worlds touches on reality, but they are not in fact real themselves.
One theme of the story is that Scott Douglas substituted a made-up, virtual wife for a real wife and lover. Foolish. It was not true, not honest, not just, not pure or any of the rest. We need to focus on real people, real lives. Real friends. Real love.
Another theme is the absolute necessity of faithfulness in the Christian life. Faithfulness to our Lord Jesus, to our husbands and wives. If we want to be used of God, faithfulness is the key. Timothy 1:12, “And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry.” 6. You have spent many years working as a missionary. Did that experience help inform this story in any way?
Sounds like a great time for an exciting answer! However, it is not the efforts associated with being a missionary that informed the story. Rather, it’s the normal struggles of the Christian life (over many years) that did the job. “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love.” We all know what it’s like. As we see the day approaching, the battle will intensify. It won’t be long before we’re all full of stories to tell about our defeats and victories in the Christian life.
In future books we’ll deal with more missionary-related ideas. I will run out of years before I run out of things I want to write about. 7. Describe any research that went into the writing of this story. Was it a lot or a little? Did real life events, such as the Manti Te’o scandal, give your ideas for your story?
I’ve got a fairly complete writeup on how the story came to be on my blog (http://christiansuspense.com/why-friend-me). Basically, I thought I might have found the ideal software project. . . virtual friends. Because I’m now a professional software developer, I’m pretty familiar with the market and the available technology.
When I shared the idea with other people, I got some predictable reactions. “Oh, you’ve got to see Catfish!” “Seriously, did you hear about Manti Te’o?” “Cool, have you seen Second Life?”
So this story line connects with a lot of people. Like many things, it is the abuse of a good idea that turns it toward the dark side. 8. Who is your favorite author and why?
Cyril M. Kornbluth, who died in 1958, still in his thirties. I think he was the best science fiction writer of all time. Read his short story, The Little Black Bag
, sometime. It was done as a Twilight Zone
episode (Season 1, episode 7) later on.
The best Christian novel I’ve read lately was Havah: The Story of Eve
, by Tosca Lee. She writes things that make me think. 9. Do you agree that Rose is the heroine of the novel? Without Rose’s intervention, do you think that Rachel would have survived Melissa’s attack?
Rose is not the heroine. Rachel is. Heroic—because she led a faithful Christian life throughout. Rose was motivated only by bitterness, not a sense of righteousness.
As to whether or not she could have survived the attack, I can assure you she would have. Some way! 10. What is next for you as a writer?
Lots of books! I enjoy this business of writing. The thing is, I know what I like to read myself, so that’s what I try and write for others. It’s what I like to call High-Contrast Suspense
. That is, my villains are really villainous. Just like light and darkness.
The Lord willing, in everything I write you should be able to discern a clear Christian world view. I am determined not to fail in that, so long as God gives me the years to do it.