This reading group guide for Still Mine includes an introduction, discussion questions, and a Q&A with author Amy Stuart. 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.Introduction
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When Clare orchestrates an elaborate escape from her abusive husband, she has no idea where to go or what she’ll find. She just knows she needs to disappear and never look back. But when her path leads her to Blackmore, a small mountain town devastated years ago by a tragic mine explosion, her dark past comes rushing back.
The daughter of the foreman blamed for the blast, Shayna had a troubled marriage and struggled with drug addiction. Most of the community assumes she’s dead. But Clare’s not ready to give up on her. Posing as a photographer, she sidesteps the suspicious, tight-knit community and sneaks her way into Blackmore’s dark underbelly. Risking her own addiction demons, she turns over every stone: the ex-husband, the ruthless drug dealer, the territorial father, even the town doctor.
Along the way, Clare is forced to confront the secrets she left behind. But is she willing to expose everything in order to uncover the truth about Shayna?Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Before sending Clare into Blackmore, Malcolm Boon hastily decides that her alias will be O’Dey, meaning “servant” or “maid.” Discuss the significance of this name. What do you think Malcolm meant by it? And was he right in this choice? Why or why not?
2. As she immerses herself in the little mining town, Clare is forced to think back on past “versions” of herself. There is 19-year-old Clare, happy and on the cusp of adulthood with her best friend, Grace. There is the married Clare, close to broken at the bottom of her cellar steps. Which version of Clare do we see at the beginning of the book? At the end? How are they different?
3. Blackmore is both strange and utterly familiar to Clare. She empathizes with the cold nature of the tight-knit community, even as they ruthlessly keep her at bay. Do you think that empathy is ever returned? When, and why?
4. Shayna writes that her mother, Louise, believes that tragedy can alter a constitution. But Shayna thinks otherwise. She posits that there is a core in each of us that can never be changed; it separates the good from the bad. Whose side do you think Clare would take? Why?
5. Clare momentarily envies Louise’s dementia as Shayna’s case brings on a wave of overlapping memories. She even relapses. But what is the cost of oblivion or sedation as a coping mechanism? Who do you think suffers more, the confused Louise or the very lucid Wilfred?
6. Clare revises history to imagine a world in which she had stayed in art school, or had forced Jason to hold their dead baby in his hand. Discuss the role of regret in the novel. How much do you think one decision can alter a life?
7. Framed pictures and photography figure heavily into Clare’s quest. At one point, she studies a picture of Shayna with Jared, Sara, and Charlie, and wonders whether they are less “friends” and more “characters in her story.” What does she mean by this? Do you think she feels this way about Grace Fawcett or her brother, Christopher?
8. If, as Clare surmises, Shayna left a “hole” or a “vacancy” in the town of Blackmore, she is not the only one. What other holes did you see widening? And how did these characters go about filling them?
9. Before she succumbs to cancer, Clare’s mother tells her that no matter what, she needs to keep moving forward. In Blackmore, Clare feels lost in “the empty distance between nowhere and here.” Does that change? If so, at which point does that forward motion begin?
10. When Jared finally tells Clare what happened in the mine, he claims that it’s “hard to blame the dead for anything.” Discuss the scene he describes, and the interplay of grief and blame. Are they necessarily inseparable in this case? Why or why not?
11. Derek has a very personal attachment to addiction. He watched his mother die of alcoholism and believes that her death resulted from a lack of will. Wilfred, of course, believed he could force his own will on his struggling daughter. Where does Clare, now (relatively) clean, come down on recovery? Do you agree with her?
12. Malcolm Boon drives Clare crazy. She feels that he is the only person in the world who really knows her, even as she fails again and again to decode him. Discuss their relationship. Is Malcolm manipulative? Or protective? Is this a mutually beneficial partnership? Why or why not?
13. Based on her writings, what perspectives did Shayna gain from her time in the mine? How do you think they will affect her future, now that she has survived similar traumas to Clare?
14. Jason, an omnipresent threat throughout the novel, becomes all too real when he sends Clare flowers. In that final note, he emphasizes that her loved ones are more than willing to let her be forgotten, even as he promises never to forget. Unpack this threat, so carefully threaded between loving words. Can Clare ever truly escape him? How?Enhance Your Book Club
1. Clare’s brother, Christopher, taught her how to shoot a camera and develop real film, an endangered practice. Plan a group exercise in which everyone contributes a favorite shot (digital or otherwise) to critique and discuss. What perspectives can you gain from looking through each other’s lenses?
2. Still Mine
has been compared to Jessica Knoll’s Luckiest Girl Alive
, another thriller in which the protagonist must take on a new identity in order to escape her dark past. Read this title next and compare the two heroines.
3. Domestic abuse is threaded throughout Still Mine,
and sadly remains a very pervasive threat in our culture. Organize a screening of HBO’s documentary Private Violence
to learn more about ways to stop it.
4. Consider volunteering together at your local halfway house or rehabilitation center to support recovering addicts seeking help.A Conversation with Amy Stuart What was the inspiration behind the story of Still Mine?
I keep a file of interesting news pieces, and a few had been swirling around my brain as possible novel ideas, including one about a woman who vanished after wandering away from a family picnic and into the woods. When I set out to write a thriller, I took that premise and a few characters I’d been dreaming up and mashed them together to make Still Mine
. What kind of research was involved in writing this book? What would you say was your most valuable resource?
The internet can be a most handy place, but books are still my go-to learning tool. My research for Still Mine
was all about authenticating the different elements of the story. I spent time reading about mines and mining towns so that one thread of the story would seem at least plausible, if not to a mining engineer, then at least to most readers! I also read many case studies by or about women who face similar difficult circumstances to Clare. The most important thing for me was to avoid making any assumptions.You first began writing this novel in 2010 during a novel writing contest – how has the final version of Still Mine changed from its original inception? What was the revision process like for you?
I now see the writing process as layering, as creating depth. The first draft was fundamentally the same story, but it took several more drafts to really dig deep, to give the characters more motivation, more humanity or rationale, to carve out the setting and to add more turns to the plot. I’ve learned that revision is the core of writing, and I’m the sort of writer who requires many (many!) drafts to get to the story close to what I had in mind when I started. The setting is the most vibrant part of this book — what made you choose to set the book in the mountains?
Writing a thriller was new territory for me, so I figured setting it in distant landscape was fitting. I live in a city and my family trips were always east to the ocean, so mountains still feel pretty unfamiliar. I find them so beautiful, but also stark and disconcerting, even a little lonely. I liked the idea that it would feel like a really foreign place to Clare too.How do you balance being a teacher, mother, and writer?
Not terribly well! It comes down to asking people around you for help, and I’m lucky to have a support network to rely on. I learned early on that if I was going to find time to write, I had to treat it like a job and not a hobby, something I had
to do so it wasn’t always the thing that fell by the wayside when life was busy. Balancing all three means I don’t have much time for anything else, since I’m often up early writing or spending the few free hours on the weekend at the library. When it feels overwhelming, I try to remember that all three of these gigs - teacher, mother, writer - are a privilege, and I’ve had a lot of good fortune in each. So I try not to complain.Who are your biggest literary influences?
There are many writers whose works have filled me with awe and/or writer's envy. Some include Alice Munro, Ian McEwan, Dennis Lehane, Joan Didion, Stephen King, Toni Morrison, and more recently, Emily St John Mandel, Jessica Knoll, Zoe Heller and Gillian Flynn. When I was in high school, my dad gave me his old Langston Hughes poetry collection that I still keep on my desk. There was such a quiet economy to everything Hughes wrote. Why do you choose such dark topics to write about?
For the most part, I think I’m a pretty optimistic person, but I’ve also been a worrier my entire life, and writing always provided an outlet for that worry. It helps me make sense of the world around me. And I’ve learned that in mystery and thrillers, writers need their characters to be facing adversity, and there’s not a lot of adversity in a charmed life. So the darkness becomes necessary to the plot.What do you think the future holds for your characters beyond the ending of the book? Where will we find Clare next?
I am working hard on the sequel to Still Mine
. The second book starts a short time after the first one ends. Clare is in a different place, both literally and figuratively, and even she can’t be totally sure how she got there. Also, things change between her and Malcolm... I’ll say no more!