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Things to Do When It's Raining
Reading Group Guide Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. What does “family” mean to you? Is family something you’re born into or something you can create?
2. Describe the relationship Mae and her fiancé, Peter, had. Do you believe he ever loved her? What does Mae learn from their interactions?
3. The St. Lawrence River is a character in and of itself in this novel. How would you describe its role in the story and its effect on the various characters?
4. Do you think it’s possible for teenage sweethearts to pick up where they left off? How do time and maturity change our outlook on life and our relationships with others?
5. What role do love and jealousy play in the novel?
6. Gabe comes from a family that has a legacy of alcoholism and abuse. How does he view himself in light of that? Do you think that makes him a different person than he might otherwise have been? How does his past affect the decisions he makes?
7. Lilly hurt George by accidentally revealing the truth about Virginia’s paternity. What would you have done in George’s situation? Was Lilly was right to have hidden the truth from him all these years?
8. Lilly’s actions have an enormous effect on her granddaughter’s life. In your opinion, were those actions justified? Why do you think she tells Gabe “Mae is not for you”? How much regret do you believe she feels and in what ways does that regret change her?
9. Why does George befriend Jonah so late in both their lives? Do they have anything in common besides their shared family history? What influence, if any, do they have on each other?
10. Does Mae’s character change as the story progresses? If so, how?
11. Do you agree with Gabe’s decision not to tell George about Lilly’s lie? Why or why not? What would you have done in the same situation?
12. In your opinion, why does Gabe hold himself responsible for the deaths of Mae’s parents?A Conversation with Marissa Stapley 1. Things to Do When It’s Raining is such a heartfelt portrayal of love in all its forms. What was your inspiration for writing this novel?
I was very close to my grandparents growing up, but my grandfather and I were not biologically related. My grandmother’s first husband, Lawrence, died tragically when my mother was two, and it remains a painful topic for both families. As such, I knew that Lawrence had existed, and had seen movie-star-handsome pictures of him with my grandmother, Jean—they looked so in love! The photos inspired many stories, but I had few concrete details about Lawrence.
After my grandmother passed away in 2013, a few things happened to get me thinking about writing this story. Lawrence’s brother attended Jean’s funeral, and I introduced him to one of my younger cousins as my great uncle. She later told me she was shocked, she hadn’t known about Lawrence. He had become a secret because his death was too painful to discuss. Better to bury it, we had all decided—without saying a word.
I also saw how lost and alone my grandfather was without Jean. Perhaps they hadn’t had a Hollywood-worthy love story, but he was a childhood friend before they married, so their story had its own sweetness. He married Jean, a widow with a young child, and in doing so he had saved her, and she saved him too. I had always imagined the love story as being between my grandmother and poor, lost Lawrence. But Jean’s death made me realize that, despite the devastating loss of her first husband, she had carried on. Ultimately, she had developed a very deep bond with the man with whom she would spend the rest of her life. When she died, she was calling for him
And so, I started writing. It helped to write a character like Lilly because I felt my grandmother was with me as I wrote. My grandfather died shortly after her, and this book has really turned into my way of saying goodbye to all of them, and ensuring they live on in some way. 2. Why did you choose the Summers’ Inn as the setting for the novel?
I always seem to go to water when I’m looking for inspiration. As I began the challenging task of starting a second novel, I spent some time in Gananoque, Ontario, visiting an aunt who lives near the river. I needed a setting that was a character in itself, a setting that would tie the characters together—characters painfully close to my heart because they were inspired by real people I had loved.
The inn took shape alongside the Summers family. I realized they needed a naturally hospitable home, open to someone like Gabe, especially. It made sense that he would live there, that Mae would gravitate there, and that Lilly and George would be so tied it. I had even envisioned drawing some of the guests into the story, but once I got to know George, Lilly, Gabe, and Mae, I realized I was going to have my hands full—these were complicated people. 3. Do you like the rain? What is your favorite thing to do when it’s raining?
My mother always said that we couldn’t let bad weather ruin our day. So although I wouldn’t say I love
the rain, I welcome it. There’s something more satisfying about accomplishing things on a rainy day than on a regular day. Sunshine is easy; rain is a challenge.
I’m also the kind of person who forgets to pack an umbrella, so I’m always walking through rain with my face upturned, with that Roger Miller quote running through my head: Some people feel the rain; others just get wet.
I think Virginia’s character was born on a rainy walk home from school, as I laughed my way through a rainstorm alongside my young daughter. Virginia so badly wanted her child to be resilient, to weather life’s rainstorms, and to simply turn her face towards the raindrops and laugh at them.
My favorite thing to do when it’s raining is to cuddle up with a book, preferably with my kids and kitten nearby, also reading—well, not the kitten, he doesn’t know how to read yet. 4. In the book you write that, “Choosing love is sometimes better than giving it out of obligation.” Is this something you’ve learned from your own experience?
I think everyone learns that—with families, marriages, long friendships, and with their children. New love and new relationships, those are easy! It’s when you really get to know someone, and when they hurt you a few times—because that’s what people do by virtue of who we are—that you either decide to work on it or you quit it all together. But choosing to love, even when it’s difficult, is often the most rewarding choice. I think we really see that in this novel because everyone has to choose
to love one another. There are points where walking away was probably the easier option, but that makes the ultimate decision to choose love a brave one. 5. The St. Lawrence River plays such a big part in Mae and Gabe’s life. Did you grow up around water? Have you ever been afraid of water?
I didn’t grow up around water, but we spent a lot of time around water on family vacations. I think I’ve always associated being around water with being truly relaxed and at peace.
Yes, I’m actually very nervous, not of water itself, but of what might be in the water. I’m terrified of muskie, and when I was a kid my older brother loved to torture me with his knowledge of this fear. I’m terrified of seaweed, too. It’s an incredibly irrational fear! Yet I persist; I will swim anywhere. As I get older, I spend more time just plunging in. My fears don’t exactly go away, but they matter less. 6. Mae has such a close relationship with her grandparents, Lilly and George. Were you close with your grandparents growing up?
Very! I was especially close with my mother’s parents, but I did have a special connection to my father’s mom, my Grannie Maggie, who was a prolific Canadian magazine writer and would have been so thrilled to see my books published.
My maternal grandparents were like a second set of parents, just as Lilly and George are to Mae. I lived with them during university, and would forgo meeting my friends at the pub after class so I could rush home in time for our daily routine of watching Wheel of Fortune
together while eating dinner on our laps. They were the kind of people you would describe as “salt of the earth.” Not a day goes by that I don’t wish they were still here. 7. Now that you’ve finished writing the book, is there a character you wish you could revisit, or is there a character with whom you most identify?
I miss them all: Lilly because she reminds me of my grandmother, George because he reminds me of my grandfather, and Mae because I definitely identify with her as a person. Then there’s Gabe—I think about him all the time. It’s probably time to admit I have a crush on someone who doesn’t exist.
If I had to choose one character from the book to revisit, it would be Everett. Just as my biological grandfather is essentially unknowable to me and my mother, Everett was always outside of my grasp as a character, too. He didn’t live long enough for anyone to know him beyond the rather careless days of his youth. And yet, he touched the lives of each character in some way. I know I can never revisit him because there will never be any more to know about him than what is already on paper—but that doesn’t stop me from wishing it could be different.