Book clubs rock! If your group is reading one or all of Barbara J. Taylor’s novels, thank you!
Looking for resources? Check out the author's statements and discussions guides for each book.
Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night
When I started writing my novel about a coal mining family of Welsh descent, I had three very loose ideas in mind—the death of my great-aunt Pearl, what we in Scranton refer to as the “Billy Sunday Snowstorm,” and a chorus of churchwomen.
Growing up, I heard about the childhood death of Pearl. She was playing with a sparkler on the Fourth of July, the same day as her baptism, and her dress caught fire. It was said that she never complained during the three days she lay dying. Instead, she sang the songs she’d learned in Sunday school while Doc Rodham, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s great-uncle, treated her burns. When Pearl died, people from all over Scranton came to the house to view the body of the little girl who sang hymns. As many times as I heard that story, I always wondered about her sister Janet who was also in the yard that day. By the time I knew her, she was a grandmother, and no one ever mentioned the accident in her presence. Janet didn’t have the happiest life, and I wondered what effect Pearl’s death had on her. That wondering inspired me to create the character of Violet.
I wanted to begin my novel with a fictionalized version of Pearl’s accident and end sometime around the “Billy Sunday Snowstorm.” On March 1, 1914, evangelist Billy Sunday started his seven-week Scranton campaign in a tabernacle built solely for his revival meetings. Snow started falling during his evening sermon, stranding twenty-five hundred people overnight with the very charismatic speaker. If you ask people from my parents’ generation about the storm, they all claim to have known someone who was in attendance that night. My grandmother loved to tell how she was born during the “Billy Sunday Snowstorm” while her father was “off being saved.” Scrantonians still speak about their connections to Billy Sunday with great pride, and this has always fascinated me.
The idea for the chorus of churchwomen came out of a playwriting activity in one of my graduate classes. I chose to write about a group of women preparing a funeral dinner in the kitchen of their church. As a child, I loved to be around those women and hear their stories. I still do. I see that church world as a microcosm of who most of us are—flawed, but well-intentioned.
1. The title of the novel, Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night, is a variation of the old Welsh proverb, “Sing before breakfast, cry before supper.” As Violet explains in chapter three, page 24, it means, “Don’t count your fishes until they’re caught.” How does this adage relate to the novel? Also, Daisy sings prior to her accident. What other times in the novel does singing precede tragedy?
2. Compare and contrast Grace and Grief. What is his purpose in the novel? Does his inclusion make Grace more or less sympathetic? What is significant about these lines from chapter thirty-three, page 287? What subtle change do they suggest?
“Fascinating,” Grief said as he stepped over to the girl. He slid the buttonhook out of his pocket and dragged it lightly across her cheek.
Will Grief return to the Morgan household, or is he gone for good by the end of the novel?
3. Was Owen justified in slapping Grace? Why can’t he forgive himself for striking her? What other times in the novel can Owen not forgive himself?
4. In chapter thirty-five, pages 302–303, the author writes of Violet:
After all, she was jealous of her sister, and she did throw that sparkler. All of it true.
But not the truth.
How can other people’s accounts of the tragedy be true but not the truth? What other examples of “true v. truth” can you find in the novel? Can you think of any examples of this concept in today’s world?
5. The author describes the chorus of churchwomen who appear every few chapters and speak in one voice as “flawed but well-intended.” How do you view these women? Do they transform in any way by the end of the novel? How do the helpful hints from Mrs. Joe’s Housekeeping Guide relate to each chorus and the chapters that follow?
6. What is ironic about Violet and Stanley’s run-in with the widow in Murray’s Store? What other examples of irony are in the novel?
7. Describe Violet’s friendship with Stanley. Would they still have become friends if Daisy hadn’t died? Why or why not?
8. Violet blames herself for Daisy’s accident. What else does she blame herself for? Is she responsible for any of these events? Why or why not?
9. Is Grace a good mother? Is Owen a good father? How do they change over the course of the novel? Are these changes permanent? Why?
10. Most of the sermon material attributed to Billy Sunday was found in the sermon’s “Theatre, Cards and Dance,” “Backsliding,” and “Get on the Water Wagon,” all written by William A. Sunday. How relevant are Sunday’s messages in today’s world? What effect, if any, does Sunday’s revival have on Owen? How about other characters in attendance? Compare Sunday’s brand of evangelism to evangelists today.
11. Although Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night takes place from 1913–14, many of its issues, including immigration, unfair labor practices for adults and children, excavating fuel at the expense of nature, evangelism, and spiritualism are relevant today. Compare and contrast these issues as they relate to early twentieth century America and today.
12. How does the author explore the themes of loss, truth, redemption, and grace? What other themes did you discover as you read the novel?
All Waiting Is Long
I wrote All Waiting Is Long because I was curious to see how the tragedy in my first novel, Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night, affected my characters over time, particularly Violet, who was eight years old when her sister’s accident occurred. All Waiting Is Long opens in 1930, and Violet is twenty-five. Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night was loosely based on the death of my great-aunt Pearl. On the day of her baptism, she and her friends were playing with sparklers when Pearl’s dress caught on fire. Her younger sister Janet witnessed the accident, and though she lived into her eighties, she didn’t have the happiest life. I always wondered how much of that stemmed from what she saw that day.
While I can’t answer that question for Janet, I decided to do the next best thing—answer it for my character, Violet, who was with her sister during a similar accident.
As soon as I knew what question I wanted to explore, I started researching the 1920s and ’30s. Along the way, I came across materials advocating “practical eugenics” in America. Medical books focused on “social hygiene,” recommending such ideas as “Eugenic Marriage Licenses” and “Sterilization of the Unfit.” Country fairs held “Fitter Family Contests,” selecting winners based on animal breeding principles, and the American Eugenics Society sponsored sermon competitions, encouraging clergymen to promote the movement through scripture. Much of this material inspired a secondary story line in All Waiting Is Long.
1. The title of this novel, All Waiting Is Long, is an old Welsh proverb. What do you think is meant by this adage? In Chapter Four, Stanley recalls Violet using the expression while they are waiting in line to see Queenie the elephant. What other examples of waiting can be found in the book?
2. The chorus of churchwomen who first appeared in Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night turn up again in All Waiting Is Long. The author describes these women as “flawed but well-intended.” Do you agree? Why do you think she includes them in the story? Do the churchwomen transform in any way by the end of the novel? How do the pieces of sex advice from Woman: Her Sex and Love Life relate to each chorus and the chapters that follow?
3. All Waiting Is Long is fraught with misunderstanding. For example, at the end of Chapter
Two, Dr. Peters mistakenly assumes that Violet is abandoning her own baby in the cradle at
the entrance, causing Violet to distrust the doctor for the remainder of the novel. What other instances of misunderstanding result in long-term consequences? Were these misunderstandings inevitable or preventable?
4. Was Violet obligated to keep Lily’s secret, even at the expense of her own happiness? Would Lily have done the same for Violet had the roles been reversed? Was the Widow right to keep the secret from Stanley, or should she have betrayed Lily for the greater good?
5. Once Violet decides to keep the baby, everything changes for the Morgan sisters. What would have happened if:
Violet had not gone back to the Good Shepherd for Lily’s hat?
Lily had decided to keep the baby?
Michael’s parents had not come back to claim him?
6. Did Stanley have a right to judge Violet at the train station given the time he’d spent in the Alleys in his youth and his more recent encounter with Lorraine Day? Morally speaking, should a woman be held to a higher standard than a man? Would Stanley have reacted differently toward Violet if she’d told him the truth when she’d stepped off the train?
7. What is the significance of Stanley’s artificial hand? Why does he hang on to it when he knows he’ll never use it?
8. How does Ruby end up as a prostitute? Is this a better life for her than the one she had before? Do you think she truly loves Stanley? What do you predict will happen to Ruby once the novel is over?
9. Does Violet end up with the right man? Does Lily? How do these sisters change over the course of the novel? If you had been the author, how would you have ended the story?
10. While we associate the term eugenics with the Nazis, prior to World War II, many corporations—including the Carnegie Institution and the Rockefeller Foundation—funded the eugenics movement in the United States. In All Waiting Is Long, the author shines a light on eugenics, specifically as it relates to women deemed immoral. As a reader, were you surprised to discover the popularity of eugenics in the United States? Why do you think this movement had so many supporters during the time period of the book?
11. During the 1930s, skirmishes broke out between competing anthracite unions, and strikes were called for improved conditions at the mines. Given the hard economic times, should the miners have gone on strike during the Great Depression? Are unions still relevant in today’s world?
12. How does the author explore the themes of truth, sacrifice, and love? What other themes did you discover as you read the novel?
Rain Breaks No Bones
I wrote the first draft what would become my debut novel, Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night, as a graduate student at Wilkes University. By then, I’d been teaching high school English for over twenty years, and though I loved my career (Go, Pocono Mountain!), I’d always dreamed of becoming a writer.
My agent read that early draft and suggested it might be a good start to a trilogy. The thought terrified me. I’d barely written one book, let alone three, but she was the expert, so I listened. Since I’m not the kind of writer who outlines, I couldn’t be sure where the series would take me, but I made a couple of quick decisions early in the process. The novels would stand on their own since I personally hate when books end with cliffhangers. Also, I’d set the stories about twenty years apart from each other to give my protagonist time to get over one metaphorical storm before dropping her headlong into another.
When I started writing the sequel, All Waiting Is Long, I already knew the last book in the trilogy, Rain Breaks No Bones, would take place in the mid 1950s. Even though I wouldn’t write a word of that story for years, anytime I came across compelling information from that time period, I slipped it into a folder called “Book Three.” I’d arbitrarily landed on the fifties, but the more I researched, the more serendipitous that decision felt.
The trilogy begins in my hometown of Scranton, PA, in 1913, when coal was king. Miners worked twelve-hour shifts, six days a week, to keep up with the demand for anthracite. By the 1950s, with coal-consumption waning, some of the mines closed for a couple of days a week. Many Scrantonians moved out-of-town to find work. Some of those who stayed struggled to make ends meet while the city itself struggled to find a new identity. When it came time to write Rain Breaks No Bones, I let my characters loose in the midst of that disquiet and found my story.
1. The title of this novel, Rain Breaks No Bones, is an old Welsh proverb. As Daisy explains in Chapter Fifteen, “It means a little discomfort never hurt anyone.” How does this adage relate to the novel and the water motif used throughout? Are any of the other proverbs in the book new to you?
2. Was Violet right to take Daisy from the Good Shepherd Infant Asylum? Should she have asked Lily before doing so? Is Violet right to want to tell Daisy now? Would she have made the decision to tell Daisy if she hadn’t met Zethray?
3. Zethray and Grace both speak to the dead, and later in the novel, Violet and her daughter Daisy both have visions of Our Daisy as a little girl. Do you believe people can speak to the dead? Have you ever had such an experience?
4. On May 11, 1955, the “Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto” episode of This Is Your Life, aired on television. The host, Ralph Edwards, surprises Tanimoto by introducing him to Captain Robert Lewis, a co-pilot on the Enola Gay, the plane used for the bombing of Hiroshima. Edwards tells Tanimoto that Lewis is there “to clasp your hand in friendship.” Was it appropriate to put Tanimoto in this position? Why did Violet identify with Tanimoto’s appearance on the show?
5. Several characters lie by omission to avoid discomfort or protect others. Stanley hides the fact that he’s helping Violet financially. Violet and Grace both promise to keep Daisy’s birth story a secret. Daisy and Johnny resist telling their families about their relationship. Is lying by omission the same as lying? Were these characters right to hold onto their secrets? How would their stories have changed if they’d been truthful from the beginning?
6. Before the book starts, Daisy has already given up on her dream of performing on stage. In Chapter Two she tells herself, “When your dreams don’t come true, you find different dreams.” As Johnny falls in love with Daisy, he wonders if he should abandon his dreams of making it in a big city for life in Scranton. At fifty, Violet no longer dreams about her own future. In Chapter Four, she tells the widow, “My dreams are for her [Daisy] now.” Should Daisy give up her dream out of obligation to her family? Should Johnny give up his dream for love? Is Violet too old to dream of a different future? Is there ever a right time to give up on dreams?
7. Johnny faces racism in his professional and personal life. In Chapter Eighteen, he talks to Daisy about their budding romance and says, “We’ll always have to be on guard … I’m not sure you’re strong enough for this.” Daisy asks, “What about you?” and Johnny responds, “It’s different for me.” How is this situation different for Johnny? Is Daisy strong enough for an interracial relationship? Is Johnny? If this novel were set in current day, would Johnny and Daisy face the same challenges?
8. The author writes, “Daisy hated gossip, always had. Even when she was too young to grasp the meanness that fueled it, she saw it for what it was. Righteous people standing on other people’s sins.” How does gossip or the potential for gossip affect the way the characters live their lives?
9. Ruth and Our Daisy appear to conspire to bring Violet and Zethray together. Why is it important for these two women to meet?
10. Why does Ruth finally speak to Zethray in the Epilogue? Is Ruth’s answer to grief a good one? Is it healthy to sit with it (him) for short periods as she suggests? Is it possible to “get past” grief?
11. In terms of romance, what happens after the book ends? Do Stanley and Violet end up together? Do they ever marry? What about Johnny and Daisy? Do they stay together, and if so, do they follow through and move to NYC, settle in Scranton, or come up with a whole new plan?
12. How does the author explore the themes of grief, guilt, prejudice and second chances? What other themes did you discover as you read the novel?