This reading group guide forDarkroom includes discussion questions and a Q&A with author Joshua Graham. 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.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. In Darkroom Peter Carrick withholds the truth in order to protect his family—a lie of omission. Do you think it’s ever moral or acceptable to lie? Why or why not?
2. Xandra Carrick is a strong individual but vulnerable when it comes to her relationship with her father. How much does your relationship with your father (or other paternal figure) affect your view of yourself?
3. Xandra’s visions bring her knowledge that put a burden of responsibility on her shoulders. Have you ever become privy to something that you struggled with, wondering whether you should turn a blind eye or bring it out into the open? How difficult was that decision?
4. Peter Carrick was not a religious person, yet he was married to Grace, a deeply spiritual woman from a different culture and ethnicity. How do you think their differences affected their marriage and life? Have you ever had to overcome such vast differences?
5. How were the following characters imprisoned by the lies and secrets they kept? Peter Carrick, Ian Mortimer, Richard Colson.
6. Have you ever kept a secret that ate away at you? How did it feel when you finally came clean with it, if you did so?
7. When Pastor Jake speaks to Xandra about faith and his views on life, he says: “Nothing justhappens. Everything’s connected. By a divine plan. What we humans perceive as infinite possibilities of events doesn’t even come close to the infinite from God’s point of view.” Do you agree or disagree? Explain.
8. When Kyle explains why he never questioned Xandra’s ability to see visions, he cites Pascal’s Wager, which states: “Though the existence of God cannot be determined through reason, a person should wager as though God exists, because living life accordingly has everything to gain, and nothing to lose.” What do you think of this?
9. Xandra actually pulled the trigger when pointing the gun at President-elect Colson. Was this from vengeance, self-protection, or to rid the world of an evil man who abused power? If you were in Xandra’s position, would you have done the same?
10. John Morgenstern, Xandra’s defense attorney, said, “I think we atheists have to have the strongest faith of all. Because if we’re wrong . . .” Do you think it takes faith to believe there is no God? Explain.
11. After testifying and confessing his own lies, Peter Carrick goes to prison where he says: “ ‘There’s no prison wall that can ever take the freedom I’ve gained.’ For the first time, I can look my daughter in the eye, unashamed.” Can you think of a time when a lie has imprisoned you? And a time that the truth set you free?
A Conversation with Joshua Graham
1. You mention in the acknowledgments of Darkroom that you began pursuing your passion for writing after losing your previous job of nine years. What kind of work were you involved in before? How does it affect what you write about today?
In the past I worked as a professional musician (I’m a cellist) and professor of music. I hold a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Juilliard and a doctorate from Johns Hopkins University. I performed internationally and in the United States as a cello soloist and as principal cellist of various professional orchestras and taught on several music faculties including Shepherd College, Western Maryland College, Columbia Union College, and Brooklyn College. My most recent prior line of work was information technology. When my entire department was outsourced in 2008, I found myself facing some very difficult decisions especially in the face of the economic downturn. But it was the greatest thing that ever happened to me in many ways. I believe it was a God-ordained plan to use a bad situation to pave the way for me to become a full-time writer.
My past experiences help add some flavor (seasoning, if you will) to my books. Because I have so much of it in me, it is natural to incorporate classical music (Xandra Carrick is a cellist—coincidence?), computers, and my faith into the books I write. Write what you know, as the saying goes.
2. What role does your personal faith play in writing novels? What kind of messages are you trying to convey to readers?
I cannot begin to express how important a role my faith in Jesus Christ plays in my novel writing. Without reservation, I always tell people that all of my success has come through divine inspiration. I know that might sound cliché, but it’s completely true. Before Darkroom, my book Beyond Justice hit #1 on three different Barnes & Noble Bestseller lists and #3 on Amazon.com. It also won the 2011 International Book Award. But that book came as a result of deep soul searching and prayer. The message I am trying to convey in all of my books is not one that preaches and/or tells a reader what to think or believe. I want to show my readers a side of Christianity that is rarely portrayed in the media and to present controversial issues with fairness. To that end, I don’t portray nonbelievers in a bad light, nor do I portray believers as perfect. And as for the questions about God and faith, I present both sides as unbiased as I can and let the reader draw their own conclusions. I am grateful that, based on all the positive feedback for Beyond Justice, many readers who are not “religious” appreciated my approach and were given a chance to glimpse this faith in a way they might not otherwise have done. As for the message, it varies from book to book and I try to write what I feel God has given me to write. That’s not as lofty as it sounds. After all, we all have divine purposes and assignments (according to Ephesians 2:10) and it is God’s plan that we should walk in those callings.
3. How did you develop Xandra’s character?
It was just a few months after my mother-in-law had passed away. I began to ask my wife (an avid reader) what she felt made a great novel. We started brainstorming about Xandra and to make a long story short, I borrowed many ideas and character traits, and angst, from my wife. Some of them were her suggestions; others just grew as I wrote. I wanted to write Xandra as a real person with whom everyone can identify. She’s smart, she’s capable, but she knows she’s flawed. She has identity issues that are very common with women that resonate well, so I’m told.
4. What did you enjoy most about the writing of Darkroom?
The research was one of the highlights. I learned a lot writing this book, not just the historical facts, but the spirit of the time/place. Much of my research came from the firsthand accounts of Vietnam War photojournalists and correspondents.
I also enjoyed weaving in the twists and turns, as well as the character interactions. My favorites are the tension between Xandra and Kyle. But I also loved it when Peter Carrick confronted Mark Collinsworth.
5. How and why did you choose not to include Jake as one of the narrators in Darkroom?
None of the scenes featured him as the person with the most at stake. That is how I decide in whose point of view I will write a scene; the one to whom the most significant things happen.
6. It’s very interesting that Colson took his own life—an act that feels more complex than just an “easy way out.” What were you trying to illustrate with his choice to commit suicide?
Ah, yes. Definitely not an easy way out. Colson firmly believed that what he did was right. To the very end he kept that “You can’t handle the truth!” attitude (to borrow from the Tom Cruise/Jack Nicholson movie, A Few Good Men), even as he lost everything. But deep down, I see Colson as analogous to Lucifer. He deluded himself to believe that he has the right to take Machiavellian actions, that he is above the law because of his power. But at the heart of his actions and attitudes is the sin God hates most (according to Scriptures): pride.
So to the very end, unrepentant, Colson shakes an angry fist at eternity, at God even. He will not let anyone punish him for his crimes. He would rather take his own life than allow anyone to bring him to “justice.”
7. Colson is clearly an advocate of “the end justifies the means,” but this is clearly a flawed philosophy. Did you intend for this story to serve as an allusion to current governmental practices? What can readers take away from Colson’s demise?
I had no designs on drawing an allegory to our current government. Regardless of my agreement or disagreement with my authorities, I honor and respect them. The Scriptures say that all authority is given by God. Colson’s practices are fictional, and while similar actions may have occurred in our world, I was not drawing any known parallels. That said, I’ve always been a conspiracy theorist when it comes to writing fiction, be it a national cover-up, or a murder mystery.
Colson’s demise will hopefully resonate with those most difficult parts of our human nature: pride and self-righteousness. Pride masks fear, but manifests itself in many ways, from outright rebellion or arrogance to passive-aggressiveness. But as humans, we all have to deal with it. We all have a little bit of Colson in us, though we don’t want to admit it. Colson dealt with it by using all his resources, drive, and passion to do things his way, unrepentant to the bitter end. My hope is that as I recognize my own pride and self-righteousness, I will turn from it, repent, and be set free like Peter Carrick at the end of this book.
8. How did you imagine the process through which Xandra has visions? Have you ever known anyone who experiences similar visions the way Xandra does?
When I was a teenager, my older brother studied photography. Someone gave him all the equipment needed to set up a darkroom at home and I developed many photos with my brother. It always gave me the chills as the ghostly images came up under the developing solution. So when I imagined Xandra’s capabilities, these experiences were very prominent in my memory.
I have known several people who have experienced visions, though not exactly as Xandra did. But these visions were ones which told of the future (a spiritual gift called “Word of Wisdom”) as well as visions of past/present things (“Word of Knowledge”) which the person experiencing the vision could have no way of knowing outside of the vision. One thing they have had in common was that they benefit, edify, and encourage those whom the visions were about. While some consider such things esoteric and “supernatural,” for those who believe in the power of the Holy Spirit, they are quite common and familiar, though life-altering.
9. How does Darkroom compare to Beyond Justice?
I wrote Darkroom shortly after I completed Beyond Justice. There are similarities, such as the supernatural visions, the Christian undertones, and the legal drama, but Darkroom’s stakes are global, whereas the stakes in Beyond Justice are deeply personal. Darkroom takes on multiple time lines and delves into a moment in history, whereas Beyond Justice is a huge journey of faith and redemption. While both books incorporate multiple points of view, Darkroom’s main protagonist is female, while Beyond Justice’s is male. Neither books are heavily gender-weighted in content, and there’s plenty of action and suspense, as well as some romance intertwined in both books.
10. Xandra Carrick’s character had a wide-open ending. Are you considering including her in an upcoming story? Are you currently working or planning on another novel?
This book was meant to be the first in a long series of Xandra Carrick books. I plan to write more Xandra Carrick books and stories in the near future.
11. If you weren’t writing, what else would you be doing? What else are you passionate about?
It’s amazing how much time this writer spends on things other than writing. I love spending time with my family, traveling, and going to activities. I am passionate about my church, The City Church, and the small group that I and my wife lead (the members of which are mentioned in the acknowledgments).
I also enjoy playing the cello, reading, watching movies, dining, and playing Texas Hold ’em with my good friends. I am so blessed with friends and loved ones. Truly, my cup runneth over.