Wayward Saints explores the life of Mary Saint, the rule-breaking former lead singer of the almost-famous band Sliced Ham, after her fall from grace (and the public eye) seven years earlier. She has found a modest home in San Francisco, and, with the help of her best friend, Thaddeus, is trying to center her life and find the peace she couldn’t grasp as an out-of-control, rebellious rock star, or as a scared, abused young girl. Back in Mary’s hometown of Swallow, New York, her mother, Jean Saint, is also trying to get past Mary’s hurtful past—as well as her long, abusive, lonely marriage. When Mary is invited to give a concert at her old high school, Jean is thrilled, but she’s also worried about what her town will think of her daughter’s music. Though the concert brings Mary physically back to Swallow, it’s the bonds of family, and the self-confidence that she finds while home, that finally bring Mary peace.
1.Were you familiar with Suzzy Roche and the Roches before you read this book? If so, what did you learn about Suzzy Roche that you wouldn’t have known from her music? If not, did the book inspire you to listen to her music?
2. Suzzy is a singer and musician in real life. What parts of the book do you think benefited most from Suzzy’s personal experience in the music industry? What do you feel you learned about Suzzy by reading this book?
3. Wayward Saints is in many ways about the dreams of fame clashing with the reality. What things in your own life seemed more glamorous from afar? Have you ever worked hard to achieve something, only to find that the reality wasn’t at all what you expected?
4. How do you think Mary’s childhood influenced who she grew up to be?
5. How did religion both strengthen and unsettle Mary and Jean at various times in their lives?
6. In what ways are Mary and Jean different? In what ways are they similar?
7. How, if at all, did Bub’s letter to Jean and Mary change your opinion of him? Do you think Jean should have kept it to herself, or did she make the right decision in hiding it in Mary’s luggage?
8. Consider the idea of leading a “good” life—proper, diligent, polite—versus a “bad” one—loud, antagonistic, impulsive. What did Jean sacrifice in order to lead a “good” life? What did Mary sacrifice in order to lead a “bad” one? Is one way any better than the other?
9. How did Mary’s playing with the church band change her? How did it affect her relationship with music, with herself, and with her past?
10. On the plane flying to East Swallow, Roche writes that Mary “was calm but excited, thinking this must be what it feels like to be alive” (p. 218). Why do you think Mary hadn’t felt alive until that moment? What does that say about her earlier life choices and experiences?
11. Suzzy writes of Mary, up onstage at the concert in Swallow, “Each song was a reminder of everywhere she’d ever been, of all that had gone wrong, of the choices she’d made, the public exposure of her glorious mistakes; and what she had going for her now was the audacity to carry on” (p. 236). In what ways was the concert a triumph for Mary? In what ways, if at all, was it a letdown? What do you think Mary got out of the concert personally?
12. How did Mary’s concert and visit home change her relationship with Jean? How did the visit also change other people’s relationships: Jean and Vincent? Mary and Thaddeus? Mary and her hometown as a whole?
13. Who is the authentic Mary Saint: the San Francisco, dog-loving, coffee-shop-owning Mary, or the hard-rocking, harder-partying, screw-it-all Mary? Do you think people can truly follow such diverse paths at different times in their lives, or do we all eventually gravitate toward a singular authentic persona?
14. .Consider the title of the book. In what ways are Jean and Mary both “wayward”?
A Conversation with Suzzy Roche
Q: When you began writing, did you consider writing a memoir, or did you intentionally lean toward fiction?
A: Although I’ve enjoyed reading memoirs, I’ve never considered writing a memoir. For me, the problem with a memoir is that memory is slippery. As soon as something happens, it changes as a result of whatever happens next. Also, the way I see it, people I know and love have a right to their own privacy, and I’d be too worried about hurting people’s feelings or saying something inaccurate.
I prefer the world of fiction, where my characters can surprise me by revealing certain ideas and feelings that may be roaming around in my subconscious mind. My imagination has always been my particular pathway to writing, performing, and singing. The characters in Wayward Saints are completely fictional, almost whimsical. Hopefully, they ring true. I’ve discovered that writing fiction is like dreaming all day long, and that’s not to imply that I’m an airhead!
Q: Your daughter Lucy is also a musician. Did you support her going into the industry?
A: This is a difficult question. It’s not an easy life, even with success. But then again, what life is?
Lucy has always had an uncommonly pure and beautiful voice. I remember once, when she was a tiny girl, maybe three years old, she looked up at me and said, “Music is my life.” Frankly, it startled me. Lucy grew up on the road with the Roches, and almost everyone on both sides of her family is a musician/songwriter, but she showed a great interest in working with children (to this day, she is a baby magnet).
She achieved her master’s in education and the very next day went on the road with her brother Rufus, and she’s been on the road ever since. In four years she has made three recordings, written great songs, and built an impressive following. She knows the harsh realities of the business. In fact, she runs her own business.
I told her right off the bat that if she wasn’t willing to go to the wall, she might want to reconsider. The worst part is that she travels alone, and I spend many anxious nights waiting for a text from her telling me that she’s okay. But I am a firm believer that Lucy should make her own choices. I’m there to support those choices. She is a true original, and whatever she does will most likely be amazing to me.
Q: Who is your favorite character in Wayward Saints? If you could spend a day with that person, what would you want to do?
A: Ha! Fun question. I admit that I have a soft spot for all my characters, but I wouldn’t mind hanging out with Thaddeus at God’s Kindness Church. I’d love to learn how to be able to be truly kind.
Q: Which do you think is a more revealing experience: writing a book or performing a song?
A: To me they are two sides of a coin. I confess I often have a hard time in social situations. I love to listen to other people talk, but I can be terribly shy. There is nothing like standing on a stage because you cannot hide. Especially for a private person, like myself, it’s like being on a tightwire—excruciating, I’d say. But it’s a place of truth. For a shy person, performing is a way to communicate.
Likewise, writing a book is a way to communicate. Maybe I’m writing to an imaginary best friend. I have to assume that someone—somewhere—will understand what I mean. But it’s a risk to sit alone and write a book. It’s a lonely process, which requires an enormous amount of faith. For me, faith is a big part of both experiences.
Q: Wayward Saints explores the power of music, family, faith, and second chances. Which of these themes is personally most important to you?
A: All of the themes are compelling to me (and don’t forget violence), and in particular how they bump up against each other; but especially as I get older, the exploration of faith and how it intersects with art is of particular interest to me. And then there’s always the power of love and forgiveness.
Q: From teaching to composing to writing to acting to directing, your work has spanned quite the creative range. Is there anything else you’d like to try your hand at?
A: It’s funny, I guess I have done all these things you mention, but sometimes I feel like I’ve never done a thing! I consider myself a scrappy, hungry scavenger, in search of the next idea. I have always lived on the edge, never really knowing where my next project will be lurking, and I’ve often lived in fear of not being able to pay my rent. What’s amazing to me is that I’ve been blessed to work creatively throughout my life.
But I also learned something very early on, which is that every single thing I do is just as important as every other thing I do. I admit that I feel best when I have a project to work on, but those weeks and months of lost wandering—and even despair—usually lead me to my next idea. I guess it’s like fishing: you have to be willing to sit and wait with your fishing pole in the water.
As for what I’d like to do next? I love to collaborate, and so I’m always looking for soul mates to work with; I learn so much from collaborating, even if it’s painting a room with someone. But hopefully, I will continue to practice the art of singing and playing a song—a lifelong pursuit. And I’d like to be able to write another novel, because I think I’m already a better writer than I was.
Q: What kind of reader did you have in mind when you wrote this book—younger, older, urban, rural? Did you write with your music fans in mind?
A: The corny truth is, I wrote from the bottom of my heart, and had to turn my back, even on my own snarky self, to allow myself an imaginary, genuine reader.
Having been involved with countless projects that demanded forays into uncharted territory, I’ve realized that no matter what I do, there will be some people who will like what I’ve created and some people who will not. The world is a gigantic theater, so the trick is how to find the right audience. Again, it’s a mystery. But, dear reader, I know you’re out there somewhere, and thank you.