Want more content than just the story? Then scroll through this section for bonus items, including a series of questions for your readers’ group, because I know you want to talk about my books in your readers’ group. There’s also a deleted scene if you want to see what you could’ve missed!
Readers’ Group Discussion Questions
Thank you for choosing Amusement as the subject for your reading discussion. The following questions mean to guide readers through the conversation but should in no way limit its direction or focus during its exploration of ideas. If your group has a topic other reading groups should discuss, please e-mail me, and I may add them to a future edition of the book. Thanks.
Note that the following questions may contain spoilers. Think of them as the test questions you look through ahead of time to validate the answers to questions you’ve already attempted (read: bonus test-taking tips!).
Sammy believes in practicing professionalism, even in the midst of insanity. Why do you think he insists on maintaining his professional behavior at a place like Happy Fun Land?
Does Sammy succeed at maintaining his professionalism despite everything that goes on around him? Discuss.
Does Sammy take the Happy Fun Land pill out of trust or duty to his boss? Explain.
Why does Sammy have such a back-and-forth conflict with the children surrounding him when he poses as a Happy Fun Land character?
Why does Sammy appear to hate Happy Fun Land so much? Does he actually hate it?
Is Sammy’s battle with Nippy the Cat symbolic or literal? Explain.
What’s the significance behind Bubby the Bear’s ousting? Does he actually go against the usual cartoon clichés, or does he merely offend Nippy’s sense of normality?
As Sammy leaves Happy Fun Land, he believes his actions are a warning shot to something greater. What does he have in mind? Why would he think this way? What might he end up doing? Explain.
What else about Amusement do you think merits a discussion?
One of the great joys of revising for publication is looking for those scenes or sequences that are interesting, entertaining, or even enlightening but ultimately fail to drive the story forward and, therefore, must hit the cutting room floor. Of course, I say this sarcastically. This is, in fact, the worst part of the development process, and very few writers enjoy it. In writing jargon, we call this deletion “killing your darlings.” It means that despite how long the writer may have spent writing the scene to perfection, or despite how much the writer may love what the scene does for the characters, if it doesn’t push the story along at the proper pace, then it must either be rewritten or discarded (often the latter) to ensure the overall story reaches its best version. Think of it like amputating a diseased arm; as much as you want to keep it, it probably isn’t healthy for the rest of the body and has to go.
The following section is a trophy case for substantial scenes or elements that I needed to amputate from the story.
Cut from: Part 1: “Professionalism”
Reason for Deletion: Offers nothing that the story doesn’t develop elsewhere. Does little to hook the reader or build a healthy momentum toward the heart of the story.
Additional Note: In the 2015 electronic version, this scene still exists as the story’s opening.
Sammy normally liked his job at Dinners and Waters, an investment firm with its own advertising and marketing department, as it demanded the starchiest elements of his steadfast professionalism, and did so at the word “go.” Whenever his bosses asked him to complete an assignment, they expected top-notch performance, and they knew they could trust him with anything: he always delivered, usually on time, as his responsibilities required. Like him, they frowned upon laziness, and thanks to his determination to satisfy, it wasn’t in Sammy’s wheelhouse to disappoint those who counted on him.
But he knew he had seen the world through a different set of lenses than the common folks around him. Where most people lamented the slow ride through traffic and the slower ride up the elevator to their offices, made worse by the sound of Monday coming off their tired lips, Sammy saw the commute as a journey, a chance to experience motion in nature’s intended form: a forward trek along the straightest line through the concrete wasteland between Point A (his loft) and Point B (his office), hopefully without interruption, and hopefully with enough straightforwardness to give him time to plan his day while simultaneously suppressing unwanted memories of an earlier life.
He appreciated this routine, which most people would consider dull and lifeless, because, for him, it was comfortable. He knew it was a life without distraction, and devoting the maximum allotment of focus to his work meant he could excel at anything he’d brought to the firm’s mahogany conference table for review. And, if at the end of the day he were to deliver anything that was less than perfect, he would beat himself with a stick and restart the project from scratch, going home only after he was satisfied with the final result. Sometimes that meant spending the week in his office. Sometimes that meant shutting himself down from the outside world, cutting himself off from current events, isolating himself from people who couldn’t help, forbidding himself from eating. It was one way he dedicated himself to excellence.
His colleagues, however, insisted that his high sense of professionalism was just a coping mechanism to ward off his demons. No one else at the firm had felt so strongly about a commitment to perfection. Their unwritten motto had always been, “Whatever gets the job done is good enough.” But Sammy knew better. Professionalism was the foundation for success. It not only translated to high job quality but ensured that the job was done right the first time. It should always be done perfectly the first time, or it shouldn’t be done at all—that was Sammy’s motto. If everyone had committed to his assignments with pride, then the world would be a happier place.
Professionalism was not a quality he believed was too demanding for “professionals.” In fact, if anything about his job had upset him, it was that so many of his colleagues were adopters of the rest of the world’s attitudes: show up, cut corners, get paid, go home. It was the overachievers like him who’d kept the company well-oiled and highly respected. But that was his satisfaction: knowing he was making the world a better place.
Therefore, it had given him great joy knowing he had his brown windowless office with the dying plants in the corners to look forward to each day, where a stack of papers sat waiting on his desk, ready for him to study, ready for him to sign, and ready for him to send back to his boss for approval. It was boring work inside a boring room, but it kept him professional. Nothing about his office distracted him from the task at hand. Likewise, he enjoyed those days where he could pinch the skin of his neck with that uncomfortable gray tie that a woman he once knew had given him for a birthday he didn’t want to celebrate, then conceal everything but the knot under a blue silk shirt and dark business coat where his professionalism could be fashionably visualized. He felt naked if he couldn’t enter his office with a leather briefcase in hand, which was often filled with antiquated documents paying tribute to a time before electronics had taken over communication and the world. Not only was the briefcase a solid accessory to his sharper image, but it contained valuable resources inside that contributed to his preparedness, an attribute of a true professional. Psychology was the mother of strong character, and knowing he looked the part and fulfilled the part ensured him that others would view him as the part and perhaps step up their own professional game. Certainly, that would give him one less thing to worry about. Following the mindless routine of paperwork and meetings also enhanced his feeling of worth, and the thought of marching toward the weekend was the only thing that brought him any sense of anxiety. Weekends were full of uncertainties and distractions. Weekends were the reasons people didn’t pay much attention to their current tasks.
Yes, his bosses kept it easy for him to seclude himself in a cocoon of contentment, but today he was no fan of Dinners and Waters or the opportunities it had offered him. Today, the firm had called for an offsite meeting with a company he did not trust. The company was remarkable in business, but lay at the bottom of the proverbial barrel in professionalism. Its employees weren’t even required to dress the part. Sammy worried that dealing with them would siphon his strict values right out through his pores and onto the shoddy concrete paths they forced their customers to walk upon. He’s seen it happen to others—good men shot down by environmental conditioning. The very thought of it made him anxious, even with the weekend so far away. For this reason, Sammy wasn’t happy with his firm’s current assignment. In fact, he was very angry, very angry indeed.