Questions for Book Groups Reading ‘Gilda Trillim’

Gilda TrillimDid you know my novel Gilda Trillim had its start here at BCC? I posted a number of the opening chapters and she came into my life through the blog itself. She was birthed into existence in a post that I filled with hints that it was FICTION, but I didn’t say it explicitly, and unfortunately/delightfully some took Gilda to be a genuine lost Mormon writer that everyone had forgotten about. Great fun that. A few literary types called for studies to bring her out of obscurity and move her works forward. When I pointed out all the hints I’d inserted that it was fiction, some were not happy with me. One in particular, said that when he came to the internet he expected the truth. He must now be living a very disappointed life.

Gilda Trillim is now out and it’s a finalist for the Whitney Award for best adult novel and the Association of Mormon Letters Best Novel Award. Several reading groups have asked for a list of questions to guide discussions about the book, so I thought I’d post them here as there might be other groups I don’t know about. Note there are some light spoilers, so if you want your Gilda unsullied by any information stop now, but there is nothing too earth-shattering. See the last paragraph for an Easter Egg Hunt.

Q1: In Vignette 1: we learn that it was rumored and widely believed in the 19th Century that Gilda’s Maternal Grandfather Arnfinnur Skáldskapur could influence the past by retouching photos he took in the present. How is the topic of memory explored in the book? How do the memories of the characters affect how they view the present? While playing badminton, how is “body memory” used to create new moves in Gilda’s tournament matches?

Q2: Vignette 3: Gilda spends a year at an Orthodox convent in the USSR painting “chiaroscuro oil paintings of a lone apple seed, brown on orange, lit by a single candle,” over and over. She claims she wants to uncover the essential nature of the seed. Was she successful? Or mad? Why to the Sister’s think she is partaking of the holy in this quest? In what ways do you think she was participating in the holy?

Q3: Vignette 12: Gilda suffers terrible degradations after her USO helicopter is shot down in South East Asia. While being held captive as a POW, she is about to give up in trying to keep living when the rats save her. In how many ways is she saved? Can the creatures of the earth save us? Have you had experiences when out of the blue you are saved by something/someone who enters your life unexpectedly?

Q4: After the accidental death of one of her friends just before she is released from the POW camp, the rats seem to enact a ritual. How are rituals created? How do things become ritual? How does ritual affect the way we remember the past? How does ritual influence our present? Our future?

Q5: When one of our heavenly parents appears to Gilda in the extremity of her sorrow at the death of her friends, do you agree with what is said to her about the nature of suffering? How has Heavenly Mother appeared in your life?

Q6: Gilda retreats to the Big Island to heal from her POW experience to contemplate the nature of love. Why does she fail so badly at showing love, or even kindness, when the couple from Boston shows up at her isolated camp? How does the memory of her graduate school friend’s translation of the Beguine heretic Marguerite Porete’s book, The Mirror of Simple Souls, help her remember certain aspects of love?

Q7: When one of her campmates starts to spread false (?) stories in the German magazine Stern about Gilda’s behavior during her POW years, the reporter writing for the Paris Review that has come to interview her in the La Sal Mountains begs her to tell him about a rumored vision that would help put the stories in context, Gilda refuses. She refuses not because it was too sacred, or because she wants to keep deity from being dragged through the mud, but for reasons that seem strange? Do you agree with those reasons? Should Gilda have taken steps to clear her name?

Q8: There are a number of ways Gilda might be seen as a prototypical prophet and the mystique that parallels such calls. How so?

Q9: The book falls into what might look like magical realism if you believe Gilda’s reports. Is that a necessary designation? What happens that you would find utterly impossible? Do you believe in impossible things?

Q10: Talk about Gilda’s final note on the sacrament. She’s been looking for something all her life that she finds in the bottom of a white paper cup filled with water. What was she looking for? What did she find in the cup that she missed in her appleseed paintings? Weigh in on Kitt’s project—was she a prophet, a genius, or a madwoman?

Easter Egg: Within the book is an acrostic, which hints at one of the central mysteries Kitt is trying to find out about Gilda. Find it and send me an email with what it says. To those groups (or individuals) that discover it (and promise to share it only within their group!), I will give access to a secret webpage which will contain my working novel Heike’s Void, A Polizei Procedural: strange mystery, intrigue, Berlin, and Moab, and of course an exploration of what it means to be a Mormon in the modern world. So if you find the Easter Egg you can watch how I work on a novel and see it progress.)


Watch this space for BCC Press’ release of Steve Peck’s novel King Leere, Goatherd of the La Sals, a retailing of Shakespeare’s King Lear set in the La Sal Mountains during a climate change apocalypse. It was also a semi-finalist in Black Lawrence Press’s Big Moose Prize


  1. Wait–stories in the popular German weekly news magazine, “Stern” or the German language precursor to the Liahona, The (“Der”) Stern? Guess I’ll have to read the book to find out.

  2. Tim, the news magazine. But still read it anyway. :-)

  3. Steve, is your brain stuck in hyperdrive? Where do you find time for all the writing you do?

  4. Eric Facer says:

    “She was birthed into existence in a post that I filled with hints that it was FICTION, but I didn’t say it explicitly, and unfortunately/delightfully some took Gilda to be a genuine lost Mormon writer that everyone had forgotten about.”

    Reminds me of George Plimpton’s “The Curious Case of Sidd Finch.”

  5. Andrew H. says:

    A minor point: people frequently refer to an AML award as “Best Novel” or “Best Poetry”, but AML has never used that term. Usually we say “AML Award for Novel.” I’m not sure where the tradition comes from. It may be that the judges can’t claim to have read all of the novels written by Mormons in a year. Also, it may be the convention of the book genre. The Pulitzer and Booker prizes are just “for novel”, not “Best Novel”. While the Oscars are for “Beat Picture”.

  6. Thanks Andrew! I didn’t catch that.

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