Robin Antalek is the author of THE SUMMER WE FELL APART (Harper, 2010). The Summer We Fell Apart, now in its fourth printing, was also chosen as a Target Breakout Book. She is a regular contributor at The Nervous Breakdown, where she flexes her nonfiction muscle. You can also find out more about her and the book at www.robinantalek.com and www.robinantalek.blogspot.com. Or become a friend or fan on Facebook.
Spread the word: Robin will choose two lucky winners from today’s comment section to receive free copies of The Summer We Fell Apart!
Congratulations and welcome, Robin.
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I’m thrilled to be here as a guest amongst these fabulous Debs and their amazing debut books. Thanks for having me!
As far back as I can remember as a child, I received a kite in my Christmas stocking. In South Florida the chances for a windy day at the beach was high. Except none of them seemed to occur on December 25th. One Christmas Day stands out where I insisted my grandfather accompany me to the beach to fly the kite. The Gulf of Mexico was calm – not a ripple broke the aqua surface – but that didn’t stop me. I tore open the package quivering with anticipation and smoothed out the wrinkles of the deep red dragon. As I rolled the string around the stick and prepared to run across the sand pulling the kite to lift-off – my grandfather crossed his arms over his chest, sighed and said: “Baby girl, you can’t fly a kite without air.”
Not a truer statement has ever been uttered. In fiction, the backstory is the air. What drives the narrative is meaningless unless you construct the support to reveal what has gone before – only then does the narrative make sense and literally take-off. Without backstory, you are dragging your characters across the hot sand – with no end in sight.
When I was writing The Summer We Fell Apart I knew what drove the Haas siblings and informed them through the span of the novel (fifteen years), was their unconventional upbringing. A narcissistic playwright father with a penchant for alcohol and a struggling actress mother who parented with benign neglect. As the novel opens, Amy, the youngest of four siblings, draws the reader into their world by her memories, which are vastly different, from her brothers and sisters’. In early drafts I struggled with how to tell all their stories without stopping the action until I came up with the structure of having each sibling tell their own story. With overlapping narratives the characters are able to fill in the blanks of their past while moving the present tense story to conclusion. Without telling the same story over and over again, you are able to see their reactions to events and how it influences their lives as adults.