Backstory: You Can’t Fly a Kite Without Air

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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Backstory: You Can’t Fly A Kite Without Air

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.

With the backstory, the dragon had finally achieved lift-off – so much so that I paid homage to my grandfather and that dragon in the very first paragraph of the book.

~Robin Antalek

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15 thoughts on “Backstory: You Can’t Fly a Kite Without Air

  1. Sounds like a terrific structure, and I’ve heard great things about your book. I’m going to mention it on Twitter right now!

  2. You can’t fly a kite without air. Words to live, and write, by! Thanks so much, Robin. Congrats on the Target designation! We’re honored to have you at the Ball.

  3. I would see my grandfather most weekends growning up. He’d always hold his two closed hands out to me and say, “Pick one.” I always picked the one that held the silver dollar. He would say, “I can’t believe your right again!” It was on the day of his funeral that I realized he held a dollar in both hands. He taught me what it felt like to feel lucky.

    Dragon kites were my favorite. In California the dragon kites were yellow. Another favorite kite of mine was the skull and crossbones.

    I think I’ll go out and buy my kids a kite!

    Best,

    G.

  4. What a wonderfully visual (and heartfelt) explanation of backstory, Robin. Now I’m ever more anxious to read your debut. And, for those who don’t know, Robin has recently joined us at TDW!

  5. Awesome post, thanks for sharing!! “You Can’t Fly A Kite Without Air” – those words are so true. Your book sounds amazing and if I don’t win a free copy I’m definitely going to buy it to read either way.

  6. I love the metaphor for writing you created with the story about kites – very clever! Kites always seemed a disappointment to me – I would be so excited and then they would get tangled up in trees or there wouldn’t be enough air to fly them – guess we should have gone to the beach instead of the street outside our house!

  7. I’ve read great reviews for this book. I enjoy reading books that deal with family dynamics. It’s on my TBR List. Thanks for the giveaway!

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