Desperately Seeking Inspiration
~ Robin Antalek
More than any other question I’m asked by readers and aspiring writers is: what inspires you? Where do your ideas come from? The easy answer to that question is: everywhere, the more realistic answer to that question is the puzzling: I don’t really know.
When I was writing my first novel, The Summer We Fell Apart, I had the idea to write about a large family, and the crazy hierarchy that exists within families and especially sibling relationships. But I was struggling on how to get into the story. Then two things happened: my family took in an exchange student from Switzerland when her host family fell through and my older daughter forged my signature on a permission slip for a school field trip for my younger daughter because I had forgotten. These are two disparate incidents and not exactly the stuff that fantastic fiction is made of – but the forged permission slip got me thinking about siblings who, for lack of a constant parental presence, raised themselves. And our unexpected exchange student? Well, what if her arrival was a total surprise to those self-raised siblings? What if they suspected that she might be related to them? What if one of them fell in love with her? That’s all I had – but it was enough to jumpstart the beginning of The Summer We Fell Apart.
If only inspiration was more… reliable?
Even though I write every single day – I’m not a journal keeper. I’m more of a tear a page out of a newspaper or magazine kind of person. I also clip obituaries –short stories with more questions than answers. If I’m feeling really organized I might tape the clippings into a notebook and jot a few notes. Then when I’m looking for a prompt or a spark of something I go there.
And then sometimes inspiration arrives when you aren’t even looking.
Before I started writing what would become The Grown Ups, I had just shelved a project I had been working on for two years. My agent told me to take some time and think about what I really wanted to write – but I was still in that feeling sorry for myself stage even though it was my choice not to continue on with the manuscript. One day, I found myself at my local library’s used bookshop, sitting on the floor surrounded by a pile of potential purchases. I was also half-listening to the conversation between the two elderly volunteers, (in my defense it’s a really small space) when one of the women said to the other ‘It was the summer all the children in the neighborhood caught a virus.’ That single sentence captivated me so much I wrote it down inside the cover of one of the books I was going to buy. I thought about it forever until I had a neighborhood, a group of children, a family going through a very public meltdown, a box of provocative photographs and a first kiss between friends.
They were all there. The Grown Ups. Inspiration grew from that one sentence.
Title: The Grown Ups by Robin Antalek
Publisher: William Morrow Paperback
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Length: 384 pages
From the author of The Summer We Fell Apart, an evocative and emotionally resonant coming-of-age novel involving three friends that explores what it means to be happy, what it means to grow up, and how difficult it is to do both together.
The summer he’s fifteen, Sam enjoys, for a few secret months, the unexpected attention of Suzie Epstein. For reasons Sam doesn’t entirely understand, he and Suzie keep their budding relationship hidden from their close knit group of friends. But as the summer ends, Sam’s world unexpectedly shatters twice: Suzie’s parents are moving to a new city to save their marriage, and his own mother has suddenly left the house, leaving Sam’s father alone to raise two sons.
Watching as her parents’ marital troubles escalate, Suzie takes on the responsibility of raising her two younger brothers and plans an early escape to college and independence. Though she thinks of Sam, she deeply misses her closest friend Bella, but makes no attempt to reconnect, embarrassed by the destructive wake of her parents as they left the only place Suzie called home. Years later, a chance meeting with Sam’s older brother will reunite her with both Sam and Bella—and force her to confront her past and her friends.
After losing Suzie, Bella finds her first real love in Sam. But Sam’s inability to commit to her or even his own future eventually drives them apart. In contrast, Bella’s old friend Suzie—and Sam’s older brother, Michael—seem to have worked it all out, leaving Bella to wonder where she went wrong.
Spanning over a decade, told in alternating voices, The Grown Ups explores the indelible bonds between friends and family and the challenges that threaten to divide them.
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Years ago on a December night in their junior year of high school they had been in Peter Chang’s basement before the winter dance, when Sam had turned to Bella, his eyes as navy as his sweater, and said, “So?”
It began as simply as that, friends who had known each other since they were in diapers. Sam made her happy. Just the sight of him as his cheeks flushed a deep shade of red was all it took. She wanted to kiss him and she knew that he probably wanted to kiss her too. Later, when they had all stumbled from Peter’s basement, wandering through the streets of their neighborhood to the high school, Sam had bumped up against her shoulder and she had found his hand down by his side and grabbed hold of his fingers. He wound them through hers and hadn’t let go, and right then in that moment she had been so sure of everything she had ever wanted.
Since her mother’s funeral, Bella had been stuck on that memory, and she didn’t know why. Maybe it was only the ache of nostalgia. She wanted to lie in bed alone and go over every minute she had spent in Sam’s arms. But then she had noticed the way her mother was looking at her and instead she had crawled into bed with her and whispered about Sam. The mustard light in the room was diffused by the angle of the bathroom door, and she caught a glimpse of her mother’s face in the shadows. She was smiling but there was also something sad in her expression.
Robin Antalek is the author of The Summer We Fell Apart. Her nonfiction writing has been published in literary journals and in several collections, including The Beautiful Anthology; Writing off Script: Writers on the Influence of Cinema; and The Weeklings: Revolution #1 Selected Essays 2012-1013. Her short fiction has appeared in 52 Stories, Five Chapters, Sun Dog, The Southeast Review, and Literary Mama among others. She lives in Saratoga Springs, New York.
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