By Peggy Morehouse
I’ve become a different kind of reader since I began writing fiction several years ago. It’s not only that I pay more attention to the traits of a fascinating character or the elements of a riveting plot. When I find myself lost in a book, I hold it with admiration. I understand what the author went through to take an idea to a published novel that has the power to sweep me away. Many readers attribute that ability to special talent. A gift that propels a writer to pick up a pen and a notebook and scribe a story that will keep the pages turning into the wee hours of the morning. But it’s so much more than that. It involves hard work and persistence. John Irving, author of The World According to Garp, Cider House Rules, and so many other greats says,
“More than a half, maybe as much as two-thirds of my life as a writer is rewriting. I wouldn’t say I have a talent that’s special. It strikes me that I have an unusual kind of stamina.”
That’s why, when a book is born it’s cause for celebration. In fact, the next time you’re in a bookstore, take a look around. Each creation had a unique, often strenuous, journey to its spot on the shelf. A new book was added to the literary world on January 27, 2015. Author Robin Antalek released her second novel, The Grown Ups, through William Morrow and introduced it at Northshire Bookstore, Saratoga Springs, NY. Susanne of The Writers Loop was at this special event while I was stuck in traffic on the Adirondack Northway. :o(
It was welcomed with wonderful reviews including this excerpt from Library Journal, “…an engaging ensemble piece with revealing insights about friendships.” 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.
Robin was kind enough to answer a few questions about The Grown-Ups as well as her writing journey. Her engaging and informative interview follows:
- Where did you get your idea for The Grown Ups?
Robin: 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. That sentence became the first sentence of The Grown Ups.
2. How long did it take you to write The Grown Ups? What inspired you to begin this novel and take it to completion?
Robin: The first draft was very fast – three months. The editing took about a year. Once I started creating this world there was really no stopping. Originally, I wrote in first person POV from Sam, but then my editor at William Morrow asked me to try writing a few chapters from Suzie and Bella’s points of view. Once I did that the story opened up with the multiple view points, bringing more questions that needed to be answered, and some that couldn’t. But that’s the joy of editing.
3. Tell us about when you first decided that writing was a vocation you wanted to pursue.
Robin: I’ve always been a reader. Writing was the natural evolution. I’ve been doing this in one form or another for as long as I can remember. Some jobs are more lucrative than others. But I took anything I could when I was starting. I wrote ad copy, press releases, and once worked for a business news network writing 30-second business briefs. I wrote for pennies per word or free for experience and a byline. Writing is all I’ve ever wanted to do.
4. What frustrations did you encounter on your novel writing journey? How did you move past them?
Robin: I think that the most frustrating part of writing is that sometimes, despite a massive effort, you have to admit that a novel is not working. That’s where I was right before The Grown Ups. The thing to remember is that any writing, whether it becomes a novel or not, is writing. You are honing your craft, you are working the muscle, and that experience allows you to learn what works and what doesn’t by showing up to do your job. That’s half the battle of writing.
5. The road to finding a traditional publisher isn’t easy. What method did you use to make that happen?
Robin: For years I wrote short stories. I also read the literary journals, making lists of my favorites, the maybe not so attainable, and the second tier, the maybe more attainable. I submitted to both. Eventually I moved from generic rejections to more personalized rejections. I took the names on the rejection slips and began submitting directly to them. At the same time I read everything I could get my hands on – and when a book was similar to the kinds of things I wrote, I would read the acknowledgements carefully, for a mention of an agent, (writers always thank their agents) and from that I began to make a list of agents I would query. When I finished my first novel I began querying those agents. This takes a long time. Yes. But chances are if you have only written one short story and think you’re ready for an agent, you’re not. Again, you really have to do the work. There aren’t any short cuts. As a writer you should arm yourself with as much information as possible. Know the market, know the trends, attend readings, buy the book if you can, and be a good member of the literary community. Write what interests you. I have written four novels and published two. The first novel ended up getting me an agent, but the book deal fell apart. The second novel was my first published, The Summer We Fell Apart. During the third novel I parted ways with my agent, acquired a new agent and realized that I didn’t want to continue with that novel. My fourth novel is my second published, The Grown Ups. It’s a journey. You have to be able to be in it in for the long haul. That means you love the writing, you live for the writing, you do the work.
6. Can you tell us about a little about what’s involved with a book launch?
Robin: A book launch is all about the lead-up to publication and then a reading/party that usually happens soon after your on-sale date. My on-sale date is January 27th and the launch is January 29th at Northshire Bookstore. It’s that first debut into the world – and a ton of pre-publication stuff is involved. Mostly interviews, (radio, newspaper, TV) Q & A’s and whatever press opportunities come my way set up by my PR and Marketing team at Harper Collins. It’s a really exciting time this lead up to publication – and you get to talk about the book a lot. This isn’t really a writing time for me – my only writing now is really answering interview questions, writing blog posts etc., and doing all I can to get The Grown Ups out in to the world.
7. Do you have any word of wisdom for people considering writing a novel or a memoir?
Robin: You have to write. You have to sit in the chair and do the work. And when you start writing you cannot edit yourself. You have to write until you are uncomfortable. That’s where the honesty comes in. Don’t worry about your parents, your friends, or an anonymous reader. If you want to be a writer then write. It’s that simple.
ROBIN ANTALEK is the author of The Summer We Fell Apart (HarperCollins 2010) chosen as a Target Breakout Book and The Grown Ups (William Morrow 2015). Her non-fiction work has been published at The Weeklings, The Nervous Breakdown and collected in the following anthologies, 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 Salon, 52 Stories, Five Chapters, Sun Dog, The Southeast Review and Literary Mama among others. She has twice been a finalist in Glimmertrain Magazine, as well as a finalist for The Tobias Wolff Award for Fiction. She lives in Saratoga Springs, New York.
You can visit her site @ http://www.robinantalek.com, http://www.facebook.com/AuthorRobinAntalek
Thank you Robin and congratulations on your success!