Writing The Summer We Fell Apart was certainly an experience like no other. I was no stranger to the novel form – I had written three novels before this one – two that shall remain buried in a drawer forever – and one – the one before Summer – that my agent and I mutually agreed to withdraw from the market. So I was back at the beginning again – toying with ideas I’d scribbled in a notebook – when the image of the mother wearing elaborate patterned headscarves “as if a fistful of crayons melted on her head” appeared like an apparition.
The Summer We Fell Apart started with such a specific voice that I had no choice but to sit down and write. I couldn’t type fast enough for the conversations that I heard and literally – it was as if I was taking dictation from the entire family who had taken up residence in my brain. There were days when my daughters’ returned home from school and I was still wearing the clothes (I use that term loosely – really sweats at best - - and kind of nasty if I’m telling the truth) that I’d had on from the day before and I would blink at them as if they had just wrenched open the drapes and showed me where I really lived. Re-entry was hard in those first few months of writing the story of the Haas siblings. This messy, complicated family was so compelling and their stories so all encompassing that it left me with no other choice but to follow them on the journey. In the beginning, I was intrigued by the alliances that formed among siblings in that environment and I knew I wanted to tell the story of Amy and George and their special relationship. But when I was done with Amy, George wanted his say and then Kate and Finn and always, always I heard their mother, Marilyn in the end. Each of their stories managed to inform the other without giving the reader a blow-by-blow of the same event and something about this seemed to click.
What these voices needed was structure and so I set about building the story of the Haas family over a specific fifteen year period beginning when Amy, the youngest, was seventeen. To keep each voice “in character” I wrote and edited one sibling at a time to risk crossing over into another voice and along the way was constantly surprised at where each voice took me. These siblings and their parents made difficult choices that messed with their lives and broke my heart – but they were so intrinsic to who they were that I had no choice but to write them as I felt them. In the process, if I, as a reader started to feel uncomfortable, I knew what I had created, the doors I chose to walk through instead of close, were truthful to the story. Hearing from readers, I am validated in so many wonderful ways. The Haas family has compelled people to tell me their own stories, to work through some of the issues they recognize in their own lives. And while I have no claims to a therapy or counseling degree, it touches my life in immeasurable ways that the siblings that felt so real to me in the writing – have had the same impact on readers as well.