There was another manuscript I was working on for two of those four years – and I stopped when I found myself lost. I couldn’t figure out that spark of the story that had intrigued me in the first place. It was buried in multiple edits. Sometimes you have to know when to walk away.
So then you wrote The Grown Ups? New day, new idea?
I wish! I did the moping thing really well. I wasn’t pleasant to be around. I knew I would write again – but I didn’t know about what. The reality of my writing life is that I have trained myself to sit in a chair every morning, same time, to write. I had never experienced this scary lack of motivation, or the fear that I might not like the next idea either. It was like squinting into the sun. I had to face it – but I didn’t really want to.
How did you get over yourself?
Well – it was one of those gifts the universe drops in your lap. I know, I know. Writers hate to read that kind of thing from other writers – it makes it all sound too easy and out of our control. I hate to read this from writers –like we are all just sitting around waiting for the idea fairy to strike. That’s not it at all. It’s the idea that was the gift ~ the rest, the writing, was hard. Here’s the thing – I was sitting on the floor in the used book store of my local library surrounded by stacks of books I was planning to buy, idly eavesdropping on the conversation between two elderly volunteers, when one of the women said to the other ‘It was the summer all the children in the neighborhood caught a virus.’ I really have no idea what preceded or followed that sentence. Whatever they were really talking about didn’t matter. I wrote the sentence down inside one of the books and could not stop thinking about it. (Yes, I bought the book). I didn’t write anything for about a month – maybe more – but when I finally sat down to write I thought I had a good short story. I had the narrator, Sam, this neighborhood group of kids, a family that was very publicly imploding, a box of provocative photographs and two friends kissing for the first time and my first sentence.
Writers really are thieves.
I suppose so. But then for a writer everything is kind of out there for the taking, isn’t it? It’s what the writer does with it that makes it interesting.
You have a knack for creating these very realistic characters that seem like people we all know. If you are admitting to being a thief – then I can guess that these characters are based upon real people?
No, they’re not. A composite maybe, but not one specific person. And did I admit to being a thief?
Would you tell even if a character is based on one person?
So now I guess I can say writers are liars and thieves.
Aren’t we all? Just a little part of us that maybe we don’t want to acknowledge. Writers take that stuff and say what if?
Maybe. What’s the strangest thing anyone has ever said to you about one of your books?
In my first book there’s a character, Finn, struggling with his sobriety from a really young age. In the course of the book his alcohol and drug dependency gets ugly as do the lengths he goes to continue that lifestyle. He steals, he lies, he prostitutes himself for cash and drugs, and he accidentally starts a fire that nearly kills him and threatens to destroy an entire apartment building. He’s a wreck, not a project. I was at a book group when a woman told me that she wished Finn were real, and that I could introduce her to him because he was her kind of man.
Wow. What do you say to that?
I say I’m touched that a character I created could seem so real that the reader cares that deeply for him. No matter his flaws. In the end, as a writer, that’s all I can hope for – that I have told the best story I can and that the reader, for a suspended period of time, lives in that world.
ROBIN ANTALEK is the author of The Summer We Fell Apart (HarperCollins 2010) chosen as a Target Breakout Book and the forthcoming 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 @ www.robinantalek.com , facebook.com/AuthorRobinAntalek