The Divining Wand

Discovering authors beyond their pages…

What If….Robin Antalek and Meg Waite Clayton?

July 07, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Authors' Favorites

What a day — or more — for a daydream in the summer heat of July. In fact it feels like the perfect time to wonder “what if” The Divining Wand possessed magical powers and could grant authors, who create their own magic with “what if,” the following two questions:

Based only on their writing, what author would you want to be?


If given the opportunity to have written ONE book in your lifetime, what would that title be?

~ Robin Antalek (The Summer We Fell Apart):

“I can pick only one? Yikes. Okay. If I have to…. It would be Ellen Gilchrist. She is a wonderful writer that has created a body of work over her lifetime that I would be thrilled to claim ownership of—her stories – her characters – her depictions of the deep south are astounding. Simply and utterly astounding. I return to her stories again and again.”

“I don’t prescribe to any one religion so I don’t want my answer to be taken in that context, but it would have to be The Bible. Every plot in existence is contained within those pages: virgin births, famine, poverty, wives who turn to salt, magical tablets, brother against brother, prostitutes who love holy men and seas that part. It goes on and on – and I doubt there isn’t a novel in existence whose plot couldn’t be traced back to the pages of The Bible.”

~ Meg Waite Clayton’s (The Wednesday Sisters, The Four Ms. Bradwells coming March 22, 2011):

“George Eliot. Middlemarch.”

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Robin Antalek and The Summer We Fell Apart

June 28, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

Just as that luscious lemon tree gracing the cover of Robin Antalek’s debut novel, The Summer We Fell Apart, requires nurturing, careful tending, and a deep root system, so too does a family tree. Without a solid trunk, both trees’ branches will grow but will they mature and remain forever attached?

Whether or not the author considered the lemon/family tree symbolism — in addition to the symbolism that appears in the book — is unknown. However, without question, the following family home movies were created to serve as an introduction to the novel of the Haas family.

The germ of Robin’s book idea came from her desire to tell the story of a large family, complete with the two younger siblings who leaned on and acted as parents to each other. As for the older sister and brother…well their twisted relationship almost mirrored that of their parents’. Sound confusing? It’s quite believable given that abandonment and neglect are strong themes as is the search for love in all its many forms. There is also the idea of forgiveness, which ultimately leads back to all members of the Haas family, even their mother and father.

To better understand, here’s the synopsis:

Every family is crazy in their own special way, and the Haas family is no exception. The Summer We Fell Apart is the story of four siblings: Amy, George, Kate, and Finn as they careen into adulthood, trying to make peace with their past, and with each other. 
As the children of a once brilliant playwright and a struggling actress, the Haas siblings were raised in a chaotic environment, abandoned into a shadowy adult world made up of equal parts glamour and neglect. When their father dies, they must depend on their intense but fragile bond to remember what it means to be family despite years of anger and hurt. From Amy’s adolescent yearnings for a “normal” life to George’s search for love and Kate’s struggle to not always be perfect, to the gritty details of Finn’s addictive and destructive behavior, the Haas children come to learn that this family — no matter how ragged and flawed — provides all the hope they need.

Of course there is also News and Praise for the insightful look into complexities of human nature and its needs. For the characters found Robin and demanded their voices to be heard, their own perspectives to be told. In fact this debut novelist admits, “…sometimes the conversations I heard in my head were audible — so audible that I had to drop whatever I was doing at the time to write.”

Indeed the genuine honesty of Amy, George, Kate, and Finn make them so true-to-life that I asked Robin how she managed that?

She replied: “How can I answer your question about getting them so true? Only to say that the voices I heard for each character were so real — at times it was like I was taking dictation. Also – in this book — I went where it made me squirm in my seat. I opened closed doors. I wrote what I felt regardless of the inner critic. I tried to honor the characters of my creation as real living breathing human beings. It’s not all pretty. As a matter of fact it can get stomach turning nasty. But I couldn’t change it if I tried.”

And by relating some of those truths she’s received hate mail regarding sexual preferences. Nevertheless the author says: “Whatever, the complaint — I know that SUMMER and its characters have touched a nerve, readers are vested in their futures — and to me — that means I’ve done my job as a writer.”

To provide a complete picture of the family from every perspective, The Summer We Fell Apart was divided into sections which almost, yet don’t quite, overlap. The first to be heard from — and the only one written in first person — is 17-year old Amy as Robin explains:

“I wrote the character of Amy in first person because as the youngest, she is very “‘me'” centered. It is simply the characteristic of the teenager that the world revolves around them — and first person really allowed Amy to grow from a teenager when the book opens to a late twenty-something. Amy will always be the baby. I tried all of the characters in first (as I also wrote Amy in 3rd) but in the end it felt like too much noise to have everyone as first. Their personalities didn’t dictate that in your face storytelling as Amy’s did — and given their problems and neurosis — it’s probably for the better.”

What’s even better is being able to Read an excerpt of Amy’s story.

While the video of family home movies reveals a partial background for The Summer We Fell Apart, the actual novel almost reads like a script from a “well done” TV reality series. Robin Antalek’s words flow with passionate thoughts and feelings. Amy, George, Kate. Finn and their mother talk while the reader listens…captivated. With a breathtaking attention to detail, the author also shows the most intimate of personal behavior as if she had filmed the scenes. To read this novel is to feel a bit voyeuristic, yet it’s impossible to turn away because the author has succeeded in making you care.

In her guest post, Guest Robin Antalek on Raising (Writing) Good Characters, she notes:

“Because of my process, or maybe in spite of, who knows, readers identify strongly with these fictional siblings. And two of the questions I always get from readers whether it’s a book club visit or via mail is: who is your favorite? And, are they all okay?”

Yes they are THAT real and this debut novelist has given us all a wonderful opportunity to get to know, understand, and spend time with them in their world. Although The Summer We Fell Apart is filled with personal trials and past failures, it is also based on hope — that love forever binds to offer strength as well as direction. If you’re looking for a memorable summer read, Robin Antalek has written it for you…enjoy!

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Robin Antalek’s The Summer We Fell Apart in a random drawing to anyone who comments only on this specific post. Comments left on other posts during the week are not entered into the contest. The deadline is Wednesday, June 30, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winner to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to possibly claim your book.

Guest Robin Antalek on Raising (Writing) Good Characters

June 22, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

[Robin Antalek, in her debut novel The Summer We Fell Apart, (Facebook) introduces the reader to four main characters — all siblings in a dysfunctional family. In today’s guest post she describes the toil and toll required to birth, develop, and then let each one go out into the world…even beyond the book’s pages.]

During the process of writing The Summer We Fell Apart I was a mess. These characters and their lives were so demanding of my emotional well-being (including some very non-hygienic periods – ick –sorry) that I nearly had nothing left for my daughters’, my husband, and my friends … you name it, I ignored it could have been my motto. In many ways it resembled those first few months of motherhood when I survived on instinct and very little else. Then and only then I was as in tune with my infant daughter (now 19) in the most basic of ways, our cyclical routine of: sleep, eat, burp, diaper, hardly varied from hour to hour and day to day for months on end. I existed only for her nourishment and needs.

Except here – in my fictional world — I could re-write the scene from the day before. I could change a word, delete a paragraph, erase a conversation, and alter the mood, all without excess emotional attachment. Or could I?

As the characters grew in my head, on the page, and into the story, there were things so intrinsic that even if I wanted to – I couldn’t mess with. When I tried to re-write their lives it just came up false and I knew – I knew – that no matter what I would have to allow them to be who they were meant to be for better or worse. As a parent and now as a writer, this was one of the hardest lessons I ever learned: your baby (characters) had to fail, it was inevitable and you had to stand by and let them as much as you wanted to run ahead screaming danger and pointing out the bad guys.

The writing life – creating character, plot, theme and story is not so unlike those early days of motherhood. As I was submerged in the world of my newborn – so was I in the “newborn-ness” (so not a word – forgive me) of Amy, George, Finn and Kate Haas. I only worked on one character and their section of the novel at a time – so through the course of the book I metaphorically gave birth four times – and if you think they didn’t demand all my attention – including stealing some serious sleep – you would be wrong. As if I raised quadruplets, this crew was in my face the entire two years it took from conception to birth.

Because of my process, or maybe in spite of, who knows, readers identify strongly with these fictional siblings. And two of the questions I always get from readers whether it’s a book club visit or via mail is: who is your favorite? And, are they all okay? I have to answer in all honesty that some of the siblings were easier to be around than the others at times (as are my own beautiful girls’) – but I am hard pressed to choose a favorite. It would be tantamount to choosing between my children. The answer to the second question? Well that gives me chills every time – in the asking and the answer. It’s what all of us as parents hope for our own children: they are okay, they are making their way in the world. They will figure it out, there’s hope. Always, always, hope.

The Summer We Fell Apart has taken on a life of its own – as have Amy, Kate, George and Finn. And in the words of their mother, Marilyn, “…it is more than I ever imagined.”

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away a copy of Trish Ryan’s latest memoir, A Maze of Grace in a random drawing to anyone who comments only on this specific post, Trish Ryan and A Maze of Grace. Comments left on other posts during the week are not entered into the contest. The deadline is Wednesday, June 23, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winner to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to possibly claim your book.

The Revealing of Robin Antalek

June 16, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Profiles

Soon after Robin Antalek debuted with her first novel, The Summer We Fell Apart, on January 5, 2010, it was selected as a TARGET Breakout Book. Perhaps you’ve already read it and understand the reason for these insightful words:

“A preoccupied playwright father and a cult-actress mother are the stars of the Haas family in Antalek’s well-crafted and cunning debut novel…. a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and to the importance of family ties regardless of family history, making this an endearing and easy-to-relate-to dysfunctional family drama.” – Publishers Weekly

However, if you’ve yet to discover Robin’s first novel, what a more appropriate time than now….during the summer? The Divining Wand has scheduled a presentation/review of The Summer We Fell Apart for Monday, June 28, 2010 but today is the opportunity to meet the author through her “official” bio:

Robin Antalek’s work has been published in numerous literary journals. She lives in Saratoga Springs, New York, with her husband and two daughters. The Summer We Fell Apart is her first novel.

And to get to know Robin, in her own words, simply read what she’s revealed:

Q: How would you describe your life in 8 words?
A: Full house: children, dogs, food and my guy.

Q: What is your motto or maxim?
A: Kindness first.

Q: How would you describe perfect happiness?
A: Serendipity – the unplanned moments.

Q: What’s your greatest fear?
A: That I won’t know when I’m at the end – whether metaphorically or on the manuscript page.

Q: If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose to be?
A: The pristine beaches of South West Florida circa 1975 or the rush of Manhattan.

Q: With whom in history do you most identify?
A: Charlotte de Berry

Q: Which living person do you most admire?
A: It would have to be plural: my daughters’.

Q: What are your most overused words or phrases?
A: Give me a minute. Not now. Yes.

Q: If you could acquire any talent, what would it be?
A: Eating good food without gaining weight.

Q: What is your greatest achievement?
A: Where I am right now in this very moment.

Q: What’s your greatest flaw?
A: Impatience!

Q: What’s your best quality?
A: The ability to see past impossible.

Q: What do you regret most?
A: Losing touch with people who mattered along the way….

Q: If you could be any person or thing, who or what would it be?
A: I really don’t think like that – I love the life I have.

Q: What trait is most noticeable about you?
A: Laughter – I laugh all the time – sometimes inappropriately.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional hero?
A: Cherry Ames, Student Nurse. She always had a patient with amnesia – fascinating.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional villain?
A: Okay – this stumped me!

Q: If you could meet any athlete, who would it be and what would you say to him or her?
A: I’m not a sports person – however, I would like to meet someone who has sailed solo around the world.

The idea of one person against the power of the sea is pretty awesome.

Q: What is your biggest pet peeve?
A: Mean people.

Q: What is your favorite occupation, when you’re not writing?
A: As far as I’m concerned these three are interlocked as one: Reading, cooking, and eating.

Q: What’s your fantasy profession?
A: I’m living the dream.

Q: What 3 personal qualities are most important to you?
A: Humor, honesty and the ability to dream.

Q: If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your days, what would it be?
A: Pasta

Q: What are your 5 favorite songs?
A: You Can’t Always Get What You Want – The Rolling Stones
God Bless The Child – Billie Holiday
The Very Thought of You – Ray Noble
Halleluiah – Jeff Buckley
People Get Ready – Jeff Beck /Rod Stewart version

Q: What are your 5 favorite books of all time?
A: This is a TOTALLY unfair question! Just five??
Mary and O’Neil by Justin Cronin
The Annunciation by Ellen Gilchrist
In The Land of Dreamy Dreams by Ellen Gilchrist
Chilly Scenes of Winter by Ann Beattie
The Good Mother by Sue Miller tied w/ The Wonders Boys by Michael Chabon

Gracious, with an optimistic, thoughtful perspective, discover even more about Robin Antalek by becoming her friend on Facebook and read her Blog: Robin Antalek.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away a copy of the triple memoir Three Wishes by Carey Goldberg, Beth Jones, and Pamela Ferdinand in a random drawing to anyone who comments only on this specific post, Carey Goldberg, Beth Jones, and Pamela Ferdinand with Three Wishes. Comments left on other posts during the week are not entered into the contest. The deadline is tonight, June 16, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winner to be announced here in tomorrow’s post. If you enter, please return tomorrow to possibly claim your book.