Lynne Griffin is the author of Life Without Summer–a novel about the hit-and-run death of a child and how her mother copes with the aftermath, juxtaposed with the story of the mother’s therapist and her own loss-filled past and present. Though the storyline asks you to bear witness to the sometimes difficult journey of a grieving parent, it provides rich rewards through compelling storylines, characterizations and the journey of recovery. In particular, there is something rare in the way Lynne portrays emotions, revealing a sensitive novelist who has the ability to sink beneath the surface of the skin and deliver raw humanity to the page.
Though Life Without Summer is her debut novel, Lynne is also a nonfiction author and parenting expert. How has her nonfiction experience helped her to write a book about the psychology of parenting and loss? And why did she decide to write this book? We’re thrilled she took time out to answer these and other questions for us. Enjoy!
Q: Your novel, Life Without Summer, is a powerful drama about lost children and the ripple effect that loss has on family. Can you tell us what inspired this book? What has it meant to you to write it?
A: I’m no stranger to loss. My father died when I was fifteen, my mother when I was forty. Though I’ve never lost a child, I admit to being gripped by the fear it could happen to me. I wrote Life Without Summer as a way of coping with the fear of loss, the stabbing pain of it. Writing it gave me the chance to offer hope to others who may be afraid; and it was my attempt to comfort those who know loss intimately, as I do.
Tessa’s and Celia’s stories, though different in so many ways, highlight the aspects of grief that are universal. And while every person’s journey toward healing is deeply personal, I believe we’re all tied to each other in the collective experience of it. At some point everyone will make grief’s acquaintance.
I was working on another novel when the story came to me. I imagined two women struggling with different grief stories, each personal loss echoing the other’s. From the beginning, I knew the first and last lines, and how the two families would come to be forever connected. Writing this novel was deeply cathartic. To me it’s not a tragic one; I’ve always felt that it was a hopeful, redemptive story.
Q: You’re an authority on parenting—a regular on Boston’s Fox 25 news and the author of the book Negotiation Generation: Take Back Your Parental Authority without Punishment. How has your nonfiction background helped in writing this novel or in influencing it—if it has?
A: Oh, it has. I’ve been a family life expert for more than twenty years, and there’s so much about my work counseling parents, observing children, and teaching educators about families that I use in writing fiction. In many ways, my knowledge of human behavior is the vital ingredient I use for writing my stories. All writers take bits from all aspects of their lives. Anton Chekhov called them, little particulars. Given my work with families and my desire to capture family life in authentic ways, there’s no shortage of seeds I can use to inform my writing.
Q: This book has many strengths, but I believe the greatest is in the way you portray loss and recovery. It seems you must’ve had a strong base of knowledge before writing. Can you tell us how you researched this book in order to tell it so authentically?
A: Thank you for the generous compliment. As a counselor, I’ve always been struck by the healthy and unhealthy ways grief work gets done. As a novelist, I took my job of capturing the trajectory of grief very seriously. Like the women in my novel, I’ve felt the incredible longing to be whole again after losing a loved one, to be the person I was before grief introduced herself to me, so I held myself to a high standard on getting the grief aspects right. It was the investigation into the hit and run accident that took the most research. I spent a lot of time doing interviews with police, accident specialists, and the like. I wanted that plot line to be accurate and plausible.
Q: I admire the deft way you handled the juxtaposition of two very different family tales, especially because the main characters—Tessa and Celia—are poles apart; Tessa is loose and carefree, while Celia is a tightly buttoned woman. Were these characters easy to develop? Did either of them give you trouble as you wrote the story? Did either surprise you?
A: Honestly, I connect with each woman’s story, but for different reasons. I really get Tessa’s fierce edgy way of coping. I’m a bit intense myself, so I understand why at times she goes for shock value. Celia says at one point, “…Tessa is a staircase of emotion, one minute up, the next minute down.” I’m sensitive and emotional, so I respect these personality traits and don’t shy away from those who express their emotions in big ways.
As for Celia, I have a lot of compassion for her. I can see how easily a woman torn apart by loss might make a few missteps, suddenly finding herself on a road she wouldn’t be on if grief hadn’t toyed with her sensibilities. Celia even says to Tessa in one session, “…women often take different roads toward healing after a loss…just be careful not to get so far…that you can’t find your way back.” I have great empathy for her inability to take her own advice. It’s one thing to know the right thing to do; it’s another entirely to do the right thing, especially in a situation like hers.
In terms of who gave me the most trouble, it was Celia. She was so buttoned up, as you put it, that it was hard to get to the bottom of her situation. But once I did, I felt enormous compassion for her. It was in the revision process that her real grief story revealed itself.
Q: The story is written in two first-person POV’s. Was this always the clear way to go for you, and why?
A: Life Without Summer is told in two voices because I wanted to give readers an up close and very personal look at not one, but two, distinct paths toward grieving a loss. I chose first person accounts, by both Tessa and Celia, since this is the most intimate point of view for storytelling. I didn’t want to leave any distance between the characters and my readers. I also chose what’s called, epistolary, or journal format, because once again, I felt it would be quite personal to glimpse inside these women’s diaries. My point of view choice and the novel’s structure meant that at times the story becomes raw, yet it was very important to me to show an honest look at the process of moving into and out of the grief experience. I wanted to give readers a true sense of what it feels like to embrace or reject healing.
It was a challenge to take on the literary principle of internal parallelism, one where each story echoes the other until they ultimately converge, but I love structure in all aspects of my life so it was fun to push myself as a writer in this way. I plan for my next novel to use a unique structure, too.
Q: Which scenes, if any, were the most challenging to write?
A: I can’t recall specific scenes giving me trouble per se. Though certain journal entries, like the one where Tessa goes to confront her daughter’s teacher after the accident outside the preschool, and Celia’s birthday party, were emotional to write.
Come back next week for part two of my interview with Lynne Griffin, when we’ll talk about her sale story, the best advice she’s ever received and more!