Therese here. Please welcome today’s guest, Robin Antalek, author of The Summer We Fell Apart, which was published last year by Harper Collins, called a “well-crafted and cunning debut novel” by Publishers Weekly, and named a Target Breakout Book. The Summer We Fell Apart is the story of four siblings, over the course of fifteen years, who’ve suffered from a neglectful upbringing, and the importance of their connectivity to one another. A story that author Diana Spechler says is “as haunting as it is gripping.”
Robin’s short fiction has appeared in Five Chapters, 52 Stories, Literary Mama, Sun Dog, among others. She is also a regular contributor at The Nervous Breakdown.
I’m so pleased she’s with us today to talk about lessons learned on the road to publishing her debut novel. Enjoy!
Things I Learned from my Debut Novel
When The Summer We Fell Apart was acquired by Harper Collins, I was shopping in a warehouse store for the anniversary party I was hosting for my in-laws. Propped in my cart was the file folder I had carried across the country all summer crammed with lists and numbers, the caterers’ menu, the party rental place, the cake lady, the flowers, and a list of the miscellaneous items for purchase. My cell rang and it was my agent on the other end with the news. I started to laugh like crazy in the paper goods aisle, until tears came to my eyes. Here was the moment I had been waiting for, and I was surrounded by super-size packages of toilet paper and paper towels. This should have been a warning: I was so not prepared for what was about to happen.
I read early: by three I was sounding out words, four I was reading books, five I was comprehending a few years ahead of my peers. Writing was a natural extension. For years I supplemented my income by writing press releases, radio scripts, and local news pieces. Fiction was for fun as I placed in contests, published in literary journals, and attracted the attention of an agent. Fiction was fun until The Summer We Fell Apart was published, Target picked it up as a Breakout Book and suddenly a lot more people were paying attention.
And I freaked out.
Book clubs came calling, there was a book tour to do with readings and signings, my e-mail box was full of requests and congratulatory letters, some were confessional, readers had connected to the stories of the Haas siblings and wanted to tell me their own. I was in newspapers, on TV, the radio, podcasts and interviewed by NPR and for a while I was on seemingly every virtual blog tour. Suddenly there were critics and Amazon rankings and some not so flattering reviews that dared to wonder how I was allowed to even publish such garbage. People assumed I knew what I was doing and all the while I was floundering. I was grateful for the attention, the sales, the public embrace of the book, but I was sick to death of me. For someone who had spent years writing stories with her imaginary friends, I found myself naked in public.
It’s been eighteen months since publication. I have visited over 70 book groups, given countless readings, met some truly fearless readers, responded to as many notes as possible and I have also learned a few things for next time:
Ignore the inner critic: She will attend every event you do. Be in the moment, be gracious, and be grateful. You didn’t write for the critic, you wrote for yourself. Remember that always. Accept that there will always be someone to point out your faults, and you will be a much saner person.
Keep writing: For a few months I did nothing but attend to the business of my newborn book. It was the most thrilling time of my life, but I was also miserable because I had no head space to write. Finally, I allotted myself an hour before I moved onto the business of my day. It was like prayer, a cleansing breath, and a deep inhale rolled into one.
And yet: Forget about writing book number two. There may be authors who seem super human. They are able to promote one book while writing another. I saw examples of this all over the place and I was making myself nuts playing the comparison game. If you are inspired by all means go for it – but also, give yourself a break. You wrote one book, you can write another in good time.
If there is a mantra for any debut author it should be this: be courageous, be true, be open to everyone, remember the critic is not an indication of your self-worth, keep writing, pay it back where ever you can and above all else, enjoy, for this is truly your moment.
Have a writing mantra you’d like to share? The floor is yours. Write on.