Monday, April 20, 2009

What Lynne Wanted to Be

"Griffin’s carefully crafted characters ring heartbreakingly true and her finely wrought plot will snare readers from the first page."

**Publishers Weekly starred review of Life Without Summer

Rhys wanted to be a lion tamer. Ken wanted to be an astronaut. Susannah, a ballet dancer. (So did many of us.) We were talking out our childhood ambitions yesterday, and how we got where we are. Or where we thought we would go. How does it happen?

Lynne Reeves Griffin--whose Life Without Summer is getting raves--has been thinking about this, too.

Life with Lynne

After graduating from high school, I had aspirations to attend college for theater arts, but in the seventies girls were still strongly encouraged to choose teaching, nursing, or business occupations. So, I attended nursing school and later earned a Master’s degree in counseling.

Early in my career as a family life expert, I knew I would write a book on parenting. I have strong opinions on contemporary issues affecting families and have written articles and newspaper columns for years. When it became harder to capture my thoughts in those limited venues, that’s when I knew it was time to tackle a full length guide. Hence, the nonfiction title, Negotiation Generation, published in 2007 by Penguin.

As for fiction, though I was an actress in high school and college, sang professionally for a time, and have always journaled as a means of personal reflection, I’m a relative newcomer to writing stories. I began writing fiction five years ago and was part of a wonderful writers’ group with author of Tethered, Amy MacKinnon. I wasn’t half-way through a draft of Life Without Summer when I realized I’d found the artistic outlet I’d always been searching for. I am completely at home writing fiction. Though I certainly took a circuitous route to the art—these many years later a debut novelist—my healthcare, psychology, and education backgrounds have informed my fiction in countless ways. I have to believe my journey played out as it was meant to.

Life Without Summer is a story told in alternating voices, following the experiences of bereaved mother, Tessa, who is swept up by an increasingly bleak search for answers after her four-year-old daughter is killed in a hit-and-run accident, and her grief counselor, Celia, whose efforts to help Tessa are marked by painful family memories and emotions she’s tried to keep hidden from her family, and herself, for years.

Writing this story gave me the chance to explore the fears that plague mothers. The experiences the women face when their parental identities are shaken and loss threatens to break up more than just one family highlights not one, but two distinct paths toward grieving after loss.

In truth, Life Without Summer started off as a portrait of two families whose lives converge unexpectedly after a tragedy, but it became so much more. It's about the choices people make when faced with unbelievable pain. It's about what really holds relationships together when they're tested. It's about the choice we all have to forgive. I hope the novel’s strongest message is that there is hope in healing.

JRW: How does the reality of being an "author" differ from what you thought it would be?
LRG: I never imagined that it would be so fiercely competitive. Not author against author per se; more that there’s a lot of jockeying for media coverage, book store placement, and the like. I suppose I had romantic notions, along the lines of write a good book and you’re golden. It is painstaking work to find your readers.

JRW: So it's a mystery?
LRG: I once heard Hallie say that all novels are either mysteries or romances—so if that’s true, it’s a mystery. Yet I don’t see it as a mystery in the true sense. It’s been labeled psychological suspense, upmarket fiction, and women’s fiction. Yet my intention was simply to write a story about two women who have grief stories that echo one another’s. And I knew from the beginning that their lives would converge unexpectedly when lies and betrayals were revealed.

JRW: What's one bit of advice?
LRG: Learn to accept ambivalence. There’s a lot to be hopeful about when you’re launching a book into the world, but there’s a lot you must become resigned to. You can control what you write and the public image you portray. Yet you can not control whether or not you’ll get reviewed or whether or not you’ll schedule worthwhile events. There is so much that is out of your control.

JRW: Lynne is also a monster at promotion--she'll be here to answer questions. And I'll bet Lynne she'll have some thoughts about raising kids, too. (HANK: She's changed my life as a Grammy, that's for sure!)

At Hallie's launch: Barbara Shapiro, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Amy MacKinnon, Hallie Ephron, Kate Flora, and Lynne Reeves Griffin.

Lynne Griffin writes about family life. Her debut novel, Life Without Summer (St. Martin’s Press, 2009) is in bookstores now. She is the author of Negotiation Generation (Penguin, 2007) and appears regularly as parenting contributor on Boston’s Fox Morning News. To learn more about Lynne, visit her website,


  1. I can't wait to read your book, Lynne... What I want to know is what's in the water down there on the South Shore that produced two terrific debut novels from one group within six months of each other?!

    Tell us a little about your writing group and how it works.

  2. Oh, even though it's been labled "women's fiction," can I read it? Please?

    I'm definitely intrigued about the "choices people make when faced with unbelievable pain" aspect.

    Just when I thought I was making progress on my TBR pile...My TBR pile is like the mythical Hydra: Read one book, and two more take its place!

  3. Hallie,

    The minute I met Amy MacKinnon, I was certain she was a great writer to hitch my wagon to!

    The writers' group was a fantastic way to stay focused on the goal of completing a manuscript, and a marvelous way to learn about the industry. I strongly recommend writers find an effective one. And if at first one doesn't succeed, keep up the search.


  4. Hello Ken,

    Yes!! Of course you may read. Though others have labeled the novel, I try my best not to. I tried very hard to capture the grief work men do, specifically the choices two men make in the wake of the event.

    Ethan chooses to find solace in his religion, while Harry loses himself at the bottom of a bottle.

    I'd love to know what you think of my male characters, and if their journeys ring true.


  5. So, Lynne--did you all have novels underway when you began? Do you read out loud, or share pages and then discuss? Did it make you--nervous? Do you make changes when the rest of the group suggested it?

    And I think we should vote on whether Ken should be allowed to read it. :-)

  6. So, Lynne--did you all have novels underway when you began? Do you read out loud, or share pages and then discuss? Did it make you--nervous? Do you make changes when the rest of the group suggested it?Yes, we were all at the beginning of a novel. We met every other week, and two writers' pages would be reviewed. When your pages were being discussed (they would be read in advance of the meeting) you were silent. After the critique session was done, the writer could ask questions or seek clarification. Then it was on to the next critique.

    The way it worked, each writer had twenty or so pages reviewed once per month. It worked perfectly to keep you writing. And taking the feedback was a personal experience. Sometimes I took it, and sometimes I didn't. It all depended on whether or not it rang true for me, and fit with what I was trying to accomplish with my novel.


  7. Hmm. I'll venture out here--and say having a writers group is not my favorite idea.

    How about you all? Are you in one? Do you like it? Do they work?

  8. Thanks, Lynne!

    Tomorrow, another wonderful new author. She admits to having a disease--one you may also be susceptible to!

    What are the symptoms--and is there a cure?

    Check in tomorrow and see...

  9. Lynne, what great comments and advice about "lessons learned" as a newly published author.

    I'll confess I went to the JRW blog today because I wanted to check out a different post I'd heard was going to be here(referred to by Hank above, I won't spoil the surprise), but then I saw the interview with Lynne and was hooked. Lynne, your book sounds right up my alley and I will be ordering it today! Good luck with it!

  10. Lynne's story of how she got to novelist resonates with me. My route is also circuitous.