Saturday, August 09, 2014
THREE BIRD SUMMER by Sara St. Antoine - Guest Post and Giveaway!
The seeds for THREE BIRD SUMMER were sown many years ago when my grandmother interrupted my television-watching to ask me what she should do about the little girl in her bedroom.
I looked at her, stunned. I was the only little girl in the house. I accompanied her back to her room, where she pointed to a childhood photograph of my aunt, sitting framed on her dresser. “There she is,” she told me.
My relief at not finding a strange girl in my house was quickly replaced by the realization that my grandmother had been talking to a photograph! From then on, her moments of clarity alternated with regular delusions—like telling the lady in her mirror that her bedroom was much nicer than her own. Years later, I drew upon these memories to write a short story about a boy whose confused grandmother leaves him love notes. This being a college fiction class, my story was a little raw and edgy. If you thought your grandmother was a bit of a dried-up prune, would it be intriguing or just disgusting to discover that she could still write an amorous message? If she complimented you on your biceps, would that be anything but very creepy?
Over the next couple of decades, I kept thinking about that college short story. There was something there I wanted to get back to—about coming of age and waking up to the many layers of other people, not to mention yourself.
And so began THREE BIRD SUMMER, the story of a 12-year-old boy named Adam whose bewilderment with the opposite sex is forced into sharp relief by a summer spent at a lakeside cabin with just his mother, addled grandmother, and boisterous new neighbor, Alice.
Wildlife, I knew, would be an important part of my story, too, so I set it at the natural place I know best—the woods and lake in northern Minnesota where my husband’s family has for generations spent their summers, and where I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy long, sweet stretches of time outdoors.
Like a lot of fiction writers, I created my characters with some sense of who they were and where they were going, but they then surprised me in countless ways. It turns out, for example, that if you take your grandmother—a petite citified Irishwoman—and set her down in northern Minnesota, she gets more physically robust and a little bit obsessed with birdwatching. You put an introverted boy next to an extroverted girl and just add water, and the next thing you know you they’re laughing and making up aquatic games you never played yourself.
THREE BIRD SUMMER has a bit of a mystery in it that I planned from the outset. I knew how the mystery would start and I knew how it would be solved. But when I finished writing, I realized it had turned into something more: a metaphor for that increased awareness that I associate with growing into a more attuned and empathetic human being. It made me realize that a story is a bit like a baby—you may be responsible for bringing it into the world, but soon it’s going to assert itself in all sorts of unexpected, confusing, and occasionally magical ways.
When THREE BIRD SUMMER appeared on the shelves of my local bookstore two months ago, I thought I’d reached the high point in any author’s career: a beautiful book in print. (Thank you, Candlewick!) But it turns out that a published book, too, takes on a life of its own. It speaks to readers in ways you didn’t anticipate. It opens up fresh conversations with friends and family members and gives you new insights into who they are. Apparently it gives them new insights into you, too (this part is a little bit scary). But the best part has been finding out that individuals—kids, teens, parents, and even grandparents—have read my book and found something they love: feisty Grandma, ebullient Alice, the animal “keepers of the lake” as one reader put it, or the reminder of a time when our days moved slowly enough to pay attention to ripples in the water or the birds perched overhead. Maybe a seasoned author gets used to that kind of feedback, but for me, it’s still a wonder.
Sara St. Antoine writes from her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she lives with her husband, two daughters, and cat, Tapioca. In addition to writing fiction, she has edited the Stories from Where We Live series (Milkweed Editions)--anthologies of regional literature for young people. Sara's fave writing spot is at her local bookstore, Porter Square Books.
Candlewick has kindly agreed to give away one free copy of THREE BIRD SUMMER to one of my lucky commenters. Must live in the US or Canada to win - enter below.