Wednesday, June 22, 2011

What does the D word mean?

Welcoming, Robin Antalek, the very talented and successful author of The Summer We Fell Apart.

When I wrote The Summer We Fell Apart I was not thinking about family dysfunction. I was not thinking about the D word at all. I wrote about this big messy family of artists and writers living in a large broken down house and all that longing that comes with the headspace of creative people living together. I saw the four children of Richard and Marilyn Haas as the very real end-product of a pair of dreamers, their lives and love and needs at cross purposes with the reality of raising a big family. I didn’t see these characters, which sprung fully formed from the writing gods, as victims or saviors. I just knew that I wanted to tell the story of what it was like to grow up in a large group, of how siblings often split off into smaller factions. Specifically I wanted to tell the story of the bond between the youngest Haas child Amy and her brother George, and it wasn’t until I started talking to readers that I realized I had written so much more.

What does it say about me that I didn’t identify what happened in the Haas family as dysfunction? The first early review, a rave from Publishers Weekly no less, said (among other very nice things) that The Summer We Fell Apart was… “A testament to the resilience of the human spirit” and “an easy-to-relate to dysfunctional family drama.”

What dysfunction?

My agent and editor and publishing house were thrilled at the positive buzz. Soon, more

reviews came in and most all of them used that word. Target picked up the book for nationwide distribution as a “break-out” pick. Book groups started calling and I spoke with some really lovely people, over seventy groups in all, and all of whom wanted to know if I too had grown up with this level of dysfunction.

What dysfunction?

Naturally, not wanting to sound as if I needed immediate counseling by denial, I danced around the “D” word. Since the novel spanned fifteen years in the family, I stammered through

explanations about different parenting styles, less hands-on, less hovering. Readers dissected the flawed lives of the characters as evidence of their dysfunctional upbringing. They quoted passages, referred to episodes in their own lives, and shared stories of heartbreak and disappointments and triumphs.

Very soon I realized that what I described in the book was not so easy to explain away. The father was manipulative and often cruel, disappointed by the failure of his own dreams he drank and had affairs and did nothing to shield his wife or family from the drama. His wife, reacting to the failure of her marriage retreated to her room and allowed her children to do what they wished. They floundered amid the chaos with moments of tremendous stupidity and grace. Just like we do in real life.

Finally, I ventured to ask my parents if they thought what I had created in the book was the ultimate dysfunctional family. My father, at 81, looked amused by my question. He touched the cover. “This is life,” he said. “Just life.” He paused. His own mother had died when he was three. His father, a jazz musician, unsure of what to do with a small child and his own grief, passed off my father to his dead wife’s six sisters, all, it is safe to say, at vastly different stages of their lives, all of them unprepared for a small

mother-less boy. My father’s upbringing was a patchwork of homes based upon adult availability; often he slept head-to-toe with cousins, my great-grandfather popping in from time to time between gigs. My father never felt he had a place to call his own until he bought his first house, and even then, we knew, it was hard for him to shake the shadows of the past.

“What is the urge to label everything?” My father asked. We do what we have to do to survive, we have faith, and in the midst of it all we have each other.”

And that, I realized, is all any of us can do, in life or in fiction.


ROBIN ANTALEK is the author of The Summer We Fell Apart (HarperCollins 2010) chosen as a Target Breakout Book and soon to be published in Turkey by Artemis Yayinlari. A frequent contributor to The Nervous Breakdown (, her short fiction has appeared in 52 Stories, Five Chapters, Sun Dog, The Southeast Review and Literary Mama among others. You can visit her site @ or if brave enough, publicly admit to liking her on Facebook

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Happy Father's Day

Happy Father's Day

For Dad:

everything I write

is about forgiveness and light;

we come from dark places, enclosed spaces

snug and warm, from our mother’s womb

to a marble tomb

and in between is one shot

one light

one poem, one passionate night

one father, one mother

one daughter and another.

Dylan Thomas said “Do not go gentle into that good night,

…Rage, rage against the dying of the light,” and

you and I take it to heart.

From you, I got rage. From you, my mad zest

my unapologetic opinions and voice

The truth that there is beauty in drama and noise.

Discordant. Mad. Cacophonic.

The sound of the five am dumpster.

The click-clack of spoon against #1 Dad

The Cremation of Sam McGee

long division at the dining room table

getting in front of that ball, getting down on one knee.

In On the Road, Jack Kerouac wrote, “The only people for me are the mad ones,

the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’”

That’s you, “centerlight pop,” Awwwwwwwwwww,

and that’s me,

I am desirous, eccentric and grateful for everything.

Every second the sun lights up your face

Every time I hear you laugh.

I love you, dAd!!!!!

micki-moose, Father’s Day, 2011

Thursday, June 9, 2011

My BFF is awesome. Tell me about yours.

My BFF lives in London, England, and I haven't seen her since she had her baby, Noah!

Mind you, when I had my son, over six years ago, she was my go-to gal. She did everything for me. She even had beer in the refrigerator the day I came home from the hospital. She and her then boyfriend, now husband, took care of our sweet dog, Emma Peel, while I was in the hospital. ...Oh, and lest I forget, after my "Mum" and my husband, she was the first person I told that I was pregnant. When she told me about her own pregnancy, it was via Skype, and I burst into tears. She'd done the same for me--but in person.

There's nothing like having that BFF, that girl who understands everything, and knows just what to say to make it all better.

Gemma is coming to the states this summer, and we're taking a holiday at the beach. I haven't seen her in so long, but I know that when I do see her, it will be like no time has passed (except for the baby...) Hee hee.

When I was preggers, Gemma also threw me the most terrific baby shower with handmade invitations, wonderful food, games and guests. ...And not too many games because you don't want to drive people crazy... and a select few "mates" were invited as well.

I remember that when we first met, she said, "My name's Gemma," in her delightful British accent, and I said, "My dog's name is Emma, which is like your name, except with a 'G'." Now, some people (not Gemma) might think, 'You just compared me to your dog.' Rather, she said, "I like dogs." She's the best egg so she likes animals in general.

Here's to all our BFFs. Whether near or far, there's nothing like knowing that you have that kindred spirit in the world. Maybe call yours up today. XO

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

"Listen, I know what you are..."

Family and Dysfunction: You got a good story to share? Tell me!!!!!!!!

When I was a teenager and I had a date, my dad would answer the door in his underwear. He would then have the unsuspecting boy sit on the couch and explain to him: "Listen, I know what you are... You're a hard-dick son-of-a-bitch, and you better not lay a finger on my daughter. I'll break your finger. I'll do more than that."

Eventually, word got around high school that anyone who wanted to take Michele on a date, should arrange to meet her outside her house, preferably six to seven houses or six to seven miles away from her dad.

Mind you, this is great fodder for being a novelist, and I love my crazy SOB DAD. He'd still break your finger if you tried to mess with me.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Why I love the ultimate boyfriend Ken!

I love New York. Today, while I was trying to buy some postcards or something, I got sandwiched by some big dudes, like Chris Kattan, Will Ferrell and Jim Carrey (on SNL) on the corner of 7th and 49th, and they said, "We like your tattoo!" "Are you a Pisces?" "The best sex I ever had was with a Pisces."
I said, "That doesn't surprise me!" Sassy girl. Me.
Then, the one guy says, "I'm serious."
I said, "So am I?"
"Are you married?"
"Better believe it."
"I'm not surprised."

"Hey," one of the guys shouts to Mickey Mouse, or the man in the Mickey Mouse costume, "It's okay. You can smack her ass. I think she'll like it." Now, I have no idea what Mickey Mouse was doing behind me. I can only imagine.

Fortunately for me (or unfortunately... if you are one of those people who has a fetish for big stuffed animals), Mickey didn't smack my ass.

Earlier today, an Egyptian taxi driver, 46, with 4 kids and 4 grandkids, lectured me on the evils of adoption, and told me that I needed to have more babies. Not only that, but if necessary, he would father them. People really like me!

I am grateful for all the strange mysogynistic and humorous men in New York. It's important to have a sense of humor!

If it weren't for them, I wouldn't have gone to the Barbie land of Toys R Us and bought a Ken doll who says whatever I tell him to say! Le Petit ami ideal; der perfeckte freund

"Oh Shel," he says. "You're so beautiful. I can't imagine my life without you."

"Gee... Thanks, Ken." If only you had a penis...