Life with Lynne Griffin

This Saturday at 1pm, we welcome Lynne Griffin, author of the new novel Life Without Summer (St. Martin’s Press 2009). Lynne is a nationally recognized family life expert, whose book Negotiation Generation provides a welcome roadmap for parents who are learning to set appropriate limits with children. Her turn to fiction presents plenty of fraught family moments, as well: Life Without Summer draws a haunting portrait of two women whose lives converge after a hit and run accident outside a school. Lynne was kind enough to talk to me about her book.

Where did you start with this book…story or character? How did it come to you at first?

I was working on another novel when the idea for Life Without Summer came to me. From day one, I knew the first line and the last line of the story, and they’ve never changed. I also knew right from the beginning who was responsible for the accident. Though from early readers I did get feedback that this was a difficult character to assign the role to, I’ve never wavered in my commitment to tell the story as it came to me.

Tessa and Celia at first seem to have few similarities, but as their relationships unfolds, we see that they are not entirely different. Do you like one character more than the other? Understand one more? Did you enjoy writing one more?

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.

Did your experience as a parenting educator come into play at all?

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 for writing good stories. When I’m creating characters, I use what I know about personality and temperament research to be sure each one has the proverbial it factor. It doesn’t have anything to do with the set of physical traits I chose, though sometimes those can help. I don’t like certain characters because they’re nice, either.

In fact, whether I’m reading or writing, I like my characters to be deeply flawed. To be honest, the more flawed, the more I seem to like them. For me, character likeability comes with a tight connection between plausibility of behavior and empathy. When a character acts in a way I personally object to, moral or spiritually, I’m able to cast judgment aside if I can identify with what he or she did, or understand his or her motivations.

What did you learn in writing this first novel that surprised you the most?

How happy I am when I have a means of creative expression. 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. 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 Amy MacKinnon, author of Tethered. 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.

What’s next for you?

My next novel also deals with family life. In it I explore the impact secrets have on the closeness family members can share. I’ve always been intrigued by the power of truth on healing and the complexities of grief. I imagine all of my fiction will deal with these themes in some way.



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