THE SUMMER THAT MADE US by Robyn Carr
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For Louise and Jo Hempstead—sisters who married brothers and each had three daughters—
summers at Lake Waseka were the happiest of times, filled with days of boating, swimming
races, and the sound of children laughing. For years, the lake was the place where the women
and their daughters loved each other the most. But when an unthinkable tragedy strikes in the
form of an accidental drowning, the family closes up the lake house for good, never to return.
Now, more than 25 years later, Louise’s daughter Meg is sick with cancer and enlists her sister,
Charlene, to reopen the lake house and gather the family for one last summer at the lake. But
years of pain and unspoken grief have pulled the Hempstead women in different directions, away
from each other: Meg might be dying; Charlene is unexpectedly jobless; Hope is reckoning with
the break-down of her marriage; Krista has just returned from a long prison sentence; Beverly is
still traumatized by the drowning; and Louise and Jo haven’t been close in years.
But blood is thicker than water, and Charlene hopes that time and family might be able to heal
even the deepest wounds. In this beautifully woven story about the complexities of family
dynamics and female relationships, return to the lake with the Hempstead girls for a season of
healing, second chances, and finally making peace with the past.
Q&A w/ Robyn Carr — THE SUMMER THAT MADE US
(I am so happy to welcome Robyn Carr to my blog today! Thank you so much for answering the following questions for us!)
Q: The novel centers around the women of the Hempstead family (mothers and daughters, sisters and cousins) and what happens when one of them, Charlene, decides to bring everyone back together many years after a tragedy tears the family apart. Can you tell us a little about the family structure and dynamics and where the idea for this story came from?
A: They’re a very unique family – sisters who married brothers and proceeded to have three daughters each, one a year for six years – so these sisters/cousins share a lot of DNA. They’re little stair-step blondes, and the women and children spend every summer at the family lake house. The setting in Minnesota, where I grew up, is a place where lake property is practically an institution. The women and children often went to the lake for the summer or at least for weeks at a time and the husbands/fathers would work in the city and join the rest of the family on weekends. My family didn’t have lake property but so many of my friends did and they lived for the magic of summer on a lake. Minnesota is called the Land of 10,000 Lakes for a reason.
There was a tragedy in the Hempstead family in 1989 when an accidental drowning took their youngest, a girl of 12, and the lake house was closed up, summers at the lake discontinued. Twenty-seven years later Charley, the oldest of the kids, agrees to spend the summer there with her sister Meg, who has been battling breast cancer. Meg longs for the healing powers of their beloved lake house and the happy memories of their summers there before tragedy struck. Little by little, other members of the family show up and over time they begin to unravel the myriad reasons their family became estranged, where all the girls spent their adulthoods—some famously, some infamously. It’s a story that balances reunion with new beginnings. And some long-pondered questions find answers.
Q: Each of the women in this novel is haunted, in different ways, by the tragedy from their past that caused the family to close up the house and never return to the lake again. How do each of the characters reckon with their past, and was it challenging, as a writer, to portray a number of different responses to and ways of dealing with grief?
A: Coming up with the differences is the fun part of being a writer. Hard but fun. Creating their differences is not nearly as hard as insuring they sound different, that their verbal responses are different. As for the sisters/cousins – their response to grief had more to do with their mothers, their parents, than with them. Charley became a very successful talk show host because her mother just was not there for her when she needed her most. Out of anger and determination, she succeeded. Hope retreated into a fantasy life where all that mattered was becoming a socialite, even if it was all in her head. Krista, whose father abandoned them and whose mother sank into a depression, starting running with a bad crowd and ended up in deep trouble. Meg suffered through a year of amnesia, and Beverly ended up in foster care. Twenty-seven years later, the challenges of a painful youth far in the past, most of the sisters/cousins are ready to have a look at how it could have been different and how it can be different now.
Q: One of the women in the novel, Charlene, has had a career as a very successful TV personality. Was her storyline inspired in part by your own success as a writer, and how do you stay grounded despite all of your professional success?
A: No, Charley was not inspired by me. I tend to write characters I admire and envy, at least starring characters. And although she’s had some rough breaks, Charley emerged with such tinsel strength and hard-won wisdom, I wished I could be like her.
As for staying grounded, I don’t know how well I do with that. I’m terrified of hubris. Death by hubris is a bad way to go. I’m ever aware of my flaws and shortcomings and I work at never taking any of my good fortune for granted and practicing acts of kindness when I see the opportunity. It’s a blessing to have written a lot of books and to have them well received, but I’d like to be remembered as a nice person, a good mother, a supportive and loving wife, and a community member who tries to leave the world a better place. That’s a lot. That’s a full time job, right there.
Q: What’s one thing that surprised you about this story — something that ended up in the book that you didn’t plan on when you first started writing?
A: One thing? You jest! There were many things that popped up – as always happens. That’s why I love my process, just writing and watching the story evolve. I never would have guessed one of the sexiest guys would end up being an ordained minister or that the Berkey sisters would (maybe!) kill a man and hide his body or that one of the sisters/cousins would end up in the psychiatric ward. The great thing about novel writing is that every day is a new and exciting one.
Q: We have to ask, what’s next for you? What are you working on right now, and what can readers look forward to next?
A: I’m writing the next book in the Sullivan’s Crossing series – we don’t have a title yet, but we’re close. I’m writing about Dakota Jones, formerly a major in the Army, and let me tell you, he is a good book boyfriend. Yes, he’s at the crossing, with his siblings Cal and Sierra, and he’s stirring up lots of interest. And a little trouble.
About: ROBYN CARR
Robyn Carr is an award-winning, #1 New York
Times bestselling author of more than 50 novels,
including the critically acclaimed Virgin River and
Thunder Point series, as well as highly praised
women’s fiction titles such as Four Friends, What
We Find, and The Life She Wants.
Robyn has won a RITA Award from the Romance
Writers of America, and in 2016 she was awarded
RWA’s Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award
for her contributions to the genre. Her novels have
been translated into 19 languages in 30 countries.
Originally from Minnesota, Robyn now resides in
Henderson, Nevada, with her aviator husband; they
have two grown children. When she isn’t writing,
Robyn puts her energy into community service: she
has mentored a seniors’ memoir-writing group,
attends book club chats in and out of state
whenever possible, and is working with her local
library on the Carr Chat Series, a program centered
on fundraising and visiting author events that bring
Robyn’s website: http://www.robyncarr.com/