Monday, May 28, 2012

My favorite mom

I just got back from Memorial Day weekend at Lake Martin in Alabama, where I grew up. The setting for my book Endless Summer is based on this lake, and the action starts Memorial Day weekend, too. So this book holds a special place in my heart--especially at this time of year.
But among my books, Endless Summer is unusual for another reason. The parents are characters.
I read an article once on the TV sitcom Friends as a family comedy. The argument went that most sitcoms are about a family unit. It’s just that in some examples, the main characters are surrounded by a surrogate family--friends or co-workers--that fulfills the function of a family. I think that’s the way I write a lot of my YA books. When you’re a teen, your friends aren’t more important than your family, but that’s often what it feels like, and you’re almost certainly spending more time with your friends than with your family. If friends are so important in a novel, parents fade into the background because there’s not enough room for them. If absolutely everyone is an important character, “important” doesn’t mean anything anymore.
Endless Summer was different. It’s actually two books in one volume--The Boys Next Door and the sequel, Endless Summer--so I had more room and more plot to play with. In the books, Lori and her brother have lived next door to brothers Adam, Sean, and Cameron for as long as they can remember. Lori has a crush on Sean. Adam has a crush on Lori. As the love triangle turns ugly, the other brothers get involved. And then the parents get involved, because that’s what would happen if you’d lived next door to each other for that long.
Even though I’ve written a lot of novels that focused on teens as characters with parents in the background, I found it easy to write fully formed parent characters for once--and the reason, I think, is that I am a parent now. I remember what it was like to be a teenager, and I empathize with everything Lori and the other teens do. But I also empathize with Lori's dad and Adam’s mom, and though I might not parent this way myself, I understand the draconian-seeming punishments they hand down to keep their children out of (more) trouble.
Ironically, of the four parents in this story, my favorite is the mother figure who isn’t a mother at all: Frances, Lori’s ex-nanny. She is inspired in part by my ultra-calm mother. In fact, I take a couple of pot-shots at my mom in the book that only she would understand. (When I was growing up she would never let me have any Double-Stuf Oreos. Lori doesn't get any, either, and she is resentful.). I guess the pot-shots were not too serious, because it’s her favorite of all my books, and she loves Frances as much as I do. She never read Mother Earth magazine like Frances and she didn't make us drink soy milk, but when I was screaming in terror about imagined beasties in the lake, she was calmly watching from the dock, just like Frances. Her constant presence is as much a part of my memories of the lake as any sunny day or flirtation with a gorgeous boy, so it's no wonder she worked her way into the book when I wasn't looking.

My lake this weekend!


1 comment:

  1. That's SO TRUE what you say about levels of importance...

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