Today I'm pleased to welcome Amanda Howells the author of The Summer of Skinny Dipping. The ending of the book definitely caught me by surprise and Amanda offered to stop by and talk more about it! Thanks for stopping by Amanda!
SUMMER SWEETNESS, SUMMER SADNESS
Thanks, Alea, for asking me to guest post about the ending of my novel, The Summer of Skinny Dipping. I'll do my best not to give away the particulars so that those who haven't read it won't get a spoiler from me, the person who most wants you to read it! Instead, I'll tell you a bit about why my novel goes in a tragic direction, rather than give away exactly what happens.
The first thing that sparked this novel was the title—not the plot, not a character's voice speaking to me. As some of you may already know, I just woke up one morning with the book title in my head. Once I had the title, certain other elements fell into place. Of course the book was going to be a summer romance—a genre I've always been drawn to. And yes, there would be skinny dipping! I didn't know much about the couple, Mia and Simon, in the early stages of writing but I knew it would be a love story and somehow, I just knew it wasn't going to have a happy ending. In fact the very first concrete scene that came to me was the final scene: I saw a girl standing on the beach after this epic summer, thinking about a boy she loved. Behind her, the summer house she had known since her childhood stood empty—everyone scattered, the summer gone.
So I started this story with a very clear image of the end. I had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen to bring my character to that beach, alone. The rest of the writing process was a kind of backwards move, gradually uncovering who these characters were and what choices they made to arrive at the denouement, where Mia reflects on the tragic but also magical summer that is now behind her.
Sad endings are risky. They can certainly alienate readers, especially for a romance with a title and cover like mine—a book that promises a "beach read." I can see how for those seeking something light and fun, the ending of my novel might give them the opposite of what they were looking for in the first place. And there are also readers who enjoyed the novel's deeper themes but still felt upset with the ending: it's unpredictable and upsetting. For some, too much so.
It's not for me to say whether the ending works—my readers seem evenly split between liking it and not. I will say that what might be an unfortunate surprise to the reader felt inevitable to me all along. The ending chose me, not the other way around. Ditto the title. Once I had it I knew it was for keeps, even though in some ways the title has worked against me, suggesting something lighter and sexier than what the book really is, costing me readers who might love the book and perhaps attracting those who won't like it instead. But that's a risk I had to take to be true to the story I wanted to tell.
There's a lot more I could say about what informed my characters and ultimately, where they end up. Various books had an influence, sad stories that made an impression on me when I was young and while writing The Summer of Skinny Dipping. And then there's The Great Gatsby, the ultimate American story of doomed love and broken dreams—a novel that I draw on quite heavily in my own. There's so much that consciously affected the decisions I made in this story, and then there's also that mysterious part of writing, where characters just tell you where they want to go.
Ultimately, I can only hope that whether readers love or hate the ending, it doesn't overwhelm the story. I wanted to write something truly bittersweet, equal parts sadness and happiness, equal parts sorrow and joy. Like love itself, like life itself. Because for better and worse, nothing is perfectly wonderful nor perfectly terrible. And nothing lasts forever—not even summer which, especially when you're young and out of school for a vacation, can seem blissfully endless. I surely remember how time itself feels irrelevant when there are no clocks to wake you in the morning, no school bells ringing—just lovely lazy, balmy days, each slowly stretching out into the next…
I'll leave this post here. This time I'll give you a simple happy ending, lingering on that happy thought, and on that beautiful word so filled with possibility: summer.