Hi, and welcome to the Saugatuck Summer blog tour! First off, I want to thank Lisa and The Novel Approach for inviting me, and Marie Sexton for sitting down and chatting with me for this post.
For those of you who have seen me talking about it on social media for the last nearly year and a half, you know that Saugatuck Summer was a labor of love far beyond what I would normally claim for one of my books. Of course I love them all, but Saugatuck Summer came from my very soul. Actually, I’m not certain it came from me at all.
Basically, here’s what happened: One day I was driving along, running errands, and Topher Carlisle whispered one line of dialogue in my ear. Just one. When I asked him what I was supposed to do with that, he promptly took over my brain for fifteen absolutely insane days and at the end I had the first draft of Saugatuck Summer.
Topher’s story of recovery, hope, making mistakes, and growing up just told itself, and the experience of being the conduit for that was at times grueling and heartbreaking, but also euphoric and wonderful. It was one of those experiences that, as a creator of some form of art, be it musical, visual, or literary, you have once or twice in a lifetime if you’re extraordinarily lucky, when you know you’re creating something magical. I’m not sure it will ever happen to me again, but I feel absolutely blessed that this book has come of it.
This week on the Saugatuck Summer blog tour, I’ll be sharing some bonus content from the book and a sneak peek at another upcoming book in the Saugatuck universe. I’ll also be having a heart-to-heart discussion with Marie Sexton about our experiences as adult children of alcoholics and how they translated into writing our ACOA characters from Saugatuck Summer and Family Man, giving you a peek at some of “Jace’s” art, and I’ll be sharing the official Saugatuck Summer soundtrack from a brilliant singer/songwriter of my personal acquaintance, Casey Stratton.
And finally, all week long I’ll be asking trivia questions from Saugatuck Summer and this week’s blog tour articles, and each correct answer emailed to me offers you a chance to win your choice of any of my backlist titles!
So put on your sunscreen and let’s go!
You call the darkness back to you
I am ready to feed you to the night
I don’t have time to coddle you while you’re repeating the cycle
You just need a fixation to pass the time
I cannot supply what you need this time
I don’t have any strength left
But you’ll never see what is troubling me
You just turn the other cheek
–“Sacrifice” by Casey Stratton
When I wrote Saugatuck Summer, the song quoted in the two stanzas above was very much Topher’s anthem to his mother, because he had so much anger toward her, an anger that was a reflection of some of my own rage lingering from my childhood with an alcoholic parent. And a major theme throughout Saugatuck Summer is Topher healing from the havoc her addiction had wreaked upon his life.
Then a couple months later, I read Family Man by Marie Sexton and Heidi Cullinan and it rang so true to me that I knew one of the author’s had to have lived a similar experience. So I reached out to Marie Sexton and after some discussion, we decided to have a sort of open conversation for one of the posts of Saugatuck Summer blog tour. It’s not so much an interview as it is the two of us exchanging musings and opinions about our experiences and how they colored our handling of our respective characters. So here goes:
Amelia: Hi Marie! So, to recap for the readers, I contacted you last April after reading Family Man to compliment you on the portrayal of Trey, a character living and dealing with an alcoholic parent, which resonated very strongly with me. In fact, I had just a couple months previously finished writing Saugatuck Summer, in which my character, Topher Carlisle, deals with some of the same exact issues. In the subsequent discussion, it turned out we both borrowed heavily from our own experiences as children of alcoholics to write these characters.
Marie: Yes. Family Man was a tough book for me to write, for exactly that reason. When Heidi and I started it, it was just supposed to be this fun little side project. But before I knew it, I was dumping years worth of pent-up anger into it. I’d never written anything so blatantly autobiographical before, and I began to worry that I couldn’t possibly publish it.
Amelia: I sort of felt the same way. I mean, I know they say write what you know, but this was something else entirely. It was a little weird, and I know I sound weird talking about it, because I talk about how Topher sort of took over my brain and wrote his story himself, but then I say that there is this huge piece of my own personal background in there, which sounds like a contradiction, but it isn’t. Topher very much isn’t me, not even close, and he definitely had his own story to tell, but at the same time, he borrowed this piece of me as the scaffolding for his backstory. Was it like that for you, or how do you relate to Trey?
Marie: That sounds about right. Overall, Trey is nothing like me. And yet, just about everything about his relationship with his mother is real and true, to the extent that I was physically sick after writing a couple of those scenes.
Amelia: I have to admit, at the time I contacted you part of my concern was that the situations faced by our respective characters were so similar, you might think I had copied you, and I wanted to make sure you knew that I’d written Saugatuck Summer before reading Family Man. The parallels are quite remarkable.
Marie: I guess it just goes to show how universal some things are, when you’re dealing with addiction.
Amelia: It’s true, and also a very strange thing because when you’re going through it, you feel so very alone. And yet I’ve already heard from one reader who had another very similar experience.
Marie: Yes, I’ve had several people write to me who were children of alcoholics, and they’ve all said generally the same thing: “Thank you for helping me realize that it’s normal to feel this angry and/or resentful.”
I think for me, the really remarkable part about writing Trey’s story was realizing how abnormal the situation was. Growing up, I never stopped to think, “Is this normal?” I never really stopped to think, “This is unfair,” or, “My mother shouldn’t be putting me in this situation.” That’s just how it was. And it wasn’t until I was writing those scenes, and Heidi Cullinan (my co-author) sort of freaked out and said, “That’s not fine! There’s nothing about that situation that was okay!” that I started to realize how twisted it looks to those on the outside. In fact, there’s one scene where Vinnie’s reaction to one of Trey’s confessions was basically Heidi responding to me, saying, “It’s not fine! Stop telling me you’re fine!”
Amelia: That is something that Topher finds himself confronted with as well, people challenging his acceptance of “the way things are” because yeah, I think a lot of us do lack any barometer for what is “normal.”
Sometimes we do need to hear that. I remember times in my own childhood where peers or their parents would ask me to explain things like, “why aren’t you living with your mom?” and I didn’t realize there was anything unusual about the reasons I didn’t live with her, so at that age I would just blurt them out as though they were perfectly normal. I don’t think I even had enough awareness at the time to even notice their reactions and see that they didn’t find it normal. It was just the facts of my life.
The anger can especially be hard to deal with, because we feel so damned guilty about it. I mean, it sounds so awful. Someone tells you your mom might be dying and on the outside you’re making all the appropriate concerned overtures and on the inside, something within you feels… hopeful. Not that she’ll live, but that she won’t.
My husband also grew up with an alcoholic parent and when I was going through a situation very much similar to the one Topher describes in the first chapter of Saugatuck Summer (where he comes home for a visit and he knows his mother is expecting him and he discovers she’s apparently attempted suicide with the intention of him finding her body) that happened to me, only I happened to be with my husband and three-year-old son at the time. So there was the outrage of the fact that she knew I would have my child with me on top of what I felt about her putting me in that position of finding her. And when it started to look like she might pull through, I started finding my temper fraying with everyone who was expressing joy or hope over this potential recovery. I didn’t even realize what I was doing until my husband sat me down to talk about it and I couldn’t find the words to express why I didn’t want to believe she was getting better, and I couldn’t bring myself to say that I had actually been hopeful that she might die, but then my husband cut through it all and just said, “you felt relieved when you thought she might not make it” and I completely melted down and just began sobbing because God help me, it was true.
Marie: Exactly. It’s hard to admit to ourselves (and even harder to admit to anybody else!) that what we want and need most is for the merry-go-round ride to just END. That feels so brutally cold-hearted. And yet, the thought of having the cycle continue is just more than we can bear.
I admit, I really never intended to be so public about how much of this story was true (and I don’t think you did, either), but writing it also proved to be very cathartic. I think I feel a lot less rage about these things now than I did before, like somehow admitting it was the first step. Hopefully that’s the case for you, as well. (And hopefully, my mother never learns how to properly use the internet.)
Amelia: I’m more worried about my blabbermouth family figuring out my pen name and discovering this post.
But yeah, this has turned out to be a much franker discussion than I originally thought it would be and yet, yes, also somehow necessary. Maybe Trey and Topher borrowed these pieces of us because we needed the story of those experiences to be told? And I think knowing there are readers who share these experiences, and perhaps feel as alone as we have about it, maybe has urged us to be a little more open about it than we intended to begin with. Whatever it is, I’m glad we sat down and had this conversation. Thank you for joining me for this post and for sharing your story, and Trey’s.
HOW TO WIN YOUR CHOICE OF ANY SINGLE BOOK FROM MY BACKLIST (all-in-one volumes not included):
At each stop along the blog tour I’ll be asking a trivia question from Saugatuck Summer. Yes, this means some familiarity with the book is required, whether you purchase a copy, have an ARC, or employ the Kindle or B&N lending programs. If you visit some of the other blog tour stops, you might also find the answer in some of the excerpts.
PLEASE DO NOT ANSWER IN THE COMMENTS. Instead, send the answer to me privately by using this contact form. Each response will enter you into the drawing and three winners will be picked. The more questions you answer, the more entries you get. You can choose from any of the following titles:
Inertia (Impulse, Book One)
Acceleration (Impulse, Book Two)
Velocity (Impulse, Book Three)
The Laird’s Forbidden Lover
An Inch at a Time (The Professor’s Rule #2)
Inch by Inch (The Professor’s Rule #3)
Every Inch of the Way (The Professor’s Rule #4)
To the Very Last Inch (The Professor’s Rule #5)
(Note: Giving an Inch (The Professor’s Rule #1) is already available free at Riptide, and my pre-Saugatuck novella, The Field of Someone Else’s Dreams, is available for free at Amazon, All Romance eBooks, and elsewhere.)
Again, please do not post your answer in the comments, but submit it to me privately.
To give people time to read and respond, the contest will remain open for one month after the release of Saugatuck Summer. It will close on June 19, and the drawing will be held on June 20.
Today’s Saugatuck Summer trivia question:
Chapter 25, where do Topher and Jace decide to go for Topher’s unexpected weekend off? (Hint: it’s also the setting for Family Man.)
Hi, I’m Topher Carlisle: twenty-one, pretty, and fabulous. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself. But let’s get real. Walking the fake-it-til-you-make-it road to independence and self-respect isn’t easy. Especially since my mom’s a deadbeat alcoholic, and most of my family expects me to turn out just as worthless. Oh, and I’m close to losing my college swimming scholarship, so let’s add “dropout” to the list.
My BFF has invited me to stay at her beach house on the shore of Lake Michigan. That’ll give me one summer to make money and figure out what I want to do with my life. So of course I decide to have an affair with my BFF’s married, closeted dad. Because that always works out.
Now I’m homeless, friendless, jobless. Worthless. Just like my family expects, right? Except there’s this great guy, Jace, who sees it differently. He’s got it all together in ways I can only dream of—he’s hot, creative, insightful, understanding. He seems to think I don’t give myself enough credit. And if I don’t watch out, I may start to believe him.
Amelia C. Gormley may seem like anyone else. But the truth is she sings in the shower, dances doing laundry, and writes blisteringly hot m/m erotic romance while her son is at school. When she’s not writing in her Pacific Northwest home, Amelia single-handedly juggles her husband, her son, their home, and the obstacles of life by turning into an everyday superhero. And that, she supposes, is just like anyone else.
Her self-published novel-in-three-parts, Impulse (Inertia, Book One; Acceleration, Book Two; and Velocity, Book Three) can be found at most major online book retailers, and be sure to check Riptide for her latest releases, including her Highland historical, The Laird’s Forbidden Lover, the The Professor’s Rule series of erotic novelettes (co-written with Heidi Belleau), the post-apocalyptic romance, Strain, and her upcoming, New Adult contemporary, Saugatuck Summer, available now.