Today we are very excited to share an interview with Author Arlene Mark (The Year Without A Summer)!
Meet the Author: Arlene Mark
Arlene Mark was born and grew up in steel country in western Pennsylvania before making her way to New York City to begin her career. After working in fashion, marrying, and committing herself to family, she lived in London, Caracas, and Toronto with her husband and three children before settling in Greenwich, CT. She holds an MA in special education and, a certification in school psychology, and interned at New York State Psychiatric Institute. Her work has appeared in Highlights for Children, Spider, the Magazine for Children, Skipping Stones, Adolescence, Their World and Greenwich Magazine. She is also the author of To the Tower, A Greenwich Adventure and co-authored Paraverbal Communication with Children: Not Through Words Alone and has been served as a contributing editor for The Greenwich Time, offering articles about children’s emotional lives. Her eight grandchildren are enthusiastic fans. When not writing, Arlene can be found lobstering with her husband, Reuben, traveling to third world countries in the Global South and visiting schools there, reading (mostly books for kids), or and screening current films.
About the Book: The Year Without A Summer
Eighth graders Jamie and Clara are opposites in almost every way: Jamie is a snowboarder threatened by failing grades, secretly consumed with worry about his brother fighting a war in Afghanistan, while Clara is a high achieving newcomer having survived Hurricane Katrina, helping her mother and younger brother adjust while feverishly trying to reach her father who returned to a devastated Puerto Rico with no phone service. Yet despite their differences, they remain good friends….that is until their differing opinions and perspectives on life erupt into an argument about the impacts of an 1815 volcanic explosion that led to deep snow in June, disrupting their science class and jeopardizing their academic futures. Result—debate the facts in front of the class or have their grades altered. Neither can afford this.
Working competitively on the science debate project, both teens come to see that today’s current man-made disasters are one of the greatest threats to their future. As their turbulent home lives exacerbate their tumultuous teen lives, concern and empathy for each other grow as they work together in surprising ways to empower their generation against global warming.
YABC: What gave you the inspiration to write this book?
Number one: all the disasters that were happening everywhere made me wonder what young people think about the floods, fires, droughts, mudslides, and other upsets of their planet. Then, my scientist son-in-law told me about Tambora, a volcanic eruption that occurred in 1815, in Indonesia, spreading ash all through the northern hemisphere and causing the year without a summer causing havoc everywhere. Snow piled up six inches in Albany in June. I saw my characters forming: Two eighth graders, simply because I like that in-between grade and age. One, I named Jamie, a snowboard enthusiast from Albany, NY, who doesn’t like schoolwork, gets pressure from home to improve his grades and is the class clown; the other main character, a hurricane survivor, named Clara, who’s moved to Albany, NY from Puerto Rico with her family. I imagined these teens getting into an argument about natural disasters. One thought the disaster causing snow in June was great. The other had felt the realities of a disaster. I was inspired … and hooked.
YABC: Who is your favorite character in the book?
Favorites, all, but Mom is my favorite. She’s mostly invisible throughout the novel but turns up to be present exactly when she’s needed. She keeps Jamie in line but gently, comforts Lucas when he returns home from Afghanistan, and supports her husband but disagrees and advises when she must. I like Mom.
YABC: Which came first, the title or the novel?
I’d have to say the title. There are other books with the same title because the year without a summer caused so many events and calamities that writers were drawn to write about it. However, when I learned how it happened and life after, I saw possibilities for a young people’s story and kept reading about Tambora until I was already writing the sixth chapter. When my characters get hooked on something, I do, too. Jamie, never liking school, finally loved researching the year without a summer….and some snowboarding too, IF they had snowboards back then. His imagination was creating.
YABC: What scene in the book are you most proud of, and why?
I’m most proud of the scene at the Veteran’s Hospital where, earlier, Jamie makes sure he’s going along with Lucas, Mom, and Dad even though he’ll miss school. Dad doesn’t agree but Jamie insists, the first time he does this. At the hospital, lots of interactions take place that change the dynamics among the three family members. Lucas takes charge, tells Dad to lay back. Jamie grows in self-esteem and a bit of independence while Dad and Mom quietly awaiting Lucas and his diagnosis. Even I didn’t know how this would play out once they re-assembled for the trip home and then…. But I wrote into this not knowing.
YABC: Thinking way back to the beginning, what’s the most important thing you’ve learned as a writer from then to now?
I learned that as well as the entire novel, every scene and chapter must have an arc with a beginning, middle, and end. Otherwise, we as readers are not satisfied. We’re used to movies with scenes that whip us from one tense moment to the next and we expect that in what we read. It’s interesting and baffling to me that in our lives, we hope for each chapter to keep getting better, things go smoother. We love it, whereas in a novel, we hope for more and more tension with each chapter and can’t wait to turn the page to see how more desperate our characters are. It’s a little like when we as kids, wanted to hear scary stories. We could take all the fright because after the last page was turned, we could snuggle up and know it was just a story and someone reading the story has just tucked us in safely…no more scary. We humans are complicated.
YABC: What do you like most about the cover of the book?
I like seeing Clara and Jamie walking toward the pool … in bare feet in the snow! Must be cold on the feet but they keep moving ahead, just as they do in the novel after some disastrous moments. I like the soft pastel colors, too. And we have to remember the title of the novel….The Year Without a Summer.
YABC: What new release book are you looking most forward to in 2022?
I’m hoping that George Saunders will write a follow up to A Swim in a Pond in the Rain where he includes chapters of Russian greats such as Chekhov, Turgenev, Tolstoy, and Gogol. Saunders treats readers as if they were in one of his classes on analysis of literature and every few pages asks poignant questions about the story, showing readers how and why the writer wrote what he did. It’s truly “a master class on writing, reading, and life,” as the cover states. Then, I loved so many middle grade novels such as When Zachary Beaver Came to Town, Wringer, Al Capone Does My Shirts, and The Higher Power of Lucky among others. I wish the authors of these favorites would write more stories like these realistic, emotional and very satisfying ones. Of course, The Phantom Tollbooth I read every few months. As for new releases, I’ll wait and see what characters are doing in the new novels, and if I want to go on their journey, I’ll settle in with a good read to expand my and my characters’ worlds.
YABC: What’s a book you’ve recently read and loved?
I’m in three critique groups where I read and hear new books coming to life all the time. With our members comments, suggestions, and praises, we see our chapters turn into well crafted, character-driven novels. So, I read our members’ books when I’m not writing. I’ll mention a few. Draw the Line by Laurent Linn, Melt by Selene Castrovilla (plus many more of hers), A Closer Look by Karen DelleCava, Rose Alone by Sheila Flynn DeCosse. I’m also loving A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles and don’t want it to end. He writes in a style, so detailed and truly literary, that I swoon with each sentence. So, what I recently read and love varies … maybe with the tides. I always love passionate suggestions.
YABC: What’s up next for you?
Revising a few novels that I’ve written and whose stories I need to tell. Maybe timing wasn’t right for submitting them. But that’s how it goes with writing and trying to have your story out there. One novel is about bullying with a bit of magic in it. One about a child in a children’s psych ward facing truths about his family and their ability to “take him home.” I know. It’s a hard sell. I was told that. Another of my novels is about a teen who is being taken by her mom to India to meet someone named Devi, same age as her. Of course, she, Lia, doesn’t want to go. She doesn’t want to find out who Devi is. So, these stories and characters await me to move them along. I also feel a dozen picture books forming inside my head about how smart young … very young people are. I love to celebrate how much they know about nature and our planet. They aren’t trying to teach us anything, but we learn anyhow through their keen pleasure and simple discoveries.
YABC: Which was the most difficult or emotional scene to narrate?
The most emotional scene for me was in the garage when Jamie found Dad polishing Lucas’s motorcycle. Jamie so wanted to share his research paper on credit with Dad but discovered very soon that it wasn’t the right time. Dad was already criticizing Jamie for going out on a school night, even for an hour with friends. I could feel both Jamie’s and Dad’s rising emotions. They love each other but cannot show or tell it. Too much has been said or not said in the recent past. These omissions that we experience are harder for me to write than the commissions. But my characters had to be real.
YABC: Which character gave you the most trouble when writing your latest book?
Always Dad because I had to keep up the tension with his pressuring Jamie about school and how he had pressured Lucas. I so wanted Dad to loosen up and accept his boys for who they were and to listen to them, not command them. So, this push-pull was hard, and I deleted lots of lines and re-wrote them.
YABC: What is the main message or lesson you would like your reader to remember from this book?
First, try to know what you stand for and what you’re not willing to stand for such as bullying, meanness, and other demeaning behaviors of those around you. Then find your passion, whatever it is, develop it and yourself by acting on it. Clara’s passion for architecture is growing but is now combined with helping improve our planet. Jamie’s probably right behind her, even though he had no idea of his passion other than snowboarding. Maybe teaching science and climate awareness are in the stars for him. He can still snowboard. Both teens discover their new futures by first disagreeing because of their differences of opinion, then finding common ground.
YABC: What would you say is your superpower?
A purple cape that helps me write superpower characters taking the next right step to make things better for themselves and others. We need lots of superpowers with purple capes in our world.
YABC: Is there an organization or cause that is close to your heart?
The cause closest to my heart is one involving early childhood experiences in school. It involves ways of training early childhood teachers to understand children’s emotional states and how to deal with them. Children often come to school upset by something that happened at home. They aren’t ready to get to work. The only place the children will get to communicate their upsets is at school and teachers must be ready to listen and nurture. I support organizations whose goal is the same.
Caveat: The teachers must be paid as professionals tending and raising our most precious gems—our children, who will be the next leaders. They can’t become good leaders if they are growing up, discontented and unmotivated to become their best selves.
YABC: What advice do you have for new writers?
Write what you have no choice but to write, take criticism gracefully, and accept only what you choose. Then, show … don’t tell your story.
YABC: Is there anything that you would like to add?
Enjoy your journey, whatever grade you’re in or where you’re headed, but make sure it’s your own journey, not someone else’s.
Title: The Year Without A Summer
Author: Arlene Mark
Reading Age: 12+