If you read my Most Anticipated Book Releases, May 2020 article then you know how excited I am for you all to read Summer Darlings, by Brooke Lea Foster. The summer romance is set in 1960s on Martha’s Vineyard and it is everything we need in a book this summer. I was able to interview Brooke Lea Foster and she is such an inspiration! Brooke shares the dynamic of how her characters came be and what it was like to write her very first novel. Spoiler alert, there just might be a second one in the near future!
AD: Congrats on your first novel! What was this process like for you to write Summer Darlings? How long was the entire process from start to finish?
BF: Thank you! It feels good that the book is finally coming out. Writing it was a long process, and a labor of love. If it it wasn’t, I wouldn’t have made it this far with a book to hold in my hands. I wrote the first draft in a couple of months, but it was a pretty lousy draft because it took me two and a half years to revise it into good enough shape to bring it to editors. After my editor, Kate Dresser, at Gallery had the book in hand, we took our time with it, spending another several months on edits. The thing about novel writing is that every draft brings one element of the story to life and then that often impacts other subplots or characters, so you have to tinker with everything. You need to love your characters because at some point, you get pretty tired of their antics.
AD: Where did you find inspiration for the story? Is any of it based off of your own experiences?
BF: We go to Martha’s Vineyard every summer, and I love to read local magazines and newspapers — it’s the writer in me. A few summers ago, I saw an advertisement for a house you could rent called “The Swindle,” and I loved the story behind it: At one point in the 1950s, there were three houses on a beachfront spit of land in Vineyard Haven. One was owned by a famous stage actress, the second by a granddaughter of the Standard Oil fortune. In between them lived a bachelor who fell on hard times in 1953 and asked his wealthy neighbors if they would buy his house. They declined, and the following summer the women returned to the Vineyard to find that the man painted his house a garish blue. The women hated it so much that they paid him $20,000 —In other words, he “swindled” it out of them. Anyway, I just loved the idea of these three houses and the people who inhabited them. I started imagining these houses and the spit of land with them on it, the characters of Jean-Rose and Gigi McCabe came to mind. They would live in enormous houses on either side of the fishing camp with a handsome young surfer — Ash Porter — in between.
Also, I was a nanny in the Hamptons for two summers when I was in college — so I know well what it’s like to work as a domestic, and that awkward feeling you have when you’re witnessing the intimate secrets of people’s inner and outer lives.
AD: Who was your favorite character to write and why? Which character do you feel shows the most personal growth?
BF: Ooh. That’s a hard one because I really love Gigi, Ruth and Heddy. I’m also partial to Sullivan, even though Heddy chooses Ash in the end. I really understood Sullivan’s motives and personal baggage. Heddy grows the most in the end — she arrives on the island as a shy penniless coed who is very impressed by the family she’s working for and leaves knowing that she never wants to be anything like the family she once admired. She finds her voice, and that makes her powerful.
AD: The novel is set in the 60’s and the theme “money doesn’t buy happiness” is present throughout the book. Do you think this is a lesson that millennials and our society still needs to learn today?
BF: I think all of us are constantly relearning the lesson that “money doesn’t buy happiness,” whether we grew up privileged or not. Because it’s a lesson that we can forget sometimes, especially when watching the lives of celebrities or “influencers” on social media. They’ll take pictures of themselves in glamorous outfits in exotic locales or with famous faces, and it’s easy to make the assumption that they have it all. But humans are so much more complicated than that. A celebrity might have put up a post on Instagram while crying in their car for all we know.
AD: Heddy is in her 20’s but still seems to have childhood innocence to her, thinking that nothing in life will hurt her (Ash) and going to the Vineyard for the summer will make her life better. At what age or point in our own lives do you think we mature and realize life doesn’t always go as planned? Do you think we all have a little bit of innocence in us regardless of our age?
BF: Heddy is just learning that life doesn’t always go as planned, and she’s a bit hell-bent on making the right choices so she doesn’t look back and regret anything. In the 1960s, everyone got married earlier and had kids earlier, so the loss of innocence happened much earlier.
BF: Today, life happens much later. At twenty, few women are looking to get married; they’re still finishing college and going to frat parties. Ha! That reckoning takes place in current times in your late-thirties or early forties, which is good because there’s still time to change things! But in your mid-thirties, most of your friends have probably married. You’ve probably settled on a job that you either love, tolerate or hate, and you may have had your first or second child. That’s when people wake up and think: How did I get here?
AD: Throughout the novel, we see Jean Rose trying to hold onto her youth and put up a front that her life is perfect. Do you think this is a struggle many women face as they grow older or did Jean Rose struggle with this due to the amount of wealth that she had and who she was married to?
BF: I know many women, friends even, who are incredibly overwhelmed with their lives, but on the outside, they perpetuate the fantasy of perfection. They’re not wicked like Jean-Rose is — but there are real pressures on women to do it all, and it’s unrealistic. That’s true when it comes to appearances, too. Women are taught that to have any value they need to remain beautiful. I think that’s as true today as it was back then. The only difference is that less of us buy into it these days.
AD: What was the inspiration and thought process behind Gigi’s character. What made her and Heddy connect to each other so easily? Why was it so difficult for Jean Rose and Heddy to build a similar connection?
BF: Gigi came to me right away. I imagined one of those over the top actresses from the 50s and 60s that really put on for a crowd but inside there was so much personal pain. I think that Gigi took one look at Heddy and saw something of herself right away. She knew that Heddy was just trying to figure out how to fit in because that’s what she’d done her entire life, even though she was famous. Plus, I liked how different they were on the outside and yet how alike on the inside. Jean-Rose was too superficial for Heddy. Plus, she didn’t trust her motives; she’d see how Jean-Rose acted with friends and then the face she showed at home. They didn’t add up to her, so it was hard to be close to her boss.
AD: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers who are looking to publish a book one day?
BF: I’m a big believer in quick messy first drafts to figure out the story; it’s always worked for me in journalism and it’s worked for me in novel writing. Write fast and hard. Don’t labor over every word or sentence at first. Don’t slow yourself down with research. Just write. Then once you know your beginning, middle and end, go back and revise. Research where you need to. Be okay with throwing a third of it away. Sometimes I write a scene but replace every bit of dialogue because I realize what needs to be happen in a scene. Sometimes a character’s back story change as they evolve. Just be very flexible and the let the story unfold as you go. And don’t give up!!
AD: Will there be a sequel in the future? OR What’s next?
BF: I’m halfway done revising my second novel, which takes place in the Hamptons in the 1950s. Think: wealthy engaged couple, glamorous hotel, a devastating fire.
There you have it! Summer Darlings will be released on May 5th and is available for preorder now.