Laurel-Rain Snow’s “An Accidental Life” tells a familiar story: Four teenage girls have a ‘coming-of-age’ summer during which they experiment with alcohol, drugs and sex. (Think “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” meets “Trainspotting.”)
But in her debut novel, the 64-year-old author manages a unique feat by detailing how the girls’ behavior affects not only them, but the parents, guardians, boyfriends, and social workers who surround them.
Sick of hearing about a 15-year-old’s unwanted pregnancy? Flip ahead a few pages and find a subplot about a social worker who’s being stalked by an unknown obsessor. Think the ‘junkie boyfriend’ storyline is cliched? Not so much when you realize that the book focuses more on his mother’s dialogueâ€”both internal and externalâ€”than his.
In a story which could be replete with minor characters, there are surprisingly few. An ex-husband, whom many authors would write off in a passing reference, acts as a major foil. Snow also offers more than a peek into a next-door lover’s past, and exposes a reluctant grandmother for the fraud she really is.
“The people that are in the book, I just want to look at them closely and examine them,” Snow said, in a telephone interview from her home in California’s Central Valley. “I thought it was more interesting to watch the interactions between people… I felt like I was taking the reader through the lives of the people from day to day.”
Snow said she drew on her personal experiences as a social worker when developing her characters. Many of the instances in the novel are loosely based on clients whose cases were handled by Snow and her co-workers.
“You write what you know, and that was a good part of my adult life,” she said. “The people themselves are composites. I tried very carefully not to make anybody closely resemble a real-life person.
Snow said she also drew upon her own personal history, as well as her professional background. “An Accidental Life” is set in the 1990s when one of Snow’s four children was a teenager having some of the same experiences that Snow touches on in the novel.
“I felt like I had an insider’s view of that period,” she said, noting the methamphetamine
boom around that time that plays a major role in the novel.
Her experiences as a parent and a social worker, Snow said, provided a model for Karin Larson, a single mother and social worker â€” and, incidentally, one of the more well-adjusted characters in the novel.
Unlike many other works in the “coming-of-age” genre, “An Accidental Life” carries the girls’ experiences past that first summer. The 458-page book spans nearly two years and paints a cautionary picture of how the adolescents’ decisions over a few weeks influence their lives in the months to come.
“It didn’t seem to be enough to stop at the summer,” Snow said. “I wanted to continue. The consequences unfold over a long period of time.”
Snow said she’s been writing in one form or another since she was 8 years old; however, her journal entries soon evolved into college term papers and written reports when she began a career as a social worker.
“I always longed to get back to something a little more creative,” she said.
Shortly before she retired, Snow’s passion was rekindled by modern technology.
“I got a computer,” she explained. “It made it so much easier to write, and you could revise things easily… I got addicted. I just kept going.”
Snow wrote the book in 2001 and said she spent about five years off and on making revisions and cuts. With five completed manuscripts under her belt (“Life” is the second of the quintet), she initially tried the “traditional” publishing route, finally getting picked up by a small firm in Missouri.
But, after more than four years had passed and not a single work had been printed, Snow decided to take matters into her own hands. She’s distributing “An Accidental Life” independently through BookSurge, a division of Amazon.com for self-publishers.
She also has plans for a second novel to come out later this year. “Embrace the Chaos” will follow Savannah, one of the characters in “An Accidental Life” as she juggles motherhood and college.
Snow condensed her life story into the central theme of the novel.
“I kind of got here accidentally and sort of got stuck,” she explained with a laugh, discussing her arrival in Friant, Calif. “Things just sort of unfold all by themselves if you let them.”
“An Accidental Life” is available now at Amazon.com.