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Q&A with Lara Avery - The Year of Second Chances


The Year of Second Chances

By Saffron Coutts


We are excited to welcome Lara Avery to The Reading Corner to talk about her new release The Year of Second Chances released on the 22nd of August 2023.


Robin Lindstrom spent her first year as a young widow cocooned in the safe haven of the Minnesota farmhouse she’d once shared with Gabe, the love of her life—the man she thought she’d be with ’til the end. But her world is turned upside down when she receives an email informing her that her late husband has enrolled in something called “Fluttr”—a dating service? "The app subscription lasts 12 months; use it!," Gabe’s message-from-the-grave reads . "I don’t like the thought of you being alone. If you won’t do it for yourself, do it as a favor to me . Please."


After twelve months of pulling herself together, Robin’s fragile equilibrium is knocked sideways. How could Gabe, of all people, be asking her to venture out into the murky waters of 21st century online dating? As her underemployed brother, Theo, points out, it’s “only” a year, and it’s what Gabe wanted; he set this all up to go into effect a year after his death, which means it was basically his last request. And so Robin tentatively takes steps to put herself out into the world once more, even if it means awkward outings at bowling alleys, club-hopping with DJs she meets online, and stammering conversations at dinner. Along the way, she’s surprised to find herself meeting new people, trying new things…and even getting to know a new version of herself. Because everyone deserves a second chance at love—and loving life.


The Year of Second Chances

First and foremost, I have to say The Year of Second Chances was such a joy to read. Reading Robin’s story had me on an emotional rollercoaster through the ups and downs of her life after her husband's death. I believe I finished the book within a day as the relationship dynamics and outcomes were so brutally human and unromanticized. It was refreshing to have a character be so truthfully flawed but relatable in the mess that is life. I am incredibly jealous of the people that get to read this for the first time!


Wow, thank you so much. That is exactly what I would want to hear from a reader, and I’m thrilled you connected so much with Robin. When you put your heart and soul into a book, you have to keep every comment like that in your back pocket for the next one.


The book is written in a first person perspective, a decision I loved as the reader gets to see Robin behind the facade despite her putting on a strong front for her friends and family. Was this decision made intentionally, and when writing it did you have any set vision on how you wanted her character to be perceived?


The decision to write in first-person was very much intentional, as I realized straight away that I could not fully honor Robin’s grief, and capture the range of emotions that followed it, without trying to embody her. I feel like third-person would have felt too far away, too impersonal for such personal subject matter.


Obviously love interests played a huge role in Robin feeling out exactly where she was emotionally in her life after Gabe. We witnessed everything from awkward texting on a dating app to the chaos that was a few of the meet ups, each interaction feeling purposeful in her stepping into a new norm. What was the writing process like during this, and which dating app interaction was your favourite?


Though none of the “Bubbl” dates or messages are direct replicas, I definitely tapped my own Tinder/Bumbl/Hinge experiences to depict all the confusion and self-consciousness and frustration and (sometimes even) fun that comes out trying to connect with random people on the Internet. My favorite Bubbl interaction to write was Robin’s first date, the improv comedy scene. I dabbled at improv once and I was horrible at it, but I’ve seen my fair share of awkward shows where the unplanned, wild card nature of this kind of comedy interferes with people trying to have a “normal” night. I’d always been so curious about people coming to see this kind of kooky theatre for the first time, especially on a date. My goal for that scene was to make myself and my improviser friends laugh. I know I succeeded at the former and I hope I succeeded at the latter.


Such beautiful detail was put into Robin’s memories of Gabe, so much so that in the moments of remembering I felt like we reader’s had been sucked into her mental landscape. I believe Levi became a liferaft for her in these moments as she found someone that understood her grief without needing an explanation, someone she could reminisce with. Did you ever see a different outcome to their connection, and do you think he was essential to keeping some part of Gabe alive?


Absolutely. Though we think of our lives as being on kind of a “timeline,” memories aren’t exactly linear, are they? They come back to us out of order, all jumbled up or in big waves that overtake us at the sound of a song or a familiar smell. Because Levi was Gabe’s best friend for so many years, he is like a walking, talking memory-trigger for Robin. The sound of his voice, the scent of his apartment, even his dog: all of these are concrete sensory experiences that are intertwined with Robin’s sense memories of Gabe. Aside from the farmhouse, Levi carries the most vital, tangible parts of Gabe that Robin can reach. After the events of the book are over, I’d like to think Robin (hopefully) can get to know Levi for who he is on his own, without being tangled up with her late husband.


I believe people are capable of feeling and experiencing lots of different types of love in life. At times I just wanted to shake Robin saying your life isn’t finished yet, moving on is not a betrayal of Gabe’s love!!! Without trying to spoil anything, do you believe that Robin could let herself have love in the future?


Short answer: yes. Longer answer: I agree with you! Robin had a ton of growing to do at the beginning of the book, and still has plenty more to do. And that’s why I think she has a long way to go and a lot more phases to go through before she totally settles down again. If she doesn’t end up with one of the characters in this story (no spoilers), I could totally see her in her late 40s, early 50s, finding a kind of love that starts casual and companionable until it she realizes it has become more than that. But who will that person be? Could definitely be someone she’s met before. Robin is a creature of comfort, so I could totally see that happening. Another second chance!


I don’t believe we can discuss Robin’s growth without discussing her family dynamics. The almost parental role that fell on her shoulders because of her mother and brother was heartbreaking. It felt like she wasn’t allowed to grieve as her family’s struggles became her own. If you could give a piece of advice to one of your readers experiencing the same, what would it be?


It’s okay to separate and prioritize yourself. You can’t take care of the people you love without taking care of yourself; you can’t draw water from a dry well. And if you don’t know how to start healing or replenishing on your own, find a therapist and tell them what you hope to do. Opencounseling.com is a great resource to find free or affordable mental health services near you.


Being the Mayor's wife, do you think this reinforced an underlying pressure for Robin to be perfect and perform so she could boost Gabe’s image as much as possible? Her interaction with Tammy in the novel highlighted the toxic aspects to the small town feel of the community.


Small towns can definitely be toxic, but fortunately they’re not inherently toxic. When you live that close to a small group of people, you can’t help but pay close attention to your fellow residents. It’s human nature! Though Mayor Gabe would have never asked Robin to be perfect, you definitely picked up on a vibe: for his sake, she knew had to at least pretend like she didn’t mind being in the public eye, and I don’t think she knew how much she disliked it until he was gone. Once he wasn’t there to soak up all the attention, she realized how hard it is to go about her business without being scrutinized. Under that kind of microscope, all your problems become magnified. That’s why it’s so fun to set stories in small towns (sorry, Robin); your characters can’t hide! It’s like a story pressure cooker!


The characterisation of Robin’s younger brother Theo was eye-opening for me. As the youngest child myself, it made me really question how much I take for granted that my older siblings do for me out of familial love and obligation. What was the inspiration behind the family dynamics, and if Theo had possibly taken more responsibility from the get go would it have changed anything for Robin?


I know way too many people–especially women–who were thrust into the role of secondary (or even primary) parent of their younger siblings. It happens in every kind of family for every kind of reason. When kids aren’t allowed to be kids, that lost time catches up with them as adults. That’s why my editors and I really wanted to make sure Robin’s “second chance” was about more than romance. To go on an adventure and seek out pure delight and creativity–in a way, that’s Robin shedding the burdens she’s carried since she was little, getting to be the kid she never got to be.


What a great question about Theo, and I hope in your reflection on your own siblings , you weren’t too hard on yourself. It’s hard to say how much difference a change in his behavior would have made in Robin’s life; though he is entirely responsible for his own choices, I think Robin would (now) be the first to admit that she was responsible for her reactions to those choices. Take for example if Theo had been something of a golden child, instead of a party boy. Who’s to say Robin wouldn’t have been just as protective of her “perfect” brother, or felt just as obligated to preserve his image? So, his youngestchild waffling was not fully to blame in creating this dynamic. I’m going to go out on a limb and say it was kind of inevitable.


At the end of the day, the Lindstrom family all share some level of responsibility, and I think they’re learning that by the close of the story. Robin’s parents should have never put Robin in a position to be one of Theo’s primary caretakers. Robin should have never let Theo’s needs swallow her own, for both of their sakes. Theo should have never taken his sister for granted. And yet, all of them deserve compassion for being slow to let go of these old roles. We all do! The important thing is that they’re trying.


I have to say watching Robin grow into herself and start prioritising herself again for the first time in a long time made me sad to see the book end. I don’t feel ready to let the character’s go yet so is there a chance of a sequel?


I would never say no to a sequel! It would be especially fun to follow Robin’s career in the “blood-and-guts” industry. For now, I like to imagine her taking walks around her beautiful new city with a good cup of coffee, maybe getting her first tattoo in Gabe’s honor.


Finally, where can people purchase their own copy of The Year of Second Chances?


Anywhere books are sold! I recommend finding your favorite cozy local bookshop, and if they don’t have it on their shelves, the booksellers would be happy to order it for you. Then, when you’re finished and looking for something new, you can go back to the bookstore and chat about what you like. They can recommend your next read better than any algorithm. ;)


Thank you again, Saffron, for your thoughtful impressions and questions. And thank you to anyone who picks up this book. Though Robin’s path may not be exactly like your own, I hope it reminds you it’s never too late to go another direction.


The Year of Second Chances

Lara Avery is the author of three Young Adult novels for Alloy Entertainment, and her articles and essays appear in Good Housekeeping, the San Francisco Chronicle, Gay Mag, ARTNews, and Women In Clothes. She received the 2017 Minnesota Book Award for The Memory Book, a 2020 AWP Intro Journals Honorable Mention, and has been awarded spots at the Loghaven Residency (2021) as well as the residency at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts (2022).

Lara graduated with a BA in Media and Cultural Studies (Film Focus) from Macalester College in 2010, and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Mississippi in 2020. She, her husband, and their dog and cat live in Topeka, Kansas.






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