The dramatic event at the center of Karma Brown’s riveting third novel, In This Moment, is one of those terrifying accidents that could befall any of us—the kind of everyday tragedy that’s always at the periphery of our worries. In fact, Brown got the idea for the novel while she was driving with her daughter.

“I saw an elderly woman standing on the curb waiting to cross the street,” Brown says. “There was no stop sign or crosswalk, and I considered stopping for her. But it was a busy road. And then I had this thought: what if I let her cross the road, but a car coming the other way doesn’t stop and hits her? I didn’t end up stopping—I couldn’t after I considered what might happen—but the image of that scenario stuck with me.”

In the novel, Meg Pepper is trying to be all things to all people: she is a successful real estate agent who has a healthy marriage to her husband, Ryan, and a strong relationship with her teenage daughter, Audrey. But Meg’s tensely ordered world is suddenly turned upside down. Driving Audrey home from school, Meg spots Jack, the brother of Audrey’s boyfriend, stops, and waves him across the road. Out of nowhere, an SUV comes speeding from the other direction and hits him.

The accident changes everything for Meg. “She’s barely holding things together and the accident is the moment when the finely tuned balance shifts,” Brown says. “Though Meg desperately tries to maintain her status quo, in the end she can’t escape the consequences of her decisions, or what she might lose because of them.”

What makes In This Moment so compelling is watching realistic characters forced to confront a difficult situation—one that disrupts their everyday lives. “The accident highlights the flaws within, and between, these characters,” Brown says.

Meg, who has an old secret involving an earlier tragedy, becomes obsessed with trying to help Jack’s family, at the expense of her own. Ryan is not prepared for the effect the accident has on Meg, and Audrey, previously a happy teenager, becomes the kind of kid who keeps her parents up at night.

Readers will certainly see themselves in these characters. “I wanted to dig into family life and this idea of balance, particularly for women who wear a lot of hats—career, motherhood, relationships—while also trying to create the impression of a perfect life,” Brown says. “I’m intrigued by how tragedy and grief shape our decisions, and the ways in which guilt can hold you hostage if you allow it to.”

Though Brown has written two previous novels, both of which deal with tragedy and its aftermath, In This Moment presented a new challenge for her. “I found the process of writing the mother-daughter relationship the scariest experience yet,” she says. “Because I had to imagine myself both as the mother of the child who was hit by the car and of the good-girl teen who suddenly becomes the kid you no longer recognize. My daughter is only eight, but I know those challenges are coming. As they say, ‘Little kid, little problems. Big kid, big problems.’ Maybe this book gave me a chance to work through some parenting pitfalls in advance!”

Nevertheless, Brown says she enjoyed the process of putting the story together: “I find the first draft of any story the trickiest because I don’t yet know my characters well, so I try to get that draft done quickly. I adore revision, even when it’s bang-your-head-against-a-wall frustrating, and always feel relief when I get to that stage of the process.”

Brown hopes In This Moment will help readers see “that we all have parts of ourselves we wish we could change, and that we’re really just doing the best we can.” She elaborates, “I think women, in particular, face a lot of pressure to get it right—to have a Pinterest-worthy existence—which is, for most of us anyway, an unattainable goal.”

Brown wants the novel to serve as a reminder to readers that family comes first. “We need to be present for the ones we love,” she says. “Or things start to fall apart.”