Today marks the paperback and audiobook release for The Moon Sisters–a book that earned some critical acclaim, but not before nearly dying on the vine, pre-publication. Below is one story behind the story, complete with rising stakes, a ticking clock, a dark moment, and a turning point.
I had been working on The Moon Sisters for ~4 years, as the publishing ground shifted radically beneath me. The imprint at Random House that had signed me to a 2-book deal had been shuttered, and I had been shuttled to an imprint about to change its mission statement. My original editor was with a different house. My 2nd editor, too, left for a different house. My 3rd editor also left, after providing me with comprehensive editorial notes about a year prior to the start of this tale. My 4th editor, therefore, inherited the story, its old editorial letter, its revision, and its somewhat rattled author.
This is where the story starts.
A WRITER’S GOAL, MOTIVATION & CONFLICT
I received notes from Editor #4 in early March, wherein she kindly acknowledged how far the story had come with regard to Editor #3’s notes, and roundly encouraged the story in many heartening ways. But some important issues remained for her, and as I worked through the letter, I homed in on one gigantic problem:
Editor #4 was not onboard with the PREMISE of the novel, which was, briefly, “Two sisters travel to a cranberry bog in West Virginia to find the end of their recently deceased mother’s unfinished novel.”
Her clarified point, Why should readers care if the sisters get to the bog and meet their goal?, was hard to hear, because I cared about my protagonists and understood their dreams. They were worth caring about.
My goal became to find the proof of it.
RISING TENSION, A TICKING CLOCK & A DARK MOMENT
We all have strengths and weaknesses, as writers and as people. Something I consider a personal strength is being an ‘ideas person.’ I can mentally slide everything onto the bubble, then experiment to see how one aspect or another of my story might be reimagined. I don’t shy away from revisions if they are needed; I completely rewrote my first novel in another genre, for instance, before it sold. But every time I considered a new spin for the premise of this story and visualized how that spin would play out through the end of the book, the narative fell apart at some crucial moment.
Weeks passed, and still I had no workable solution to this problem. Meanwhile, the tick-tick-tick of the clock began to haunt me. I had through July to send in the next draft, and my deadline had already been pushed once. I had to find a solution, and leave myself enough time to execute it. But as night set on one solution-less day after another, a sickening possibility took hold: There may not be a solution, and the book might never be published.
AN IRONIC ASIDE
Maybe you’re thinking, “How ironic! The story is about finding the end of this dead author’s story, and this author thought she was going to die trying to figure out how to save her own story.” Mmhmm. The Moon Sisters is, at root, a story about a journey to preserve hope, which takes the form of light. Sunlight, a pilot light, the flickering light of a will-o’-the-wisp, even the flavor of hope for one of the Moon sisters, who is a synesthete. You could say this was a personal dark moment for me as a writer, when my own hope light all but flickered out.
But it didn’t.
A TURNING POINT
In looking for a solution, I not only excavated my imagination. I looked through books, old articles, and more, as I paced a ditch into my living room floor. One night, I stilled long enough to read something that Jane Friedman shared over her Twitter account: a link to a series of slides from a conference session she’d led that might be helpful to writers. Below is the slide that snagged my attention. [Read more…]