Wednesday, November 23, 2016

We're so thankful this week to welcome debut author Janet McNally, author of GIRLS IN THE MOON, as she shares the four things she learned while writing her novel.

"You can do so many of the things you think you can’t, the things you’re afraid of doing...You just have to find a way to carry yourself through."

I don’t remember much about writing Girls in the Moon. I do have notes in a file on my computer, and I skimmed through them once. It was fun to see my word count log grow from 5000 to 25,000 to 50,000, and fun to see the way the story started in such a different place from where it ended. Mostly, though, it felt magical, because like I said, I don’t really remember. Here’s why: when I started writing that novel, I had three daughters and they were very small. The oldest was nearly three and her younger sisters, twins, were nine months old. I was sleeping, sort of, but I was also nursing two infants who really wanted me to hold them as much as humanly possible. It was a weird, blurry, whirlwind time.

But somehow, I wrote a novel. I finished the first draft in seven months or so, then started working through revisions with my agent and after she bought the book, my editor. Now, my twin daughters are three and a half and that novel I wrote is a book-shaped thing in the world (out November 29th!). So what did I learn? I’ll tell you.

1. You have to lose yourself in your book.

Before I started writing Girls in the Moon, I had tried for years to finish a novel and couldn’t seem to manage. A while after my twins were born, something clicked. There are so many think pieces titled something like: “Can you be a mother and still be an artist?” (not nearly as many about fathers). They’re nonsense, but they’re everywhere, and I think I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to write anymore. I decided to work as hard as I could to prove that fear wrong. There was also something about that fuzzy-brained, I-am-trying-to-keep-two-tiny-humans-alive phase that unlocked something inside of me, some cache of creativity or maybe just of stamina. Am I saying that you should go out and have twins to help you write a novel? No. I am emphatically not saying that. But find your own way to motivate yourself, and to immerse yourself in your story.

2. You have to believe you’re a superhero.

Writing is hard. It’s full of doubt and frustration, dotted with beautiful sharp, clear moments when you finally figure out something and the light of heaven shines upon your laptop (or whatever). You have to commit to the long haul when you’re writing a novel. You need to believe you have superpowers that will let you finish.

A month ago I was invited to a local high school to share my poetry. During question time, I called on a student in the front row. “What advice would you have given yourself when you were fifteen?” she asked. I thought about it, then I said this: You can do so many of the things you think you can’t, the things you’re afraid of doing. You’ll think: I can’t do that and then there is a slight possibility I could do that and then I guess I could do that and then I’m doing it. (Note: this particularly applies to edit letters.) You just have to find a way to carry yourself through.

3. You need lots of sidekicks.

I’m continuing with the superhero metaphor here, obviously. Here’s my advice: find your people. For me, this began with my husband, who ran our three-girl circus while I was writing, and my parents who pitched in a lot, too. It’s also my writer friends, who help me see the things in my manuscript that I can’t, and understand exactly what it feels like to try to tell a story you feel is important and then send it out into the world. Find yourself some writer friends, stat, and value the ones you have.

4. You should make sure you’re writing for yourself and for someone else, too.

My students and I have been video chatting with my writer friends during our young adult lit class, and I’ve been struck by the way so many of them have encouraged us to tell the stories we want and need to tell, rather than worrying about what the market might want. I agree. If you put your whole heart into a novel it’s more likely to mean something to you, and to other people too. I wrote Girls in the Moon for my present self, and for my past self too, the girl who used to stay out late at indie rock shows and listen to the same songs over and over. I also wrote it for my daughters and everyone else who is trying to figure out where they fit into their families and the world.

Part of me feels I’m writing down these rules as much for myself as for you, because even though I’ve written one novel, I still have to keep reminding myself of all these things. So we’ll just keep them here in this place where we can come back to them every time we need them. Good luck.


Girls in the Moon
by Janet McNally
Released 11/29/2016

An exquisitely told, authentic YA debut about family secrets, the shadow of fame, and finding your own way.

Everyone in Phoebe Ferris’s life tells a different version of the truth. Her mother, Meg, ex–rock star and professional question evader, shares only the end of the story—the post-fame calm that Phoebe’s always known. Her sister, Luna, indie-rock darling of Brooklyn, preaches a stormy truth of her own making, selectively ignoring the facts she doesn’t like. And her father, Kieran, the cofounder of Meg’s beloved band, hasn’t said anything at all since he stopped calling three years ago.

But Phoebe, a budding poet in search of an identity to call her own, is tired of half-truths and vague explanations. When she visits Luna in New York, she’s determined to find out how she fits in to this family of storytellers, and to maybe even continue her own tale—the one with the musician boy she’s been secretly writing for months. Told in alternating chapters, Phoebe’s first adventure flows as the story of Meg and Kieran’s romance ebbs, leaving behind only a time-worn, precious pearl of truth about her family’s past—and leaving Phoebe to take a leap into her own unknown future.


Though her family is not rock and roll royalty, Janet McNally has always liked boys in bands. (She even married one.) 

She has an MFA from the University of Notre Dame, and her stories and poems have been published widely in magazines. She has twice been a fiction fellow with the New York Foundation for the Arts. 

Janet lives in Buffalo with her husband and three little girls, in a house full of records and books, and teaches creative writing at Canisius College. Girls in the Moon is her first novel, but she’s also the author of a prizewinning collection of poems, Some Girls.

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