Saturday evening, a little before 9 pm I typed two words I have longed to write for many years. The words were “The End,” and in typing them, I crossed an item off the list of my life goals. I have always wanted to write a novel, and now I’ve done it.
I began writing this story over twenty years ago in the New Jersey Writing Project and worked on it in short bursts of intense activity, followed by months or years of barely thinking about it. It seemed like just another one of those craft projects at the bottom of my closet that I had started with good intentions but abandoned, half-finished.
Then, almost two years ago, I attended a reunion of the special-interest dorm I lived in while at Rutgers. Kibbitzing in an ice cream parlor in New Brunswick, NJ with former dorm-mates from the Performing Arts and Creative Writing sections of Demarest Hall, I asked myself what had become of the artist I had once been. Others were asking themselves the same question. (Several of us had life-changing experiences that evening, and I hope they’ll tell their own stories in the comments).
A few weeks later, I started this blog and decided that I didn’t want to die without having finished my novel. I sorted through the several hundred pages of handwritten drafts, notes, maps, character studies, and genealogies I’d accrued over the years, many written on the back of what I was supposed to be doing, and evaluated and arranged the chapters I’d written so far. What I believed at the time to add up to at least half the book turned out to be only about a fifth of it. I’m glad I didn’t realize that, or I would never have found the courage to continue.
Since then, I have written almost every day. I stopped watching television (not that I had watched much before) and almost stopped reading. Every night, after working all day and then taking care of meals and whatever my kids needed, I went into the bedroom, opened the laptop, and got to work. Every weekend, I devoted hours to drafting and revising. I got serious about writing, and when my family saw my commitment, they began to respect the time I had carved out to do it.
I know I’m not really finished, of course. While most of the chapters have been through multiple revisions, I have not yet revised the manuscript as a whole. I can see the flaws that need to be addressed (dropped threads, overwritten passages, the repetition of certain favorite words, the complete lack of animals, some shaky structure), but I know how to fix them now. I’ll be spending a few days at the When Words Count writer’s retreat this month, and many more evenings and weekends, working on my next life goal, which is not just to complete a manuscript, but to make it the best one I can possibly produce. After that, I’ll work on finding an agent to represent it who can persuade a publisher to publish it, and, if all goes well, get it into the hands of people who will love to read it. Kinehora.
I grow uncharacteristically tongue-tied when asked what this book is about. I’m going to need to develop an elevator pitch, but it’s a long book, and a little hard to describe in under a minute. Here’s my best attempt so far to summarize the plot without too many spoilers:
Lily in the Light of Halfmoon is the story of a fifteen-year-old girl so scarred by years of bullying that she has shut down her personality, hoping to disappear enough to be left alone.
Lily arrives with her mother in Halfmoon, an offbeat tourist town in Vermont, where their task is to prepare Great-Aunt Annie’s Victorian mansion for sale by emptying it of 150 years’ worth of family treasure and junk. Brilliant, imperious Aunt Annie has removed herself to a nursing home, refusing to see her many friends or to explain why she has chosen to leave the house in which she was born and in which she had always hoped to die.
Lily soon meets Jesse, the bright, outgoing homeschooler who takes care of her aunt’s gardens. Despite the temperamental differences between them, Lily and Jesse fall in love.
Jesse introduces Lily to the funky people and places of Halfmoon, but Lily has so internalized the voices of her tormentors that she cannot connect to the friendly locals. Afraid that Jesse will reject her once he discovers her social status at home, Lily reveals almost nothing about herself, hiding even her remarkable talents.
Working through the strata of junk in the attic, she finds a trunk containing a never-worn party dress and a diary written by a romantic young poet whose story has a tragic, though maddeningly ambiguous ending. Lily longs to discover the diary girl’s identity and fate.
As the summer progresses, Aunt Annie’s behavior grows stranger. Lily’s parents are barely speaking to each other. Jesse becomes impatient with Lily’s bizarre secretiveness. And the Voice in Lily’s head never fails to remind her that soon the house she loves will be sold, the summer will end, and she will leave Halfmoon to return to her miserable high school, losing the only friend she’s ever known and what she’s sure is her only chance at love.
It’s part romance, part multi-generational saga, part bildungsroman. It contains a diary, some letters, a sestina, a few songs, and even a fairy tale. The point of view shifts between six different characters, though most chapters are told from Lily’s perspective.
It consists, in its current iteration, of 139,552 words, which works out to 558 manuscript pages.
It took 20 years, 8 months, and 13 days to get from conception to completed draft.
It is not yet finished.
Back to work.