The making of a novel, part 1—a young adult voice

After more than eight years, I’m on the verge of finishing Dell’s story and sending it out into the world. So as I embark on my next project, I’ve decided to chronicle the journey from germ of an idea to completed manuscript.

First, some background: in the fall of 2017, I was dabbling in writing again after taking a several-year hiatus as I adjusted to life as a parent. Shawn, Ellie, and I had started doing our happy tasks, and I thought, Hey, this would make a cool book. So I began writing an adult novel about a woman whose husband has died and who, over the course of the novel, discovers the healing power of kindness.

Fast-forward two years. When I made a New Year’s resolution to write more in 2019, I picked up where I had left off on what I was calling The Happy Jar. But something wasn’t working. The 50 pages I had felt flat.

I had debated whether to spend my newly committed writing time working on this kindness story or on Dell’s, so when I hit a wall, I switched. Obviously, I saw Dell through to the end, but as I was working on it, I realized something about the other book: it shouldn’t have been an adult novel.

One of my strengths as a writer, I think, is my voice—and it’s a young adult voice. So why was I telling the story from the mom’s point of view? A logical question, but scary nonetheless. It’s hard to abandon something you’ve put time, effort, and heart into. And although I knew something was wrong with what I had, there was a lot I liked about it too. I’d begun to fall in love with the characters—my main character, Patrice; her late husband, Derek (revealed in flashbacks); and her daughter, Rae. But once I was willing to entertain the possibilities of starting over, it became clear that Rae needed to be the one to tell this story.

So, meet Raina (Rae) Ballester—you’ll be seeing more of her soon.