Janet McNally's first two books were born of whirlwinds, written during the blurry, bleary early days of her daughters' lives via creative journeys she can't quite remember, centered around concepts whose origins she can't quite pinpoint. And yet they are there, these books, strong words, bound and covered, attended by praise and a poetry prize.
In the wake of her first daughter's birth, McNally wrote Some Girls, a poetry collection focused on myths, fairy tales, and what it means to be female. Her second book, Girls in the Moon, is a coming of age novel set in a summertime New York City and was published last fall. McNally, who teaches creative writing at Canisius College, wrote it after the birth of her twins.
"I don’t remember much of the early part of writing Girls In the Moon, because I started when the twins were ten months old and those months were all a blur. Maybe that was good for me! … I can’t remember much about where the ideas came from, but that’s what happens with many of my projects. I’m almost a believer in the Muse—some things just come to me, and they turn into something larger in a way that I can’t track later."
The books share a common titular "Girls" as well as strong narrative hearts, and both were run past the discerning eyes of McNally's husband and a few trusted friends. "I do think that it’s important to get writing out of your own brain and in front of other people’s eyes, though it has to be ready when that happens," McNally told Spine. But from there, the processes diverged.
Nonprofit, indie lit publisher White Pine Press published Some Girls after McNally won their annual poetry prize. "My poetry press, White Pine, didn’t have much of an editorial role in the process," McNally said. "I did, however, work with the judge of the contest, the poet Ellen Bass, to revise my poems. That was a great experience, as I was really energized by the fact that this would be an actual book. I also wrote a bunch more poems after I won the contest and some of those made their way into the book."
HarperCollins imprint HarperTeen published Girls in the Moon and played a large role in transforming the book from first draft to final. The story follows budding poet Phoebe Ferris, daughter of ex-rock stars. McNally's original version featured the story told from Phoebe's point of view, but the end version also includes sections in her mother's voice. "My editor was the one who suggested writing chapters from Meg’s (Phoebe’s mother) perspective, so all of those came after we sold the book," McNally said.
"If we had sold it to one of the other editors who wanted it, it would have been a different book without her voice. I’m glad to have her in the book directly because it let me say something about the way we can never totally understand the people we love (especially our parents), but that there are reasons for the things they do."
The cover design processes were also very different, with McNally more heavily involved with the poetry cover. White Pine uses a template for its prize-winning titles, but authors choose the image. McNally worked with her friends Jodi Bryon and photographer Brett Essler to bring her vision to the cover.
"Since the book deals with fairy tales, the idea was to have a Little Red Riding Hood figure standing at the edge of the forest," she said. "Thankfully Jodi had a red coat. The two of them went up to Inwood Hill Park in Manhattan—which is such a wild place, wilder than you’d expect in NYC—and took a bunch of pictures."
Harper designer Jenna Stempel created the cover of Girls in the Moon, after McNally offered up a selection of book covers she liked. "I was so nervous when I opened the file from my editor containing the cover, and so thrilled when I saw it. It really made purple into my favorite color in some ways (it was already my five-year-old’s favorite, so that helps)."
McNally is currently at work on a third book, related to Girls in the Moon, about lost sisters, ballet and fairy tales.