A Nearer Moon, Melanie Crowder’s newest novel of swamps and sickness and sisters, is a haunting and ultimately hopeful story with writing the starred Kirkus review describes as “sumptuous.” The setting, a village held up by stilts near a river, is vivid. Luna lives in this village with her sister Willow, who has accidentally swallowed the swamp water, which takes lives via a mysterious wasting illness. Luna determines she’ll do whatever she can to save her sister.
Underneath the water is a creature. Perdita was once a young water sprite, who loved her own sister dearly, and the two are eager to cross through the door to another world that her people are building. But Perdita’s attempts to cross over fail, and she’s left alone in the water—left for a long time to fester and sink into her own loneliness. It’s when her path crosses with Luna’s that fate steps in and lives are changed forever.
I interrupted Melanie, who's working on her next book, to ask her via email about this memorable, compelling novel.
Can you talk about how or when (or both) this story came to you, the story of two sets of sisters?
Of course, I was thinking about my own sisters as I began drafting A Nearer Moon. They have grown into brilliant women and I am so lucky to have them in my life.
I was also rolling around the idea of negative emotions—grief, regret, shame—and how we allow them to form the walls that imprison us. I wondered what that prison might look like if it were a tangible thing—and how a person would ever find their way free.
When I began drafting, I had an image fixed in my mind of a young girl poling her boat through the jungle—Luna. I was just getting glimmers of Perdy and the sense that magic lived at the edges of this world. But I had no plot, not until I asked myself the above questions. From those questions came the curse and the swamp, and the rest of the story settled into place.
What were the challenges of weaving together these two narratives—Luna's and Perdita's?
Writing this book was like piecing together a puzzle. If I place this suggestion here and that clue there, would it be enough to carry readers to the point where the two narratives connect? I needed to show plenty of glimpses into Perdy’s life so the reader would begin to love her as I did without taking away from the forward motion of Luna’s story.
I laid my chapters out on a huge table, marked up all the hints that would lead to the reveal, broke sections apart, and shuffled things around until everything clicked. And then I sent the manuscript to my editor and crossed my fingers!
When a story contains a reveal, you only get one read to gut-check whether it works, whether it flies over the reader’s head, or whether it is so obvious from the beginning that it no longer works a reveal at all. When you’re in the thick of it, you simply don’t have perspective on the element of surprise, so I relied heavily on my early readers and my editor to get the timing and the pacing just right.
I can't help but be impressed by the novel's length, since we live in a day and age of very thick fantasy novels. I think the writing is so tight—and in such a slim volume. Was it always this way, or were there longer drafts once upon a time?
This book was always slim. My writing friends teased me at the time, because my first draft was a third the length of theirs. But I have taken to heart the idea that the most powerful image is a stark one. The best dialogue is sharp and unfettered. The most compelling description is one that makes you feel the place, not just see it. If every element of the story is working on multiple levels, the manuscript naturally gets tighter. Fortunately for me, I am matched with an editor who allows a story to be what it wants to be, even if that means it stands apart from industry trends.
I try to push the idea that every element of the story works on multiple levels even further into the prose style I choose. If I were to write in a languorous, lush way—why? What about the characters, or the theme, or the plot would be enhanced by that choice? Or if I were to write in clipped, quick bursts—again, why? How would that impact the tone of the story?
With A Nearer Moon, I used a great deal of repetition to mirror the setting: I picture the echoed phrases like ripples extending out from a pebble dropped into still water and sinking down through layers of murky water.
Do you plan more books with these characters, by chance? Will we ever meet Perdita's world past the door in the sky? If not, what's next for you?
You make it sound so enchanting that now I want to! To be honest, I haven’t discussed the idea with my editor; for now, at least, I’m working on other things.
After releasing two books this year, I’m going to spend 2016 going back and forth between revisions for my next YA and my next middle-grade. I’m elbow-deep in revisions for the YA at the moment, so I’ll tell you about the other since I have a little more distance from that book.
My next middle-grade is the story of a girl named Marin, who carries three pennies and a pocket-sized I Ching with her wherever she goes. For a kid bumping from foster home to foster home, The Book of Changes might seem like the perfect companion. But it’s when everything in her life suddenly stops changing—when Marin lands in a foster home that feels like somewhere she could stay, maybe forever—that the pennies suddenly don’t have any answers for her.
A contemporary middle-grade told in omniscient third-person with just a dash of magical realism, this novel connects a host of peripheral characters, including a harried social worker, an avian Confucius scholar, and even the tremulous San Andreas Fault, who all nudge Marin toward understanding the true nature of family and finding her own internal pennies to cast.
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.