• Recollections That Nudged at Me

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Inspiration     Comments 21 comments

    (In this week’s post, Dana Frank, author the new novel The Moon Can Tell, shares with us her journey from book idea — twenty-five years ago — to publication here in 2018. Share your thoughts in the comments, and/or feel free to ask Dana any questions you have.)


    My novel, The Moon Can Tell, started — twenty-five years ago — as recollections that nudged at me, trying to become a story that, perhaps, I should write down.

    It sounds vague because it was. I didn’t know what I was doing. I only knew that writing it down felt right and gave me some sort of relief. Back then, I didn’t know I was a writer. I had no mentors, no one to say, Wow, I like the way you write.

    Fact is, I was already, and have always been, a writer. I think like a writer, and I see like a writer. I just wasn’t writing it down.

    The recollections were sad and scary. I remembered as a young girl finding a baby cemetery, unkempt and unvisited. I wasn’t conscious of the attendant feelings I might have had then, but as I wrote it and even wrote outside reality — that is, fictionalized it — the feelings surfaced.

    I began writing what became the novel when I was around thirty-five, and the events I was remembering happened when I was eleven and twelve. I realize now that fictionalizing the writing was my way of understanding it, of breaking it open and really looking. That is, really looking into myself.

    The writing brought forth sadness. The book is about loss, among other things. I had to step away from it for a few years after being inexplicably weepy in my gynecologist’s office and realizing it was probably because of writing the book. Considering that now, I think my vulnerability is the soft stuff from which I create. Spading that ground can be painful.

    My forties were hard. I had two schoolchildren, a husband, a full-time job, and a forty-five-minute commute. I felt like I was an incompetent mother, wife, and employee. I was stretched in all directions, and I began to journal after reading The Artist’s Way. Through that book I identified as a writer, and I bled all over those journaling pages daily. That practice opened me up to recalling more about that delicate cusp between ages eleven and twelve.

    I still didn’t know what I was doing, but I kept writing the stories, and I realized that maybe I could piece them together like a quilt. Someday, maybe.

    As the stories and scenes began accumulating, things got sticky, things fell together, and I could begin to see a pattern and a story arc. Kind of. I still didn’t understand why things happened in the stories, maybe much like I didn’t understand things back when I was that girl. Layer onto that the fictionalizing, and I found that I had created a world that only I could navigate now. I realized that I alone was responsible for the characters. I was worried for them, and I wanted to take care of them, but I also wanted to put them way out there on that limb.

    I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t. I was too scared to set up conflict. I felt like such a milquetoast, too tepid, so weak. I gave up. Anyway, let’s face it, I thought. There is no way I can ever find an agent. And then try to get a publisher? Never happen. Just let it go. Write short stories.

    Which I did, and I even got an honorable mention award from Glimmer Train. Which got me back to the novel, because someone had finally said, Wow, I like the way you write.

    I began to take the novel seriously, and talked about it openly with family and friends. “I’m writing a novel.” My saying that impressed people, which strengthened my resolve to keep going.

    That is, between the times that I shelved it. One writer friend said to put it away and move on to something else. I tried, but found myself still thinking about my protagonist, writing in my head, so I began writing it down again. I knew I had something that only I could create, and I wanted to finish it.

    In 2012, I hired WriteByNight to read through and critique The Moon Can Tell. That was encouraging — and then I sat on my thumbs for two years.

    Something got me going again, a lull in my freelance writing work, I think, and I went back to it. I still didn’t know what I was doing… or did I? Or is it knowing not to know, when writing a novel? Is it unknowable, how to do it, that is? Who knows.

    I thought about the story a lot and about how to make the structure work, because it runs along two time narratives. I had to push myself beyond what I thought I remembered about real events all those years ago and search the fictional world I had created. I discovered themes in there that I could pull forth and give more attention to. I took liberties with what the narrator said and did; I allowed her reliability to sometimes be questionable. That was rewarding because that, ultimately, is real.

    In 2016, my WriteByNight editor, Justine, read through and critiqued the novel again, and this time I dug in and executed on her suggestions. And around that time I was becoming aware that I could publish this book on my own, without hunting down an agent or a publisher. I challenged myself to consider Justine’s suggestions, finish the novel, and publish it. I hired a professional designer, we walked through steps to publish on CreateSpace, and suddenly I had a book on Amazon.

    This has been the most self-actualizing thing I have done in my life. I published my first novel a couple of months before turning sixty, and now I’m on to the next.

    I can tell this one won’t take twenty-five years.


    Dana Frank is a writer who grew up as an army brat, living, most memorably for her, in Hawaii and Munich, Germany. She has always been deeply connected to horses. Now she lives in the wilds west of Austin, Texas, where she and her husband raised their son and daughter and now make do with four horses, two cats, and a dog.

    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a writing project that you’d like help with or an idea to get off the ground, check out our coaching, editing, and publication services
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    I admire this a lot. I started a memoir about things from my life that had happened ten years earlier, and that was hard enough. But then I quit, and now 22 years later I’m trying to start again. It’s not going well. The time has given me some interesting new perspective, but also a lot of the details have drained away from memory. Did you do anything to help bring yours back, any memory exercises or focused thinking or meditation or anything?

    Eleanor Gamarsh

    Congratulations, Dana. Thanks for sharing your journey of writing your novel. It’s inspiring for me though I don’t have as much time as you have had. I had a very bad fall when I was 59 years old, and another a year and a half later causing me to have physical injuries ana MTBI. I began to write my memoir in 2010 with the help of my large collection of journals. As I got into it, I found that I had to learn how to write better than I knew from my College English Comp 101. My goal for this… Read more »


    Thanks for sharing this Dana. No question. Just good luck with Book 2!

    Brian Hollers

    Well, what you should do now is write a nonfiction memoir about what happened. Squeeze as much juice as you can!

    Dana Frank

    Hi, Erica: I agree with you about memories dissipating, but that didn’t stop me, because I was writing a novel. So I pushed myself to go beyond, into the realm of fiction. You could try that. In that way, I believe, you will turn up the truest writing. You now have “interesting new perspective,” and that’s your pearl! Hold it and look at it well, and write about that. The result won’t be a memoir, I suppose, but maybe something that still is resonant for you. I must say that in some instances, I’m not sure what really happened and… Read more »

    Dana Frank

    Eleanor: Your goal to finish writing your story is a good one. Push through, and don’t censor. All the words you write are right. And about publishing, it is truly the least (the easiest) of the project now, with the change in the publishing landscape, in my opinion. Give yourself the gift of writing your story.


    So glad you didn’t shelve the book! Our process teaches us so much if we just pay attention and then get out of the way. Your tenacity inspires me!!


    Applause. Great story, but great article too.

    Dianne King

    Hi Dana: It’s been like meeting old friends to read The Moon Can Tell; dear old friends! Really been enjoying it, and so glad we ran into each other at Book People.

    Sid Balman

    Inspiring guidance for any would-be novelist, from my good friend Dana.

    Elizabeth O'Brien

    Dana, I agree with Lynda that you are an inspiration to all of us! I love this gentle coming-of-age story, with such resonant and heartfelt descriptions of the confusion, angst and uncertainty of being a pre-teen. For me the ages of 11, 12 and 13 were the MOST intense of ages. I felt everything so viscerally yet didn’t quite understand what it all meant. I loved witnessing how your novel evolved from its early draft stages. For me, it got even better as the book progressed. I am so proud of you for persevering and finishing the book. It means… Read more »

    Eleanor Gamarsh

    Thank you, Dana Frank.

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