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The Story Behind the Story: The Mermaid’s Sister

Guest Blogger: Carrie Anne Noble

In May 2012, my younger sister and only sibling, Kate, was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer. In the months that followed, I spent many hours at her bedside as she suffered and slipped away from us, witnessing her transformation from a lively, delightful, curvaceous mother-of-two into a thin, pain-consumed shadow. One day as I watched her sleeping, I asked myself, “What if she were changing into something else? What if a girl transformed into a mermaid?”

The image stuck with me as October unfolded and I began to plan for my yearly National Novel Writing Month project.

My sister passed away on October 22, and I considered not doing November’s NaNoWriMo. How could I do anything without my sister? But at the same time, focusing on story for hours a day seemed like an ideal way to distract myself from my sorrow.

And so I wrote.

I wrote about sisters, about friendship, about finding love, and about becoming who you truly are. Sometimes, the truth leaked onto the page. My real sister was brave; my real heart was broken over losing her. Sometimes, I wrote the world as I wished it could have been, with pet dragons and clever ravens, and a journey to the sea taken in a brightly painted gypsy wagon.

When November ended, I’d written the required 50,000-plus words. I closed the document. I didn’t know if I’d ever read what I’d written. Although Clara and Maren were very different from me and Kate, Clara’s wrestling with loss and identity mirrored my experience a little too closely for comfort. Revisiting that pain didn’t appeal to me at all.

But on a whim the next summer, I decided to read it. The experience was quite strange. It felt as if I was reading someone else’s book. Something told me it was going to go somewhere, even if I ended up self-publishing it.

As my 2013 NaNoWriMo project, I dove into revising the story. Afterwards, I forced myself to bravely give it to a few friends for critiquing. Their feedback was encouraging and helpful, and led to more tweaking of the manuscript.

Meanwhile, after many months of prayer and reflection, my family made the difficult choice to change churches. It just so happened that our new church had a writers’ group led by the assistant pastor. Pastor Brian was so gung-ho about submitting his work that he inspired me to submit my manuscript to the 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. The contest accepted 10,000 entries in five categories. I didn’t believe for a moment that I’d win, but I did hope to reach the quarter-finals, since quarter-finalists received the prize of a free Publishers Weekly review of their manuscripts.

Things moved along in a surreal fashion, and I ended up advancing to the semi-finals, competing with four other young adult genre writers to move into the finals. The end of the contest approached. Since I’m extremely bad with numbers, I had the dates confused in my head. I thought I’d lost and that was that.

One afternoon, the phone rang. The caller I.D. said “Amazon”—but for some reason I thought they were calling to get feedback on a recent purchase. Nope. The call was from a couple of very excited editors eager to tell me I’d won the YA category! They loved my book! They’d underlined and reread favorite passages! Their YA imprint (Skyscape) was going to publish it and give me a nice advance!

After I hung up, I melted into the chair and wept tears of joy and gratitude.

I could tell you a hundred strange and wonderful things God has done during this journey, but the main lessons have been these: God never wastes our pain, and He makes beautiful things happen even amidst the ugliest experiences of our lives. His ways are incomprehensible, but His character can be trusted. Most of all, He loves each one of us more than we can fathom.

In the movie Saving Mr. Banks, Walt Disney says, “That’s what we storytellers do. We restore order with imagination. We instill hope again and again and again.” In my grief, I told myself a story. Using the gift God gave me in His infinite wisdom, I molded the world into a shape I could understand. I gave sisters Clara and Maren each their own happy endings.

Every day, I miss my sister Kate, and I marvel at the gift of her life and her death. God used her to help give me have a happily-ever-after, too—seeing my words printed, read, and enjoyed around the world. I don’t understand it, but I am so grateful to my Father who knows all, loves me, and holds my sister in His arms.

 

In the wake of her thrilling past as a theatre student, restaurant hostess, certified nurse aide, and newspaper reporter, Carrie Anne Noble now writes novels and short stories. She lives in the mountains of Pennsylvania with her husband and kids, and enjoys drinking a lot of tea and reading till her eyes get blurry. Her debut novel, The Mermaid’s Sister, won the 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award for YA Fiction, and the 2016 Realm Award for Speculative Novel of the Year. Her second novel, The Gold-Son, which launched June 20, 2017, contains leprechauns. 

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4 comments on “The Story Behind the Story: The Mermaid’s Sister

  1. What an amazing story behind the story! I already wanted to read The Mermaid’s Sister but now I know I really want to read it soon. Thanks for sharing something so personal and powerful.

  2. So encouraging! Thank you for sharing.

  3. So often writers are afraid to dig deep and write from a place of raw emotion. This definitely proves that this kind of authenticity really produces amazing literature.

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