Her Story: Ladies In Literature with Janet McNally

Her Story: Ladies In Literature is a special, month-long series on Pop! Goes The Reader in which we celebrate the literary female role models whose stories have inspired and empowered us since time immemorial. From Harriet M. Welsch to Anne Shirley, Becky Bloomwood to Hermione Granger, Her Story: Ladies In Literature is a series created for women, by women as thirty-nine authors answer the question: “Who’s your heroine?” You can find a complete list of the participants and their scheduled guest post dates Here!


About Janet McNally

Janet McNally’s first novel is Girls In The Moon, but she’s also the author of a prizewinning collection of poems, Some Girls (if you like myths and fairy tales, look it up!). Janet has an MFA from the University of Notre Dame, and her stories and poems have been published widely in magazines. She has twice been a fiction fellow with the New York Foundation for the Arts. Janet lives in Buffalo with her husband and three little girls, in a house full of records and books, and teaches creative writing at Canisius College.

Author Links: WebsiteTwitterInstagramFacebookGoodreads

I love first lines, so take my word on this. It doesn’t get much better than the one from I Capture The Castle: “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink”. This is how we meet Cassandra Mortmain: feet in the sink, journal in her lap, just beginning to write her own story. A few chapters later, she’s dyed her hands green in a clothes-coloring mishap, and right after that, she meets the man with whom she’ll first fall in love. If that’s not enough to draw you in, well, I don’t know what you need.

I’m not exactly sure how I found Cassandra, that is, how I came to own my copy of this book. It’s is the 1948 American edition, pale gray with an etching of Cassandra’s castle-house on the cover. The dust jacket was long gone by the time the book made its way to me, and I’d never seen the original cover before I looked it up last week. What I do know is this: in the beginning, I thought Cassandra belonged just to me.

When I was a kid, I spent most of my time reading books no one else my age had heard of. I used up all my quarters on decades-old, out-of-print novels from library book sales. Combine this with the fact that I was raised in the nineties on TV from the sixties — Bewitched, Get Smart, I Dream Of Jeannie — and I ran the risk of being a girl out of time. I had a happy childhood, friends, all those good things, but still I felt different. Maybe because I never knew anyone like me — someone who watched the world around her, hoping to understand everything by reading and telling stories — until I found Cassandra Mortmain.

It was so easy to identify with Cassandra, even though she lived in a decaying castle in England and I grew up in an ordinary house in Buffalo. She’s funny, for one thing. She’s a romantic, a book-lover who’d rather live in a Charlotte Bronte novel than one by Jane Austen. She wants to be a writer even though she’s seen her successful father fail spectacularly at his second novel attempt. She loves her family fiercely in spite of their eccentricities, or maybe because of them. She doesn’t mind when her artist’s model stepmother, Topaz, causes an uproar by walking naked through the fields, or when her sister Rose spends her days complaining dramatically about their family’s (admittedly extreme) poverty. Cassandra and Rose couldn’t be more different, but still Cassandra would do anything — give up anything — for her sister. When Cassandra falls in love, utterly and completely, it’s with the one man she can’t have. Even so, she never regrets it.

My latest spin through the novel was the first time I really read as a writer, or at least the first since I wrote a novel myself. I could go on and on about Dodie Smith’s language, the way Cassandra’s voice sounds so timeless, so modern that she could easily be a girl alive today instead of in the thirties. Maybe Cassandra is a girl out of time, like I was. In any case, she taught me that you can figure out who you are by writing it all down, and it’s no coincidence that my own book is about a girl who does the same thing.

I’ll always love books as objects, passing from owner to owner, collecting our markings, our scraps of paper used as bookmarks. My intersection with this particular copy of I Capture The Castle was an accident, maybe one of the twenty-five cent hardcovers I bought at a library sale. When I picked it up I didn’t know what it would mean to me. Still, it found me somehow, spinning through time and space before it landed on my bookshelf. Lately, as I write my second novel, I’ve been carrying it around in my bag (like hot sauce, my friend Harriet said). I Capture The Castle is fairy dust, and it comforts me to have Cassandra (and her creator, Dodie Smith) right here when I need her.

Title Girls In The Moon
Author Janet McNally
Pages 352 Pages
Intended Target Audience Young Adult
Genre & Keywords Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
To Be Published November 29th, 2016 by HarperTeen
Find It On GoodreadsAmazon.comChapters

Everyone in Phoebe Ferris’s life tells a different version of the truth. Her mother, Meg, ex–rock star and professional question evader, shares only the end of the story — the post-fame calm that Phoebe’s always known. Her sister, Luna, indie-rock darling of Brooklyn, preaches a stormy truth of her own making, selectively ignoring the facts she doesn’t like. And her father, Kieran, the cofounder of Meg’s beloved band, hasn’t said anything at all since he stopped calling three years ago.

But Phoebe, a budding poet in search of an identity to call her own, is tired of half-truths and vague explanations. When she visits Luna in New York, she’s determined to find out how she fits in to this family of storytellers, and to maybe even continue her own tale—the one with the musician boy she’s been secretly writing for months. Told in alternating chapters, Phoebe’s first adventure flows as the story of Meg and Kieran’s romance ebbs, leaving behind only a time-worn, precious pearl of truth about her family’s past—and leaving Phoebe to take a leap into her own unknown future.

2 responses to “Her Story: Ladies In Literature with Janet McNally”

  1. Pragati says:

    Cassandra sounds absolutely amazing! I’m going to have to pick this book up soon! 🙂

  2. Alexa S. says:

    I’ve never read I Capture the Castle, but I certainly have plans to do so (and own a copy)! I loved hearing about how you instantly connected to Cassandra 🙂
    Alexa S. recently posted…Souls and Thrones • And I DarkenMy Profile

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