One of my least favorite questions to be asked is “What is your favorite book?” I have many favorites, but it’s difficult to rank them as my very favorite, or my fourth favorite, and as I get older, books that were once lower on the list have risen in the ranks as my understanding of them have changed. There are a few books, however, that never seem to fall far down the list. One of those books is Twelve Sisters by Leslie Beaton Hedley. I checked it out from the library many years ago and liked it so much that I bought my own copy, which I somehow lost (probably because I loaned it out) and then I bought another copy which I don’t plan to loan out ever again since it’s now out of print. I don’t know how well the book sold when it was in print, I don’t know how many other people read it, but—not to put too heavy a spin on it—it changed my life. For a few reasons.
The book is about twelve women who live in the same LDS ward. They cover the spectrum of college student to a woman, literally, in her final hours. Each chapter is dedicated to one of these women and involves a sacrament meeting. In “Her” chapter, the woman “sees” the other women, but we get to see her in a way that no one else in that room ever will. We see their struggles, their heartbreaks, their purpose, their goals. We share in their frustrations, we understand why do they do the things they do.
In the next chapter, we see another woman, often passing judgment on someone else we just “met” a chapter or two earlier. I had never read anything like it—I still haven’t—and when I finished the book I felt as though my world had opened up a little wider. That woman I’m critical in my mind for being too perfect, or too sloppy, or too lazy, or too heavy, has a story that I don’t know and yet I think I DO know. Over and over again we pass judgment on one another and are somehow confident of that perspective even though that person we’ve judged is essentially a stranger to us. It’s so easy to do, it comes naturally for some of us to critique and measure everyone we meet. Twelve sisters, however, showed just how much truth is missed when we do this to one another, and how we can compound the hard road someone is traveling by being so flippant with our determinations.
After reading that book—about fifteen years ago—I had the seed of an idea form in my brain—someday I want to write a book like that. In the years that followed, I would think about it now and then but I couldn’t figure out how to write it without basically copying what Hedley had done in Twelve Sisters. I didn’t want to re-write that book, I wanted one of my own, but couldn’t find the right way to do it different, and yet as good; as powerful. Then, in 2009, Julie Wright and I went on a book tour. We spent hours and hours and hours talking about pretty much everything. At some point, I started telling her about my idea but as I said the words, a light went on in the closet where the idea had been gathering dust for years. What if the reason I couldn’t figure out how to write it was because I wasn’t supposed to? As the words tumbled out, Julie helped me process them and within a short time the idea for Newport Ladies’ Book Club was born. We wouldn’t write one book, we’d write four books by four authors but with the same goal I felt Twelve Sisters had achieved—showing how we misinterpret other people, and just how much of an impact we can have on them.
After bringing Annette Lyon and Heather Moore up to speed, we all set out to do something we’d never seen done before—a parallel novel series about four different women who meet up in a book club. The goal was to show these women’s lives in detail, while the other members of this book club only saw bits and pieces.
I’ll write more about the process we went through in a future post, but hope that this helps the readers understand where the idea came from and why we wrote it the way we did. Our hope is that reading one book is great, but reading a second, third, or fourth then enriches the overall experience, helping us to “see” what we can’t see in just one novel from one Point of View. We hope you love it as much as we do.