Debut author Christina Consolino talks about her novel Rewrite the Stars, the inspiration behind the book, and her journey to publication.
Tell us about your novel.
A good friend of mine (and writing partner), came up with Rewrite the Stars’ short, punchy description on Goodreads that says: “A handsome stranger. A broken marriage. And a choice that could change her life forever.” That description sums up the book well. But for those readers who like a little more detail . . .
Disillusioned about her broken marriage and her husband’s PTSD, mom-of-three Sadie Rollins-Lancaster heads to the grocery store for Father’s Day fixings. But after a charged interaction with the man behind her in line, she brings home more than just vegetables and milk: the man’s voice and smile linger in her mind for weeks. When Sadie formally meets him months later, she’s challenged by emotions and feelings she never expected to feel again. But life is complicated. Sadie’s husband, Theo, the one to instigate the divorce, now refuses to sign the papers. And Sadie has to ask herself: What do I want?
Author Erin Flanagan said that Rewrite the Stars “asks the tough questions about people and relationships: How do we honor our history as we write our new future? What constitutes a family? When can a woman put herself first?” I agree with her.
What inspired your novel?
Almost every story I have written in my life was inspired by an event or snippet of an event that occurred in my life. On Father’s Day 2012, I left my four kids at home and ran to the store to pick up a few items. In line that day, just like Sadie, I chatted with the cashier and the man behind me in line. Unlike Sadie, I did not stalk the man in the parking lot. But our conversation sparked the idea of a discontented woman, one who grappled with balancing personal happiness with the happiness of her family. As far as I know, I never saw the man behind in me in line again, but in a way, I wish I knew who he was. He deserves an enormous thank you.
What do you hope readers take away from your debut?
I could probably write a short story just on the answer to this question because I have my own list of takeaways, and I’m sure they differ from those of each reader. But two main messages come to mind. First, personal happiness is important. We cannot be so intent on making other people happy that we do not place any priority on our own happiness. Second, if you need help—with anything, but especially when it comes to mental health issues—don’t be afraid to ask. And if you cannot ask or don’t have the strength to ask, be open to accepting help if someone offers it. Those are both “easier said than done” at times, but with time and attention, a person can be successful at both.
Share your publishing story.
Every author’s publishing story is different, and I love reading about those stories and sharing my own. As I said above, the book began in 2012. By the time summer 2014 rolled around, I had draft that I thought was ready to query. I had a couple of bites from agents, but no takers, and one said to me that the ending was too sad. Her words made me rethink my writing, my story structure, and my ending, and I went back to revising. After that revision, I queried more agents but heard nothing positive. Again, I stopped, thought about the story and my purpose, and I said to myself, what does this mean? Where do I go from here?
Surprising to me, I put the book to the side for a bit. I believed in the story, but I had other projects to tackle. Or so I thought. Soon, Sadie and Theo called to me once more, and I pulled the story out, hired an editor, revised based on her suggestions, revised again based on some insight from a writing conference, and thought about where I wanted to go. Did I want to look for an agent? Did I want to approach a small publisher? What about writing contests? For many reasons, I sought out a small publisher (and entered a writing contest, for which I landed as a top 10 finalist), and here we are. It was a long road to publication—longer than many experience—but I’ve catalogued so many lessons along the way. I’m grateful for every one.
What are you currently working on?
I have two books I’m really excited about. The more polished one, The Chocolate Garden, is once again classic women’s fiction, though one of my protagonists is male. The story centers on eighty-year-old Frank Raffaelo, who begins to doubt his ability to remember. An accidental fall forces Frank to rely on his three children and they soon realize that while Frank doesn’t show any abnormal cognitive changes, Angie, his wife of forty-two years, does. When Angie’s denial of her symptoms results in dangerous consequences, the Raffaelo family understands that life as they know it is about to change. This book reflects my experiences with my mother’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis and exposes the toil and hardship that dementia can cause on everyone close to it.
A little less (okay, maybe a lot less) polished is The Marriage Debt, which tells the story of Nika Stewart. Once divorced and twice married, Nika is feeling a lack of connection with her second husband, Ethan, who for all intents and purposes is the “perfect guy.” When Nika’s best friend suggests she seek help from a therapist, in particular a sex therapist, Nika is forced to confront her fears of intimacy, abandonment, and inadequacy. Of course, stories written by me involve multiple family relationships, and Nika’s story is complicated by her weed-smoking father, who gets in trouble with the law, and a dishonest stepsister.
Christina Consolino is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in multiple online and print outlets. Her debut novel, Rewrite the Stars, was named one of ten finalists for the Ohio Writers’ Association Great Novel Contest 2020, and she is the co-author of Historic Photos of University of Michigan. She serves as senior editor at the online journal Literary Mama, freelance edits across many disciplines, and teaches writing classes at Word’s Worth Writing Center. Christina lives in Kettering, Ohio, with her family and pets.