For some of us, the holidays are the absolute best time of year. We dash around joyfully selecting gifts, planning events, and reflecting with wonder on our past year with little thought of heartache. Sometimes it is easy to forget that though this season represents joy for many, it can also be a mixed bag of happiness and grief for those who have experienced loss––a difficult reminder of the ones who won’t be gathered round the tree this year.

Whether you fall on the side lucky enough to have avoided the taint of sadness or know all too well the painful memories the holidays can bring, author Jessica Ronne’s newly released memoir, Sunlight Burning at Midnight, will hold something for you. It is a touching tale of tragedy, grief, and eventual joy bringing understanding to some, and solace to others.

Jessica Ronne’s Journals

Jessica Ronne HeadshotJessica, a writer, teacher, wife, and mother of eight, says she started penning her memoir twelve years ago in the form of journals. She didn’t know back then that her entries would become the basis of a book, though she always had inclinations in that direction.

“I have always known that I wanted to be a writer,” she says. “I wrote poetry all through college.”

At the time, her journals centered around a difficult pregnancy and the challenging diagnosis for her unborn second child that would test the limits of her faith. “I knew looking at those journals three years after I had Lucas that it was a story I wanted to tell,” she explains. She describes the book at that stage as totally raw; a direct outflow of her emotions and struggles through the ups and downs of her pregnancy.

“It was like a rough draft of my life.” –Jessica Ronne

Gradually, over the course of years, she formed those entries into a coherent manuscript. At that point, the story focused primarily on her son Lucas, and the manuscript was titled “A Little Boy Playing Baseball,” in reference to an incident recounted in the book. But something else had happened in her life too. Another dark storm had arrived just as Lucas’ condition stabilized somewhat. At that time, her husband had received a startling diagnosis that changed all of their lives. However, for her first draft, Jessica left her husband’s medical issues untouched, only briefly mentioning them.

The story she wanted to tell was Lucas’.

She ended the book just as Jason’s struggle was beginning.

The Cliffhanger

The omission of this part of the story was something that one potential publisher questioned. “Zondervan looked at the manuscript and said, ‘You can’t leave it here. Readers will want to know what happened with your husband,'” says Jessica. The fact was, Jason had begun struggling with cancer just as Lucas was entering a stable, though still laborious, stage of life. To readers, the cliff hanger felt like an unexplored thread. After reading over Jessica’s entries about Jason’s battle with cancer, her mother echoed the sentiment of the Zondervan rep. “She said this was a story I should tell.”

Looking over the material, Jessica saw potential, but knew at the same time this was rough material only, and would need refinement. And so she revised, revised, revised. With each draft, a book emerged more fully. She realized that the publisher and her mother were correct. Hard as it was, at first, to relive these periods in her life, Jessica wanted to tell Jason’s story too. As many nonfiction writers are aware, there is a fine line between therapy and memoir, between providing catharsis for yourself, and providing catharsis for a reader. Jessica navigated that boundary carefully, and with each successive version saw a more fully realized “book” come from her journals.

As she refined the book, she distanced herself enough to view it somewhat objectively as a piece of literature. “There are areas in the book where I still tear up, like the letters to our kids, but there has been so much revision that I’m able to have some distance now,” she says. At last, after over a decade, she had a manuscript that felt complete. Her life had taken another unexpected turn (you’ll have to read the book to find out more), and she was ready to seek publication again.

Publication and Beyond

Jessica Ronne Sunlight CoverAs all authors know, writing the book is only half the battle. Now that Jessica had a complete manuscript, she started the hard work of “shopping” her book around to different publishers. “I got helpful feedback, but no takers,” she says. Each time she got comments back, she would revise again.

In May of 2015, Jessica and her family of ten were featured on NBC’s Today Show. By that time, she had graduated with a masters degree in English (nine years in the making). Her life was coming back together. But Jessica Ronne was still hunting for that elusive publishing deal. She posted her manuscript to an editing website ready to revise again. Deep River Books contacted her and offered a partnership.

“I thought about it for a while. In my mind, it was a catch-22,” says Jessica. “Should I continue waiting for an indefinite amount of time for a traditional publishing contract that might not come? Or should I just get the words out there?”

In the end, she decided it was worth it to get the words out into the world without further delay. “It was a bucket list thing, in a way,” says Jessica. “I needed to do it.”

Her book launched in November, 2016, and has had positive reviews since then. “The only ‘negative’ review was when my mother corrected the Butter Story that I tell in the beginning,” says Jessica with a laugh. “So, I’m setting the record straight on that now.”

The realization of her work has freed Jessica to think about future projects. “It’s hard with eight kids to find any time to write,” she says. “Right now, I’m working on a cookbook for picky eaters and special needs kids because I have plenty of recipes for Lucas.” Someday, maybe when a few of the kids are grown, Jessica hopes to tell the “third chapter” of her life, that is, the current chapter. “I started writing a couple passages for it,” she says. “Maybe it will come out in 2020!”

The Beauty of Writing

Jessica Ronne’s life has taken twists. It’s been turned upside down and inside out, but her account shows our ever-present God. Through it all, she’s been faithful not only in recording her experiences, but also in taking the time to refine those raw moments into beautiful literature for the encouragement and edification of her audience.

Whether you’ve experienced deep grief or want insight about comforting those who remember their losses this holiday season, Jessica Ronne’s words are a wonderful window into the psychology and struggle of grief. Go with joy and humility into this season of our savior, carrying with you the one eternal hope for all those hurting.

From the whole team at Deep River Books, merry Christmas!

Want to purchase a copy of Sunlight Burning at Midnight? You can find it here. Or visit Jessica Ronne’s blog to keep up on her journey.