Mona is almost asleep when her younger sister’s face appears at the edge of her top bunk.

“Come on,” Lily says, tugging at a lock of Mona’s hair. “We’re going to have an adventure.”

Slightly apprehensive, Mona climbs down the ladder. She is wearing one of their father’s old T-shirts and an ugly pair of cotton underwear. Lily is in a virginal, ankle-length white nightgown. Ironic, Mona thinks, considering that fourteen-year-old Lily hasn’t been a virgin for almost a month now. Mona isn’t sure what kind of adventure can be conducted in a nightgown, but she decides not to ask.

Nicole Acton

Nicole Acton’s fiction has earned her a Scholastic Art and Writing Awards gold medal and a Silver Medal with Distinction for writing portfolio. She was a Level I YoungArts Winner for Short Story and a 2012 Presidential Scholar in the Arts. She is a two-time winner in the Blank Theatre Company’s Young Playwrights, Inc. National Competition. She is honored to be included in One Teen Story.

Q&A by Pei-Ling Lue

PL: Where did the idea for this story come from?
NA: Since I was born, my family has been vacationing in northern Michigan. My parents’ close friends from college have a lovely cottage on Lime Lake in Leelanau County, and the lake and the house are a huge part of me. A couple summers ago, I got in a kayak, paddled across the lake, and went swimming in the middle of the night. The stars were incredible—they looked like they belonged in a movie—and the bats were swooping down to catch bugs, and the water was like glass. It was a really powerful experience, and I knew that it had to somehow find its way into my writing.
PL: What was the most challenging aspect of writing this story?
NA: The ending. I didn’t want to resolve anything, but I still needed a way for the reader to be satisfied, so I spent a long time fiddling with that.
PL: How long did it take you to complete this story?
NA: I wrote the first draft in a couple of days, but I’ve been revising it on and off for about a year.
PL: What are you working on now?
NA: Though I write a lot of fiction, my primary interest is plays. Right now, I’ve got a couple script projects in the works. The one I’m most excited about is a full-length about a family with a gender-creative son. Five year old Danny prefers dresses and dolls to trucks and baseball. They try to keep this quiet, but when the grandparents visit for Christmas and find out that Danny isn’t the stereotypical little boy, the family is forced to consider what this means for his future, and how they want to deal with it.
PL: What is the best bit of advice about writing you have ever received?
NA: My 10th grade creative writing teacher told me that I had to be somewhere where I wasn’t the best. I had to study with people more talented than I was if I wanted to get better. For my junior year of high school, I transferred to Interlochen Arts Academy, where I definitely wasn’t the best, and my writing improved immensely. Being surrounded by people more talented than me taught me to revise, but also to focus on the craft rather than trying to impress.
PL: Do you have sisters or siblings? And if so, is your relationship to them similar to the relationship between Prue, Mona, and Lily?
NA: I have a 13 year old brother, and our relationship is about as far from the sisters’ as it’s possible to be. I’ve always wanted a sister, though. I was six years old before my brother was born, so I was an only child for several years, and I used to pretend that I had sisters. I’m not sure why I’m so drawn to writing about the relationship between sisters, but it’s a pretty common theme in my work.
PL: How did you come up with the setting of the lake house?
NA: Like I said earlier, the lake house is based on a real place from my childhood. I didn’t change anything about the house or the lake. it was my first time writing a setting that I was intimately connected to, and I think it really helped to make the setting come to life. I’d never thought of a setting being an intrinsic part of a story rather than a backdrop, but I’m happy with how it turned out.
PL: Why does Lily feel the need to make her lie true instead of confessing to her lie?
NA: Lily is one of the most fascinating characters I’ve ever written about. She pretty much wrote herself. Lily acts on instinct, and because of that, when I write about her, I don’t always know what she’s going to do until she’s already done it. As for the lie, Lily wants to be an adult, at least at that point in the story. She also doesn’t like to own up to her mistakes, so admitting that she lied is not an option. She’s testing herself, in a way. “Can I be this person I said I was?” She finds out that yes, she can, but maybe that’s not what she wanted after all.
PL: You told me that this story is the first chapter to a novel you are working on. Can you tell us anything about the rest of the novel? Where do the girls go from here?
NA: I’m not sure that it’s the first chapter, necessarily. It was just the first I wrote of them. I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do with the novel. I have probably 70 pages worth of material, but no particular order to it. Part of me wants to do a novel about their parents’ divorce, when they’re all around these ages, but part of me wants the primary action of the novel to be when they’re much older (mid-forties) and gathering at the lake house after many years of distance from each other, with scenes like “Night Swimming” working as flashbacks.
PL: Congratulations on being our first contest winner. How did you become interested in writing and who encouraged you to submit to our contest?
NA: I’ve been writing since I was little. I don’t remember how I got interested, really. Story-telling has always been something I’ve been drawn to naturally. My creative writing teacher at Interlochen Arts Academy, where I went to high school and majored in creative writing, sent information about the contest to the whole department. They taught us there to submit to anything and everything, no matter if you thought you had a chance of winning, and sometimes it pays off.