Sarah Jio On Beauty Where You Least Expect It

Author Sarah Jio talks about making revisions to her mainstream manuscript and the unexpected impact of tiny details — both in life and fiction.

Shortly after I sold my novel to Penguin, I rolled up my sleeves and got to work on the pre-publication editing process. My editor, the lovely and always insightful Denise Roy at Penguin, suggested that we add few new threads to the book. So, I spent several months working on these revisions, often thinking about creative ideas and solving plot problems on my daily 3-mile jogs around my neighborhood in Seattle. One day, while huffing and puffing through my usual route, I glanced down by the roadside and noticed a brilliant carpet of purple flowers growing at the edge of someone’s garden. I didn’t think much of them until the following day when I was out in my backyard, and a gardener I hired to do some weeding (I have three young boys and zero time for weeding!) pointed out a peculiar plant sprouting up out of the ground.

I recognized the soft purple petals, instantly. “These are wood violets,” he said. “They’re wild. They pop up where you least expect them to.” He shrugged. “They are kind of pretty. Do you want me to leave them?” I smiled, thinking immediately of my novel and imagining how something as delicate and small as a violet pushing up out of the ground, unannounced and uninvited, could have great significance. “Yes,” I said. “Let’s keep them.”

As I continued to work on the novel, I couldn’t get the wood violets out of my head, and I realized that my story needed these fragile, yet bold little petals. They soon became a key symbol of redemption, forgiveness and reconciliation in the story, and they mirrored the characteristics of Esther, a key character in the book. As readers will see, she is both bold, beautiful and spirited, and yet fragile, too.

Adding this new thread to the story, for me, made the novel feel complete. It was almost as if I could hear the manuscript breathe a satisfied and content sigh when I had finished. Now, every time I look at the cover of the book and see the little violet pictured there, I think of my discovery of wood violets, and it reminds me of how important it is to be curious about every little detail around you, even the the seemingly insignificant. You never know what you might stumble upon—on a jog, in the backyard, or hidden in a patch of weeds.

- Sarah Jio

To see the result of Sarah Jio's revisions, pick up your own copy of The Violets of March, available now.