Today Sara Zarr stands here in our spotlight answering questions I ask her, and any that you [the reader] can think of.
Sara - like many writers, performers and actors - comes from a family of creative people. A big part of her entertainment came from the library. For a kid, the library is a free form of entertainment and escapism and Sara's family took full advantage of that, as you can read about in her bio.
Like many authors are doing these days, Sara has created a really nice FAQ Page and a very in depth section on why she writes called, On Writing. She also tends to cover some very interesting topics on her blog.
Let's get to the fun stuff!
I just finished reading Story of a Girl and Sweethearts – both were fantastic! I wasn’t just watching a story unfold, but I felt I was right there, next to the main characters. Very well done. [Click here to see my comments about these books and her short stories on shelfari.]
Utah living has influenced your writing, as can be seen in Sweethearts:
Q. Did you take the school referred to in Sweethearts from reality or is it completely made up?
A. I made it up, and I can't remember exactly why I chose a small charter school as the setting. I think it just felt like something that would help me control the plot a little more easily and make the backdrop a bit more interesting.
Q. How did you know that these kids (non-Mormon) were treated that way? Was it something you observed or learned about through children and parents that you met?
A. I only moved to Utah after age 30, so I don't have personal experience in that regard, but having talked to non-Mormon friends who grew up here (and some parents who live here) I did hear some stories about how religion can be a dividing line, socially, for kids. Of course that's true in any community where one race, ethnicity, class, or religion is predominant. It has nothing to do with Mormonism - it's human nature to divide ourselves into insider/outsider cultures.
Q. Both of the main characters are on the fringe of society. What made you choose this character type over say a more popular girl?
A. Outsiders tend to make more interesting stories, I think. Most people feel like outsiders when they are teens, whether they really are or not, and giving the characters some tangible outsider-ness helps give flesh to that feeling of being alone, like no one understands you, or that you've got some kind of dual real/fake self.
Q. Would it be safe to say that you draw heavily on some of your own personal experiences to tell Cameron’s and Jennifer’s story?
A. Yes and no. The story was inspired by a childhood friendship I had. Through the wonders of the Internet, the boy and I found each other again in adulthood and I was curious to explore what makes that bond so strong though we hadn't seen each other in 25 years or so. And of course I always relate emotionally to my characters. But, the details of Jenna/Jennifer's life, the details of Cameron's life, those are made up.
Q. Story of a Girl seems like such an unfinished novel because we readers aren’t really sure what’s going to happen with all three of them (in truth, it is unlikely that Lee and Jason will stay together forever and there seems to be unfinished business between Jason and Deanna. Now, I know you state that you have no plans on writing a sequel (however, I hope you do because these are some really interesting characters and I’d like to know more about them), but could you please share a little bit on what you feel their story might be if you decided to write more about them?
A. Well, they are all very real to me, and I imagine they're out in the world living their lives. I picture Deanna at community college, making new friends and playing a role in her baby niece's life. Her relationship with her parents is still conflicted, I'm sure. Lee probably went away to college and is detaching from her high school experience. And Jason? I don't know. Maybe he got out of Pacifica, but maybe he didn't.
I do get asked a lot for sequels to both Story of a Girl and Sweethearts; I think people want neater endings than I tend to write. If I wrote sequels to either of those I'm sure I would still write ambiguous endings and some readers would want still more!
Q. In December 2008, you participated in the anthology, Does this Book Make Me Look Fat. Please tell us a bit about the story you included in that anthology and why you chose to do participate?
It's a collection of essays and stories about body image. Like most women, I've had my share of body issues, and then some. In that essay I focused on the fact that I had to learn how to not hate myself before I could truly make any progress toward positive change. So one reason I participated is that it's a topic I'm always interested in. Another reason is that I try to say yes to almost all writing opportunities, if they fit in with my schedule. Trying new things scares me, and I'm very insecure, so in order to help myself overcome my fears and insecurities about writing I sort of made a deal with myself to try everything I get asked to do. It's a good way to stretch.
Q. Geektastic just came out. What can you tell us about the story you have in that anthology?
A. It's a somewhat humorous piece of short fiction called "This Is My Audition Monologue," and it's written from the point of view of a teen who tries out for every school play but always ends up on the tech crew, and she's fed up. She wants a part! She wants her drama teacher, at the very least, to remember her name. It was fun to write.
Q. Do you like contributing to anthologies?
A. Yes! Working in short-form writing is totally different than writing novels, and as I mentioned I like the chance to push myself and try new things. The Geektastic story was particularly fun because I was in the middle of a really hard revision of Once Was Lost, which is fairly serious. With the short story I could play a little bit.
Q. How do you become involved in them? By invitation or do you search them out?
A. So far they have come by invitation. That's one of the perks of being a published author (and I think my blog helps, too).
Q. Once was Lost is set to come out in October. It sounds like an interesting story. Can you give us a sneak peek into the story? What can you tell us about the story, that’s not on your website?
A. I guess just this: though it's written from the point of view of a pastor's daughter, and it's partly about a crisis of faith, I think readers of any or no religious faith will relate. No matter what beliefs or non-beliefs we grow up with, we all come to a point of questioning and challenging those things and making them truly our own.
Q. As you discuss on your website, and most authors already know, books are usually written well before their release dates. Do you have any projects that you are currently working on? Can you tell us about them please? At least as much as you feel comfortable discussing with us here.
A. Currently I'm working on my fourth YA novel. I'm in the not-talking-about-it stage right now, sorry! All I'll say is that it was one of those unexpected ideas that came about when I was doing a simple writing warm-up from a book of writing exercises (Naming the World, edited by Bret Anthony Johnston).
Q. Is there anything going on with teens today that you think should be covered? Needs they have that authors could meet? What and why?
A. "Meeting needs" is a lot of pressure to put on an author. Sometimes in young people's publishing, people expect writers to be social workers, therapists, experts on particular issues, parents, and teachers. We're not - we're writers, telling all kinds of different stories. That said, I think the huge range of stories, styles, and formats available in YA fiction now covers pretty much all the bases!
Q. I was actually thinking of them in terms of readers, such as, what they want to read (not what parents expect writers to do, but what teens, as readers, want from authors). Have you been hearing any calls for certain types of stories recently? Just to give us an idea of what kind of trend we might start to see.
A. I think there are going to be more stories about faith and the religious lives of teens over the next couple of years, as this has been one area that's been a little thin.
Q. Can you tell us about your awards?
A. Both Story of a Girl and Sweethearts have gotten some award action. The biggest for me was that Story of a Girl was one of five finalists (in its category) for the National Book Award in 2007. It's given by a panel of other writers, so it's kind of like the Screen Actors Guild award for writers in that it comes from your peers, who do what you do and know all the little details of the craft. So that meant a lot. Plus there is all this hoopla and a black tie dinner and a press conference that makes you feel like a celebrity for a couple of days.
Getting awards and being named to lists is of course great for the ego, and can be good for your career (though it may or may not translate into more sales), and can help you find a wider audience. However, awards and lists don't necessarily do those things, and don't make the process of writing any easier, don't magically give you confidence, don't fundamentally change anything about you. And, they don't matter much to anyone outside of the publishing and book world. When I found out about being a NBA finalist, I discovered that most of my friends and family had never even heard of the National Book Award! So that's humbling, in a good way.
I would like to thank Sara for joining us today. Feel free to leave your comments or ask Sara questions!
Saturday, July 25, 2009