We are proud to bring back Sara Zarr, author of Sweethearts and Story of a Girl to promote her latest release, Once Was Lost! Some of you may remember Sara from her first visit, but if not, you can find it by clicking here.
While I haven't had a chance to read Once Was Lost yet, I am looking forward to it as I can tell it will be a good story because I found both of her other books well-written, entertaining and rewarding. Whether a novel or short story, Sara creates deep, complex characters with credible dynamics and reactions. She puts you in the lives of her characters so that you feel what they feel when they feel it. Even if the ends aren't always considered "happily ever after," there are very emotionally rewarding. Her books are a real treat!
Enough of my prattling, let's get on to the interview!
ME: March has a few popular dates to celebrate. Which one are you more apt to celebrate, St. Patrick’s Day, or the First Day of Spring, or both and why?
SARA: I have to say that I've never been a big fan of St. Patrick's Day, as I hate getting mocked or pinched if I forget to wear green. Spring is probably my favorite season, especially now that I live in a state with a real (and long) winter, so I'd have to go with that.
ME: Because of it’s Irish heritage, St. Patrick’s Day is a big party day in Wisconsin (and many other areas) in which everyone gets in on the action from free pub crawl busses to breweries making green beer/spirits and some stores selling green colored/decorated food and sweets. Does anything similar occur in your area? Even if you do not participate, please tell us what activities are going on around you. Anything you feel is unique or especially interesting?
SARA: Well, I live in Salt Lake City, which is not the biggest drinking town, but people here do love to decorate. If there is any occasion that involves special decoration, Utahns are all over it. So I expect to see lots of clover-themed decorations and plenty of green. We also have a St. Pat's parade, and the Saturday before the 17th there's a big bagpipe band concert put on by the Salt Lake Scots Pipe Band. (Which isn't exactly Irish, I guess, but close enough?)
ME: Do you like to decorate for spring/St. Pat’s Day or is this the time of the year where your house has a break from special décor?
SARA: I am very, very, very uncrafty and have no eye for decoration, so my house is pretty much undecorated year-round except for a Christmas tree at the appropriate time (but not every year).
ME: Ireland is steeped in myth, legends and lore. Do you have any favorites? Please briefly share them with us (include links to other information for interested readers).
SARA: As I am woefully unschooled on myth, legends, and lore, can food traditions count? I just love the names of traditional Irish dishes. I mean, with names like Potato Champ, Dublin Coddle, and Skink, how can you not? Whether or not any of that stuff tastes good is another story, I guess...
ME: Spring is considered a time of renewal, a time of rebirth. Do you do anything “special” to commemorate this idea such as planting flowers or cleaning out your house? Please share with us your way of celebrating this time of rebirth.
SARA: I do love spring cleaning, and celebrate warmer weather by clearing out junk and keeping the windows open as much as possible. I also like to walk through the neighborhood and see the bulbs that have come up.
ME: Let’s switch our focus to your writing. What genre is your writing considered to be? Why this genre? What was the draw for you?
SARA: I write young adult fiction, which simply means that the characters are teenagers and seeing the world and their experiences from a teenage perspective. It's not a genre I consciously chose---it's just that every story idea I ever had when I first started writing involved characters in high school, and high school experiences. The genre chose me.
ME: If you could describe your writing with a word or phrase, what would it be? Please be creative and delve into the core of your writing to tell us what word or phrase you want readers to take with them when they've finished reading your story.
SARA: I'm going to cheat, with the chorus from Leonard Cohen's "Anthem":
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.
ME: Do you prefer magical or human ingenuity for problem solutions? Does that show through in your writing? If so, how?
SARA: Human, and that definitely shows in my writing as none of my books have any magical or paranormal element to them. The closest I've come to the supernatural is having a character pray, and then get back a sense of peace.
ME: Who decides what you write about, you or your muse? What kind of influence do you have over your story, or is the muse always the one strumming the harp?
SARA: Me. I've never gotten much into the idea of a muse. The muse---from what I've heard of her---is notoriously fickle. If I rely on inspiration from some outside (or apparent outside) source, what happens when this source doesn't come through? Sometimes I think it would be nice to rationalize missing a deadline by saying, "The Muse ate my homework," but that's not going to fly with my editor.
ME: What was the character or creature that you had the most fun creating and why?
SARA: I think the character of Tommy in my first book, STORY OF A GIRL, was the most fun to create. He's a guy who's done some bad things but is not a bad guy, and has a real knack for saying the wrong thing without realizing it's the wrong thing. Clueless characters like that can be fun because they say the kind of things someone like me never would (even if I think them).
ME: If you had the opportunity to meet just one of your character/creature creations in real life, who would it be and why?
SARA: I would say Cameron Quick from SWEETHEARTS, because so many of my readers love him, but I already know the real Cameron so that's a bit of a cheat (and I've already cheated here!). Right now I still have a bit of a crush on Nick Shaw from ONCE WAS LOST---the older brother of a missing girl. He's exactly the kind of boy I would have fallen hard for at 15: cute, sincerely nice, but with a streak of danger and mystery.
ME: Which of your character/creature creations would you never want to meet under any circumstance and why?
SARA: Cameron Quick's father because he finds it entertaining to terrorize children.
ME: Of all the stories you wrote, which was the storyline that you had the most fun fleshing out? Why?
SARA: Honestly, it's hard for me to associate the word "fun" with wrestling a plot to the ground. That said, the book I'm working on now (which I can't say too much about) has been as close to fun as it's gotten so far.
ME: As writers, inspiration comes from everywhere. What, specifically, inspired your latest story, the one we’re promoting here today?
SARA: ONCE WAS LOST was very specifically inspired by the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart back in 2002. I lived here in Salt Lake City when it happened, and the case affected me deeply. I think anyone who lived in Utah during the nine months she was missing felt like it was something that happened to them. I thought, "What would it be like to be a teen in this community where another teen has gone missing? How would the ensuing media obsession affect me? What if I were already sort of depressed and in the midst of a family crisis?" The story went from there.
Oooh, are you intrigued yet? Let's take a peek inside the book:
She used to believe in a lot of things.
But where there was once faith...
there are now only questions.
EXCERPT Once Was Lost
I walk through the yard, making a mental checklist of what needs fixing. The two butterfly bushes have grown into each other and taken over the spot where my mom once had an herb garden, back when she still cared about things like cooking. The Mexican sage has completely run amok. The hollyhock plant that looked okay a few weeks ago has fallen over from its own weight, and lies across the flagstone path like a corpse. I step over it, sweat trickling down the inside of my tank top and to the waistband of my pajama shorts. I try to get the hollyhock to stand up and stay up, but it flops back down over my bare feet.
I'm glad my mother isn't around to see this.
Instead, she's got the residents' garden of New Beginnings Recovery Center, neatly xeriscaped with drought-resistant plants that never ask for more than you can give them. Her room is neat. The cafeteria is neat. The visiting area is neat. She's been lifted, as if by the hand of God but in truth by the long arm of the law, out if this messy life.
I could make this yard look like the one at New Beginnings. All it would take are some supplies and time and maybe a book from the library telling me how to do it. Then, when she comes home, she won't have to see the same dead and dying things that were here when she left.