Sara2 Blog Tour
I was delighted to be invited to be a part of the Sara2 Blog Tour – and even more delighted when I finished reading both of their amazing books. I may write exclusively MG, but I read YA all the time, and I knew these books were special before I even finished them.
I recommend them wholeheartedly – and I hope you read to the bottom of this hilarious/awesome/thought-provoking duet interview with the authors in question, so you can have the chance to WIN their books, and fall in love with them, too!
And now, to the good stuff…
Q&A with Debut YA Authors Sara Kocek and Sara Polsky
What’s the best thing about being a debut novelist? The worst?
SK: The best part? If I die tomorrow in a freak accident (karma, pay no attention to this) I will have died knowing that I achieved one of my most difficult dreams. The worst part? If I DON’T die tomorrow in a freak accident, I will actually have to watch my friends and family read my book. These are people who have been waiting for years to read my stuff! And now I can’t delay them any further. It’s like that old dream of showing up at school naked…except this might actually be more terrifying.
SP: Hearing from early readers who’ve connected with the book has been the most wonderful part of the experience so far. The hardest thing? I always find it hard to talk about my own projects without rambling on incoherently or getting embarrassed. But at least now I’m getting a lot of practice!
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
SK: I knew when I was eight-years-old that I wanted to be a writer someday. But it wasn’t until one afternoon in college that I found out I already was one. I was home for Thanksgiving break and found myself in my childhood bedroom, poking around through my cluttered desk drawers. Buried under some old flash cards and colored pencils was a small diary with a flimsy lock. When I pried it open, I was amused by what I read on the first page: What a stupid little diary. My life is too big to fit in these dinky little lines. However, as I read further, I grew mildly disturbed. There was an entry about a mean piano teacher—I never took piano lessons. There was an entry about my dog’s funeral—I never had a dog. There was even an entry about my trip to France—I never left the country.
I hadn’t written about space travel or magic. Instead, I had filled pages with stories of utter banality—a complete fictional account of what could have been my life. That’s when I knew that on some fundamental level, I was (and always would be) be a writer. It wasn’t something that I would become someday after practicing a lot (although practicing sure helped me get published). It was something I already was. Just like I had brown hair, just like I had weird toes, just like I was five-foot-three. I was a writer. And proud!
SP: I can’t remember not wanting to be a writer. I used to make up stories about my stuffed animals and dolls and write them down. But as a teenager and adult, it took me a while to find the courage to try fiction. I was convinced that I wouldn’t be any good at it, so I turned to non-fiction instead, focusing on my academic essays and my school newspaper. When I decided to try fiction, my early efforts — which included an unfinished Da Vinci Code rip-off — were terrible. But then I got the idea for This Is How I Find Her, and it wouldn’t let me go. I cared enough about the story to revise and revise until I was happy with the result.
The characters in your novels deal with serious problems and they have to make difficult choices. What was it that drew you to address such thorny material, and what do you hope readers will come away with?
SK: I didn’t set out to write a book about bullying, homophobia, or teen suicide; these issues just reared their ugly heads as I got to know the characters. That said, the more I wrote about Olive, Grace, and Tim—not to mention their incredibly bigoted History teacher—the more passionate I started to feel about gay rights as an issue on the national stage. It has been especially exciting to follow the recent Supreme Court cases pertaining to gay marriage. Olive and Reyna even get into a discussion at one point in the book about gay marriage, a conversation that isn’t too different from the one so many Americans have been having lately. I’ve been heartened by the relatively recent shift in public opinion on gay rights, and I hope that readers of my book will walk away leaning in that direction—the direction of tolerance—if they weren’t already.
SP: I’ve always been drawn to writing about difficult topics and complicated emotions. I think that’s because I’m motivated to write by questions I find hard to answer and emotions I’m trying to figure out in my own life — big questions about family and friendship and finding a place for ourselves. I hope readers of my work will be comforted in their own attempts to answer these questions.
Which recent YA novel do you most admire and why?
SK: I loved Riptide by Lindsey Scheibe. Don’t be fooled by the carefree surfer on the cover—it’s not a light beach read. While there’s plenty of sizzling romance, there are also some dark issues at play—namely child abuse. As a writer, I know how hard it can be to achieve a balance between levity and darkness, so I really appreciated how this book blended the two.
SP: I love all of Sara Zarr’s books, and her most recent, The Lucy Variations, is right up there with Sweethearts as my favorite of her books. I’m always trying to figure out how to create more tension in character-driven stories, and Sara Zarr is a master at writing complicated, compelling relationships.
What is your favorite line from your forthcoming novel, and why?
SK: I love when Reyna tries to squirm her way out of a bigoted statement by saying that she’s playing the devil’s advocate, and Olive responds, “Well, don’t. The devil already has enough advocates.”
To me, that’s Olive at her best. At those moments—when she’s standing up for what she knows is right, no matter the consequences—I wish I knew her in real life. If she were running for public office, I’d vote for her.
SP: A few of my favorite lines are spoilers, but here’s one from early in the book, when Sophie, my main character, arrives at her aunt and uncle’s house and her cousin answers the door:
“We’re the same height and have the same shade of dark brown hair, but mine hangs wearily down my back, split at the ends, while hers bounces along her shoulders. After the startled moment when she opens the door and finds me there, we avoid each other’s eyes.
We’re good at that. We’ve been doing it for years.”
The relationship between these two characters — cousins who were best friends as children but aren’t any more — is what originally compelled me to write this story, and this scene was one of the first I wrote about them.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
SK: Be the most you that you can possibly be. Listen to the songs that make you feel alive. Read the books that make you feel less alone. Observe yourself from afar. Go to parties and pretend that you are floating above the room, looking down at yourself as you talk to people. What do you see? That is your material.
SP: Have patience. Not just with the publication process — though it certainly requires patience — but also with the process of writing and improving as a writer.
Readers always want to know how old I am. I tell them I’m really old, but inside I’m about nine. So, how old are you? How old are you inside?
SK: My friends tell me I have an “old soul,” but I think I’ve just done a really good job of mastering the knowing nod and smile. The truth is, I feel like I’m a different age every day. Sometimes I feel like I’m nine. Sometimes I feel like I’m ninety-nine. According to my birth certificate, I’m 27 years old.
SP: I’m 27, but inside I’m about 17.
My mom frequently asks me when I’m going to decide to write a “real” novel for grown-ups. Does anyone ever ask you this? What do you tell them? Try not to use four-letter words in your response.
SK: Nobody has asked me this directly, but when I first told my friends I was working on a young adult novel set in high school, a few gave me a look that seemed to say “Why on earth would you want to revisit that?” We used to make fun of certain teachers for being emotionally stuck in high school themselves. Now I wonder if I should be saying the same thing about myself.
SP: Usually I say that stories come to me in different forms — some are fiction, some are non-fiction, some are for younger readers, and some for adults. I would never have written This Is How I Find Her as an adult novel. I might someday write an adult novel, but I definitely don’t view my writing career as a progression toward writing “real” novels.
What question do you wish an interviewer would ask you? Give your response here. It’ll feel great.
SK: I wish someone would ask me my favorite word. It is “discombobulate.” Say it ten times fast—I guarantee you will find it funny. 🙂
SP: Where does the title of your book come from?
The book went through a few working titles, but it took a long time to come up with a title that felt right. I made lists and lists, and most of my ideas sounded too vague or felt too young for the story. Finally, in the same week, my editor and I both hit on very similar ideas for the title and knew we’d found the right one. “This is how I find her” is a line from early in the book that also resonates with the rest of the story.
Thanks for following along on our blog tour, and thanks for reading!
Sara Kocek is the author of Promise Me Something (Albert Whitman Teen, 2013). She received her BA in English from Yale University and her MFA in Creative Writing from New York University, where she taught fiction and poetry to undergraduates. A freelance editor and college essay coach, Sara has served as the Program Director at the Writers’ League of Texas, a literary nonprofit. She is also the founder of Yellow Bird Editors, a team of freelance editors and writing coaches based in Austin, Texas.
Sara Polsky’s debut YA novel, This is How I Find Her, will be published by Albert Whitman in fall 2013. Her fiction has appeared in Fictitious Force and Behind the Wainscot. She is represented by Suzie Townsend. Sara is a writer and editor at Curbed NY, and her articles and essays have appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, The Forward, Poets & Writers, and other publications. She lives in New York City.
This Friday, head to the next stops on this blog tour at Dear Teen Me, which has a guest post by Sara Polsky, and Left to Write, where you will find a review of Promise Me Something and a signed book giveaway.
Now, if you would like to win signed copies of BOTH books, please leave a comment (with email address) below! On September 7, I will draw a name out of a hat (literally, I’ll have one of my kids help me do this with an actual hat – we’re old school), and announce the winner! (Sorry, US and Canada only for this drawing.) A huge thanks to Albert Whitman and Co. for providing the signed books!