Thanks to Fiktshun and Two Chicks On Books for hosting the Authors Are Rockstars Blog Tour. They have done a phenomenal job organizing it. When I found out I had been paired with Sara Zarr for this blog tour, I couldn’t stop smiling. Then I started panicking about what questions I wanted to ask her. However, I am totally PSYCHED to have her here today.
THE ROCK STAR STATUS
Sara Zarr is a rock star. I could mention the awards and honors that her books have received, but that impressive list is in her bio. Instead, I’m going to point you to That Creative Life (her amazing PodCast that all aspiring writers need to check out) and talk about the character that cemented Sara Zarr’s rock star status for me: Robin from How to Save A Life (my review is here). This is what I said about her a few months ago:
Robin is selfless and loving and everything a mother should be. She is the kind of person I hope really exists and the kind of person I want to be.
I don’t think I’ve ever said that about any character, ever. And definitely not in a contemporary. I like contemporaries because they explore how messy life is and because they have spectacularly flawed characters. I l don’t particularly like “good” characters, but I would totally call Robin good. I never expected Robin’s character to feel so real and authentic, but she does.
Without her, both Jill and Mandy would be completely lost. She’s the kind of mother YA lit needs, but often fails to see. But she’s become more than just a character for me. She’s become a hope for myself and the world around me. And, yes, I totally asked Sara about Robin and found myself nodding along with the answer.
But enough about Robin. Because Sara Zarr? Rock star. Writer god. She makes me laugh, she makes me cry, and she can tell a damn good story.
THE OFFICIAL INFO
|website. twitter. goodreads.|
Sara Zarr is the acclaimed author of four novels for young adults: Story of a Girl (National Book Award Finalist), Sweethearts (Cybil Award Finalist), Once Was Lost (a Kirkus Best Book of 2009, Utah Book Award winner, INSPY winner) and How to Save a Life (Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, and L.A. Public Library Best Book of 2011, ALA Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults 2012). Her short fiction and essays have appeared in Image,Hunger Mountain online, and Response. She’s also a regular contributor to Image‘s Good Letters blog on faith, life, and culture. She lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, with her husband, and online at www.sarazarr.com.
I recently read Ally Carter’s Letter to her baby author self and loved it. If you were going to write a similar letter to yourself at the start of your career, what would you say?
Oh, so many things! A major one would be to try to find ways to enjoy the journey more. I’m prone toward depression and anxiety, so that can be hard, but I think I could have made better efforts at celebrating all the little and big milestones rather than letting them create dread and fear of disaster (which is my inborn reaction to good news).
I read in an interview that you did years ago when Story of A Girl was first coming out, that your first few drafts had too much going on and one of the things you did in revision was to give the story more focus. How did you make the decision about what was the most important? What was it about Deanna’s story that made you feel it was something you needed to explore?
It’s been a long time since working on that book specifically, but I think that will all my books there comes a moment when I have to say okay, whose story is this and how do I make that person more active in the story and what do I need to peel away to get there? With Deanna’s story, one thing in the original draft was that her dad had Gulf War Syndrome (from the first Gulf War in early nineties), and the family’s problems were sort of around reacting to that. But I sensed there was something just more personal about Deanna’s struggles with her dad, and I wanted that to make sense.
I cry when I read your books and I’ve always wondered what it would be like to write something so emotional. Do you cry when you write them?
Not usually. I’m too caught up in getting the words right. Sometimes when I’m doing a final revision or reading through the page proofs, my eyes will prickle a bit and I’ll think, whoa, okay, I captured that. I’m always perversely happy when I get that feeling in my chest or my eyes because I know all the sweating blood over the sentences paid off.
Thank you! I love her, too, and always think of that book as having three protagonists even though it’s only written in the two teen voices. I do feel it’s as much Robin’s story as Jill and Mandy’s. At one point when I was writing her, I realized she seemed kind of stereotypically The Mom, or on the old side, and I thought, hey, I have lots of friends in their early fifties and they are cool, interesting, strong, wise women. Why can’t Robin be like them? And despite her wisdom, sometimes her approach to life is a bit rash. But it’s rash in a way that errs toward love and optimism–in contrast to Mandy’s mom, whose rashness errs on the side of fear and selfishness.
The most enjoyable thing, and best thing for me, probably, was writing outside of the first-person narrative that I’ve done for the last four books. And my last two were first person, present tense, which can be fairly limiting. So getting into third-person past, though it daunted me, was stretching in a good way. Also, in The Lucy Variations, everyone has money–plenty of it–and privilege. That’s new for me, as well, and when you have a character with those needs met you sort of have to climb up the hierarchy of needs and think about okay, what about this person’s life is hard and challenging, where is the true conflict? That was also challenging in a good way.
I learned more about seeing the story as a whole from the beginning, and structuring conflict in ways that don’t get obsessed with the word-by-word work. I’ve always tinkered with screenplays and have collaborated on a completed one, but one of my goals for the next year is to actually finish one on my own. Whether it will turn out to be “for serious” or “for fun”, I don’t know, and I’m trying not to make that distinction right now.
I’m kind of obsessed with Rita Williams-Garcia’s One Crazy Summer. It’s middle grade, but I think adults will (and do) love it. It’s just one of those special books to me–maybe because it’s set right around the time and place I grew up, or because stories of abandoned children trying to connect with a parent always get to me. In adult fiction, Anne Tyler’s Back When We Were Grownups is a semi-recent favorite (or really anything by her), and I also connected with All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost by Lan Samantha Chang. And I can’t say enough about the genius of Alice Munro’s collection Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage.
“Tell us all about your fountain pen collection, Sara!”
THE NEW BOOK
From GoodReads: Lucy Beck-Moreau once had a promising future as a concert pianist. The right people knew her name, her performances were booked months in advance, and her future seemed certain.
That was all before she turned fourteen.
Now, at sixteen, it’s over. A death, and a betrayal, led her to walk away. That leaves her talented ten-year-old brother, Gus, to shoulder the full weight of the Beck-Moreau family expectations. Then Gus gets a new piano teacher who is young, kind, and interested in helping Lucy rekindle her love of piano — on her own terms. But when you’re used to performing for sold-out audiences and world-famous critics, can you ever learn to play just for yourself?
National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr takes readers inside the exclusive world of privileged San Francisco families, top junior music competitions, and intense mentorships. The Lucy Variations is a story of one girl’s struggle to reclaim her love of music and herself. It’s about finding joy again, even when things don’t go according to plan. Because life isn’t a performance, and everyone deserves the chance to make a few mistakes along the way.
Thanks to Sara Zarr for stopping by. The answer to the last question is my favorite, but I had so much fun reading all the answers. She really is a rock star. Check out all the tour stops and please make sure to stop by today’s other stops: Cynthia Hand stops at The Starrey-eyed Review, Simone Elkeles stops at YA Reads, Amber Kizer stops at BelleBooks, Lisa and Laura Roecker stop at Gypsy Book Reviews and Michelle Hodkin stops at Word Spelunking.