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25! 25! 25 episodes of the podcast. Day-um. That went by kind of fast. Thanks so much for helping me make this a success, and for your patience during summer hiatus. Your reward is this conversation with Matt de la Peña, author of four novels for young adults (and a 5th coming very soon), one for middle grade, and an award-winning picture book. Matt and I discuss, among other things, how many drafts The Living took, writing for money, the Ball Don’t Lie TV show that never was, and how cats are sabotaging your writing life.
Click to listen, right click to download, or subscribe in iTunes to easily get it onto all your devices automatically, or find it on the Stitcher app. Thank you for listening, for tweeting, liking, and sharing! Feel free to leave comments or questions here, or contact me about the podcast. Be back around 9/30 or 10/1 with a new episode!
Hello! It’s a new month, and it’s one of my favorite months of the year, along with October and April. September always feels more like the time for New Year celebrations than January. Because January, basically, blows. This year, September feels especially significant to me because I’m coming off a life-changing summer that involved getting rid of half our stuff, moving, starting my job at Lesley University, and dealing with some personal stuff in a deeper way than ever before. I feel more me and sure of who I am than I have in…ever, maybe. I may have to mark the occasion* of getting my mojo back with a tattoo. Just a little one. Don’t tell my husband. (*Whoa, I spelled “occasion” right on the first try – that might need a tattoo of its own!)
My sincere apologies for promising a new podcast on September 1. I always forget about Labor Day, a holiday that I tend to see as just a momentum-killing nuisance, but that is behind us now and the first fall episode of This Creative Life will post on Monday, the 16th, with my guest Matt de la Pena. [Squiggly thing over the n.] If you don’t know about This Creative Life, look here! You can subscribe in iTunes or get it through the Stitcher app.
I’ve posted some new local events on my appearances page, including some stuff here in Salt Lake like the Utah Humanities Book Festival.
But the big news is that I can finally announce my next YA novel! It’s the first contract I’ve signed in almost two years, because of that little semi-nervous-breakdown-slash-sabbatical thing I needed to have. I’m very, very excited to be officially back to work and to start filling the fire back up with this and other irons. Here’s the scoop, as announced in Publishers Weekly on Tuesday:
“Farrin Jacobs at Little, Brown has bought GEM & DIXIE, a YA novel by National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr, about two sisters at odds with the world and each other, who are forced to go on the run in the Pacific Northwest. Publication is scheduled for fall 2015; Michael Bourret at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management did the deal for world rights.”
As always, I want to thank my amazing agent and publisher and readers for being on Team Zarr. I know fall 2015 is a long way off, but this book is pushing me hard and I want to make sure it’s as great as it can be.
Okay! That’s all I got. See you back here on Monday with the podcast, and wherever else we meet.
News! News! Info. FACTS. Things to Put On Your Calendar. Things to Read on the Internets. Things about Me Me Me. Here it is:
AWP! Okay, so it’s not for a while yet, but I’m excited because it will be my first. I’m talking about the annual conference of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs. I’ll be on a panel with Nova Ren Suma, Laurel Snyder, Micol Ostow, and Stephanie Kuehnert, discussing YA lit in one of my favorite places, Seattle. And yeah, so this tends to be an event oriented around the MFA world and there can be a bit of a divide between the kids/YA writing community and the MFA-minded folks. But we can keep changing that, keep communicating that literature for young readers is legit and its creators care about craft as well as audience (which is one thing our panel will be about), and that more MFA programs should accept YA work as “real writing.” (I know, I know, why are we even still having this conversation?) So having a big YA turnout would be cool. Registration is open now.
Speaking of MFAs, remember how I’m on faculty for Lesley University’s Low-Residency MFA program? They’re now taking applications for next semester. The deadline is around December 1, so there’s plenty of time to get your stuff together if you’re interested. In addition to the concentration in Writing for Young People, they’ve got Fiction, Nonfiction, Writing for Stage and Screen, and Poetry tracks. All concentrations share a residency, which means you get to cross-pollinate your creative thinking and this is something I love about this program.
New interview with me up at Confirm Not Conform, about adolescences as a crisis of faith.
Liz B. over at School Library Journal’s A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy blog takes a look at The Lucy Variations as a Favorite Read of 2013, and I’m quite fond of this review in the way it delves into Lucy’s sexuality and her crushes on older men. I always thought, as I wrote the book, it was a lot about sex but not in an “about sex” way and yes I realize that makes no sense. (More of my thoughts on this at the Kindle Daily if you missed it.)
Local interest: I’m proud to say The Lucy Variations is up for a City Weekly Arty Award this year, for best fiction book. Utahns can vote here.
Let’s face it, I don’t “blog” here anymore. There was a time…yes, there was…when this was a good place for me to write long stuff and get pretty personal or philosophical or just respond to an entire season of Survivor. That’s changed, partly because the site feels more like the professional representation of “me” – aka “Author Sara Zarr” – out in the world and less like a personal space. But probably more because as parts of my life have gotten more public, I have a greater desire for a certain kind of personal privacy that I didn’t used to care about. And maybe even more so that my longer-form/deeper-thought energy goes more into my books and other work.
So I’ve changed the header on this space from “blog & podcasts” to “news & podcasts” to better describe what it is. I’ll put book news and whatnot here so you can always find out the latest in terms of what’s going on in my life as “Author Sara Zarr,” and of course all the new podcast episodes and maybe an occasional interview or something. Does that sound boring? FEAR NOT! You can still find the looser, more off-the-cuff, sometimes-forgetting-about-personal-privacy, and occasionally less appropriate expression of Zarr at twitter and tumblr. And I’m trying to be better at doing stuff at my Facebook author page. Also, there are always the archives if you want to revisit the good old days. And hey, who’s to say I won’t get a bee in my bonnet about something I feel calls for a long post here? Could happen.
To long-time readers from the way back (I’m talking LiveJournal, and the early days of this blog! Olden times!): Thanks for receiving my personal stuff with such grace, and all the encouragement you’ve given, and the great comments over the years. I’m glad and lucky that so many of you have become my friends.
As previously mentioned in this very space, life has been coming fast and furious this summer. I’ve been needing some new stuff in my life, and I got it. All at once! It’s been good, though, and I’m grateful. I had a wonderful time at my first residency with Lesley University’s Creative Writing MFA program; what amazing people. I was a total wimp when it came to the Boston humidity but I think I put up a brave face along with some realllly curly hair. After that it was straight to ALA, where I got to see old friends and make a couple of new ones, including Ms. Annabel Pitcher, author of MY SISTER LIVES ON THE MANTELPIECE. I’m about halfway through her forthcoming-in-the-US KETCHUP CLOUDS and in love with the voice. Check her out.
Now, with those two things behind me and our move a couple of weeks off yet, I’m in a little gap known as My Vacation! May and June were kind of nonstop and I can’t remember a day during that time when I woke up and had no tasks or obligations, but starting tomorrow that will be exactly the case so huzzah for that.
Meanwhile, here are some writing-related updates if you missed them on twitter or facebook:
- I wrote a short story for the Young Adult Review Network (YARN), called “Skating”, which was partly inspired by an interview with writer Bret Anthony Johnston in which I learned he was once a professional skateboarder. I imagined him as a teen, then imagined a girl who knew him and how their paths might intersect.
- Speaking of Lucy and Will, there are a bunch of new reviews for the book, including a nice one from the The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books: “The ever-capable Zarr creates an utterly believable family in the Beck-Moreaus, with layers of function and dysfunction melding into one another. … Will, too, is an interestingly complicated character with his mixture of genuine tenderness toward Lucy, self-interest, and a soupçon of lust.” (I try to include a soupçon of lust in each of my books.)
My hometown paper, The Salt Lake Tribune, wrote: “What’s engaging is how the tensions of the various relationships in Lucy’s life are revealed: By the swiftness and clarity of the narrative, by dialogue that cascades naturally, with a certain inevitability, toward her self-styled emancipation.” I also like this bit: “As we watch the novel’s major characters through their interactions with Lucy, their flaws and lived-in traits rankle — in large part because they seem impervious to new possibilities of seeing. But this is, paradoxically, also their golden quality, as it is evidence that Zarr won’t let false awakenings occur.” In fact I may put a sign over my desk with FALSE AWAKENINGS in a red circle with a line through it.
Now: My Vacation! Then moving, and settling in, and writing and teaching and entering in to whatever comes next. Thanks for being here.
A favorite picture from ALA:
Left to right: S.A. Bodeen, me, Marcus Sedgwick, Hobbits, Annabel Pitcher, Matthew Quick, Tara Sullivan at Anderson’s Bookshop
The winds of change never stop a-blowin’. How do we deal? By being flexible, letting go, staying optimistic. In this episode of This Creative Life, I talk briefly about how this works and why it matters. No season-ending cliffhangers, no car crashes, no major cast changes, I promise. And then I’m sending the TCL production team on summer vacation! Wish them well; they’ve got a lot going on… The show will be back this fall.
Click to listen, right click to download, or subscribe in iTunes to easily get it onto all your devices automatically, or find it on the Stitcher app. Thank you for listening, for tweeting, liking, and sharing!
Well. What a crazy couple of weeks it has been. From the second I got back from the Lucy tour, virtually every day has brought some new piece of game-changing news for our lives. Long story short: our landlords want to sell and we’re moving out of the house we’ve lived in for 13 years. This is not bad news (and local friends: we’re not leaving SLC). We’ve been restless for a change for a long time and sometimes having it forced on you works better than anything you could plan. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
Yesterday we had a huuuge yard sale and got rid of probably 50% of our possessions. The couple of weeks leading up to the sale were so hard! We’ve been looking at everything we own and have made a zillion small and big decisions. I’ve had too many meltdowns to count. It’s not just the stuff, it’s thinking back over 23 years of marriage, here and in San Francisco. It’s looking at a lifetime, from childhood artwork to the last book contract.
It’s taken so. much. letting. go. First there’s the stuff, and no matter how Zen you are I’m betting you have an emotional attachment to at least some of your stuff. There’s confronting the fear: What if I regret throwing this out? What if I regret keeping it? What if I need this? Then there’s the fear underneath those fears:
…there’s not enough for me?
Not enough stuff, not enough security, not enough money, not enough friendship, not enough food, not enough pleasure, not enough success, not enough experience, not enough happiness, not enough acceptance…not enough love.
As I’ve gone through all my stuff and starting letting go bit by bit, I’ve had to face that the fear of these scarcities has been a motivator for a lot of my not-awesome decisions and behavior over the years. And in this last week, particularly, all of this letting go of stuff has felt connected to letting go of my failures. We can argue over whether it’s healthy to use the word ‘failure’ but that feels like the right word for me–not in a judgmental way, but in an honestly confessional-to-myself way. I’m not saying I’m a terrible person or anything; I don’t think I’m any worse than anyone else. But there have been failures in how I’ve dealt with my life in the last twenty years, with marriage, with money, in friendships, in my jobs, in my self-care, with my issues, in my faith.
And I think some of my “midlife crisis” struggle has been in accepting all of this. This move, the yard sale and what it represents, and even this uncertainty about where we’re going next has helped me so much in this process. Acknowledging that life hasn’t been perfect and I haven’t been perfect in it and in fact have made some pretttttty major mistakes…well, at first, it hurts. It’s been hurting for the last few years and I don’t think one week in the last 200 has gone by without me having a fairly major cry. I’ve tried to stay open and vulnerable through it all, and that has hurt, too–though I’ve trusted that’s been a better kind of hurt than what I would cause by closing myself up, and there have been fleeting periods of joy and hope through it.
I’ve been on this switchback (hi Austin Writing Barn friends – you remember the switchback!); there’s a climb then a horizon, a climb then a horizon, a climb then a horizon… And now I feel like maybe I’ve gotten to the top of this particular struggle to accept who I am and where I’ve been from basically high school graduation to today. The aforementioned acknowledgment of imperfection (and in the parlance of my faith: sin – a loaded word for some, a useful one for me) has moved me from pain to feeling incredibly grateful for grace and love, for my husband and my friends, for my work and my community, for my family and my faith. It has been so hard, and hurt so much, to get here. I’m sure the “getting here” isn’t over and there’s always a new climb. But looking around our in-chaos house the morning after the big sale and after the weeks of letting go, I do feel a sense of arrival that I’ve been waiting for since this crisisy time of life began a few years ago.
We’re in the process of buying a place to live. It may go great. If so, we’ll love the place and enjoy living there. If it all falls apart, that’s okay, too. I really feel open-handed about stuff and certainty right now, and at the same time ready to reclaim my self and life from the fear and the scarcity thinking I’ve battled. The external new beginning has helped birth the much-needed internal one. I took this picture yesterday at the sale and I think this kind of says it all. That stuff is all gone now, and I feel better than I have in years.
It’s the thing to do these days, it seems. Maybe we’re all so overwhelmed by information and technology and information technology that it can feel like the only relief involves getting rid of STUFF. Or maybe that’s just me! But I’m definitely overwhelmed, and also trying to reduce the space we take up and the cost of taking up that space. So I’ve been going through boxes of papers and books and deciding what to keep, what to take pictures of and scrapbook electronically, and what to just…scrap.
It’s hard to choose. When you’re holding the thing in your hand, you can’t imagine getting rid of it. But when it’s in a closed box you haven’t touched in years it seems completely unimportant. Until you open that box.
I keep coming across letters from my dad. Including one that started like this:
I save personal letters in a shoe-box with the collecting zeal of a research librarian or an anthropologist with a hundred bags of shards, thinking that on some rainy day I will piece it all together and thus be granted higher understanding. So I had this shoe-box on my desk for two weeks, and I thought, how silly. I will sort through and throw most of it out. After two weeks, I lidded the box and put it back in the closet, saving all of it.”
I believe that I now have that very box down in the basement with the few other of his possessions that were left when he died. Because I didn’t have him in so many ways when he was alive, I’m a little clingy to what is left. And because I have this narrative in my head of what our relationship was like, and it’s not necessarily accurate or complete, the things I find that refute this narrative are useful. Such as this, from the same letter:
“I believe you will find the imperatives about yourself, viz-a-viz your employment also. Myself, I think, if you’re lucky, you’ll find a way to be your own boss. … I think you have a firm talent and seem to have worldly savvy. Two big assets.”
I wonder what I thought when first read this letter in 1997? Did I hear his confidence in me? Or was I distracted by the fact that it took him over a month to mail this letter, that it (typed) also came with a handwritten note, dated five weeks later, in which he tells me that the delay was caused by him being hospitalized again. Which in our lives was code for rehab. “I plan for this to be the last [time],” he wrote, and it never was the last time until he died.
My narrative about him is much gentler than it used to be, though I sometimes still tend to self-pity when I think about the father I didn’t have. But I also know that his own bags of shards were a lot about his fatherlessness, too, and I wonder what “higher understanding” he sought, and if he ever came close to finding it.
Like him, I’m sure that I’m going to keep the correspondence I thought I’d cull. I have no kids who will discover it later, but I like the idea of rediscovering it myself my whole life. Maybe simplifying for me will be gathering these things in one place and putting them in something sturdier than the random file folders that hold them now, something better than a shoe box. There does seem to be a sense that if one looks at these things enough, there are answers to be found.
I’m home! I’m home! I’ve been home four whole days now and it’s good to be back. I really missed my SLC peeps and not losing my key every day. At the same time, now I miss the road a little bit. This was a special tour, because every city I went to contained old and newer friends and I never got the Dread Hotel Loneliness or the Existential Angst of Where Am I & Why Am I? Also, it was beautiful back east, and history everywhere I looked. Once I was in the region, I traveled mostly by train, which was soooo much more relaxing than flying. Thank you, Amazing Publicist Hallie!
And thanks to all the booksellers and teachers and librarians and media escorts who made everything go smoothly and took good care of me.
I didn’t have a laptop with me and had some trouble posting to WordPress from mobile devices, but did a few on-the-road diary entries using throwww.com. If you missed them and want all the details, here they are.
And here are some pictures! I’ve been trying to make a cool, sleek gallery/slideshow but…I give up. Sorry, I know this is a bit of a mess! Enjoy anyway… (click to embiggen)
Find signed copies of THE LUCY VARIATIONS and my other books at:
I’m on the road, with only my iPad and phone! For two weeks! It’s the longest I’ve been without a full laptop in a long time. The WordPress dashboard is being problematic in numerous ways. And traveling with iDevices definitely lends itself more to the quick, easy, and clean bursts through interfaces designed with mobility in mind.
So, keep up with me on tumblr, twitter, or facebook…whichever your flavor of choice. There will be short bits and pictures and links, as well as a tour diary.
Yes I just typed “http://” three–nay–four times. I’m old. (And that’s how bad the interface is treating me – I can’t even make real links. Sorry!)
Debut novelist Mike Martin in conversation with me (and you) about being the writer you are, gestating in the gap, and reasons to not read about yourself online. We talk about how my fifth novel, THE LUCY VARIATIONS, and his first, THE END GAMES, have a shared history as well as a shared release date (May 7!). Also, Mike explains why YouTube is his primary way of engaging online and what that community means to him.
Click to listen, right click to download, or subscribe in iTunes to easily get it onto all your devices automatically, or find it on the Stitcher app. Thank you for listening, for tweeting, liking, and sharing!
This is the only TCL episode for May, as I’m about to embark on a book tour. I’d love to meet you in person–come see me if you’re in or near one of these places! The podcast will be back on June 1.
There are addresses and more details on my appearances page (the format of which I currently hate – I know it’s unwieldy, sorry, haven’t found a plug-in that does exactly what I want) and I’ll be updating that as I fill in some more details, but here’s what I can tell you so far!
May 7 – The King’s English hometown launch – SLC, UT – 7 p.m.
May 9 – Bethesda Library – Bethesda, MD – 5 p.m.
May 10-12 - In and around Philadelphia – details to come
May 13 – Brookline Public Library – Brookline, MA – 3 p.m.
May 13 – Cambridge Public Library – Cambridge, MA – 7 p.m.
May 14 – R.J. Julia Booksellers – Madison, CT – 6 p.m.
I’m extremely pleased to announce that I’m joining the faculty of Lesley University’s Low Residency Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program. Many of you know I’ve been hoping for some time that I’d get the chance to do this kind of teaching, and have just been waiting for the right opportunity and timing. When this one came up, I was ready to say yes.
Though I’m joining to teach for the Writing for Young People concentration, one thing I love about Lesley’s program is that all five of the concentrations (Poetry, Fiction, Nonfiction, Writing for Stage and Screen, Writing for Young People) hold their residencies at the same time and are generally under the same banner. There are cross-genre seminars, and the opportunity for informal cross-pollination, and I think that’s an important feature for students. I’m honored to join Tony Abbott, Pat Lowery Collins, Jacqueline Davies, David Elliott, Susan Goodman, and Chris Lynch and the rest of the M.F.A. faculty. Maybe you’ll come be a part of it, too!
Oh my oh my. I think I say this every time, but it’s yet another all-time favorite episode. Aaron Hartzler and I talk about his new memoir, RAPTURE PRACTICE, which led us to topics such as: the power of personal stories, why the advice “write like your parents are dead” doesn’t work for everyone, the problem with believing in the magical moment in the future when real life begins, and why we don’t go to the hardware store for milk. For you creative nonfiction people out there, we also talked about the potential trickiness of memoir and family relationships.
Click to listen, right click to download, or subscribe in iTunes to easily get it onto all your devices automatically, or find it on the Stitcher app. Thank you for listening, for tweeting, liking, and sharing! (Aaron’s voice gets a little muddy around minutes 9-10, but that improves.)
Coming up on May 1 – me in conversation with T. Michael Martin (aka Mike Martin) on the almost-eve of the publication of his debut novel, THE END GAMES, and the publication of my fifth novel, THE LUCY VARIATIONS. One of our books is sort of about zombies, and one of our books is sort of about classical music, but the two have a shared history that we’ll tell you all about. Or a little about, among many other things!
“writing is a job like any other” and other angry ghosts - I really appreciate this post by Hilary Smith. Having spent the majority of my life since age 16 in jobs that depended on administration and organization and time management, adjusting to the life of full-time writing in a way that works for me has been a long learning process. I’m still always fine tuning, always analyzing and frequently judging in a way that isn’t helpful. Though it can certainly be unhealthy to buy into a myth of the “troubled artist” and self-fulfil the prophesy of that label, there is also something decidedly non-administrative about the creative life and I’m one of those people who would do well to accept that.
Meeting the Austins Again – This is a piece I wrote for the Los Angeles Review of Books, about my experience last summer of re-reading Madeleine L’Engle’s Austin Family Chronicles. Generally, re-reading childhood/adolescent favorites is a risky proposition, and though I wasn’t in love with the books this time around, I still came away from the experience understanding why L’Engle was such a big influence on me as a reader and, in other ways, as a writer.
To the Best of Our Knowledge – The Short Story – Are you a fan of short stories? Or do you wonder if you should be? This episode of TTBOOK is all about the short story. I particularly like the interview with Tom Perrotta on his experience editing the Best American Short Stories of 2012.
The Essay, an Exercise in Doubt- By Phillip Lopate. This one is about a month old now, but I’ve recently re-read it, still great. Great for writers, but also great for anyone who teaches writing.
Argumentation is a good skill to have, but the real argument should be with oneself. Especially when it comes to the development of young writers, it is crucial to nudge them past that self-righteous inveighing, that shrill, defensive one-track that is deadly for personal essays or memoirs, and encourage a more polyphonic, playful approach. That may be why a classic essay technique is to stage an inner debate by thinking against oneself.
Author Bennett Madison (The Blonde of the Joke) and I discuss his forthcoming book September Girls, among many other things. Such as: trusting your readers, what to do with the feedback of your peers or editors in the revision process, and the futility of trying to capture the ineffable–and why it still matters. Also his mental hairspiration board.
Click to listen, right click to download, or subscribe in iTunes to easily get it onto all your devices automatically, or find it on the Stitcher app. Thank you for listening, for tweeting, liking, and sharing!
“Beneath the dreamy warmth and languor of beach days and summer romance, September Girls delivers an intricate story of identity and freedom, the ties and histories that thwart those things, and love. A truly original coming-of-age tale.”
It’s been my great good fortune to have recorded the audio versions of several of my books. I auditioned for Story of a Girl, then wound up landing the gig for the rest of the books except for How to Save a Life. (That one was read by two excellent pros, one as Mandy and one as Jill.)
Reading The Lucy Variations challenged my amateur chops. I realized at some point yesterday that there are more voices in Lucy than anything else I’ve written. By the time I got to a caterer who had to say, “Vegan artichoke tarts,” I was fresh out of anything unique but real-sounding. I mean I do have Foghorn Leghorn up my sleeve for the right occasion, but…
Anyway, it’s all done now and I’ll be sure to let you know when it’s available for download, if you’re a fan of audiobooks. And listen for that caterer – who ended up sounding pretty much exactly like me.
At one point we thought maybe the lava lamp was causing feedback, so we turned it off for days 2 and 3. Sadface. My notebook had a list of pronunciations for the foreign names and phrases that, as a writer, I thought were great to put in the book. As a reader, I was less excited!
The “booth” is a small, soundproof room with heavy double doors. If you’re claustrophobic or fear dying in an electrical fire while trapped in a flammable box, or keep accidentally leaning on foam cylinders you mistake for pillars (not that I did that, ever), this may not be for you.
The engineer, Mario, was in a room across the hall from the booth. He watched me on that screen on the wall, but I couldn’t see him. He communicated through my headphones, straight into my brain. Like God.
Here I am! The director/producer, Dennis, was in a whole different state. It was so 2013! I could hear him in the headset, letting me know whenever I needed to re-do something for a better take, or because the mic picked up my stomach gurgles (that happened a lot). Vegan artichoke tart?
As the reviews for The Lucy Variations start to come in and publication date nears, I’m thinking back over the journey of this particular book, as I am wont to do with each of my books. Two years ago in March, I was drafting it. How to Save a Life wasn’t even out yet! How is that possible? Anyway, I was drafting this book. I hadn’t yet decided if this would actually be Zarr Book 5. I had no contract, my editor had left, I wasn’t sure what I wanted or could do next. But I was working on this story, just kind of playing around with it and really, I had no other ideas so I decided to give myself to this one until I was notified otherwise by the universe.
I knew, while I was writing it, that it was going to be hard. Very hard. I knew I needed a change. I wanted to get away from first person and see what third could open up. I wanted to tell a new kind of story for me. I wanted my character’s crisis to be more existential and less tangible, more like the kind of crisis I was experiencing myself, creatively and at midlife. I’d always wanted to find the right context for exploring the relationship between a teen girl and an adult male mentor figure without it being OH NOES or sordid. I wanted to write about beauty, and longing, and feeling just on the other side of that and fearing you won’t ever be able to access joy or know yourself again.
But, I didn’t think I could do it. Oh sure, there’s that great moment when you’ve put it all together in proposal form and land a contract and you are convinced you are invincible and you spend some money and take everyone out to lunch. But then you get a deadline and sign the papers and shit gets real.
I spent a not small amount of time crying over this book. I was pretty sure it was terrible. I couldn’t write it. Third person was too hard. No one would be interested in this story. It was weird. I didn’t know what I was doing. I only was able to push forward by accepting the thought: “This will probably be my big, weird, overambitious, disappointing disaster. And that’s okay.” Yes, I succeeded in writing this book by completely making friends with the idea that I might have a massive failure on my hands. (I wrote about it here on Nova Ren Suma’s blog, and I think that post came at least in part as an attempt to convince myself.)
There are so many ways to experience fear of failure. Allow me to relate a little anecdote that involves my dad teaching me how to ride a two-wheel bike. I believe the phrase, “Just f*cking pedal!” was uttered. Or yelled. At me. That’s all you need to know about that to get the gist of that situation. I responded to that by f*cking pedaling and learned how to ride a bike, crying all the way, ashamed and just wanting my dad to not be mad at me or think I was a dummy. That’s not the kind of fear of failure I need in my life anymore. (And this is in some ways part of Lucy’s story, too…)
But – fear of failure is a natural, human, rational emotion. I don’t think it’s avoidable or even necessary to try to “fix.” Now, when I get scared, I try to say what I wish my dad had said. I know, sweetheart. It’s scary. It’s hard. But you gotta keep going because that’s what keeps the bike upright and then it’s going to be fun, I promise! You want to take a break and try again in an hour? Okay, the bike will still be here.
I don’t want to approach my writing only with puny hopes–hopes of not making people mad or not looking dumb. I’m totally willing to cry tears of frustration and exhaustion, but not tears of shame. If I’m going to fail, I don’t want to fail by inaction, distraction, paralysis, or trying to repeat comfortable old successes. I want to do it by giving myself over to the whole potentially-failing project, shaky-legged and wobbly, receiving pep talks from myself or others as necessary along the way.
It wasn’t until I read over the final page proofs for Lucy that I felt satisfied. It wasn’t perfect, but I felt: I did it. Though nothing ever matches the vision and the vision always changes, I wrote the book I wanted to write and didn’t think I could. And in that moment I knew that no matter what anyone else would think of the book down the line, I’d accomplished something deeply important to me.
When people ask what’s the best thing about being a writer, that’s what I can never articulate. It’s a feeling of personal triumph. It’s a battle you fought, against all of your worst fears and insecurities and predictions of doom and homelessness and blacklisting and having to flee the country. Only you know how close you came to not doing it, to running away, to intentionally getting your hands caught in industrial machinery so you’d have an excuse for missing a deadline, to bailing off the bike because it hurt too much to have those mean voices yelling at you over the gentle version of you that knows better.
Maybe this isn’t true for all writers. And maybe some people get this feeling by running a marathon, going all-out for a promotion or career change, saving a marriage, saving yourself by leaving a marriage, loving a child, forgiving that parent that yelled at you instead of encouraging. It is all damn scary. But fear–even to the point of feeling hopeless–isn’t a sign we should stop doing the hard thing. (Unless you’re facing down a saber-tooth tiger or rabid hound, okay, props to biology for the role fear plays.)
We move forward and through, and the rewards in that act alone are immeasurable. I’m at that stage I always come to in the writing process of savoring that, for these last few weeks while the book is mostly mine, then soon I will happily turn it over to you–because that is the completion of the satisfaction, wanting to move others with what moved me–and then see what’s next.
So I’ve been in this strange period of life, that is sort of a break from writing and my writing career, but also not. I’ve been calling it a sabbatical though that’s not totally what it is. It’s basically been a rest from demands of schedule and deadlines, to give myself a chance to think intentionally about what I might want to really focus on next.
My email inbox and calendar are reminding me that this time is coming to an end. Demands have been gearing up, and in April it gets real, then THE LUCY VARIATIONS comes out in May, and the rest of the year will sort of go on its own momentum, the way it does.
Lent starts this Wednesday, and when I realized that Easter Sunday is on March 31 I got pretty excited. Nothing makes me happier than when a month starts on a Monday, as April does. That my return to full, renewed and hopefully self-connected engagement with my identity as Author Sara Zarr starts the day after Easter, the day after Resurrection Day, feels perfect.
Especially since I must confess that things have felt a bit tomb-y since my last update. It’s been a little dark in here. A not-small part of that is the season. It’s been cold and bleak and smoggy here for most of January.
But also, other life stuff, and now that I’ve experienced a nice stretch of “doing nothing”/being free of expectations, I see that having nothing expected of me is not the permanent answer to burnout or cynicism. We, humans, thrive under a certain amount and kind of stress. If you leave a baby in its crib and demand nothing of it and don’t stress it out, it completely fails to develop. If you don’t stress your muscles, they don’t get stronger. I do think I needed this time of freedom to rest up mentally and physically, but it works best as a temporary state.
I’ve felt sort of lost, lately. Not fired up and inspired and full of new ideas, just wandering around without a path. I miss the discipline of working to meet a deadline. I miss the regular obligation of the Good Letters posts. I even miss chatting about publishing news and the future of the industry. So if not having deadlines or expectations, if detachment from the world, aren’t the answer, what is?
I’m starting to think more engagement, not less, is part of the answer. Or, different engagement. Real attention, real presence, whether that’s in a creative moment of writing or in a conversation with a librarian or giving advice to a newer writer. More attention, not less. Better engagement, not detachment. Being attentive to my writing life isn’t just about me and the page. It’s the whole of it: my career, the industry, the community, the o’sphere, the conversations. Not every bit of it all at once all the time, of course, and maybe that has been the problem.
This Lent season, I’m abstaining from and making rules around some things that tend to increase the chaos in my mind. I also will be instituting real sabbath-taking into my week as a way to experience more moderate amounts of the kind of do-nothing rest and freedom I’ve been up to these last six months. I want to find a calm, attentive center to carry me into April and the rest of the year. Whether or not you believe in Jesus, the metaphor of death-burial-resurrection is a powerful one. Every season of life brings with it something to let die, and something that needs renewal. I’m ready for a resurrected kind of engagement with my identity and world, and for the next 40-something days I’ll be trying to do some final letting go to make room for it.
My second book, Sweethearts, is an Amazon Kindle Daily Deal today, Valentine’s Day, which means the Kindle edition is a mere $1.99. I wrote this book to explore a certain kind of love between two young human people, love that isn’t romantic and isn’t not romantic, that is more than friendship and sometimes challenging to friendship. A love cemented earlier in life than some say you can really feel love, a difficult love, a loyal love. For the $1.99 Kindle edition, click here. [edited to add that it looks like special pricing applies to all ebook formats, so kindle, kobo, nook, etc!]
If you’ve read my books you know:
Love is my recurring theme.
And here on a day when a lot of people might be feeling lonely in a culture that says romantic love–coupling, pairing off, culminating in or including some sort of sexual relationship–is the only kind of love that’s really real, I wanted to say: that is a lie.
In the last couple of weeks I’ve taken note of at least five I Love Yous that were said to me or by me, and only one of them fits the Valentine’s Day version of love.
I drove a woman who does not speak very much English to an appointment and then on an errand that got complicated, and helped her navigate that. When I took her home at the end of it all, she said “Thank you.” Then she said, “I love you. I love you.” It was one of the only English phrases she knew for expressing something that she obviously felt was more than “thank you” could cover.
Also, there was an I love you to someone I care about who was apologizing for something, the kind of assuring statement of: I still think you’re okay, you can not be at your best and I don’t think less of you. It’s all good. I love you.
There was a deep I love you from me to my husband, that felt inadequate and came out of extreme gratitude for his acceptance of me exactly as I am, the knowledge that whatever of myself I bring to him, he’s going to show me care and devotion.
There was an exchange of I love yous with a friend after a series of difficult and emotional conversations of the sort that make you feel vulnerable and scared and doubtful that anyone could really love you or want to be your actual friend friend.
There was the I love you I always exchange with my friend Ann after we have our semi-weekly breakfast date. Steady, easy, reliable love.
These all meant something to me. These were all good. These each came in different contexts and phases of relationship, ranging from people I’ve known 25 years to those I’ve known barely one.
It’s all these kinds of loves I try to write about in my books. Romantic love, family love, failing love, friendship love, disappointed love, self-love, confused love, love in its many splendor shapes and sizes and textures. They all matter. They’re all valuable. They all make us human. They are all part of the Big Love, as singer-songwriter David Wilcox puts it.
So happy Valentine’s Day, whatever kind of love you have to give or receive.
In this episode of This Creative Life, I had the pleasure of sitting directly across from – live! in person! – friend and writer Sara Ryan, in my very own house. We talked about writing space and writing pace, the process of writing a graphic novel, how she feels about being known as an “LGBT author”, and keeping a writing career going with another full-time job.
I’m getting excited about THE LUCY VARIATIONS, though Lucy stuff has been sneaking up on me as this year goes by faster than expected. The publication date is May 7 (you can pre-order now from your favorite bookseller, or put in a request at your public library), and the first trade review is already in–a star from Booklist in the March 1 issue:
…Zarr does what she does best. Writing in the third person, she really, truly gets inside her characters’ minds and shows us what makes them complex human beings—their faults, fears, and hopes.
(Especially their faults, in this book, I think.) Also, various people who’ve had ARCs have been reacting positively. My favorite of the words that keeps coming up is “uncomfortable”. Awwyeah.
Would you like to experience discomfort live and in person with me? If you live in or around Boston, D.C., or New York, it looks like I’ll be headed your way around the second week of May. I’ll post full details as soon as they are confirmed and we can all be uncomfortable together!
It’s an extremely epic episode of This Creative Life, so epic that I had to split the audio file into two parts. Because of the way my feed works, I believe I need to make this into two separate blog posts. This one contains part one. It’s a Listener Q&A episode! I haven’t done one in almost a year and it seemed like a good time to do another. Just to make things a little more fun, I enlisted friend and author Matthew J. (Matt) Kirby to co-host and we answered the questions together. Your questions, by the way, were excellent, so thank you for that.
We talked about process! We talked about our psyches! We talked about the mystery of writing, the notion of talent, and Carl Jung. And balance, and revision, and even a little bit about the business. Which is why this is so deliciously long.
Here is part one. See separate post for part two if you are downloading this from the blog. As always, the easiest way to get new episodes and be sure not to miss any is to subscribe in iTunes or find it on the Stitcher app.
Thank you for listening, sharing, tweeting, giving feedback, and generally being awesome.
One question we got was about our favorite books about writing. Here are the ones we mentioned:
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, Naming the World edited by Brett Anthony Johnston, Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande, Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin, and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne & King.
March 1 was the one-year anniversary of the This Creative Life podcast. In some ways, I don’t remember when I wasn’t doing it, and in other ways it seems like I just started. I’ve been lucky to have an amazingly talented and wonderful pool of friends and colleagues to draw on as guests, and they are still out there, living their creative lives and putting out work. If you’re new to the podcast, you can find all these episodes a couple of different ways: the archives here on my site, the iTunes subscription feed, or download the Stitcher app to your smartphone and search for This Creative Life with Sara Zarr there.
Here are some updates:
Tara Altebrando’s (ep 1!) super fun The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life comes out in paperback this July. You can also now get her backlist as ebooks, and our collaboration, Roomies, is set to release this December. Tara also has a middle grade novel coming; check out her site to keep up with all her news. Filmmaker Scott Derrickson (ep 13) and his Sinister co-writer, C. Robert Cargill, are working on a sequel to that scary-ass movie! Eek. Scott has several other projects in the works, including the Poltergeist reboot. Eek eek! (Also: Mr. Cargill’s debut novel, Dreams and Shadows, was just released to much acclaim!).
You may have heard a little bit about this movie called Silver Linings Playbook, which was nominated for several Oscars, including Best Picture. Matthew Quick (ep 12), the author of the novel (or as it is sometimes called, the “source material”), has since made a deal for a new novel (The Good Luck of Right Now) and its film rights, and also his latest YA, Boy21, was named a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize and to the ALA’s annual Top Ten list of best YA. And he’s been out and about getting the opportunity to speak about mental health issues and hope. Ask the Passengers by A.S. King (ep 10) is also an L.A. Times Book Prize finalist and has been getting all kinds of great recognition, most recently as a nominee for the Lambda Literary Award. Yay!
Stephanie Perkins (ep 2) has beautiful new branded covers for her books, and Isla and the Happily Ever After (the book that was giving her hell as per our podcast discussion) is coming out this fall. Triumph! Mark Pett’s (ep 4) The Boy and the Airplane will be released on April 2, and he’s got a lovely new web site and awesome Kirkus review to go with it. I also must credit him for encouraging me to get the podcast launched in the first place despite my perfectionist stalling. (If you’re in SLC, don’t miss his 4/2 book launch at the King’s English!)
Well, I’m impressed, envious, and inspired! I want to thank these and all my other guests for giving their time and openness and honesty to our conversations. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. Double bonus enjoyment if you support their work by buying it and talking about it! Here’s to another year of episodes…