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1. Some Handy Tips for Painting the Interior

Are you facing a big interior paint job like I did? If so, then you should know that there are some steps you can take now to avoid painting catastrophes down the line, and also to ensure the best possible results. Here are five handy house painting tips for painting the interior of your home.

When shopping for paint, you'll notice that you have several finishes to choose from, including high-gloss, semi-gloss, eggshell, and flat. If your walls have a lot of imperfections (bumps and unevenness, for example), then a flat paint would be best at hiding them; however, flat paint is very hard to clean. High-gloss paint, on the other hand, is super easy to clean, but it may draw attention to imperfections.

Make sure you clean your walls well before painting. Go over them with a soapy rag, and then rinse with a clean wet rag, before you begin painting. It is likely the paint won't stick to them as you need it to if your walls are dirty.

Be sure to use a primer. A primer is a base coat that not only ensures a smooth application (and less coats) of your wall color, but also blocks stains from bleeding through into your new paint job. A primer is a must if you are painting a light color over a darker color, or if you are painting wood paneling. I made the mistake of not doing this in a dark colored room and I never did get the lighter color paint I used to look right.

You will just cost yourself more time in the long run if you don't properly prepare the space to be painted. Even if you have an edging tool to use for where the wall meets the ceiling and base trim, you should still tape off those areas, or else risk an amateurish-looking paint job (belive me I know). You cannot fee hand and have it look right like a professional painter can.

Allow it to dry and sand it down before you begin to paint. You may not have perfect walls, but you should get them as close as possible to perfect for the big paint job.

Painting your home is a big job. One of my rooms (the den) was such a big job that I was not sure I wanted to tackle it on my own, so I called on an experienced professionals at Charleston Painting Company to get the job done. It really did make a difference. The walls had been covered with wallpaper several times and I couldn't get the wall to look right after removing it. That another blog post in and of itself.

If your walls have a lot of imperfections (bumps and unevenness, for example), then a flat paint would be best at hiding them; however, flat paint is very hard to clean. A primer is a base coat that not only ensures a smooth application (and less coats) of your wall color, but also blocks stains from bleeding through into your new paint job. A primer is a must if you are painting a light color over a darker color, or if you are painting wood paneling.

Hope this helps!

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2. I Love Decorating

Just bought a new house, well an old house, new to me. Besides some of the mechanical things that need to be fixed, I am going to decorate it so it becomes mine. This blog is about my experiences while I do that and maybe some recommendations down the road.

You know, these days it is very difficult to even think of decorating your home. I have some great ideas which if you adopt; you will be able to decorate your home within the limit of your budget.

Paint Your Home

Just painting the walls. It is the most inexpensive way of decorating a room or your home. You can get by with just the cost of the paint. If you don't like all that hard work, just ask some friends over to help.  Don't forget to serve them lunch or dinner after you are done with the paint though. And wine or a six pack can go a long way in easing the labor.

Look For Secondhand Stores

Put your own stuff, or new-old stuff in the house. There are many online stores as well as real stores in the market which sell secondhand goods. When you are going to buy any furniture, first be satisfied with the quality and construction.

Do It Yourself

Most of all do it yourself. I just search from the internet about decoration ideas and follow the step by step instructions. You will have the inner satisfaction of decorating your home as well as will be amazed in seeing the results. It is the most inexpensive way of decorating. In the end you will have the inner satisfaction of decorating your own home as well as be amazed in the results.

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3. Press Pause

Originally published at Sara Zarr. You can comment here or there.

A friend of mine used to say that we go through major life transitions every seven years. I think he based this theory on the fact that the human body totally regenerates its own skin in that same time frame (or so I have read on the internet). I don’t know if that’s true, or if we are constantly in transition and we only notice it every so often, but:

Around this time seven years ago, I signed my first book contract. And I’ve just wrapped up the major editorial work on my fifth novel. I definitely feel like something is winding down, that this period of time that began with selling Story of a Girl is ending with finishing The Lucy Variations.

My contracts are basically fulfilled. I haven’t signed on to anything else, and I don’t know when I will, or what it will be. I feel the need to reboot my writing life, knowing what I know now about the work and myself and life and the business. I’ve been operating for awhile from a place of fatigue and obligation and momentum. We all do, from time to time, but it’s not a viable long-term situation.

I’m taking the next six months or so to pause the momentum, and re-envision my writing life and the material that I deal with in it. I’m not stopping writing, I’m not going away from the blog or twitter or the podcast. It’s not that. It’s something more internal and personal. I know I’ve written about it here before, many times, but finally, finally, I have the time to actually do it. This makes me happy.

Writer friends who have been at this awhile: Have you ever made an internal or external decision to make a semi-major to major change in focus, or how you work, or why you work? I’d love to hear about it.

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4. TCL Episode 7 – Siobhan Vivian

Originally published at Sara Zarr. You can comment here or there.

The creative challenges Siobhan Vivian faced while writing her fourth novel, The List, in her words, nearly broke her. In this episode, Sara and Siobhan talk about risk-taking, self-doubt, and pushing ourselves to try to write the book we think we can’t.

TCP Ep 7 – Siobhan Vivian

(Click on the link above to listen or download. To get past episodes, you can go to the podcast tag on this site, or subscribe in iTunes.)

I really enjoyed my conversation with Siobhan, as I think about this issue of creative risk-taking a lot. Having just finished my own “this may kill me” project, I so related her experience. Whatever stage your writing life, I think you will, too. But, this may be especially relevant to those of you who have been doing this writing career thing for awhile. Thank you, Siobhan, for being so open!

Some show notes:

Siobhan’s web site | Siobhan on twitter



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…and all of Siobhan’s books

As always, thank you for listening. If you enjoy the show, tell a friend and/or leave a rating at the iTunes store. You can share a direct link to the podcast here. Feedback is always welcome in the comments, via email, or through twitter.

(And because you may be wondering – Siobhan’s name is pronounced “shehVON”.)

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5. “Foul Matter”

Originally published at Sara Zarr. You can comment here or there.

No, this is not a post about language in YA fiction. “Foul matter” is the term, in the biz, for materials like manuscripts, galleys, proofs, etc., that are no longer relevant to the book-making process and get returned to the publisher by the printer. Also, I use it to refer to the piles of papers, notebooks, backs of envelopes, index cards, and Post-Its that were part of my project once upon a time but now have little to no meaning, because the book has changed so much from that first vision.

Here’s a pile of stuff related to The Lucy Variations that I tossed into the recycling bin this this morning:

Sometimes writers save this stuff for “posterity”. I have enjoyed going to special collections and looking at drafts and manuscripts of other authors. And I know there’s a special collection of YA stuff at a college in Florida. I sent some Story of a Girl material, like first pass pages, there a few years ago. But generally, my drafts make me feel so completely exposed, I can’t imagine anyone but my editor and a few trusted friends reading them without feeling like shortly there will be a knock on the door and I’ll be arrested for impersonating a writer. And I’m not sure about the idea of predicting that work will be lasting enough to warrant a record.

Some writers safe it for themselves. It’s like keeping baby pictures or something, I guess. But for me, the original material bears so little resemblance to the finished work that it would be more like keeping the pictures of old boyfriends that caused lots of pain. Or, I don’t know, that’s not quite it. I guess, bottom line, it’s about letting go of what I thought the book would be, and accepting what it is.

(I do keep the computer files of past drafts, so I suppose I am keeping a record somehow. Occasionally I pull up excerpts from old drafts to use in a workshop revision talk.)

Writers: What do you do with the paper–if you use paper–related to your process?

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6. TCL Episode 6 – Emily Wing Smith

Originally published at Sara Zarr. You can comment here or there.

Author Emily Wing Smith was hit by a car when she was 12, and that still affects her writing process today. Sara and Emily chat about writing with physical challenges, and how to deal with the associated discouragement.

This Creative Life – Episode 6 – Emily Wing Smith

Show notes:

Emily’s web site  |  Emily on Twitter (occasionally)

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Tech notes: There was a problem with the podcast feed that meant only the three most recent episodes were showing up in the feed and therefore iTunes. I’ve fixed the feed, but it will take a few days for it to update with every episode (and my new pretty icon!), so if you’re having trouble finding the first few eps, you can always click the This Creative Life icon on the right hand side of my blog’s page.

For podcast feedback, requests, pitches, etc., you can leave a comment here, or email.

If you like the show, please consider leaving a rating in the iTunes store. And tune in around June 15 for a conversation with Siobhan Vivian, on writing the book we’re afraid we can’t.

Thanks for listening!

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7. Things I have lately enjoyed…

Originally published at Sara Zarr. You can comment here or there.

Guy Raz’s interview with John Mayer over the weekend was so good. I’ve only listened to the 14-minute version that aired, but will be listening to the extended interview as soon as I can. Never mind if you like Mayer’s music, or him as a person, or anything. Just listen. Really, really good stuff about art and fame and humility and being empty and doing things for the wrong reasons, and how to fix that.

Siobhan Vivian’s YA novel The List. It’s a great book, and probably every teen girl (and woman who still dabbles in ranking herself and others) would do well to read it. Impressive to me, as a writer, was Vivian’s courage in tackling a super challenging narrative structure and pulling it off well. I’m going to have her on This Creative Life soon to talk about risk-taking in our work! Because it’s scary, you know, to try something new when no one would fault you for sticking to your comfort zone.

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The ABC Family show Switched at Birth. I’ve been binging via Netflix. It’s not perfect by any stretch, but I love shows that feature teen characters who are not a) turning into other types of creatures at night, b) perpetuating plastic Disney/Nickelodeon oversexualized-in-a-weird-brightly-colored-childlike-way myths about what it means to be a tween or teen or boy or girl, or c) being victims of a molester/serial stalker/international cartel/etc. Anyway, if you like realistic YA and family drama, you will probably enjoy SaB. (In some ways it harkens back to shows like Life Goes On and Once and Again that were 90s staples before procedurals and reality TV took over network TV.)

How about you? What have you discovered lately in books or TV or music or whatever?

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8. The final stretch is sometimes less final than you think

Originally published at Sara Zarr. You can comment here or there.

Thank you for your notes and tweets of encouragement these last couple of weeks! I turned in my draft. Then I went away and thought and rested and planned for awhile. Now I’m back, aaand so is my draft. Like a homing pigeon. So I’ve got a bit more to do before calling it done, but it’s getting close. As much as I love for things to go cooperatively along with my dream schedule, writing a novel is just one of those things that can’t be (or shouldn’t be) rushed. But it tries my patience. Oh it does. I’m sure every writer can relate to the feeling of itching to start the Next Thing but it not being time for that quite yet.

I’ve needed this week off and away, and consequently there is no 5/15 episode of This Creative Life. It will be back  June 1, and on its 1st & 15th schedule (on or about).

I neglected to mention the person responsible for my lovely new site design – Megan Keatley, of Health-Bent. That’s a real-food cooking blog that I love, and I’ve always thought it looked cool. Then I learned: the woman not only cooks, she designs! Or, she did, though she’s focusing now on the cooking part, i.e. getting a cookbook together, which is fine with me.

Have a terrific weekend, all.

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9. Seven-minute blog post

Originally published at Sara Zarr. You can comment here or there.

That’s how long I have left in this little break before getting back to my work. Depending how you read this blog, you may or may not notice that my web site has an all new design. I’m so happy with the crisp cleanliness of it, and having a new virtual environment. There are some little things I’ll be tweaking in the coming weeks to make sure it looks and works right, but basically I have entered the modern age.


I’m tired. Revision is like this:

You look at it awhile from a safe distance, in the abstract. “One day, and one day soon, I shall work on that.”

Then you start. “I will never finish this.”

*Crying break* / “I will never finish this” / *crying break* / “I can’t do it” / *crying break* / “Oh god why”

Then, one day, you turn a corner. “I am going to finish this!”

After that, there may be setbacks. “How could I have thought I was going to finish this?” (Bookmarked at the moment.)

Then, you look up one day, and you’re done. “I can’t believe it. I seriously. Can’t believe it.”

Then you take a break and pretend your work is finished, before it comes back to you, like a homing pigeon, and you go through the whole process again. Maybe several-ish times.

And when I say “you”, I mean “I”.


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10. This Creative Life – Ep 5 – Listener Q&A

Originally published at Sara Zarr. You can comment here or there.

You asked, Sara answered. Thoughts on knowing when a book is finished, “legitimate distractions”, and writing about God.

TCL Ep 5 – Listener Q&A


You can now subscribe though iTunes. If you like the podcast, feel free to leave a rating or review in the iTunes directory. Somehow, episode 1 has disappeared. Woe. I will try to fix it soon, but you can still get to it by going to the ‘podcast’ tag through my site – that will give you links to every episode.

And now I must AWAY TO MY CAVE. Thanks for your great questions. I hope to do an episode like this a few times a year, so save up some q’s for next time. Happy May Day – see you back here when my draft is in!


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11. The Right & The Real

Originally published at Sara Zarr. You can comment here or there.

…is the title of a new book from Joelle Anthony, and based on the trailer, it looks awesome. I’m an agent-mate of Joelle’s and am joining a bunch of other bloggers in posting this today. Enjoy! (Gotta say, I love the cover.) The Right & The Real officially publishes on April 26th. Ask for it at your local book store!



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12. This Creative Life – Ep 4 – Cartoonist/Author/Illustrator Mark Pett

Originally published at Sara Zarr. You can comment here or there.

Mark Pett and Sara talk about perfectionism, learning to let go, and self-management, among other things.

TCL Ep 4 – Mark Pett

(click that to listen, or see tech notes below)

Show Notes:

A page from Mark’s sketch/idea book

Mark’s website  |  Mark on Twitter  |  See Mark Pett and Gary Rubenstein perform The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes at the National Book Festival

The Boy & The Airplane coming from Simon & Schuster in 2013

Technical notes:

In my efforts to get This Creative Life listed in the iTunes directory, I re-created the feed. I’m happy to report this was successful, though it won’t show up in the directory for a few days. If you subscribed previously and want to receive new episodes in iTunes, you may need to re-subscribe with the new feed.

All you need to do is either: go to this url: http://feeds.feedburner.com/ThisCreativeLifeWithSaraZarr and choose “add to/subscribe with iTunes”, or open iTunes–> advanced –> subscribe to podcast and paste the URL into that box. The direct feed page includes non-podcast blog posts, but only the podcasts will show up in your iTunes. Some day, and some day soon, it will all be a matter of clicking one cute little icon. Thank you for your patience!

Podcast feedback, suggestions, pitches, etc. go here. Also, if you’ve got a creative process question, send it in! A future episode will be all listener Q&A, so throw me your Q’s. Tell a friend!


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13. Last Call (sort of) for the Glen Workshop…

Originally published at Sara Zarr. You can comment here or there.



The Generations in Our Bones: Art as Tradition

Does belonging to the tradition of religious faith change the way we respond to our literary and artistic influences? Is it possible to balance strength with humility, to develop our own voices while still engaging deeply with the great traditions that have equipped and formed us?

Gee, I don’t know, Sara, I don’t even know if I belong to a tradition!

Well, you do. If you have a worldview, you belong to a tradition. And even if you don’t think of yourself as religious, it could even be religious, using the broad definition of the word. There is definitely a tradition and in a way a religiousness to the views and beliefs we hold about YA–what it does or should do, if anything, who it’s for, why it matters. Maybe sometimes we feel pressured to conform

Read the rest of this entry »

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14. Speaking of this creative life…

Originally published at Sara Zarr. You can comment here or there.

Speaking of this creative life and all that comes with it, here’s some stuff that inspired and provoked thought for me this week:

If you’re familiar with the PBS series American Masters, you know how great it is (usually). If you aren’t, I encourage you to get familiar. This week, I saw two episodes I highly recommend to writers. One covered Margaret Mitchell and Gone with the Wind. Mitchell is a woman I didn’t know much about, and her story is fascinating. The other episode, Harper Lee: Hey, Boo, is a must-watch, in my opinion. It’s about Lee, her book, and the movie. I think the thing out of all of it that moved me most of all was learning the story of the friends who gave her the money to take a year off to write. (There’s also a lesson about artistic envy in the arc of her relationship with Capote.) You can watch both from the PBS site or app.

I liked this interview with Noel Gallagher about life after Oasis. Though I never was a big fan or got all of the hype, I appreciated hearing his perspective on those years now and the way he seems to hold status lightly. Which may be easier to do once you’ve achieved it, or may be more difficult, I don’t know.

On the subject of holding things lightly, Image Journal’s annual April Fool’s edition of the Image Update newsletter was a good reminder of 1) even spiritual and intellectual deep-thinkers are allowed to have a sense of humor, especially about themselves, and 2) how much fun the Glen Workshop is going to be. (And if you’re going or thinking about going, and nervous that it will all be too high-minded and full of uptight Christians, hopefully this eases those worries! It’ll be a good time.)

Re-listening to my interview with Antony John got me fired up to get on the stick with trying new things and stretching out that time between “it’s an idea” and “it’s a product”.

Lastly, it’s neat and inspiring when art generates more art. Last week, a high school senior sent me this video he made, based on Story of a Girl. It’s not your typical book trailer, more a genuine preview of an imagined movie. I thought he did a great job.

What’s been inspiring you lately?


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15. This Creative Life – Ep 3 – Author Antony John

Originally published at Sara Zarr. You can comment here or there.

My guest this episode is Antony John, the author of the YA novels  Five Flavors of Dumb and  Thou Shalt Not Road Trip, and the forthcoming fantasy, Elemental.

TCL Ep 3 – Antony John

(That is the thing to click!)

I am so enjoying these conversations, and getting to share them with you. Antony and I wound up talking about how selling a project on proposal affects the creative process, how much industry news is too much and what to do with it, and managing creative output vs. input (thanks for that question, Jon Yang!).

Hey writers – I’d love to hear your thoughts on the pros and cons of external deadlines/selling on proposal, what to do (or not do) with industry news, and whatever else you’re inspired to share/ask/wonder after listening to this. Leave comments here, tweet, or email.

As always, thank you for listening!

Tech notes: I did get a new microphone. And it didn’t exactly work with the call recorder program I’m using. Also, I’ve got my iTunes directory feed all ready to go, but the “submit a podcast” thing on iTunes is buggy right now. But you can subscribe by following the instructions on the upper right sidebar here at sarazarr.com.

Show Notes:

About Antony:

Antony John was born in England and raised on a balanced diet of fish and chips, obscure British comedies, and ABBA’s Greatest Hits. In a fit of teenage rebellion, he decided to pursue a career in classical music, culminating in a BA from Oxford University and a PhD from Duke University. Along the way, he worked as an ice cream seller on a freezing English beach, a tour guide in the Netherlands, a chauffeur in Switzerland, a barista in Seattle, and a university professor. Writing by night, he spends his days as a stay-at-home dad—the only job that allows him to wear his favorite pair of sweatpants all the time. He lives in St. Louis with his family.

Antony’s web site

find Thou Shalt Not Road Trip at your favorite indie book seller



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16. Surfacing

Originally published at Sara Zarr. You can comment here or there.

In my last non-podcast post, I was discussing online shopping for pens and paper as a procrastination technique. Since then, I abandoned all such techniques and actually got to work. Phase II of revising my next book is now complete. As I always say, it feels like a not minor miracle, whenever I get to the last page in any phase of the process.

It started like this, neat, civilized, in normal clothes, in a coffee shop:

And ended in a mess with ratty pajamas, in bed, and the parakeet watching.

Like soooo many of my date nights. Heyo!

But seriously, folks.

Writing a book. Who wants this crazy job? Why do we do it? I mean other than the riches and fame and all the respect YA authors get from the literary establishment?

Some days, I cannot answer that question. But most days, even when it’s hard, it’s easy. Being a novelist is, and has always been, my dream job. And for better or worse and with all of its rollercoastery aspects,  I’m getting to live it. Thank you, God.

Alrighty, I am taking the weekend off, and will be back on Monday with This Creative Life episode 3, featuring Antony John. Personally, I think you’re going to love it.

There’s a lot of stuff going on in the world. Seek justice. Show mercy. Make beauty. Pledge to your local public radio station. And have a good weekend.


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17. This Creative Life – Ep 2 – Stephanie Perkins

Originally published at Sara Zarr. You can comment here or there.

Whoa, Nellie, I’ve actually done this two whole times now! Episode 2 is without music, to save myself some editing time. Also, as you will hear, I am not yet a precision editor, especially when my time is limited. But THAT’S WHAT MAKES IT FUN.

I have some thanks to make: First, for your patience with the sound quality issues. I now have an upgraded microphone coming in the mail, and that should help, though I’m somewhat limited by Skype and also the guests’ microphone situation. I will continue to iron out these wrinkles and I hope it’s still listenable. Second, for your comments, feedback, and suggestions through the email, as well as on Twitter and in the comments. Third, to my guest, Stephanie Perkins, and her time and openness in talking about some of the less glamorous aspects of being a working writer.

Technical note: To subscribe via iTunes – follow the “subscribe to posts and/or podcast” link on the right-hand side panel of sarazarr.com, near the top. Choose “iTunes” from the pop-up options, and that should open iTunes and subscribe you to this and all future episodes! I hope! I’m working on my metadata for getting This Creative Life listed in the iTunes directory to make it EVEN EASIER.

And now, the show:

This Creative Life – Ep 2 – Author Stephanie Perkins

Show Notes:

Stephanie Perkins is the author of Anna and the French Kiss, Lola and the Boy Next Door, and the forthcoming Isla and the Happily Ever After. (And also of a super-secret project that’s going to blow ya mind.) As part of my non-official bio of her, I’d like to add that she’s a good and kind woman, a generous spirit, and has cool hair.

Stephanie’s web site  |  Steph on Twitter  |  Steph’s blog

Next time, on This Creative Life – (I’m thinking that in the voice of the guy who used to announce the plot of the next Little House on the Prairie Episode) – Antony John. He’s an author and has a British accent. What more do you need to know? That will post on April 2, so be ready.

Got a question, suggestion, or idea for the podcast? Let me know. Thanks for listening.



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18. things to think about and buy and caress when under deadline

Originally published at Sara Zarr. You can comment here or there.

March marks the beginning of an extremely busy time for me, that will continue into May, and to a less-intense extent through the summer. I’m revising my next novel (currently called The Lucy Variations, and though I’ve learned not to get too attached to titles, I think that one will stick), and also revising the collaborative novel with Tara Altebrando (which is reallly fun, but still work). I’ve been working with Usborne Publishing on the UK edition of How to Save a Life (now with more instances of the letter U!), getting the podcast* launched, and I have a keynote speech to write and workshop to put together for the New England SCBWI conference. Also, sarazarr.com is getting redesigned as we speak and I have a couple of secret projects I try to squeeze in here and there. Phew!

All that is to say: It’s obviously a perfect time for thinking about what pens, inks, and notebooks I love to work with. So let’s kick off the week** with a major distraction, shall we? In no particular order:


Maruman Mnemosyne Inspiration notebook, A5, 5mm squared. (Say that three times fast!) This is my new favorite everyday notebook. I use it to plan my daily schedule at the level of detail that doesn’t fit in my calendar and that I don’t want to clutter my calendar with. It is the perfect size, it’s cool-looking, the paper is smooth and well-behaved, and it just MAKES ME HAPPY. (Yes, sometimes you can buy happiness. Not cheaply, but still.)


Read the rest of this entry »

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19. Bring Me Your Stories

Originally published at Sara Zarr. You can comment here or there.

I just realized my appearances calendar didn’t show my week at the Glen Workshop. I’ve corrected that. And will also tell you:

This is a very special weeklong workshop and retreat that could, potentially, change your life. (It changed mine when I first went in 2002.) Especially geared toward those who are pretty sure there’s something bigger than us that has to do with this creativity thing, it’s a week of workshop (in the mornings), readings, lectures, resting, wine and cheese, soul-filling conversations, and spectacular sunsets. And, to steal a phrase from David Dark, a bunch of very kind/funny/caring people “trying to redemptively process reality in one another’s presence.”

I’d love to have you in my class. Email me if you’ve got questions about it. July 29-Aug 5, in Santa Fe, NM.

(And coyotes calling at night, the daily drama of thunder and lightning, Georgia O’Keefe landscapes, stars, music, grace, passion, laughter, tears, friends you may make and have for life, omelet station, and the best conference book store in the history of the world.) (Can you tell I LIKE IT?)

(I’m not exactly credible when it comes to giving financial advice, but my personal opinion is that this is something worth going into a small amount of temporary debt for. That’s how I afforded it the first four or five years I went. And, if you do the numbers, it’s actually a bargain all things considered.)

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20. Updates and Coming Attractions

Originally published at Sara Zarr. You can comment here or there.

Well! It’s been awhile. January was unforgiving in its relentless for me, in every way, but I’m recovering. Some randomness and what’s to come:

I’ve been reading a lot of Alice Munro. I’ve always liked her, but the stories in Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage are extraordinary. Listening to Kathleen Edwards’ new album, Voyageur, which is fantastic. Spent a day seeing what this Portlandia craze was all about, and laughed a lot. Watched a pair of really compelling Scandinavian movies (not on purpose; they just both happened to be): As It Is In Heaven and Troubled Water. They both stream on Netflix. I also watched the film adaptation of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter and heard my heart go crrraaaack in the last 20 minutes.

Speaking of my heart, some incredibly stirring and personal fanmail for How to Save a Life has come in. It feels so good to connect with readers – thank you.

Aaaand How to Save a Life was named among the American Library Association’s Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults! That feeeeels goooood.

Also! I’ve listened to a little bit of the HTSAL audiobook, and it’s really good. I’m looking forward to hearing the whole thing. Listening Library cast two actors, one for Jill and one for Mandy, and that really makes it work. Bonus factor for people my age: reading Jill is Ariadne Meyers, also known as Ari Meyers, also known as Emma on Kate & Allie. Hello! If you had told me, when I was 15, that one day Ari would be performing the audio of a book I wrote, I’d…I don’t know. I’d bust out with the Cabbage Patch.

Some links:

My latest Good Letters, on starting antidepressants.

Forever Young Adult made a hilarious Sweetheart-themed calendar for February

I added a video to my last post, on teaching at The Glen Workshop. If you’re on the fence, spend some time with Image’s Vimeo channel and see what you think.

Coming soon!

The debut episode of the This Creative Life podcast, featuring my friend and collaborator Tara Altebrando. Blog interviews with Paula Huston and Matthew Quick. A new site design for the modern age, and who knows what all else.

Thanks for being here.


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21. Simplifying the Soul with Paula Huston (+ book giveaway)

Originally published at Sara Zarr. You can comment here or there.

Paula Huston is one of my absolute favorite contemporary writers on the spiritual life. Ever since reading The Holy Way: Practices for a Simple Life, I’ve felt I had a comrade and mentor in her pages. (In fact, I was just flipping through it and noticed – I underlined like half the book. I feel like I want to read it all again RIGHT NOW.) Her succinct 2010 work, Forgiveness, is simply one of the best and most profound explorations of that topic, and I’m on my second reading of By Way of Grace, her book on “8 Christian virtues that open the heart to God.”

Paula’s writing challenges me without making me feel like big fat loser/sinner. It’s sharp and poetic, self-revealing but not self-righteous, wise and compassionate.

So when I was invited to host her on her blog tour for her new release, Simplifying the Soul: Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit…well I suppose it would be most spiritual to say something like “my soul leapt” or “I humbly rejoiced in the opportunity” but I felt more like a cool cousin I never get to see was coming to town, a.k.a. “awesome!”

I think you’ll see from her answers here that Paula is a woman speaking good words out into the world, by the grace of God. I hope you’ll get acquainted with her books, if you’re not. (And if you are not necessary religious-with-a-label, but spiritually open/curious, I think her work would appeal to you.)

Leave a comment sometime before I wake up on Wednesday 2/22 to be entered for a chance to win a free copy of Simplifying the Soul from the nice folks at Ave Maria Press.

SZ:  “Simplicity” is a word and concept that has popped up everywhere in the last few years. Perhaps ironically, there are countless blogs and twitter streams about simplifying, stripping down, shedding stuff, downsizing, and unplugging. What are your thoughts on why we seem, as a culture, to have this growing longing for simplicity, while at the same time we are consumers as much (or more) than ever?

PH: When I first started writing about simplification of life nearly ten years ago, the subject seemed to strike an immediate chord, though only in a certain kind of reader–people naturally given to introspection and silent prayer, people with a definite contemplative bent. I’m guessing that the present, more general upsurge in interest comes because, as a culture, we’ve pretty well reached our maximum capacity for handling stress.

Read the rest of this entry »

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22. Ash Wednesday Winner

Originally published at Sara Zarr. You can comment here or there.

That seems like a sort of sacrilegious post title. Oh well! Random.org’s number generator gave me comment number 45645, which belongs to Donna K. Congrats on winning a copy of the book, and many thanks to all of you for your comments, and to Ave Maria Press for providing the prize, and to Paula for her time.

For those of you who were holding off on buying Paula’s book until you find out if you won, I’ll give away her Ash Wednesday practice in the chapter “Simplifying Space”: Clear Out a Junk Drawer or Closet.

Abbot Pastor said: If you have a chest full of clothing, and leave it for a long time, the clothing will rot inside it. It is the same with the thoughts in our heart. If we do not carry them out by physical action, after awhile, they will spoil and turn bad.

To read Paula’s thoughts and experience about that, and also find out what to do tomorrow, go get the book! (And it does come in ebook format, so you can actually still get it today. Let’s hear it for technology after all.)

And now, I have a junk drawer to tackle…



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23. spring is for planning & doing

Originally published at Sara Zarr. You can comment here or there.

Technically, we’re still a month away from spring, but thanks to global climate change it’s definitely feeling pretty springy around here. It’s cold, clear, blue, bright and beckoning and that makes me want to PLAN SHIT. February has been, for the most part (with the exception of dreaded tax prep), my recovery month from having a book out and getting another book done and working on sorting out my mental health. Now I’m ready to rumble. And rumble I must, because the first half of 2012 is full of Projects. Which, a month ago, made me curl in a ball on the floor and weep, but now makes me excited and grateful.

Though I love muh gadgets, I’m still very much an analog gal when it comes to planning and organization. Different things work for different projects. Today I’m filling the whiteboard with basic info like due dates and timelines. Last week I started a new, dedicated journal for a particular project. These pictures inspire me. Maybe they will you, too. What are you cooking up for the rest of the year?

(Yes, this is upside-down. Sometimes pictures I take with my iPad do that. Why?)

(For geeks: this is a Leuchtturm1917 dot grid notebook, and a TWSBI Diamond 530 fountain pen. Loaded with Waterman Violet.)


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24. This Creative Life – Ep 1 – Author Tara Altebrando

Originally published at Sara Zarr. You can comment here or there.

My very first guest for the very first episode of This Creative Life is Tara Altebrando, author, friend, collaborator. We talked about how our collaboration came to be, how she gets it all done with two small kids, and what went on in that cottage in Nova Scotia…

This Creative Life Ep 1 – Author Tara Altebrando

Click on the link – it should automatically open iTunes or your favorite audio program, or give you the option of what to open, then it takes about a minute to get going. Eventually there will be an iTunes feed you can subscribe to, along with other technological fine-tuning (especially with the sound quality, which I know is not yet stellar).

Show Notes:

Tara Altebrando is the author of three novels for young adults: DREAMLAND SOCIAL CLUB, THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS and WHAT HAPPENS HERE. She lives in Queens, New York, with her husband and two young daughters, Ellie and Violet. Her fourth YA novel, THE BEST NIGHT OF YOUR (PATHETIC) LIFE*, is forthcoming from Dutton in July. Tara’s web site

(*Which, by the way is great–a fun, energetic read about high school seniors on a scavenger hunt. And I love that cover!)

Our collaboration is due out in later 2013, from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Podcast email for feedback, special requests, or pitches.

The intro music used in This Creative Life is provided by Mevio’s Music Alley. The outro music is from Girl Talk, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Nonommercial license. Thank you, Girl Talk! All Day (Girl Talk) / CC BY-NC 3.0


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25. Lots of Q and awesome A with Matthew Quick

Originally published at Sara Zarr. You can comment here or there.

I first encountered Matthew Quick on the pages of his debut YA novel, SORTA LIKE A ROCK STAR, back in the fall of 2009. I remember: I was on a plane, reading the ARC, and my first reaction to his heroine, Amber Appleton, was to disdain her for her relentless optimism. She was the kind of character that one of my characters, like Deanna or Jill, might want to deck. But, something happened to me in the process of reading–the “IV drip”, as one of Q’s reviewers put it, did its work, and Amber got into my blood. Q and I had the chance to meet shortly thereafter at an event hosted by our publisher, Little Brown Books for Young Readers, and have been friends ever since. I’m thrilled to have him here to talk about his wonderful new YA novel, BOY21, officially pubbed today, and his work as a whole. He likes to get into the meat of things, like I do, and I’m so pleased to share our conversation with you:

SZ: I’ve read all three of your published novels now – one for adults, and two for young adults. Though each story is unique, there are definitely some recurring themes. One thing I thought about as I read BOY21 was this: You write so well about characters who are in pain, but are in denial about their pain–Pat in THE SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, Amber in SORTA LIKE A ROCK STAR, and now Finley in BOY21. It seems like a tricky thing, writing first-person narrators who are in that level of denial, and finding ways to let the reader know that without giving away the store. (Also, it makes for such an interesting relationship between the reader and the narrator.) Are you conscious of that (that recurring theme and/or the craft aspects of executing it) while you’re writing, or is that just sort of part of your writer’s DNA?

MQ: Thanks! It can be tricky. I once read that succumbing to depression doesn’t mean you are weak, but that you have been trying to be strong for too long, which is maybe a form of denial. So much of life happens somewhere in between being okay and complete breakdown—that’s where many of us live, and doing so requires strength. I think of my characters as having endured for an impressive amount of time. I admire that about them, even if they must inevitably teeter over the edge.

What a person/character isn’t saying is usually far more interesting than what they are saying. So when I write in first person, I have to be aware of what I’m letting my protagonist say—how much he/she reveals. One reviewer compared what I do to an IV drip that feeds very slowly over time, which struck me as a good visual metaphor, especially when we are trying to keep stories alive. If you squeezed the whole IV bag into the reader all at once, it would make them sick. A slow and steady drip is the trick.

So, yeah, I’m conscious of what you mentioned above while I’m writing, easing the masks off my characters—taking a peek—showing my readers centimeter by centimeter what lies underneath. The process fascinates me.

SZ: On a related note, one thing that’s so heartbreaking, and appealing (and frustrating, in a good way) about all three of these narrators is that they are often trying to fix people or situations around them, while attempting to buck themselves up, with a sort of “Oh, my life’s not so bad̷

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