Sara Zarr is the acclaimed author of three novels for young adults: Story of a Girl (National Book Award Finalist), Sweethearts (Cybil Award Finalist), and Once Was Lost (a Kirkus Best Book of 2009). Her short fiction and essays have also appeared in Image, Hunger Mountain, and several anthologies. She lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, with her husband, and online at http://www.sarazarr.com
What made you decide to be an author? How long have you been writing?
I don’t know if I “decided” to be an author or someone out there decided for me. I think it was a combination of my overactive imagination, my need to prove something to myself, and my intense desire not to have a regular job that helped push me into this career. I’ve been writing seriously for about fifteen years, and writing as a full-time, published author for four.
What made you decide to move Utah?
We moved here for my husband’s job. We thought, “Oh, we’ll give it two years then run back to California.” Ten years later it feels like home.
I’ve heard you talk about what inspired you to write Once Was Lost, and Sweethearts, but what inspired Story of a Girl?
Story of a Girl is probably my least autobiographical book. There’s no particular incident that it’s based on. Really, it’s a story that completely started with a character. Deanna Lambert walked onto the page of another book I was writing and her voice, her attitude, her vulnerability and toughness were all right there from the beginning. It was a matter of building a story around her. I thought about a type of girl I knew in junior high and high school—girls who were always the subjects of crazy rumors and gossip. I always thought: “That can’t really be true. I wonder what the real story is…”
What are you currently working on? When should we start looking for something new from you? 🙂
I’m in my superstitious phase when it comes to plot specifics, but look for a new book around Fall 2011 or early 2012.
You write on the more edgy side of YA fiction, do you ever get any grief about that from parents/teachers/kids?
Not really. I mean, the books might be getting grief, but I don’t hear direct complaints about it and I don’t go searching for them, either. If people take issue, I get that and it’s their right, as long as they don’t try to make that decision for anyone else or anyone else’s kids.
You seem like you’re a big self-marketer. What advice would you give someone who was looking to market themselves well?
My advice is only do it if you enjoy it. I actually love blogging, tweeting, talking about books, getting in the mix. I don’t think about it as “self-marketing,” I think about it as being an active part of the community and part of the bigger conversation about books and reading; this includes supporting other people and their books as well as keeping my readers up to date on new info about me. For some people, this is excruciating, and they would rather walk across hot coals than get on Twitter or maintain a blog. If you’re one of those people, don’t do it. Put that energy into writing an awesome book, instead, and let other people do the marketing for you.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Oh, I remember free time! I don’t have that in 2010.
When you first heard that Story of a Girl was a finalist for the National Book Award, what was your first reaction?
A combination of shock, disbelief, delight, and gratitude. Immediately followed by fantasies of winning.
You’re teaching at the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Conference this year (June 14-18). What can writers expect to learn from you in your afternoon sessions?
I’m doing one session with my editor and we are going to tell the whole ugly, beautiful truth about the author/editor relationship and revision. My other session is called Author Charm School, in which I’ll be talking about how not to lose friends and alienate people as you develop relationships with editors, agents, publicity people, booksellers, and fellow authors.
Also, my mom tells me that your editor is coming to the conference, too. That’s pretty exciting. What do you think about spending a week with her?
I’m so excited! I’m lucky to have an editor who I also consider a friend. I’m looking forward to showing her off, and also to giving her a glimpse of my daily life here in Salt Lake.