Thursday, June 13, 2013

Last week, I had the privilege of interviewing Sarah Dessen at a signing she did at our local independent bookstore, Joseph Beth. I arrived half an hour early, and I got to chat with Sarah as she signed books and got ready for the event. Enjoy!

You published your first novel in 1996. You’ve been an author for nearly 20 years, and you’ve done countless events like these. What was your first signing like?

My first signing was at my hometown independent bookstore and everyone in the world came. It was so nice. My family was there, my parents, everybody I worked with, all my friends. So I had this great first reading with a like hundred people there.

After those initial events where I had a ton of people come out that knew me, I would go somewhere else and there would be three people there. Two of them came with me and one of them worked at the bookstore. Over the years, I’ve gradually seen the crowds get bigger. It’s been this slow build. So now when I show up, if there’s anybody, I never take it for granted.

What else has changed from the beginning of your career to now?

I think when you’re a beginning author with any publishing company, there’s only so much they can put behind you. And I have so much support right now from Penguin.

Also it’s the amount of readers invested in the next book. It used to be that nobody cared if I was writing, except my mother sort of cared just because she loved me. But now I have a lot of girls that are excited about the books and are waiting. And that’s like a double-edged sword in some ways, because they’re really enthusiastic and they can’t wait for the next book, but I don’t want to disappoint them.

You’ve said in an interview that every time you finish a book you feel like you’ll never write another. What is it that makes you sit down anyway and do it all over again?

I just get really jumpy. I say “squirrelly”. That’s the word I use. I finish a book, and I think I’m never going to write a book again. That was really hard. Then I have a little bit of time to watch bravo and eat popcorn, hang out with my friends and not think about writing. And it just starts to bubble up again. Even leading up to this tour, knowing that I really needed to be focused on [The Moon and More], I was very anxious about the book that I’m working on right now. It’s always there, it’s kind of this sense of just pushing forward and pushing forward.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

I always tell people who want to write — and this is usually advice that they’re already taking — is to read as much as they can get their hands on. You can take writing classes and talk to other writers and do writing workshops, but reading is how you absorb how other people handle dialogue, plotting. That’s how you see how stories come together.

And I always tell people to work out a discipline. Try to figure out what time of day you write, because everybody is better at a different time of day. I write in the afternoons, because when I first started writing after college, I had a morning job and an evening job. The only time I had free was one-five, and that was my time when I wrote. So that’s when I write now. And if I’m not writing at one o’clock, I’m very aware it. Even on this trip, I feel like I left the iron on or something. There’s a lot to be said for just showing up everyday.

And it’s not fun a lot of the time. For me it’s kind of like exercising. I never want to do it, but I know that once I do, I’ll feel good. You get going, and you hit your stride.

Like writing endorphins?

Yes! Exactly. And you won’t ever get those unless you start.

All of your books are contemporary. What is it that draws you to realistic fiction?

I think I’m too lazy a writer to do something like historical fiction. You have to do so much research. I just write what I know. All of my stories, they don’t come from my high school experience, but they’re definitely based on things that happened to me in high school, or things that happened to friends of mine, or things that I wish had happened to me. I still live in the same town where I went to high school, so it’s not that hard for me to get back into that frame of mind.

If you were to break out of your genre, what would you write?

Eventually I would like to write adult contemporary, because a lot has happened to me since high school. I got married. I have a child now. But it would have to be very organic. Even though there have been contemporary adult publishers that have come to my agent and said “we’d love for Sarah to write an adult fiction book,” I’m afraid it would seem very forced. There’s something about the teenage voice that is organic to me right now. I just always wait and see what the next story is going to be. If the next story happens to be about a girl in her twenties, that would be great, but I feel very lucky to be where I am, and I don’t feel the need to push into other places.

I’ve not started the new book. (I’m halfway through What Happened to Goodbye, and I’m really liking it.) Can you tell us what The Moon and More is about?

It about a girl named Emaline who lives in my beach town of Colby. I always wrote about girls that went to the beach and had that summer that changed everything. So I was interested in what it would be like to live in this tourist town where everyone has these life changing experiences, but your whole life is there. And what it’s like to be permanent in a place that other people think of as temporary.

It’s the summer right before she’d about to go off to college. She’s going to a state school with her boyfriend that she’s been with for three years. Everything is layout and very organized in terms of what is going to happen in her life. Then, as often happens in my books and in life in general, everything changes all at once.

The summer after graduation from high school is the first time that I feel there isn’t one natural step in the next direction. A lot of people go to college, but there were people in my school who were going into the military, and there were people who were going to go straight to work for their parents. It’s the first time there isn’t just one trajectory, and I was interested in that.

I’ve read that this one is a bit different than your other books. How is that?

I think the ending’s a little bit different, not to spoil anything. I think it’s a little bit of an older book than some of the other ones, because it’s dealing with what happens after high school. It’s like as far as I go into the adult world, August before freshman year of college.

Do you have a favorite scene is this book?

Oh my gosh. That’s a good question! I love any of the scenes where Emaline is with her sisters. I like scenes where you have a bunch of women sitting around a table. Talking, bickering, arguing, you know?

I first got one of the ideas for this book when I was coming back from the beach with one of my babysitters. She was in college, living in a big rental house with a bunch of girls. She was texting with them, and they were all hanging out in her room. And she was just like “I’ve told them a million times to get out of my room. My room is the only clean room. I keep it really organized, and they all go down there and put their drinks down without a coaster and mess up my bed.” So there’s a thing with Emaline that her mom and her sister are always in her room.

So you said you’re working on something new already?

I started something in January. It was going pretty well, but then it veered off in this awful direction right before I went on paperback tour in April. So I was forced to take a break from it. Then I came back and cut fifty-sixty pages. So I’m actually really glad I’m on book tour right now, so I have an excuse to not think about it. But once I get home and the dust settles a little bit, I’ll start writing again.

* * *

After the interview, I joined the rest of the crowd, who were singing I Will Survive and giggling as they waited. Sarah talked for a few minutes, read a couple pages of The Moon and More, took questions, did some trivia, gave prizes, and then got to work signing books for the long line that awaited her. It was such a fun night!

And here are some of the lovely readers I met in the lines:

Contest: Leave a comment telling us about a fun author event that you went to or getting to meet an author you love, and you could win a signed copy of Sarah Dessen’s new book, The Moon and More. (Contest closes on the 4th of July.)


Ashley @ Book Labyrinth said...

Eee, jealous! But thanks for sharing your interview with us. =) I think it's one of my top goals to see Sarah at some point, because the only two times she's been in Toronto (that I know of), I haven't been able to attend.

I've been fortunate to have some pretty awesome author experiences. I guess the last one would have been the Rochester Teen Book Festival last month (which I totally still need to blog about), where there were over 30 YA authors there! I was able to meet some awesome people like Andrea Cremer, David Levithan, Alexandra Bracken, Robin La Fevers... etc! Possibly one of the coolest moments was meeting Kieran Scott (Kate Brian), because we've been chatting online for years and years, and we finally got to meet in person. =)

Unknown said...

I have to say my favorite author signing experience was meeting Sarah Dessen on her What Happened To Goodbye paperback tour earlier this year! Not only was she super cool, but I got to give her a bottle of wine from a local vineyard. She's by far the nicest author I've ever met, and I hope to see her again in the future!

Vivien said...

I got to go to Marissa Meyer's author event for Scarlet. It was absolutely fabulous!!! I even learned what SWAG meant (stuff we all get) IKR!!!

deadtossedwaves at gmail dot com

Mary @ BookSwarm said...

GREAT interview! I can't believe that she's been writing for 20 years. Wow. That's an amazing career and, what's even better, is she keeps getting bigger and bigger!

The Insouciant Sophisticate said...

So cool-I would love to meet Sarah Dessen as her books have been hugely important to me at so many different times in my life.

Have to agree about the ending for TMAM being a little different-if y'all haven't read it yet, be prepared!

Jessica said...

I got to meet Francesca Lia Block (who has been my favorite author for about 14 years!) when she came to Boston a couple years ago. She rarely leaves L.A. so I felt incredibly lucky! I was so starstruck!

Shelley said...

In the 90's I went to a bookstore signing for Ann M. Martin, the author of the Baby Sitter Club series!

seashell210 at gmail dot com

Kristan said...

I'm obviously not entering the contest (since I'm part of the WHYA group) but I so loved reading Sarah's responses. Great interview, Steph!

Erin said...

I've never been to an author signing. I would love to meet Kimberly Derting though. She lives on the other side of my state, so there is a better chance of meeting her. I love all her books too.

Anonymous said...

I've been able to meet Ally Condie, Lauren Oliver, and Elana Johnson! My favorite would have to be Lauren Oliver on the Dark Days Tour, she was with a lot of fun, entertaining authors!! I'm looking forward to book signings with Brodi Ashton and Marie Lu later on this year. Signings are so much fun!

Morgan @Remembered Deservedly

Kristi said...

My favorite was going to meet Ally Carter in Lansing, Michigan! My cousin and I love her books and it took us forever, but we finally convinced our parents that skipping the last two periods of school to meet an author was acceptable. We had so much fun on a Teri hour roadtrip in which my cousin and I stopped at a basket for cookies and sang songs really loud. Then, we got to the bookstore and met so many Ally Carter fans. We also talked forever with store manager who was really nice. Ally also took time to talk to everyone individually which was awesome. I loved her accent and she was just adorable. She told us she loved our t-shirts (they said "Team Uncle Eddie" with our fav. quotes of her's on the back). Anyway, it was the best author experience ever and the best 16th birthday present.
We also almost went to see Sarah Dessen, but my sister's best friend dad died two nights before so instead we drove down to help her. Her favorite author is Sarah Dessen and we were going to surprise her with a signed book. We never got the chance.

Anonymous said...

I really want to meet Sarah Dessen, but no one could drive me. (I'm thirteen and don't have a license) My mom promised me that she will take me to see Rick Riordan if he is ever in the area so I'm really excited! Thank you for the giveaway!

Kristi said...

Whoops! I meant two hour roadtrip and that we stopped at a bakery for cookies. Haha

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