Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Author Interview: Sara J. Henry

Sara J. Henry’s debut novel LEARNING TO SWIM will be released in January 2011. Even though the book has not come out yet, I read the excerpt of her novel and now I cannot wait for the book. You can go to Sara’s site here. Let’s welcome Sara!
1. Can you tell us about LEARNING TO SWIM?

It's my debut novel, scheduled for early January 2011 from Shaye Areheart Books (Random House). Here's a description I lifted from a catalog: Briskly paced, rich in the details of small-town life and easily traversing the cultural terrain of New York's North Country and French Canada, LEARNING TO SWIM is a haunting debut and the first in a two-book deal featuring the same enterprising heroine. You can find more about it and a brief excerpt on my website.

2. How did you feel when your first book LEARNING TO SWIM was going to be published?

It was a wild and crazy ride for me. I spent a long time revising and polishing the manuscript, but once I started querying things went very quickly. I signed with an agent and the manuscript sold in a two-book deal, almost before I had time to process how I felt. I doubt it's going to seem real until I see the book in print.

3. Where did the idea for LEARNING TO SWIM come from?

While visiting the Adirondacks in upstate New York where I used to live, I was driving in a car along Lake Champlain - an enormous lake that borders New York and Vermont - and for some reason I imagined the scene that became the opening chapter of the book. Then I had to develop a book around that scene - which is just as hard as it sounds.

Some other facets of the book are based on my life when I used to live in a small upstate New York town, where I had lots of roommates and worked as a sports editor on a small newspaper.

4. Has LEARNING TO SWIM changed from the first draft to the finished copy of the book?

Absolutely. I learned to write fiction by writing this novel, so this manuscript went through many changes and revisions. The characters and basic structure never changed, but the original plot had quite a few loose ends and characters that weren't fully developed. The original middle of the book was, I'll have to admit, really bad. I did a lot of rewriting and learned a lot about writing, pacing, and plot as I went.

5. Why do you write YA?

LEARNING TO SWIM actually isn't considered YA - it's being classified as a suspense novel. But from the start I wanted a book that a 13-year-old could pick up and read - at that age I was raiding the bookshelves of my parents, and I didn't want to put any limitations on who could or could not read my work. Steph Bowe, a 15-year-old author in Australia whose first novel will come out in 2010, was one of my beta readers, and thinks my book will definitely appeal to mature teens. (I think what she said was Brilliant!)

I love YA novels because even ones that deal with gritty topics are seldom as jaundiced or cynical as adult novels. Most YA books seem to have hope. And I love YA fans, who are are dedicated, outspoken, and incredibly loyal.

6. What are some of your favorite YA authors and books? Have you read any YA books recently that you loved and recommended to others?

I became interested in modern YA because of AS King's DUST OF 100 DOGS, which I had no idea was classified young adult. I loved this book - I literally could not put it down and recommend it like mad to everyone who will listen. It's the story of a young Irish woman who became a pirate and was doomed to live 100 lives as a dog before being reincarnated as an American girl - and then can't wait to turn 18 and get back to Jamaica and find her buried treasure.

I've read Steph's novel, originally titled THESE BONES, and so loved it that I steered her toward several agents.

Based on Steph's recommendation I recently read LOOKING FOR ALASKA by John Green and THIRTEEN REASONS WHY by Jay Asher. Other YA books of note I've read of late are CRAZY BEAUTIFUL by Lauren Baratz-Logsted, BAD GIRLS DON'T DIE by Katie Alender, JUMPER by Steven Gould, and WRITING NAKED by Peter Gould.

7. Where do you get your ideas in general?

I'm an observer. I see a lot and hear a lot and read a lot and it all goes into my brain. Plot and character ideas just come to me - and sometimes a character simply springs from the pages of the book as I'm writing.

But plotting in general - especially an involved plot - can be very hard work. For me it was by far the hardest part of novel writing.

8. What is the sequel of LEARNING TO SWIM going to be about? Can you tell us anything?

It features many of the same characters, including the main character, a young woman named Troy Chance, and is set primarily in the small upstate New York towns of Lake Placid and Saranac Lake. It deals with the meaning of friendship, small-town life, the clashes between different subcultures, and the ripple effect of choices some people make.

9. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Read a lot. Write a lot. Find good critiquers, and listen to them. For me a turning point was going to a writing conference where an agent, an editor, and a writer (I know this sounds like the beginning to a bad joke) convinced me I had the talent to make this happen.

10. Is there anything you would like to add?

For me, the dream of full-time novel writing didn't happen until I fully committed to it. I had to decide that this is what I did, for better or worse. I tackled the first major revision of this novel while houseswapping in Australia with a broken foot at the start of winter - I remember the moment when I realized This is what I do and knew I had to finish this book whether it was publishable or not. And that was when I truly began to be a writer.

Thanks Sara!

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