Eleven Questions: Sara Zarr

Okay, so it sounds like most of you who were able to get ahold of the book have finished it, or are close to it, by now. So yay! If you weren’t able to get a copy this month, I’m really sorry and I still recommend you read it because this book is AWESOME. I’m planning on having next month’s book decision posted by the 2nd of August (GO TO THE BOOK CLUB STUFF PAGE AND VOTE FOR ONE!!!) so that we’ll all have more time to get our hands on a copy. Most of the books are new, but there’s one already out in paperback and I’m sure some of them will be easier to get a copy of than others.

Anyway. The OFFICIAL Sweethearts discussion post will be sometime within the next week and I strongly encourage you all to comment here/talk about it on your own blog.

Right now though, we’re lucky enough to have an interview with Sara Zarr herself! Woot!! I’m insanely excited about this. You probably are too.

J: I’d love to know about the background for this book; what’s the story behind Sweethearts?

SZ: The short version is that there was a boy, Mark, who left a ring and a note in my lunch when I was in grade school, and I never forgot him. He found me on the internet twenty-something years later, and getting back in touch with him really stirred up a lot of memories and feelings about my childhood. I didn’t have a horrible childhood, but it wasn’t great. Once I started talking to Mark again I got this really vivid picture of myself as an eight year old. I’d drive by my old apartment and imagine myself at that age standing in the window looking out and wondered what happened to that girl. Was she still me? Or a part of me buried somewhere? I felt like I’d left a part of myself there when my mom remarried, like I’d abandoned that girl.

Later, when it was time for me to get working on a book after Story of a Girl, I decided to fictionalize myself and Mark and imagine what would have happened if these two special friends had been reunited in high school and explore those issues of what we leave behind, or what we think we leave behind. I guess that wasn’t really the “short” version!

J: If it’s possible for you to even choose, who’s your favorite character from this book?

SZ: I can’t choose! That’s like asking a mother which of her children she loves best. I do have to say I’m fond of the stepfather, Alan.

J: Sweethearts is such an emotional book – did that make it more difficult to write?

SZ: Yes! It was so hard to make that emotion real, to put it into words that readers could connect with. Language usually fails when it comes to describing all the complexities of human emotion, but you do the best you can. It’s painstaking.

J: Are you the type of writer to outline or wing it?

SZ: I don’t outline, but I have a general idea of key scenes and where the book is going. Once I start writing, things change. Characters you thought were important get edged out by new ones that you didn’t expect, and that affects the plot.

J: The cover for Sweethearts really interests me. Did you have any input as far as what it would look like?

SZ: No, and it’s a good thing, because I had no idea how to come up with a visual representation of the story. The design department at my publisher did a great job. When I first saw it, I thought, Oh, that’s so literal. It’s a sweet heart. But the more I looked at it, the more I saw how kind of brilliant it is in its simplicity and how much it says about the story. The stark background, the missing piece of the cookie, the childlike font of the title… I think it all works.

J: What audience did you have in mind when you wrote Sweethearts? Was there one person in particular you thought of, a group of people, or was it something you just wrote for yourself?

SZ: My first audience is always me, in the sense that I try to write book that I would want to read – now, and when I was a teen. Then in the revision process, my editor is sort of the representative of general readership. She asks me questions that are geared toward making sure I’m communicating my vision to a readership the best I can.

J: I’m always interested in knowing what sort of music authors equate with their work. If you could choose one song that was Jennifer and Cameron’s “theme song,” what would it be?

SZ: For me, they each have their own song. Jenna’s is “Born” by Over the Rhine, which is so much about embracing love in the midst of pain and fear. Cameron’s (in the context of his relationship with Jenna) is Steve Earle’s “Close Your Eyes.” I love the opening lyric of that Steve Earle song – “I dreamed you were standing on the edge of the world, and I thought I heard you call out.”

J: Do you believe that everyone has a Cameron Quick in their life, someone who, as Jenna put it in the book, “[is] as much a part of you as your own soul. Their place in your heart is tender; a bruise of longing, a pulse of unfinished business… Just hearing their names pushes and pulls at you in a hundred ways, and when you try to define those hundred ways, describe them even to yourself, words are useless. If you had a lifetime to talk, there would still be things left unsaid?”

SZ: Based on the response I’ve had from readers, I think a lot of people do, but I don’t know about everyone. I actually think it’s pretty rare for a connection to last over time and circumstances, but it seems like there’s something about the relationships of childhood that have the most staying power.

J: Who is the first person that gets to read what you write?

SZ? It depends. If it’s something for publication, usually my agent, when I’m first kicking around an idea. If it’s just something I’m dabbling in for my own reasons, it’s other writer friends.

J: Both of your books have somewhat unconventional endings in that the reader doesn’t feel so much like it’s the end of the character’s story, but more like its the end of one brief chapter in the story. Why do you choose to end your books in this way?

SZ: Because I write realistic fiction, I feel like there is really no such thing as an ending. Relationships never truly end. Even if communication stops, they leave echoes in your life forever. Situations sometimes end, but in a way they go on, too. I guess I like to have th sense of forward momentum at the end of a book, like the characters are all going to wake up the next day and have their lives go on even after we leave them.

J: What was your working title for Sweethearts, or what did you imagine it being called before it had an actual name?

SZ: This was the first book that I knew the title of from the very beginning, before I started writing it. There was never any other title.

J: Thank you, Sara Zarr, for an awesome interview!


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