Sara Zarr's Blog, page 2

February 11, 2016

It was only a matter of time before my fate came to claim me! I can’t escape the teaching destiny. My mom is a teacher, my dad was a teacher, my sister is a teacher, my husband is a teacher, his mom was a teacher, his sister is a teacher, our niece is a teacher… what are you gonna do?

During my two years on the faculty of Lesley University’s highly-rated MFA in Creative Writing program (low-residency edition), I learned that I like working with adults on their writing, a lot. There is nothing quite so rewarding as helping to bring out a student’s strengths and shore up her weaknesses. I also learned that I didn’t like that all the manuscripts each month coming at once (meaning I could not control the workflow around my own writing), the academic setting and the stuff that comes with that, and not being able to pick and choose projects for which I knew my particular skills would be most helpful.

And so…

Read more about it

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Published on February 11, 2016 13:31 • 42 views

February 1, 2016

Well well well. It’s been awhile! I kicked off my 2016 by taking a month away from all forms of social media, and tried to be generally minimal on the computer. Partly because I was putting the final touches on my next book and wanted total focus for that, but also because I wanted to see how it felt to actually do the thing I’ve been saying I’m going to do for the last five years, i.e. take extended time off from that stuff, 100%, no peeking.

How did it feel? It felt great, actually, and still does. It took a couple of days not to itch to check, and about a week or so to stop composing tweets and captions in my head, then from there it’s been smooth sailing. Not that I became the perfect person I thought I might, but my general anxiety decreased noticeably, and best of all my days feel much longer because I’m not frittering away hours here and there on a semi-daily basis. The days also feel more mentally spacious, less cluttered with the thoughts and opinions of hundreds (nay, thousands?) of other people. I think and hope that my new normal will be a lot like the last month has been — a much, much scaled-back version of how I’ve used social media for the last ten years, before we knew it as “social media.”

Another issue in all this are the recurring issues I have with my elbow, wrists, shoulder from computing and smart-phoning and living in a world in which my right arm has to DO STUFF. That is not resolved. Which leads me to the podcast update portion of this post: I don’t have any new episodes lined up right now. The editing of the podcast is very elbow-intensive because of all the mousing or track-padding that’s necessary. I either need to find help with editing or post unedited podcasts. Neither option thrills me; I like having total control over the thing, and it almost always needs editing. So, we’ll see. I’m glad to see via twitter that folks are still discovering and sharing the episodes that now exist. Aside from everything else I enjoy about it, it’s a nice way to stay connected to all of you and other writers during this long gap I have between books.Cassette-Player

In complete contradiction to what I just said about my elbow, I’m also kicking around other podcast ideas since I do enjoy the medium so much, going back to the days in the ’70s when I’d talk like a radio announcer into a cassette recorder, pretending to be Dr. Don Rose of KFRC.

And speaking of long gaps between books, one thing that happened in my time off was the announcement in Publisher’s Weekly that my next two books will be coming from Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins. This has been a big and exciting change, as my whole career until now has been with one publisher. My time at Little, Brown was wonderful, beyond what I ever imagined back when I would daydream about one day being a published author. I’m lucky to have worked with so many great people for the last decade, and lucky to have the chance to work with some more great people in a new setting. My first book with B+B will be out about a year from now, and I don’t think it will be too terribly long before there’s a cover, etc., to share. Thanks for hanging in there with me.

I hope your year is off to a good start. Maybe I’ll get to see you at YallWest or the Festival of Faith and Writing in a few months!

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Published on February 01, 2016 15:14 • 48 views

December 28, 2015


“Vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” Frederick Buechner said that, and it’s a quote I thought of when prepping to talk to Angela Tucker, the subject of the documentary Closure, directed by her husband, Bryan Tucker, and the woman behind The Adopted Life, a blog and forthcoming episodes/mini-documentaries for that blog. A self-described private person and introvert, Angela has made her story public and herself vulnerable in the interest of educating people about transracial adoption and building community for transracial adoptees like her.

Toward the end of this episode, Angela said “thanks for recognizing this as a creative project,” and yeah, I guess I’m winding up the year of podcasts with what may seem like a little bit of a different look at the creative life. But creation is, simply, bringing something into existence, and–hopefully–being able to say, “It is good,” and completing the endeavor by putting it out there, into culture, into other lives. I think what Angela is doing is very good, and I wanted to talk to her about it and share it with you.

I was going to write and then record a stirring monolog as a preface to this episode, about how beyond the challenge and work and fun of figuring out a novel or a screenplay, or working with poems, essays, reviews, there is the part of the creative life that has to do with the Buechner quote–finding those places where what excites or compels us intersects with what the world (or, more granularly, with what individual people in the world) might need, and what the world might make of what we do once we let go, and I don’t mean that in terms of retweets and other social media shares or the like.

But as it turns out, I have a terrible cold here on Editing Day, and don’t want to inflict my voice and cough on you, so there’s no preamble, no stirring end-of-year call to passion and vocation, and indeed not even my usual info at the end about show notes and shoutouts. I will let the episode speak for itself, and look forward to returning after January with more.

Listen below, subscribe in iTunes, look for it in your favorite podcasting app, or use the LibSyn site to browse the archives and stream or download as many episodes as you like.


Show Notes

Closure – The Documentary

The Adopted Life

Angela on Twitter

Theme music by Dave Connis

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Published on December 28, 2015 14:05 • 29 views

December 14, 2015


50! Episode 50! I’m so happy to celebrate this milestone with my guest Daniel Kraus, whose most recent book, The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch, was named one of Entertainment Weekly’s Top 10 Books for 2015 shortly after we recorded this conversation. It’s a meaty one, this conversation, from what it means to finish a project twenty years in the making, to the desire to divorce yourself from the reception of your work–if that’s even possible–to building a career as a weekend novelist. We also talked about Daniel’s filmmaking career, defying genre labels, going “off-brand”, and the strange relationship between readers and writers on social media.

photo credit Suzanne Plunkett

Social media. We talked about that a lot. Daniel has been planning his twitter exodus for some time, and pulls the trigger on December 31st. Longtime listeners know my own tense relationship with it these days, and if you follow me on twitter you’ve seen me make various declarations this year that do or don’t stick to varying degrees. You’ll hear in our conversation how very close I’ve been to chucking it, and my reasons for that. My talk with Daniel convinced me that this is the year. I’m going to take 2016 off. I’ll still use twitter (and my facebook page) for updates about the podcast, appearances, and book news. A year from now I’ll see how it went and perhaps in 2017 return to my former omnipresence. Maybe twitter won’t even exist anymore! Who knows.

Listen below, subscribe in iTunes, look for it in the Sticher app, or use the LibSyn site to browse the archives and stream or download as many episodes as you like.


Show Notes!

Daniel’s web site  |  Daniel on twitter (FOR NOW)

Francis Ford Iowa

A TERRIFIC piece by Alexander Chee about authors and social media that gets to exactly what Daniel and I talk about. (If you’ve felt beholden to social media, Elena Ferrante’s stance will either thrill you or scare you or both.)

Frederick Wiseman

Theme music by Dave Connis


Named one of Entertainment Weekly’s Top 10 Books of 2015












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Published on December 14, 2015 19:44 • 57 views

December 2, 2015


Jeanne Murray Walker is a poet, playwright, memoirist, and teacher. Most recently, she co-edited with Luci Shaw a book of essays on the topic of ambition by members of the Chrysostom Society. We talked about her experience as an ambitious young woman in the era of the “mythical character” of Betty Crocker, ambition and motherhood, and the problems of ambition without direction or models of what to do with it. My own relationship with ambition is quite fraught in ways that might warrant a sequel to this, and this conversation gave me a ton to think about–I hope you find it equally thought-provoking!

Listen below, subscribe in iTunes, look for it in the Sticher app, or use the LibSyn site to browse the archives and stream or download as many episodes as you like.


Show Notes

Ambition the book (read more about it and/or order from this link)

Jeanne’s web site  |   Helping the Morning: New and Selected Poems (her most recent collection)

Luci Shaw (I’m quite fond of The Crime of Living Cautiously and God For Us)

The Chyrsostom Society (Full disclosure: I’ve recently become a member–I couldn’t resist the invite from a group that once counted Madeleine L’Engle among its members!) Some personal favorites by members: The Holy Way and Forgiveness by Paula Huston, The Message from Eugene Peterson (his own paraphrase of the Bible – talk about ambition!), Better Food for a Better World and The Good Life by Erin McGraw, Still by Lauren Winner, and so many more…

Another take on girls and ambition – Victoria Stapleton of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers interviews Sherri Winston

Theme Music by Dave Connis

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Published on December 02, 2015 16:05 • 29 views

November 19, 2015


In this Very Special Episode of This Creative Life, Corey Ann Haydu and I talk about being adult children of alcoholics and how that can play out in both the creative and business sides of our careers, in positive and negative ways. As we mention in the conversation, the symptoms or traits we go over can also come from growing up in environments without substance abuse–for example families that are very rigid, perfectionistic, dealing with mental health issues, homes with raging/anger, families that have alcoholism in the family tree (though a particular generation may not actually drink), or homes where feelings are not expressed at all.

We also talk about Corey’s life as an actor before she came to wriRules_262ting, the particular challenges of being judged almost wholly by appearance in that field, and how acting and writing share a similar skill set.

Listening back to this episode during editing it struck me how much we didn’t even touch on, like the courage it can take for some of us with this background to even begin to write and declare that it’s something we want to do. Or the fact that sometimes family may not be that happy to see its secrets revealed, even in fiction. Or the behavioral and genetic tendency ACOAs can have to our own addiction and compulsion issues. Or how children learn healthy self-regulation from parents, and if you don’t see that modeled, well….!  Maybe we’ll continue this discussion in another format some day. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy.

Corey Ann Haydu web site  |  on Twitter

The Samsung commercial!

(Theme music by Dave Connis)


Topical Resources

Adult Children of Alcoholics (and Dysfunctional Families) world services site 

Guess What Normal Is (a blog I like)

The ACE Study (A Huuuuge study that the Centers for Disease Control did on “adverse childhood events” and their effects on future physical and mental health. ACEs include divorce, poverty, substance abuse, physical abuse, specific traumatic events, and so much more. The bottom line is: shit you go through as a kid has farther-reaching implications than anyone imagined. This needn’t depress you; I think it’s just good stuff to know.)

Some books I’ve found helpful:

The ACOA Big Red Book

Codependency for Dummies by Darlene Lancer (Yes it’s a “For Dummies” book but I found it very comprehensive on this topic! Codependent No More by Melody Beattie is the classic and excellent text on co-d but is a bit more woo-woo; the For Dummies book lays it all out more clinically in a way I find helpful.)

Adult Children of Alcoholics by Janet G. Woititz

The ACOA Trauma Syndrome / Emotional Sobriety by Tian Dayton

The Intimacy Factor / Facing Love Addiction by Pia Melody

The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk

Adult Children: The Secrets of Dysfunctional Families by John & Linda Friel (I haven’t read this yet but it looks specifically aimed at people who don’t identify with the substance abuse part of family systems but have developed the “adult child” way of surviving for other reasons.)

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Published on November 19, 2015 08:39 • 19 views

November 11, 2015

Have you ever thought about co-writing some books with your mom? No? Well, if your experience could be anything like Brendan Reichs’, maybe you should. Brendan is the co-author with Kathy Reichs of the Virals series–five books and a collection of novellas. What started as a way out of a horrible job became a career in something he’s good at and enjoys, and he’s now transitioning into solo novels. In this episode, we talk about collaboration, outlining, optimal placement of dry-erase boards, stress, and that one time in his lawyer life when he was admonished from the bench for being immature. And, of course, the pressures of proving himself now that he’s writing on his own.

Listen here or listen to (or download for offline listening) this and all episodes from TCL’s page at LibSyn.

subscribe in iTunes to easily get it onto all your devices automatically, or find it on the Stitcher app Thank you for listening, for tweeting, liking, and sharing!

Show Notes

Brendan’s web site  |  Brendan on Twitter


How the New York Times children’s bestseller lists recently changed

Kathy Reichs

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Published on November 11, 2015 14:37 • 15 views

October 31, 2015



Oh my GOODNESS. That was a long and unintentional hiatus from the podcast after a long and intentional summer hiatus. Sorry! I moved my podcast to a different platform or host or whateveryoucallit so that I was not limited to a certain file size and could have greater reassurance that episodes would actually make it to the feed and stay there–this is still a sideline/hobby/love project for me, and I have verrrry little technical expertise. As you will hear in this episode.

There’s some new stuff going on. There’s theme music! There are transitions! There’s some monologuing by yours truly! Which means there was so much more editing, for better or worse. The app I used to use to always use to make sure the sound levels were nice and even doesn’t work with El Capitan! Woe. And the leveling function in my editing software was creating strange noises, so I apologize if Justine sounds loud and I sound quiet. That’s all my fault and I will work that out so future eps don’t have that problem. Also, my iTunes metadata is now a little messed up, and the description for the show in general is repeating as the episode description. At least that’s what it’s doing now.

Here endeth the disclaimers. Because the important thing is we have a new episode with Justine Larbalestier, author of many books for young adults in addition to her broader writing and editing c.v., including most recently, RAZORHURST, the recipient of starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, the BCCB.

In this episode we talked about how she got from academia to YA publishing, the pros and cons of the globalization of literature, ergonomics, diversity, and how her husband’s optimism helped her make the leap to full-time writing. And I give this big swearing warning in the intro and then Justine hardly swears at all! Disappointing. I think you’ll enjoy it nonetheless…

Sorry for this big old picture of the podcast’s icon–this is the only way to embed the file into the post if you are one of those people who likes to listen to it straight from the web site. You can also listen to (or download for offline listening) this and all episodes from TCL’s page at LibSyn.

Show Notes, And Lots of Them:

Justine’s web site & blog  |  Justine on Twitter

The Centre for Youth Literature and the Inky Awards

Enid Blyton, Dick Roughsey, Ellie Marney, Lili Wilkinson, Illimunae , Scott Westerfeld

M.E. Kerr, Patricia Highsmith, M.E. Kerr AND Patricia Highsmith

Malinda Lo episode of TCL  |  Diversity in YA

Cooperative Children’s Book Center 2014 statistics on multicultural literature

Children’s Book Council statistics on diversity in publishing industry

The Book Smugglers on cover whitewashing (this part of our conversation didn’t make it into the final cut, but this post covers it well)

Setting up an ergonomic workstation (opinions may vary)

The history of redlining (also Stuff You Missed in History Class did a 2-parter on this)

Theme music by Dave Connis. Thanks, Dave!

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Published on October 31, 2015 18:15 • 22 views

September 4, 2015



Charlie Kaufman and Sufjan Stevens, inspiration vs. discipline, being “Corey” vs. being “author John Corey Whaley”, the upside of being a process-hacker, the difference between normal jobs and writing, imposter syndrome, movies, identity crises, and why we write and the fear of losing it. Yes, John Corey Whaley and I covered it all in this episode of This Creative Life! I hope you enjoy it as much as we did – I think you will.

Click above to listen from the site subscribe in iTunes to easily get it onto all your devices automatically, or find it on the Stitcher app (which actually doesn’t seem to be updating correctly lately, hmm, I will look into it). Thank you for listening, for tweeting, liking, and sharing! (Having trouble listening from the site? Make sure the speaker button on the right of the embedded player is toggled on.)

Show Notes!

John Corey Whaley  |  on twitter

  |  Charlie Kaufman BAFTA talk

If you’re not familiar with Sufjan Stevens

Imposter syndrome

John Corey Whaley, author of Where Things Come Back (winner of the Printz Award and Morris Award)Noggin (National Book Award Finalist), and the forthcoming Highly Illogical Behavior.

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Published on September 04, 2015 14:23 • 54 views

August 21, 2015

At long last, it’s the end of summer hiatus! We kick off this new batch of episodes with Alex Sanchez, award-winning author of numerous books for young adults, including Rainbow Boys and its sequels, Bait, So Hard to Say, The God Box, and Boyfriends with Girlfriends. Alex has been in this biz for fifteen years and has experienced all the ups and downs that go with that.

In our conversation we talked about how self-acceptance frees us to write, dealing with egos (our own), the effects of early success, and the deadly habit of comparison. Enjoy!

Click above to listen from the site subscribe in iTunes to easily get it onto all your devices automatically, or find it on the Stitcher app. Thank you for listening, for tweeting, liking, and sharing! (Having trouble listening from the site? Make sure the speaker button on the right of the embedded player is toggled on.)

Show Notes!

Alex’s web site, chock full o’resources

Alex at Facebook, where you can sign up for his newsletter (follow link on left side of page that says “Email News Sign-Up!”

Alex’s videos at his Amazon author page |  Alex’s It Gets Better video

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Published on August 21, 2015 12:52 • 24 views

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