Sara Zarr's Blog, page 6

September 14, 2013

25! 25! 25 episodes of the podcast. Day-um. That went by kind of fast. Thanks so much for helping me make this a success, and for your patience during summer hiatus. Your reward is this conversation with Matt de la Peña, author of four novels for young adults (and a 5th coming very soon), one for middle grade, and an award-winning picture book. Matt and I discuss, among other things, how many drafts The Living took, writing for money, the Ball Don’t Lie TV show that never was, and how cats are sabotaging your writing life.

Click to listen, right click to download, or 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! Feel free to leave comments or questions here, or contact me about the podcast. Be back around 9/30 or 10/1 with a new episode!

Show Notes:

Matt’s web site

The Living comes out in November. Kirkus gave it a starred review, and said, “a harrowing, exhilarating ride right up to the cliffhanger ending. Relax: A sequel’s on the way.” Phew!

The Infinity Ring - more about the whole series

We also talked about low-res MFA programs that have specific tracks for writing for young people. I am currently on faculty at Lesley University, which is now taking applications for spring 2014. Check it out.

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Published on September 14, 2013 14:24 • 58 views

September 12, 2013

Hello! It’s a new month, and it’s one of my favorite months of the year, along with October and April. September always feels more like the time for New Year celebrations than January. Because January, basically, blows. This year, September feels especially significant to me because I’m coming off a life-changing summer that involved getting rid of half our stuff, moving, starting my job at Lesley University, and dealing with some personal stuff in a deeper way than ever before. I feel more me and sure of who I am than I have in…ever, maybe. I may have to mark the occasion* of getting my mojo back with a tattoo. Just a little one. Don’t tell my husband. (*Whoa, I spelled “occasion” right on the first try – that might need a tattoo of its own!)

My sincere apologies for promising a new podcast on September 1. I always forget about Labor Day, a holiday that I tend to see as just a momentum-killing nuisance, but that is behind us now and the first fall episode of This Creative Life will post on Monday, the 16th, with my guest Matt de la Pena. [Squiggly thing over the n.] If you don’t know about This Creative Life, look here! You can subscribe in iTunes or get it through the Stitcher app.

I’ve posted some new local events on my appearances page, including some stuff here in Salt Lake like the Utah Humanities Book Festival.

But the big news is that I can finally announce my next YA novel! It’s the first contract I’ve signed in almost two years, because of that little semi-nervous-breakdown-slash-sabbatical thing I needed to have. I’m very, very excited to be officially back to work and to start filling the fire back up with this and other irons. Here’s the scoop, as announced in Publishers Weekly on Tuesday:

“Farrin Jacobs at Little, Brown has bought GEM & DIXIE, a YA novel by National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr, about two sisters at odds with the world and each other, who are forced to go on the run in the Pacific Northwest. Publication is scheduled for fall 2015; Michael Bourret at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management did the deal for world rights.”

As always, I want to thank my amazing agent and publisher and readers for being on Team Zarr. I know fall 2015 is a long way off, but this book is pushing me hard and I want to make sure it’s as great as it can be.

Okay! That’s all I got. See you back here on Monday with the podcast, and wherever else we meet.

Love to everyone.

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Published on September 12, 2013 11:19 • 105 views

August 15, 2013

News! News! Info. FACTS. Things to Put On Your Calendar. Things to Read on the Internets. Things about Me Me Me. Here it is:

AWP! Okay, so it’s not for a while yet, but I’m excited because it will be my first. I’m talking about the annual conference of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs. I’ll be on a panel with Nova Ren Suma, Laurel Snyder, Micol Ostow, and Stephanie Kuehnert, discussing YA lit in one of my favorite places, Seattle. And yeah, so this tends to be an event oriented around the MFA world and there can be a bit of a divide between the kids/YA writing community and the MFA-minded folks. But we can keep changing that, keep communicating that literature for young readers is legit and its creators care about craft as well as audience (which is one thing our panel will be about), and that more MFA programs should accept YA work as “real writing.” (I know, I know, why are we even still having this conversation?) So having a big YA turnout would be cool. Registration is open now.

Speaking of MFAs, remember how I’m on faculty for Lesley University’s Low-Residency MFA program? They’re now taking applications for next semester. The deadline is around December 1, so there’s plenty of time to get your stuff together if you’re interested. In addition to the concentration in Writing for Young People, they’ve got Fiction, Nonfiction, Writing for Stage and Screen, and Poetry tracks. All concentrations share a residency, which means you get to cross-pollinate your creative thinking and this is something I love about this program.

My books are in the July Author Spotlight at The Young Folks, focusing on YA contemporary realism.

New interview with me up at Confirm Not Conform, about adolescences as a crisis of faith.

Liz B. over at School Library Journal’s A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy blog takes a look at The Lucy Variations as a Favorite Read of 2013, and I’m quite fond of this review in the way it delves into Lucy’s sexuality and her crushes on older men. I always thought, as I wrote the book, it was a lot about sex but not in an “about sex” way and yes I realize that makes no sense. (More of my thoughts on this at the Kindle Daily if you missed it.)

Local interest: I’m proud to say The Lucy Variations is up for a City Weekly Arty Award this year, for best fiction book. Utahns can vote here.

Lastly: The This Creative Life podcast will be back on September 1! (Subscribe in iTunes. It’s also on Stitcher.)

Thanks for listening! I’ll be back here in September with updates and a teeny announcement. Meanwhile, see you on twitter, tumblr, and, sometimes, Facebook.

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Published on August 15, 2013 10:49 • 59 views

August 6, 2013

Let’s face it, I don’t “blog” here anymore. There was a time…yes, there was…when this was a good place for me to write long stuff and get pretty personal or philosophical or just respond to an entire season of Survivor. That’s changed, partly because the site feels more like the professional representation of “me” – aka “Author Sara Zarr” – out in the world and less like a personal space. But probably more because as parts of my life have gotten more public, I have a greater desire for a certain kind of personal privacy that I didn’t used to care about. And maybe even more so that my longer-form/deeper-thought energy goes more into my books and other work.

So I’ve changed the header on this space from “blog & podcasts” to “news & podcasts” to better describe what it is. I’ll put book news and whatnot here so you can always find out the latest in terms of what’s going on in my life as “Author Sara Zarr,” and of course all the new podcast episodes and maybe an occasional interview or something. Does that sound boring? FEAR NOT! You can still find the looser, more off-the-cuff, sometimes-forgetting-about-personal-privacy, and occasionally less appropriate expression of Zarr at twitter and tumblr. And I’m trying to be better at doing stuff at my Facebook author page. Also, there are always the archives if you want to revisit the good old days. And hey, who’s to say I won’t get a bee in my bonnet about something I feel calls for a long post here? Could happen.

To long-time readers from the way back (I’m talking LiveJournal, and the early days of this blog! Olden times!): Thanks for receiving my personal stuff with such grace, and all the encouragement you’ve given, and the great comments over the years. I’m glad and lucky that so many of you have become my friends.

Stay tuned for news and podcasts!

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Published on August 06, 2013 17:02 • 73 views

July 3, 2013

As previously mentioned in this very space, life has been coming fast and furious this summer. I’ve been needing some new stuff in my life, and I got it. All at once! It’s been good, though, and I’m grateful. I had a wonderful time at my first residency with Lesley University’s Creative Writing MFA program; what amazing people. I was a total wimp when it came to the Boston humidity but I think I put up a brave face along with some realllly curly hair. After that it was straight to ALA, where I got to see old friends and make a couple of new ones, including Ms. Annabel Pitcher, author of MY SISTER LIVES ON THE MANTELPIECE. I’m about halfway through her forthcoming-in-the-US KETCHUP CLOUDS and in love with the voice. Check her out.

Now, with those two things behind me and our move a couple of weeks off yet, I’m in a little gap known as My Vacation! May and June were kind of nonstop and I can’t remember a day during that time when I woke up and had no tasks or obligations, but starting tomorrow that will be exactly the case so huzzah for that.

Meanwhile, here are some writing-related updates if you missed them on twitter or facebook:

- I wrote a short story for the Young Adult Review Network (YARN), called “Skating”, which was partly inspired by an interview with writer Bret Anthony Johnston in which I learned he was once a professional skateboarder. I imagined him as a teen, then imagined a girl who knew him and how their paths might intersect.

- At the Kindle Daily blog, you can read a piece I wrote on teen girls and older male mentors and THE LUCY VARIATIONS

- Speaking of Lucy and Will, there are a bunch of new reviews for the book, including a nice one from the The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books: “The ever-capable Zarr creates an utterly believable family in the Beck-Moreaus, with layers of function and dysfunction melding into one another. … Will, too, is an interestingly complicated character with his mixture of genuine tenderness toward Lucy, self-interest, and a soupçon of lust.” (I try to include a soupçon of lust in each of my books.)

My hometown paper, The Salt Lake Tribune, wrote: “What’s engaging is how the tensions of the various relationships in Lucy’s life are revealed: By the swiftness and clarity of the narrative, by dialogue that cascades naturally, with a certain inevitability, toward her self-styled emancipation.” I also like this bit: “As we watch the novel’s major characters through their interactions with Lucy, their flaws and lived-in traits rankle — in large part because they seem impervious to new possibilities of seeing. But this is, paradoxically, also their golden quality, as it is evidence that Zarr won’t let false awakenings occur.” In fact I may put a sign over my desk with FALSE AWAKENINGS in a red circle with a line through it.

Now: My Vacation! Then moving, and settling in, and writing and teaching and entering in to whatever comes next. Thanks for being here.

A favorite picture from ALA:

Left to right: S.A. Bodeen, me, Marcus Sedgwick, Hobbits, Annabel Pitcher, Matthew Quick, Tara Sullivan at Anderson’s Bookshop












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Published on July 03, 2013 08:13 • 66 views

June 11, 2013

The winds of change never stop a-blowin’. How do we deal? By being flexible, letting go, staying optimistic. In this episode of This Creative Life, I talk briefly about how this works and why it matters. No season-ending cliffhangers, no car crashes, no major cast changes, I promise. And then I’m sending the TCL production team on summer vacation! Wish them well; they’ve got a lot going on… The show will be back this fall.

Dealing with Change TCL Ep 24

Click to listen, right click to download, or 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!

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Published on June 11, 2013 10:39 • 59 views

June 9, 2013

Well. What a crazy couple of weeks it has been. From the second I got back from the Lucy tour, virtually every day has brought some new piece of game-changing news for our lives. Long story short: our landlords want to sell and we’re moving out of the house we’ve lived in for 13 years. This is not bad news (and local friends: we’re not leaving SLC). We’ve been restless for a change for a long time and sometimes having it forced on you works better than anything you could plan. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

Yesterday we had a huuuge yard sale and got rid of probably 50% of our possessions. The couple of weeks leading up to the sale were so hard! We’ve been looking at everything we own and have made a zillion small and big decisions. I’ve had too many meltdowns to count. It’s not just the stuff, it’s thinking back over 23 years of marriage, here and in San Francisco. It’s looking at a lifetime, from childhood artwork to the last book contract.

It’s taken so. much. letting. go. First there’s the stuff, and no matter how Zen you are I’m betting you have an emotional attachment to at least some of your stuff. There’s confronting the fear: What if I regret throwing this out? What if I regret keeping it? What if I need this? Then there’s the fear underneath those fears:

What if…

…there’s not enough for me?

Not enough stuff, not enough security, not enough money, not enough friendship, not enough food, not enough pleasure, not enough success, not enough experience, not enough happiness, not enough acceptance…not enough love.

As I’ve gone through all my stuff and starting letting go bit by bit, I’ve had to face that the fear of these scarcities has been a motivator for a lot of my not-awesome decisions and behavior over the years. And in this last week, particularly, all of this letting go of stuff has felt connected to letting go of my failures. We can argue over whether it’s healthy to use the word ‘failure’ but that feels like the right word for me–not in a judgmental way, but in an honestly confessional-to-myself way.  I’m not saying I’m a terrible person or anything; I don’t think I’m any worse than anyone else. But there have been failures in how I’ve dealt with my life in the last twenty years, with marriage, with money, in friendships, in my jobs, in my self-care, with my issues, in my faith.

And I think some of my “midlife crisis” struggle has been in accepting all of this. This move, the yard sale and what it represents, and even this uncertainty about where we’re going next has helped me so much in this process. Acknowledging that life hasn’t been perfect and I haven’t been perfect in it and in fact have made some pretttttty major mistakes…well, at first, it hurts. It’s been hurting for the last few years and I don’t think one week in the last 200 has gone by without me having a fairly major cry. I’ve tried to stay open and vulnerable through it all, and that has hurt, too–though I’ve trusted that’s been a better kind of hurt than what I would cause by closing myself up, and there have been fleeting periods of joy and hope through it.

I’ve been on this switchback (hi Austin Writing Barn friends – you remember the switchback!); there’s a climb then a horizon, a climb then a horizon, a climb then a horizon… And now I feel like maybe I’ve gotten to the top of this particular struggle to accept who I am and where I’ve been from basically high school graduation to today. The aforementioned acknowledgment of imperfection and failure has moved me from pain to feeling incredibly grateful for grace and love, for my husband and my friends, for my work and my community, for my family and my faith. It has been so hard, and hurt so much, to get here. I’m sure the “getting here” isn’t over and there’s always a new climb. But looking around our in-chaos house the morning after the big sale and after the weeks of letting go, I do feel a sense of arrival that I’ve been waiting for since this crisisy time of life began a few years ago.

We’re in the process of buying a place to live. It may go great. If so, we’ll love the place and enjoy living there. If it all falls apart, that’s okay, too. I really feel open-handed about stuff and certainty right nowand at the same time ready to reclaim my self and life from the fear and the scarcity thinking I’ve battled. The external new beginning has helped birth the much-needed internal one. I took this picture yesterday at the sale and I think this kind of says it all. That stuff is all gone now, and I feel better than I have in years.


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Published on June 09, 2013 11:41 • 57 views

May 28, 2013

It’s the thing to do these days, it seems. Maybe we’re all so overwhelmed by information and technology and information technology that it can feel like the only relief involves getting rid of STUFF. Or maybe that’s just me! But I’m definitely overwhelmed, and also trying to reduce the space we take up and the cost of taking up that space. So I’ve been going through boxes of papers and books and deciding what to keep, what to take pictures of and scrapbook electronically, and what to just…scrap.

It’s hard to choose. When you’re holding the thing in your hand, you can’t imagine getting rid of it. But when it’s in a closed box you haven’t touched in years it seems completely unimportant. Until you open that box.

I keep coming across letters from my dad. Including one that started like this:


I save personal letters in a shoe-box with the collecting zeal of a research librarian or an anthropologist with a hundred bags of shards, thinking that on some rainy day I will piece it all together and thus be granted higher understanding. So I had this shoe-box on my desk for two weeks, and I thought, how silly. I will sort through and throw most of it out. After two weeks, I lidded the box and put it back in the closet, saving all of it.”

I believe that I now have that very box down in the basement with the few other of his possessions that were left when he died. Because I didn’t have him in so many ways when he was alive, I’m a little clingy to what is left. And because I have this narrative in my head of what our relationship was like, and it’s not necessarily accurate or complete, the things I find that refute this narrative are useful. Such as this, from the same letter:

“I believe you will find the imperatives about yourself, viz-a-viz your employment also. Myself, I think, if you’re lucky,  you’ll find a way to be your own boss.  … I think you have a firm talent and seem to have worldly savvy. Two big assets.”

I wonder what I thought when first read this letter in 1997? Did I hear his confidence in me? Or was I distracted by the fact that it took him over a month to mail this letter, that it (typed) also came with a handwritten note, dated five weeks later, in which he tells me that the delay was caused by him being hospitalized again. Which in our lives was code for rehab. “I plan for this to be the last [time],” he wrote, and it never was the last time until he died.

My narrative about him is much gentler than it used to be, though I sometimes still tend to self-pity when I think about the father I didn’t have. But I also know that his own bags of shards were a lot about his fatherlessness, too, and I wonder what “higher understanding” he sought, and if he ever came close to finding it.

Like him, I’m sure that I’m going to keep the correspondence I thought I’d cull. I have no kids who will discover it later, but I like the idea of rediscovering it myself my whole life. Maybe simplifying for me will be gathering these things in one place and putting them in something sturdier than the random file folders that hold them now, something better than a shoe box. There does seem to be a sense that if one looks at these things enough, there are answers to be found.











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Published on May 28, 2013 11:13 • 59 views

May 23, 2013

I’m home! I’m home! I’ve been home four whole days now and it’s good to be back. I really missed my SLC peeps and not losing my key every day. At the same time, now I miss the road a little bit. This was a special tour, because every city I went to contained old and newer friends and I never got the Dread Hotel Loneliness or the Existential Angst of Where Am I & Why Am I? Also, it was beautiful back east, and history everywhere I looked. Once I was in the region, I traveled mostly by train, which was soooo much more relaxing than flying. Thank you, Amazing Publicist Hallie!

And thanks to all the booksellers and teachers and librarians and media escorts who made everything go smoothly and took good care of me.

I didn’t have a laptop with me and had some trouble posting to WordPress from mobile devices, but did a few on-the-road diary entries using If you missed them and want all the details, here they are.

And here are some pictures! I’ve been trying to make a cool, sleek gallery/slideshow but…I give up. Sorry, I know this is a bit of a mess! Enjoy anyway… (click to embiggen)

Toasting on launch night with my wonderful agent, who happened to be in town.

Two of my favorite guys - my husband and agent.

The King's English

Present reader...

Future reader...

My friend Ann gave me this St. Christopher pendant for travel safety. It worked!

First stop, D.C.

Next stop: Philly

I think this is in Doylestown? I was so happy to know kids are still rocking the I'm a Pepper shirts!

Breakfast with dear old friend Louis G...

...on the weekend my NYT review came out! It was so cool to get to see it live for the first time with someone who knew me when I was drafting my first and still unpublished novel.

So I ate some caviar.

And discovered this in the June InStyle Magazine!

Where Ben Franklin did his business.

In Haverford at Children's Book World with fellow panelists Jen Smith, Elizabeth LaBan, and Barry Lyga.

Monument to Irish immigrants at Penn's landing.

And saw the Liberty Bell!

It's comforting to see old friends while traveling.

Monument to railway workers who were killed in WWII, at the 30th street station in Philadelphia.

The New England aquarium, Boston. This is a veil of eggs which is how this particular fish lays them. Amazing.

Columbus and stuff.

Make Way for Ducklings in Boston!

Another comfort from home, spotted at RJ Julia in CT. (Mark is my friend and neighbor.)

Elena accidentally wore Lucy colors!

At RJ Julia...

...where Q&A was moderated by young readers, and awesomely.

In Brooklyn.

Toasting Lucy at the Little, Brown offices in NYC!

Cute display at The Voracious Reader in Larchmont, NY

I had a few treats.

Rochester! I think this is the Eerie Canal.


Fellow authors arriving in style for Teen Book Fest Live

Being greeted by TBF volunteers, yay!

As usual, amazing crowd at the Rochester TBF.

TBF organizers in tutus. Because...I'm not sure. But it was awesome.


Basically what every single stop looked like. I slept on one side of the bed, and my stuff slept on the other.


Find signed copies of THE LUCY VARIATIONS and my other books at:

The King’s English, SLC, UT

Politics & Prose, Bethesda/D.C.

Barnes & Noble Prudential Center, Boston

Harvard Coop, Cambridge

Porter Square Books, Cambridge

The Children’s Book Shop, Brookline

Barnes & Noble City Center, Philadelphia

Children’s Book World, Haverford, PA

Booktender’s Secret Garden, Doylestown, PA

RJ Julia, Madison, CT

The Voracious Reader, Larchmont, NY

I’ll update this as my memory clears up!

Now, time to start thinking about What’s Next…


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Published on May 23, 2013 15:47 • 84 views

May 8, 2013

I’m on the road, with only my iPad and phone! For two weeks! It’s the longest I’ve been without a full laptop in a long time. The WordPress dashboard is being problematic in numerous ways. And traveling with iDevices definitely lends itself more to the quick, easy, and clean bursts through interfaces designed with mobility in mind.

So, keep up with me on tumblr, twitter, or facebook…whichever your flavor of choice. There will be short bits and pictures and links, as well as a tour diary.

Yes I just typed “http://” three–nay–four times. I’m old. (And that’s how bad the interface is treating me – I can’t even make real links. Sorry!)

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Published on May 08, 2013 18:48 • 88 views

Sara Zarr's Blog

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