Sara Wilson Etienne's Blog

February 20, 2013

Harbinger is out in paperback!! Why don’t you play some music and dance around with me to celebrate?!?!!


The new edition is beautiful! Full of fun review blurbs from Booklist and School Library Journal. And complete with a brand-new, awesome tagline!


Your worst nightmare doesn’t even come close to her reality.

I love it! Thanks to everyone at Penguin who helped create this badassery!

And without further ado…introducing the Harbinger paperback! Light! Flexible! And sure to give you nightmares!

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Published on February 20, 2013 11:14 • 168 views

September 5, 2012

Doubt has been my constant companion as of late. It creeps in when I’m falling asleep at night, tucking me in with terrifying words of “What if?” It wakes me up in the morning, laying troubling questions out on the bed for me, like a new outfit for me to wear that day.

“Look what I made you!” Doubt exclaims. “I thought about going with a nice Jungle Green of envy, but in the end I decided Uncertain Grey was more your style. With just a dash of red for panic. What do you think?”

“Screw you,” I mumble, suiting up in bright purples and oranges instead.

Doubt pouts for a while but as soon as it hears the clickity-clack of my keyboard, it comes running. Sitting on my shoulder so it can offer priceless nuggets of advice.

“You just used that word two paragraphs ago.”

“Don’t you think that dialogue’s a little cliche?”

And when I’m working a love scene, trying to get sparks to fly, I can feel Doubt rolling its eyes.

Surprisingly, this does not feel awesome. And the questions whisper themselves over and over in my ear. Will I finish my book before my deadline? Will anyone besides me like it when I do finish? Am I actually translating what’s in my head successfully onto paper?

And as much as I want to shrug off those questions and call them silly, I can’t. They are real worries. Real fears. Maybe I won’t make my deadline. Maybe my story won’t have mass appeal. Maybe it’ll take many more revisions to get the story right. These are all possibilities. Especially the revision part.

But here’s the thing about Doubt. In the face of it, you just have to keep writing. And in that act of defiance, you gain the upper hand.

You write because you know there is something to this story in your head. And because you trust yourself enough to know your story is worth sharing. And because, in writing it, there is a chance that you will create something great. Something larger than yourself. Something that transcends you and speaks to others.

In the face of doubt, writing is an act of defiance. In a world that sometimes feels chock-full of ugly happenings and shouting politicians, writing is an act of defiance. In a day of traffic and dirty dishes, writing is an act of defiance. Writing is the belief that, no matter what anyone else says, your story is important and you have something great to bring to the world.

And if you can make yourself believe that long enough to get to the keyboard or the paper— if you believe it long enough to return there day after day after day— then you will be right.

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Published on September 05, 2012 13:39 • 87 views

May 13, 2012

When I was in high school, I worked at Kids Ink Bookstore in Indianapolis. I loved being surrounded by words. Loved listening to authors as they chatted and signed books. Loved devouring the new ARCs as they came into the store. Occasionally, I also dressed up like “visiting” picture book characters.

Oh yes. That was me inside the Clifford the Big Red Dog costume.

But as much as I loved working there, it never even occurred to me that one day I could have books on the shelves there. That one day I might be a visiting author there. But this Saturday, I got to return to Kids Ink and celebrate Harbinger amongst old friends, family, and the ghost of Saras past. It was surreal and strange, but mostly really, really wonderful.

Sometimes you need the long view to be able to appreciate the journey.

Thank you, Shirley, for having me back! It felt like coming home!

Celebrating with family!



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Published on May 13, 2012 18:51 • 92 views

May 3, 2012

Sometimes when I’m writing, it’s hard to make room in my brain for other people’s stories. But in anticipation of Kristin Cashore’s new book Bitterblue, I decided to reread Graceling.

I loved Graceling the first time around, and it was just as good the second time. I sank into the story with a satisfied sigh, getting lost in the book as you only can at the hands of a wonderful writer. But I was also in for a happy surprise. Instead of distracting me from my own writing, reading Graceling made me hyperaware of all the things Cashore was doing right.

The flip side is that Graceling shed light on the things I was struggling with in my own writing. I’m currently revising a new book and it was amazingly helpful to see how Cashore managed to keep her main character likable, despite the fact she does unlikable, perhaps even unforgivable, things. Not an easy line to walk. Or how she managed to keep tension in the romance without letting it taking over the whole book.

I’m not saying that I want to copy Cashore’s techniques…I just mean that the best way to learn how to write a good story is to read really good ones. It lets you see how someone else is solving the same problems you’re facing. It inspires you to push yourself farther and take bigger risks. And best of all, it’s fun. In the midst of revising and plotting and rewriting, it’s easy to forget…the best part of your job as a writer is being a reader.

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Published on May 03, 2012 03:00 • 70 views

April 12, 2012


Wished I could stay here…
Snorting laughter through my tears.
Grieving, Savoring.
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Published on April 12, 2012 04:00 • 224 views

April 9, 2012

Last week, I took down the Harbinger Gallery show at The Hive. It was a little sad to dismantle such a beautiful collection of art, but it was fun to see it all together one last time.


As most of you know (since I've been talking about it non-stop for four months!), twenty-five wonderful and talented artists created art pieces inspired by Harbinger to celebrate the release of the novel. With the help of extraordinary bloggers, I've been revealing one picture each week. I've also been interviewing the artists and preparing for what turned out to be an incredible gallery show! And, more importantly, an awesome party!

Illustrators and artists came in from all around southern California and all around the country for the gallery opening. We celebrated big-time with trays full of sushi, galleries full of artists, and wonderfully creepy mini-Harbinger cakes made by the talented Elle Jauffret.

I want to take a minute to thank all the wonderful artists who contributed art to the show, the Holbrook website, and gave such fascinating interviews. This has been one of the best parts of Harbinger coming out this spring…and that's saying A LOT. Because this spring has been amazing.

Also, a big thank you goes out to Mysterious Galaxy, who came out to sell books at the gallery. They are an fantastic independent bookstore in Redondo Beach (and, of course, San Diego!) and, not only are they incredibly nice, they are also very active with book events all around the LA area. I've been incredibly impressed by their beautiful store, knowledgeable staff, and their dedication to reading, authors, and general book fun!

Over the next few weeks, I'm going to catch you up on everything that's been happening with me and Harbinger. Launch parties, book signings, chatting with high school students. It's all been amazing and I feel incredibly lucky that I've had so many wonderful people to celebrate with. So thank you all! And for all those people who are far away…here's a few more pictures. Enjoy the party!

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Published on April 09, 2012 04:00 • 71 views

March 22, 2012

Follow the Path! 25 incredible illustrators and artists have picked their favorite scenes and characters from HARBINGER to give you a taste of Faye's world. Each week, in the gallery at the Holbrook Academy website, a new illustration will unlock. During the month of March, all twenty-five illustrations will be shown at the Hive Gallery in downtown Los Angeles. Come see it!

This week's art reveal is hosted by: The Irish Banana Review

Faye disappearing into the trees from Harbinger. Artwork by Patricia Cantor.

SWE: Hi Patricia!

Your piece is so cool! I love your illustration of Faye running through the Holbrook woods. The way you did the overlapped the trees give such a feeling of density. And I love how Faye is disappearing just behind the branches. Can you tell me a little bit about this piece?

Patricia: For a while now I've been fascinated with the imagery of forests and trees. Trees are so familiar but can seem rather daunting to us small humans. I liked the idea of the forest feeling like both friend and foe, protection and danger.

SWE: What a great juxtaposition! I can really feel that in the colors and the net you created with the branches.

Do you have a favorite kid's book?

Patricia: Anything by Chris Van Allsburg. He is so good at calmly integrating the unexpected and bizarre into a normal world, both in his visual and verbal storytelling.

SWE: I totally agree with that. Growing up, I was mesmerized with Jumanji. The ordinariness of the two kids, combined with the strangeness of the jungle appearing there in their living room was brilliant. The crazy thing is, it didn't feel silly to have a lion appear on top of the piano…instead you felt the danger and tension of what was happening.

From Christopher Sat Straight Up In Bed. Illustrated by Patricia Cantor.

How about your own work? What sorts of things have you illustrated?

Patricia: Just finished a picture book for Eerdman's Books for Young Readers, Christopher Sat Straight Up In Bed, that will come out in the fall. It's a monster-under-the-bed type of story that was great fun to do.

SWE: I can't wait to read it! I'll be on the look out…I love monster stories!

Did you always know you wanted to illustrate?

Patricia: I've wanted to be an artist since I was a kid. I finally got really serious about it about 5 years ago when I became really sensitive to the unpredictability of the future. I decided it was now or never.

SWE: I understand that feeling. With writing, I didn't so much want to leave a legacy, as I wanted to make sure that I fulfilled a dream of mine. For me, I needed to make sure that fear didn't get in the way of getting my book published.

What's your favorite thing about the job?

Mornings are not my friend, so it is usually early afternoon before I get serious in the studio. I can work well into the night, but I need to break about every two hours. I need quiet for brainstorming, but like mellow instrumental music for early work on finishes. I can listen to vocals or NPR only if I think I've got a piece totally under control, otherwise the other voice is too distracting. My studio is a small room behind my garage, full of books, art materials, drafting table. No electronics other than the CD player. Underfoot are my two "mutts," one of whom knows to sit quietly while I work.

Patricia: The same thing that I find the most challenging: I get to control all my time and how I go about doing my job. It can be very satisfying when things turn out well as I'm the one who's responsible. I'm also totally to blame when I'm not as careful with my time as I should be. (Of course, it goes without saying that I just really love to make pictures.)

SWE: What a great answer! I'm struggling with this stuff right now.

So…salty or sweet?

Patricia: I only get one?

SWE: What do you do when you are seeking inspiration?

Patricia: It's really hard to say. I do look at a lot of images in print media (guilty secret: I love the artistry in Vogue). But I think it's more a keener state of awareness of everything around me when I have a visual storytelling problem to solve.

SWE: What about people who inspire you?

Patricia: I have a couple of friends who are incredibly productive. That inspires me to not be such a slug. I used to be worried that what I produced wasn't good enough and needed more time to be finished. Sometimes it does, but productivity is really the goal (and my challenge). Quality naturally follows.

SWE: Orangutans or squids?

Patricia: Really? I haven't a clue!

SWE: Wow… coming in undecided on this one. Brave choice. When the war comes between monkey-kind and giant cephalopods, I hope you choose you allegiances carefully.

Do you do work outside your own illustration?

From Christopher Sat Straight Up In Bed. Illustrated by Patricia Cantor.

Patricia: I teach 2D Design at CSUF, which I really love. Because it's such a broad topic, it's a little easier to keep it fresh. I learn so much every semester (I know every teacher says that – but it's true).

SWE: What are you working on now?

Patricia: A couple of picture book stories that I am writing myself. And getting ready to dive into a new contracted picture book (all the i's are not yet dotted so stay tuned…)

SWE: And…do you have a superpower?

Patricia: Ironically, as anyone who knows me can attest, I have a keen sense of exactly what time it is. Very helpful in determining just how late I really am!

SWE: It's almost like an anti-super power! Thanks, Patricia! Make sure you check out more of Patricia Cantor's art at her website.

And keep your eye out for her books!

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Published on March 22, 2012 04:00 • 78 views

March 19, 2012

A few weeks ago, someone tweeted that they'd just put Harbinger on hold at their local library and they were #5 on the waiting list. I literally squeeeeeeeeed.

I mean, my book has a waiting list at the library!! Woohoo!

Growing up, I got almost all my books from the library. So the idea of my book on a library shelf makes Harbinger feel real in a way nothing else has. Of course, I'm still constantly checking out books and, occasionally, paying fines. Because there is nothing better that a whole building dedicated to free books.

So! I'm psyched to be part of the new Teen Authors Reading Night at the Los Angeles Downtown Library! This Thursday at 6:30 pm, I'm going to be reading from Harbinger, discussing writing and books, and I'm going doing this in incredible company.

Five wonderful YA authors will also be reading and chatting…Gretchen McNeil (Possess), Ann Stampler (Where It Began), James Owen (The Dragon's Apprentice), Claire LaZebnik (Epic Fail), Crickett Rumley (Never Sit Down in a Hoop Skirt…)  The wonderful Cecil Castellucci will be hosting the event, asking some great questions, and generally being awesome.

So come on out, meet writers and readers, and hang out in a huge building full of books! 'Cause what could be better than that???

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Published on March 19, 2012 18:10 • 76 views

March 15, 2012

Follow the Path! 25 incredible illustrators and artists have picked their favorite scenes and characters from HARBINGER to give you a taste of Faye's world. Each week, in the gallery at the Holbrook Academy website, a new illustration will unlock. During the month of March, all twenty-five illustrations will be shown at the Hive Gallery in downtown Los Angeles. Come see it!

This week's art reveal is hosted by: Writing from the Tub

Flood by Monkmus. Artwork inspired by Harbinger

SWE: Hi Monkmus!

I love your portrait of Faye and her water vision! You can really feel the tension and anguish in her body. Not to mention that she is rockin' those stripey tights! Can you tell us a little bit about why you choose this moment?

Monkmus: I really wanted to create a piece that was emotionally charged… to draw the viewer immediately into Faye's world of intense visions.  I hoped that if I kept the artwork loose and expressive that the effect would add tension to the piece – a reflection of her state of mind when she is overcome by the onrushing waves.

SWE: Well, I think you nailed it. She makes me hurt for her.

So, what's your favorite book from when you were a kid?

Monkmus: The Wind in the Willows.  It's my favorite by far…  I find myself re-reading it often.  It's a classic for a good reason…  beautiful writing that wonderfully articulates its cast of endearing characters.

SWE: I love it too. It's whimsical and wonderful and the writing is just perfect. I have the edition illustrated by Tasha Tudor, who I love!

Artwork by Monkmus

What about your own stories? I know you're working on a couple picture books for Beach Lane Books. Is there anything you can tell us about them?

Monkmus: Not much at this time, except that I hope to have the first book completed by this year and released sometime in 2013.

SWE: Well, I'll just have to wait for them in suspense then! Did you always know you wanted to be an artist?

Monkmus: I've always been able to draw well, but I never thought I could do it for a living growing up.  Around the end of High School, I was introduced to the process of animation and illustration… I've been hooked ever since.

SWE: Orangutans or squids?

Monkmus: Squids.

I wake up pretty early in the morning and get cracking. I usually play music loudly while I work, but it's usually instrumental... lyrics can be a bit distracting for me when I'm trying to concentrate. I actually do most of my work, writing and sketching, sitting on a couch. When I need to bare down and complete art, I have a desk for drawing and painting, as well as a computer set up to scan, finalize, sweeten, and deliver my work. My work area has pretty bare walls... but I have a lot of books lying around.

SWE: What's your favorite thing about the job?

Monkmus: Getting to draw for a living.  When things get busy and I'm rushing to meet deadlines, I sometimes forget how lucky I am.

SWE: The same thing happens to me. I get wrapped up in my fear that I'll never solve a plot problem. Or that I won't make a deadline. And forget what I love about writing. It's definitely something I'm working on right now…remembering that I'm at my happiest when I am finding my way on the page.

What do you do for inspiration?

Monkmus: I often find myself reading a lot if I'm seeking inspiration.  If I can't find anything that inspires me at home, I often wander into a bookstore.  Although I do hop on to the web to do research, I like the activity of browsing through aisles of books to get my mind going.

SWE: I think bookstores would be a dangerous place for me to go for inspiration! I'd get lost in other people's stories and forget my own!

What about a person who inspires you?

Monkmus: Tom Waits.

SWE: Other than the picture books (which sound awesome), what other things are you working on?

Monkmus: I'm a Director of commercials and music videos. I've just finished directing the first round of ads for McDonald's Happy Meals (Goat and Ferris).  I've also directed music videos for Death Cab For Cutie, Badly Drawn Boy, Mogwai, and Kid Koala, among others.

Artwork by Monkmus.

SWE: Wow! That crazy impressive! Do you like doing that kind of work?

Monkmus: I enjoy it very much… it balances out my need to interact and work with others, as compared to writing and illustrating, which can be very reclusive at times.

SWE: So…do you have a superpower?

Monkmus: Moments of kindness.

SWE: And the most important question of all…Wonder Woman or Supergirl?

Monkmus: Wonder Woman for sure.

SWE: Good man! Thanks Monkmus! And for more of his art, don't forget to check out Monkmus's website!

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Published on March 15, 2012 00:41 • 75 views

March 8, 2012

Follow the Path! 25 incredible illustrators and artists have picked their favorite scenes and characters from HARBINGER to give you a taste of Faye's world. Each week, in the gallery at the Holbrook Academy website, a new illustration will unlock. During the month of March, all twenty-five illustrations will be shown at the Hive Gallery in downtown Los Angeles. Come see it!

This week's art reveal is hosted by: Me, My Shelf, and I

Total, Blissful Hush by Kelice Penney.

SWE: Hi Kelice!

Your piece for Harbinger is incredible! It's the only 3D piece in the gallery and I love the way you've created this cool box for the bird skeleton to sit inside. It almost looks like floorboards. And the bird itself is made from wire and fleece. The whole thing is creepy and awesome. Can you tell us a little bit about what inspired you to create this piece?

Kelice: I choose the bird skeleton because I can completely relate to collecting and cherishing things other people maybe not understand or find value in themselves.  It was such a poignantly sad moment for Faye when her parents discovered her secret treasures and then looked upon her as a freak…

SWE: Well, you did a wonderful job of showing Faye's skeleton collection as beautiful. Thank you.

Close-up of Kelice's Harbinger artwork. Made from wood, fleece, and wire.

What sorts of things did you read when you were growing up?

Kelice: Besides absolutely adoring Ray Bradbury (not specifically YA but I definitely devoured his books as a teen) I really truly love: Greencastle and the Denizens of the Sacred Crypt by Lloyd Kropp.  Funny and sweet and sad and…interesting.  It's about a few teenage boys growing up in the 50's who would be labels 'geeks' by today's standards, and all the hardships they faced being different. Faye could sort of relate to that.

SWE: Did you always know you wanted to be an artist?

Kelice: I couldn't help it!  I was born to put cute faces on things.  Getting paid for it is just a bonus :)

SWE: You usually work in 3D, like your Harbinger piece…cloth, faux-fur, foam. What's your favorite part of creating art like this?

Severed yeti head by Kelice Penney.

Kelice: Seeing peoples expressions when they pick up my (usually) furry creations is always pretty cool.  I LOVE to hear someone say "aaawwww" when they are holding a plush severed head!

SWE: Those fuzzy severed heads were featured in a magazine recently, right?

Kelice: Yes!  A bi-annual magazine entirely devoted to handmade plush entitled "Stuffed".  They featured my yeti heads and a catball.  Very exciting to see pretty glossy pages displaying my work so beautifully photographed.

SWE: Orangutans or squids?

Kelice: Go team cephalopod!

SWE: Where do you go when you are seeking inspiration?

I usually work in my garage that I converted into a sewing studio. That thing is jam packed full of faux fur, huge foam blocks, sewing machines, and glue guns - a bit chaotic, but I really do love having a place to create that is slightly apart from every day 'life' stuff. But close enough for snack runs.

Kelice: The internetz!  Seriously…..that place is good.

SWE: What about people who inspire you?

Kelice: Jim Henson was rad.  I am really glad to see that the Muppets are making a comeback!

SWE: Me too! I LOVE the Muppets. I even have a "Muppet Me" that I got for my birthday a few years ago.

What are you working on now?

Kelice: Trying to make my 'hobby' of sewing and creating into a full time business…wish me luck.

Something I love to do is collaborate with other people – like they send me a design and I make a plush likeness of it.  Please- anyone who is interested in an unusual plush that you can't find anywhere – send me an email!  Let's talk.

SWE: Your work is amazing! I know you will make it!

Do you have a superpower?

Kelice: When I go out in the sun I get these mysterious magical spots all over my face – I'm SOLAR POWER GIRL.  It's kiiiind of like being able to change my appearance all shape shifter like.  Just…….more subtle.

SWE: Hmmm…that almost sounds like freckles. Just sayin'…

Catball! by Kelice Penney

Last but not least…Wonder Woman or Supergirl?

Kelice: Wonder Woman…………… cause I don't want no Sara wrath coming down upon me…  And who is this Supergirl chick, anyways?

SWE: You are right to fear my wrath! Good choice!

Thanks, Kelice! You can check out more of Kelice Penney's fuzzy art at Careful it Bites and on her Etsy page. Also if you love Kelice's Harbinger piece, you check it out at the Hive Gallery through the end of March, online or in Downtown LA…along with all the other Harbinger art!


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Published on March 08, 2012 00:00 • 65 views