Goodreads YA Interview—Sarah Dessen

Posted by Goodreads on May 12, 2015
Sure, she writes lovably flawed characters and always manages to handle big issues with aplomb, but the thing that fans really adore about perennial bestseller Sarah Dessen's contemporary YA books is spotting a beloved figures from past titles in a current release. With Saint Anything, her twelfth book, Sarah promises that the tradition will continue. After all, she says, "I feel it's expected now!" Sydney, the protagonist of Saint Anything, is looking to do the unexpected—she's always felt unremarkable next to her reckless and charismatic older brother, Peyton. When his behavior leads to a jail sentence, she searches outside her family for belonging.

Read on for Sarah's answers to your questions about the importance of first jobs, the possibility of writing adult fiction, and her very own true love story!

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Molly: All of your books deal with some heavy subjects: pregnancy, family issues, and boys, to name a few. How did you find it in yourself to be able to write so clearly and make [the issues] so relatable to everyone, even if they had not gone through what was happening in the books? Well, the truth is, it's more fun to write about the heavy stuff, at least for me. There's meat there, so MUCH you can do. And I think whenever a writer is really enjoying themselves and liking what they are doing, that shows on the page. Also, I wasn't very happy in high school. I felt invisible and dealt with my anxieties in less than ideal ways. You don't forget those feelings very easily. The act of reading, for me, has always been a way of living a life I haven't yet. If I'm doing my job right, people feel that way about my novels, like you can have an experience and those feelings from a safe distance.

Brittany: Seeing as you have written a large number of books about a diverse group of young women, how do you, as an author, move from being absorbed in one protagonist's story to the next? Do you need a palate cleanser of sorts? What does this process look like? Usually when I finish a book, I can't imagine ever writing another one. I'm just so burned out and tired. So a break—to read, watch good movies, just stare at the ceiling—is necessary. My problem is that I often get really anxious that I SHOULD be writing and start something before I am ready…which then crashes and burns, often in a spectacular sort of way. Sadly, failed novels have often been my cleansing ritual: I have 13 of them. This time I'm trying to do something different. I haven't written anything since I finished Saint Anything. It's either going to be brilliant or catastrophic, to borrow a phrase from the book. I guess I'll find out!

Tina: What was the most challenging part of writing Saint Anything? Before I wrote it, I'd been working on another novel that was just awful. I started it too soon, out of panic (see above). The characters weren't whole, and I kept going back to the start to add things, thinking that I could fix it. One day, having decided to return to the start yet AGAIN and thread two new characters into the existing story, I realized I was panting, I was breathing so hard. Totally panicking. I pushed back, saved the document, then went over to the house and told my husband, "I think I just abandoned my novel." He said, "Good. You've been miserable." And I had been.

But then I didn't know what to do. I was terrified to start another book and have that one implode in the same way. So I sat and stressed and looked out the window and told myself to have faith, that a story would come if I just waited for it. That was the hardest thing EVER. Eventually Sydney and her story did show up. Thank goodness! Just to be sure, though, I waited until I couldn't NOT write before I began. I wanted to be sure this was the one. Now I know it was.

Jess: You write such hopeful and intricate stories, with characters that ordinary people, like me, find they can relate to either in whole or a small part of. What inspiration do you draw from when creating these characters? Do you find that you are able to relate to your characters on some level (any level) when writing them? Thanks, Jess! I think I am always writing the kind of characters I want in my life at the moment I'm creating them. Like in Saint Anything, I was so nervous about the book and my abilities to write that Layla, the best friend character, was exactly the kind of support I needed. Unconditional loyalty and support: Yes, please! And the great thing is, if I need it, I can be pretty sure some reader (or many) out there do as well. I guess what I'm saying is that all of my characters are part of my heart. Otherwise I wouldn't be able to write them.

Taylor: What are some of your creative outlets besides writing? I honestly don't have that many. I'm not crafty—although motherhood has forced me to try to be—and I can only draw trees, beaches, and clouds. I'm a so-so cook except for deviled eggs. Writing has always been the one thing I feel that I am pretty good at doing. But it's enough, thank goodness.

Tracey: I love that getting a job is often part of the transformation your heroines go through. I wonder which (if any) of your own jobs from your teenage years have influenced this? My mom insisted I work from the summer I was 14 years old. I had to get a permit and everything! And while I resisted a bit, I did find that working opened up a whole new world to me, whether I was stapling transcripts into folders at the University of North Carolina's advising office or babysitting for a bunch of unruly grade-school kids. Anytime you step out of your own home life and are treated like (or sort of like) an adult by someone other than your parents, like a boss or supervisor, it changes the way you see yourself. Plus again, for a writer there is so much material there. Inserting a character into a brand-new situation, with lots of different personalities having to work together—it's so fun.

Breanna: Many of your fans have been reading your books since a young age (me being one of them). Do you plan on branching out to new adult or do you only want to write in the young adult genre? As I approach my 25th birthday, I'm starting to notice I'm growing out of the YA genre, and that makes me sad because you're one of the first authors I ever actually enjoyed reading. To be honest, I'd love to write a book with an older narrator. But every time I try, it just hasn't felt right…yet. Which is not to say it never will. A lot has happened to me since high school, and I'd love to write about it. But when the voices come, they have always been teen ones. I have no idea if/when that will change. I'm going to be 45 this summer. Maybe that's the magic birthday?

Cindy: What steps did you take to get your first book published? At the time I sold my first book, I'd been out of college about a year and was waiting tables. I bought a book about querying agents (this was pre-Internet, which makes me seem STONE AGE old, but I swear it feels like yesterday!) and crafted a pitch about the book I was trying to sell. Then I just started sending off letters. I got rejected a LOT. For months I got one or two a day. But I made a deal with myself that for every rejection I received, I had to sit down and write for ten minutes right afterward, so I could prove to myself one was not tied to the other. Eventually a writer I was working for at the time, Lee Smith, sent my manuscript off to her agent in New York. They liked it and wanted to see what else I had, so I sent the novel I'd just finished, even though I didn't feel like it was very good. One of the agents there, Leigh Feldman, read it and said, "This is YA." I was not sure about that. I saw myself as Very Literary, and back then YA was such a different market. But she told me to trust her. She sold it in less than a month. She's still my agent, too. I am so glad I listened to her!

Vc: What are some books that have inspired you to write? And what are some of your favorite books that you would recommend? I read everything I can get my hands on, but certain stories really have stuck with me and wanted me to be a better writer. The novels of Lee Smith, the writer I worked for after college, taught me about voice and the power it can have. She also was an example of a real, live working writer, and at that point I hadn't met many of those. In the YA world I grew up loving Judy Blume—who wrote about the things you thought only YOU were feeling—and Lois Lowry. My biggest literary inspiration, though, is Anne Tyler. I've read every one of her many novels, and I just admire her so much. She's had exactly the kind of career I long for. She writes the books she wants at her own speed, for a loyal audience that embraces each one. My favorite of hers is The Accidental Tourist. My favorite book of all time, though, is A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. I've read it multiple times and get something different and amazing with each experience. Oh, I could go on and on about books I love! I am terrible at keeping it short when it comes to that topic.

Tracy: You write a lot of amazing love stories, so tell us: Do you have an amazing love story of your own? This is such a great question! I guess everyone does, right? Truth: I met my husband in high school. He was this enormously cool guy, the kind who always had a crowd around him. I was never IN that crowd, mind you. In fact, I was sure he had no idea who I even was. I felt pretty invisible back then.

But then one day I was in the guidance office waiting for an appointment, and he came in. "What'd you do," he asked, and I literally almost looked behind me to see who he was talking to. We became friends, and eventually went out on a date, and from that day on we were together. Well, until he broke up with me at the beginning of senior year. SOB! I was heartbroken. About a year later, when I was getting ready to leave for college, he called me up out of the blue and asked if I wanted to get some lunch. All my friends were like, "Don't do it! He's going to break your heart again! STOP!" I went anyway. We've been together ever since. Married 15 years, with a seven-year-old daughter. I still give him a hard time about dumping me back in 1987. But I think I've forgiven him. Maybe. :)

Comments Showing 1-14 of 14 (14 new)

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message 1: by José (new)

José Alfredo Excelente

message 2: by Jam (new)

Jam Milton this is graet creative work of sarah dessen i hope more reformation work for society...i wishes her great successes of writings......
' milton'

message 3: by Lila (new)

Lila What an awesome interview! I particularly enjoyed Breanna's question and love the possibility of a new adult novel from my favourite author. I'm also not surprised that Sarah's love story sounded as interesting and sweet as a synopsis from one of her own books.

message 4: by Olga (new)

Olga Miret We have very similar tastes in books. Nice to know.

message 5: by Hannah (new)

Hannah I loved this Q&A; especially the love story!

message 6: by Angela (new)

Angela I still haven't read "Saint Anything", but I can't wait until I do. She's such an inspiration and my absolute favorite writer.

message 7: by [deleted user] (last edited May 14, 2015 01:28AM) (new)

I really want to read 'saint anything'!!

message 8: by Jeanne (new)

Jeanne Well done. Interesting and personal interview.

message 9: by Connor (new)

Connor The love story question is definitely my favourite! Glad I read this interview.

message 10: by Ishan (new)

Ishan Muhammed U r really awesome dude

message 11: by NewInBooks (new)

NewInBooks Excited to see Sarah Dessen's new book. We love that she lives in NC.

message 12: by Mary_Athene (new)

Mary_Athene The love story is so beautiful!! "Don't do it! He's going to break your heart again! STOP!" I went anyway. We've been together ever since." I love this part <3

message 13: by Doseofbella (new)

Doseofbella Loved the interview, and looking forward to reading "Saint Anything".

message 14: by Cate (new)

Cate Loved this interview, loads of good advice. I've read a few of Sarah Dessen's books but this made me want to read more!

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