So, Sarah, how long have you been writing? What got you started?
As a child, I loved reading, and I loved inventing stories and story worlds. I can’t remember a time when fictional characters and situations weren’t floating through my mind. A few of these early tales made their way onto paper in some form, but they mostly existed in my imagination. In time, it became natural to consider actually recording them, and I sat down to write my first novel at sixteen. Now, I can’t imagine not writing.
Did you start off in the fantasy genre, or come to it later?
From the time I was a young child and my dad read me the Chronicles of Narnia, fantasy was the genre closest to my heart. However, the first two books I wrote were historical fiction—I was fascinated by certain eras of history, and the stories naturally fit with those time periods. I still enjoy historical fiction—like fantasy, it imparts a sense of exploring another world and immerses you in a different time and place. Yet when I wrote my first fantasy novel, I knew I had found my writing passion. At this time, I don’t see myself writing other genres. There’s so much variety in the world of speculative fiction, so much freedom for the imagination to roam, and so much room to explore the spiritual element (which is important to me).
What can you tell us about your current project?
Currently, I’m rewriting and editing the first book in an epic fantasy trilogy, tentatively titled Strong as Death. Giving any kind of short description is difficult because it necessitates leaving out so much of the story, but this is my working blurb:
For centuries, the Amroth desert has remained untouched by outsiders. But when a brutal enemy invades without warning, destroying villages and then vanishing into the rocky cliffs, terror sweeps the land.
In the wake of the devastation, Liana Aieul must lead the few survivors of her village to their one hope of safety: a mystical hidden refuge that may not even exist.
Pursued by an unstoppable foe and plagued by her own self-doubt, she must unravel the mystery of her past and her future in time to reach refuge. If she fails, they will join the dead.
Is there any kind of pattern to how you get your ideas, or is it different every time?
While there isn’t any one way I get ideas, I do have certain creative patterns. Old bits of myth and lore, ancient cultures, and unusual real-life accounts often spark ideas. I also find that music, times of prayer and worship, or quiet walks waken creativity. In addition, I tend to dream in story, and I’ve found a number of intriguing concepts that way—it’s amazing what the mind can invent in slumber. Then there are the ideas that come seemingly from nowhere, unfolding when I’m doing dishes, driving down the road, or taking care of some other mundane task. There’s a wealth of inspiration out there!
When you get a new story idea, do you immediately sit down and start brainstorming, or do you wait and let it grow for a while first?
When I get a story idea, I immediately write down everything that I know about the story in MacJournal. Often during that process, I wind up doing some informal brainstorming, and the general concept begins to take on form. It may be a few paragraphs, a few pages, or more. Regardless, after I’ve written it down, the concept simmers in my mind for an extended time, and I try to keep a record of everything that comes to me, even if I don’t end up using certain elements in the future. I usually only sit down and intentionally brainstorm when I’m fairly certain that I’m going to use the idea for a book.
Do you prefer brainstorming with a blank Word document, or with pen and paper?
As I mentioned, I start with the basic concept in MacJournal (which allows division into folders and individual files), but if I begin to suspect I will turn the concept into a book, I transition to Scrivener. I can type a great deal faster than I write, which is helpful to keep up with the flow of ideas in the brainstorming stage, plus the software helps me keep it organized for future reference, as opposed to stacks of paper that will later require sorting through. So for me, using the computer is a given. Especially with my most recent project, I’ve found organization of my brainstorming and notes to be vital and having everything digital from the beginning has helped that process.
A lot of 'experts' say that writers should keep a journal in order to stay in the habit of writing every day. Do you do this?
I do keep a journal, and write in it almost daily. I use it for reflection on life, working through thoughts and feelings, and as a way to dialogue with God, so it’s not something I do for the writing experience, but because it helps me process life.
What's the best piece of writing advice anyone has ever given you?
While this wasn’t advice given directly to me, I think William Wordsworth’s instruction to “fill your paper with the breathings of your heart” can benefit all writers.
Alright, time for the fun questions! What is your favorite fantasy creature?
There are so many fascinating creatures of lore, but if I had to choose one, I’d probably say Pegasus. A horse with the ability to fly would be quite a boon when it came to adventuring, not to mention an entertaining companion.
In your opinion, who is the best character you've ever written, and what do you love about him/her?
Wow, that’s a tough question. All my characters have a place in my heart, so I’ll just tell you a little about why I love my current protagonist. She perseveres in the midst of the worst circumstances, and despite her flaws and doubts, she’s committed to doing what she believes is right. Her inner strength is beautiful, and though she doesn’t see it yet, it’s ultimately what gives her people a chance for survival. Lest I sound like an overzealous author, I’ll leave it at that!
If one of your stories was made into a blockbuster movie (and you could be there to ensure they did it just right), which story would you want it to be and why?
Again, it’s hard to choose one. I’d probably say Strong as Death, in part because it’s the story freshest in my mind. Its epic scope would lend itself well to film, and I would love to see the story world—parts beautiful and parts grim—come to life.
Last question: it's pretty much an accepted fact that we writers are kind of... well, strange. I know I've been known to do some crazy things when I get a new idea. So what's the strangest 'writer thing' you've ever done?
Aside from the flow of laughter or tears while writing emotional scenes or the sudden leaps from bed in the middle of the night when struck by an idea or the housework completed while muttering character dialogue, I really don't do anything strange.Well said! : ) Thanks so much, Sarah, for sharing with everyone here at the Lair, and for letting me barge into your world and ask so many questions! I had a great time talking with you.
If you're interested in keeping tabs on Sarah's thoughts and writing, visit her gorgeous website and/or her blog. She has some great thoughts on Christian speculative fiction and story elements, and a great store of intriguing thoughts, facts, and ideas about mythology, folklore, fairytales, fantastic creatures, and more. It's well worth checking out.