Sarah Wylie is the author of the young adult novel All These Lives. Sarah has a degree in Neuroscience and a poor sense of direction; she lives in Canada and enjoys daydreaming and eating Twizzlers.
Could you tell us five random facts about yourself?
1) I’ve lived on three different continents.
2) I get most of my ideas while I’m falling asleep.
3) I broke my arm re-enacting a Baywatch scene when I was eleven.
4) I don’t understand the rules of hockey, baseball, football, or pretty much any sport that isn’t tennis. Well, and basketball. I mean, they just take the ball and run with it, right? Wait….
5) I think coffee tastes like earwax.
Tell us about your journey to becoming a writer.
I grew up reading and writing obsessively. I loved dreaming up different worlds and characters and I assumed, believed, hoped that I’d write a novel, someday. One day, my sister asked why I didn’t just write it now. I was eighteen at the time, and figured I wasn’t ready to write a book, that I didn’t know what I was doing, didn’t know if my stories had as much value as the ones I’d grown up infatuated with, but I couldn’t get her question out of my mind. So I wrote a book. And another. And another. All These Lives was the book that got me my agent. We revised it and sold it a few months later.
What has surprised you about writing and publishing?
The thing that has surprised me the most about writing is how completely different every book’s process is. Figuring out how to write one book doesn’t necessarily make writing the next any easier. Sometimes I think writing novels is like having anterograde amnesia – you have all these experiences; you learn how to write a book, how to revise a book, sometimes how to rewrite a book. Surely, by the time you finish you know how to write a book? YOU JUST DID IT. But, nope. Next book? New slate. You have all these experiences; you learn how to write a book, how to revise a book, sometimes how to rewrite a book. In some ways, it’s terrifying. (Right after I type The End, I swear I’m never doing it again.)
But in other ways, it’s a really good thing. The highs are fresh, the journey is exciting. If the last book sucked and you cried, there’s at least fifty percent chance this new book won’t suck and you won’t cry. And if it does, you’ll forget and start again, again.
The thing that’s surprised me the most about publishing a book is that writing is such a small part of it – there is so much else that goes into creating a book.
I’m drawn to stories that feel true. Which doesn’t mean they have to be realistic or biographical or anything like that, but that there is some intangible element of the story that feels familiar.
I have a soft spot for stories about families, and stories about figuring out who you are in a sometimes-incomprehensible world. Families and self-discovery are both age-independent themes, but for some reason, YA fiction seems to be the perfect medium to explore both.
At what point in the development of an idea do you know that it will become a full-length novel?
I mull over an idea a million times in my head before I actively start writing it. About half the ideas that survive The Mull and make it onto the page have a good chance of becoming a novel. The third or fourth day of working on an idea is usually the deciding factor. If I wake up several days in a row and am excited about working on an idea, then it’s usually one I’ll see through to the end. If I’m not still excited about it, then I’m probably already Googling random gifs or doing other procrastinator-y things.
What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author?
It’s tough to hear that someone disliked or didn’t connect with a character, especially when they are one of your favorites.
What has been the best compliment you’ve recieved?
I love when readers say they connected with something about the book, whether that’s a line or character or theme. Or hearing that it made someone love reading for the first time. That’s the absolute best. I can still remember the books that did that for me, and my heart does somersaults at the thought of my words doing that for someone else.
Where’s your favorite place to write?
I mostly write in bed. It’s terrible, especially since my desk is only a few feet away. But it’s cozy and my back hates me anyway, so…
Do you most relate to your main characters, or to secondary characters?
I usually relate most to my main characters. Even if they’re not much like me, there’s usually something tiny that’s stolen from myself – an experience, a trait, something I’ve always wondered about – that creeps into my characters.
How do you approach writing villains or antagonists?
I try to keep in mind that everybody has a story. I’m one of those annoying people who always want to know why – why would someone do that? Why did they become that way? All the whys may not make it into the final version of the story, and they may not explain why a character does something bad or irredeemable, but in writing, it helps to view my characters as 3D and to remember that “good” people are capable of evil, and “bad” people capable of good.
What is your favorite chapter or scene you’ve written recently?
I wrote a random scene for a book that I haven’t started working on yet the other day, just so I wouldn’t forget it. It’s a conversation between two people that doesn’t really make sense to me yet, and I can’t wait to get back to it and figure out what it means.
Which is easier to write: The first line or the last line?
I’m a bit of a firstlineophile. I love when a book grabs you from the first sentence and refuses to let go. I can mull over a first line for days or weeks before writing it down, and it often changes during the revision process. But once I have one that I like, the first chapter usually comes pouring out.
I think of first lines as a promise you make a reader – here’s what I’m going to do. This book is going to be mysterious or funny or terrifying or thoughtful or romantic, and I love setting up that challenge for myself, seeing if I can keep that promise. The last line is hard. You want to say, I kept my promise. But especially in early drafts, when the book is not yet all it’s going to be, that’s difficult to do.
Which one YA novel do you wish you had when you were a teen?
Can I cheat and go with two? (I’ll assume you said “yes.” :)) The Truth About Forever, because it was the book that introduced me to contemporary YA, and Looking for Alaska, because I would have wanted to know those characters when I was their age. Both books were published when I was a teen, but I only discovered them in my late teens and wish I’d found them earlier.
Do you have things you need in order to write (i.e. coffee, cupcakes, music)?
Other than my laptop, I like to have mood-setting music, which I listen to before and not while writing. I also need quiet (I’m easily distracted), and privacy. Every attempt to write in public kills a little more of my soul. Oh, and Twizzlers. I like having Twizzlers while I write.
What are you working on now?
I’m currently revising my second contemporary YA, a standalone that will also be published by FSG. I’ll be sharing more (a release date, cover, synopsis, etc.) as soon as I can.
About All These Lives:
Sixteen-year-old Dani is convinced she has nine lives. As a child she twice walked away from situations where she should have died. But Dani’s twin, Jena, isn’t so lucky. She has cancer and might not even be able to keep her one life. Dani’s father is in denial. Her mother is trying to hold it together and prove everything’s normal. And Jena is wasting away. To cope, Dani sets out to rid herself of all her extra lives. Maybe they’ll be released into the universe and someone who wants to live more than she does will get one. Someone like Jena. But just when Dani finds herself at the breaking point, she’s faced with a startling realization. Maybe she doesn’t have nine lives after all. Maybe she really only ever had one.
For more about Sarah Wylie:
You can follow Sarah on Twitter at @Sarah_Why and check out her Tumblr and blog. You can find more about Sarah on her website, SarahWylieBooks.com and contact her through her site. All These Lives is available for purchase from Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com, and other booksellers.