17 Questions and Answers with Author Sarah Rees Brennan
Today we have the good fortune to be joined by author Sarah Rees Brennan. My initial contact with this author was on Twitter, I knew she was snarky and funny and smart all in 140 character servings and when I found out that Random House would be publishing her new Trilogy I couldn’t wait to read it. Last month I had the pleasure of meeting this delightful author at The Hudson Valley YA Society event at Oblong Books in Rhinebeck, NY—totally worth the trip. Unspoken is the first book in the Lynburn Legacy trilogy, available September 11th. Just to whet your appetite Sarah’s here today to answer our questions, sure to make you laugh out loud and really, really want to read her books!
What book made the strongest impression on you as a child?
The very strongest? Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice.’ My father gave it to me when I was seven, and I didn’t understand half of it, and yet I was so charmed and I thought it was so funny. I would boost myself up onto the roof of our shed and sit with my legs dangling going ‘Hee hee hee. Okay now they said ‘estate’ again and I’m confused.’ That book taught me to always ground things in the real, that books could be fantastic serious literature and be funny, how to subtly but strikingly portray different relationships. And also never to underestimate or write down to kids. Kids know awesome when they see it.
What is one thing about you that would surprise your readers?
I get bored brushing my teeth, and think about the stories I’m writing and the exciting things that could happen in them. This means I get overexcited and end up gnawing on my toothbrush: I go through a toothbrush a week … I think this might surprise readers because it surprises everybody. Apparently adult women should be able to efficiently brush their teeth.
Do you use social media? How do you feel about the role social media plays in your writing life?
I do! I have a twitter (www.twitter.com/sarahreesbrenna) and a tumblr (http://sarahreesbrennan.tumblr.com/) and a blog (www.livejournal.com/users/sarahtales) and I chronicle my adventures in travel and TV watching and occasionally going ‘Guys, it’s been five days, should I maybe brush my hair?’ Sometimes I think about the role social media plays in my life and I think ‘I gotta get me a life…’ But it is wonderful to have a direct conduit to fans, to interact with them rather than be a mysterious writer figure who lives up on a mountain. And I hope it’s fun for them, too.
What has your favorite event experience been so far?
The one where I slowly removed a garment to the screams of fans! (That really happened. Not sure if screams were approving or scandalized. Never sure if screams are approving or scandalized.) The garment removal was not my very special acting out of the movie Magic Mike. It was relevant to Unspoken. But you’ll have to read it to see how.
What was your favorite genre to read as a teenager?
As a teenager, I read much the same way I do now. (I’m, uh, very mature.) I read everything: lots of teen fantasy, absolutely, and Tamora Pierce and Diana Wynne Jones and Robin McKinley were the best introductions a girl could have, but I also love romance, and crime, and science fiction, and literary fiction, and even poetry when I only have three minutes to have leisure reading. (Yes, I may have just admitted to reading poems in the ladies’ bathroom.)
What’s your favorite snack food when you’re writing?
Tea. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love snacks: chocolate, carrots, crackers with cream cheese, grapes, ginger biscuits, scones, entire blocks of cheese (um… excuse me, I need to pause for an unrelated snack break… Okay, I’m back!) As I was saying, tea is my one essential. I’m a caffeine addict like everybody else, just in a slightly British way. My mother’s English: it’s in the blood.
Do you have a favorite place to write?
I like to write abroad, with my friends! I know, so fancy and specific. I like to write in cafes and to write in my shiny new office at home (a room the size of a shoebox, but as Virginia Woolf put it ‘a room of one’s own’ also I have pictures up and a little sign saying ‘That Thing You Are Writing Is Awesome’) but I’m a social creature and I love to travel. Right now I’m in the French countryside and when I peep out into the courtyard I can see my friend Robin Wasserman’s curly hair as she writes, and it’s just lovely. Seeing new places and familiar beloved faces and getting to do the work you love and talk about the work you love with likeminded people: way better than ivory towers.
Do you have favorite music to listen to when you write?
I do. I confess something others feel should be my Great Shame: Taylor Swift is my muse. Oh Taylor, I hope we never, ever, ever break up. (Like, never.) I really like almost all forms of country music.
What inspired you to write UNSPOKEN?
I’ve seen in a lot of places the idea that reading someone else’s mind would be romantic, and always thought it might be much more complicated than that: shocking and difficult to deal with instead, so the idea of a girl finding out her imaginary friend was a real guy was the first inspiration for the novel. And I’ve always loved Gothic novels, in which so often the hero is hiding a Dark Secret (wife in the attic, say…) from the heroine and I love trope reversals: the idea of a pair investigating a Gothic mystery who really can’t keep any secrets from each other appealed to me greatly. Thus I launched in on a year-long attempt to read every Gothic novel in the world! Turns out they are absolutely chock full of people getting buried alive. That’s the major theme: I was surprised too.
Do you plan to continue writing YA, or do you think you might write for adults down the road?
Oh, I think I might write for adults down the road. I love romance novels, and would love to write one one of these days. But I can write for adults and continue writing YA: I do think I’ll always love YA, because YA novels depict such a high-octane, intense time in one’s life, the time when you fall in love first, get betrayed first, learn who you really are, separate from friends and family, first. You always remember the first time.
What is one piece of advice you would like to give to aspiring authors?
‘Writers write’ said A.L. Kennedy, and I think that’s true. Received wisdom is that you have to write a million bad words before you write good ones. (I wrote more than a million…) There are a lot of people who want to write, who talk about writing, who don’t actually write. Once you’re actually writing, that’s half the battle.
Do you ever experience writer’s block?
I’m going to crib off my friend Cassie Clare, who says that writer’s block is not the disease, it’s the symptom: it shows there’s something wrong with the story, so go back, work out where you went wrong and how to fix it, and fix it. (It sounds simple: it’s really not, I know, but it’s the thing that has to be done.)
What was your favorite chapter, or part, to write and why?
The part where Kami and Jared first meet: the shocking moment when imagination and reality first intersect, with what I hope are surprising and interesting results.
Which character speaks the loudest, to you?
Different characters speak loudest at different times, really! Kami of Unspoken really works for me as a continuous voice, because she’s goofy and sees the world much like I do. I said recently of the hero ‘I like it when Jared isn’t happy, because he is SUPER FUN to write then’–he’s a really dramatic guy with many feelings. At one point he tries to strangle a dude with the tie to his own bed curtains. (Oh sorry. That’s a spoiler. And it isn’t even in the first book. But in the first book he does stage a dramatic break-up with someone he’s not dating, so. I think there’s a time for each character to come centre stage: I have this one very laid-back, funny character called Rusty who was a real help making the tensest scenes of book two be fun as well as tense.
Do any of them clamor to be heard over the others?
Like I said, I don’t really think of characters that way: to every character comes a season, a place in the book where they naturally shine.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on the third book in the Lynburn Legacy. (Name deleted) and (Name deleted) are currently on a bed: (Name deleted) is recuperating from a traumatic experience and (Name deleted) has just taken off (article of clothing deleted). I know, so enlightening for you. It’s super exciting, being close to done with the series, and it’s also super exciting to finally be able to share the series with people as the first book prepares to come out!
Is there anything that you would like to say to your readers and fans?
I have a piece of advice for them! All of my reading of Gothic fiction has made me very wise. When burying people alive, it is important to bury them far away from both your Gothic manor and any attached villages, so nobody will hear their helpless screams.
… Other than that just that I hope they continue reading and enjoying!
Many thanks to Sarah Rees Brennan, and you, for joining us today!
Please share your thoughts in our comments section.