Passion. As a writer it’s what drives us. Passion for the written word. For building a story that transports readers to another place and time. It’s also passion that allows us to focus on our dream of being published. In today’s W.O.W., featured author, Sarah Guillory, talks about passion and how as a teacher she encourages her students to find their passion, whatever it may be, and turn it into something that drives them. Great advice for any of us navigating the crazy world of publishing.
Many thanks to Sarah for sharing her writing odyssey today…
Amy: When did you first begin seriously writing with the intent of wanting to be published?
Sarah: I began writing seriously in the fall of 2009, though I’m not so sure I really believed I would be published. “Seriously” to me meant writing every day. I wrote my first novel over three months that fall, and it was the most exciting and exhilarating experience, but, to be honest, I think I always knew that book wasn’t “the one.” It was my practice novel. It wasn’t until I began revising my first draft of RECLAIMED (summer of 2011) that I realized how badly I wanted it to be published.
Amy: You currently teach high school English. Do your students inspire your story ideas?
Sarah: I get asked this question a lot, but they really don’t. My characters and their stories come to me through dreams, songs, newspaper articles, etc, but I’ve never had an idea or character come from a student. I’ve stolen a last name and an allergy from a student, but I’ve never had one be an inspiration for a character or idea.
Amy: One of the things I loved about RECLAIMED was the distinctive voices. Do you find it hard to write male POV?
Sarah: Thank you! The easy answer would be to say yes, but it’s not really the truth. I didn’t really have to work much on Luke’s voice – it came to me fully-formed. I struggled a bit with Ian’s, but honestly, Jenna’s voice was much harder to get right. But my current project also has both male and female POVs, and her voice was easier than his this time around.
Amy: How many manuscripts had you written prior to RECLAIMED? Was the query process long for you or did it go smoothly?
Sarah: I’d only written one other manuscript prior to RECLAIMED, and I only sent a few queries out. As I mentioned before, it never felt like “the one.” With RECLAIMED, I queried on and off for about a year, but sent queries out only one or two at a time. I know most people advise against that, but I researched agents extensively before sending it out, and research takes time. So I would send it out, do more research, and send more out a few months later. My query letters are never good, so I put it up in the forums at WriteonCon, which is where my editor at Spencer Hill found it. I got my agent, Marcy Posner, with my newest project, about three months after I began querying it.
Amy: Do you use beta readers or critique partners? If so, how instrumental are they to your writing process?
Sarah: I have the most amazing critique partners, but I found them late in the revising process for RECLAIMED. I’d already done several rounds of revisions on my own, no beta readers (other than family). They really helped tighten it up. With my newest project, I had two beta readers as well as my two critique partners. I never send them rough drafts, because my rough drafts are exceptionally rough. I do at least one round of revisions before I send it to them. They leave detailed inline notes and don’t let me get away with being sloppy or lazy AT ALL. I love that about them.
Amy: What can you tell me about your “call” with your agent, Marcy Posner? How did you know she was the right fit for you?
Sarah: My call with my agent is probably a little different, since I was sitting in the National Gallery of Art. We both had crazy schedules prior to the call, and I was out of town the next time we were both available, so I spent the morning looking at paintings, had a nice lunch (including a glass of wine to calm me down), and went upstairs to chat with her. But the phone call was a formality at that point. I knew Marcy was the right fit for me when she sent me her edit letter. She sent it to me prior to our phone call so we could discuss it when she called. It was an amazing letter – the parts she loved were the parts I loved, and the areas where she suggested work were places I knew needed attention. She spent an entire paragraph talking about punctuation, and she referenced both Faulkner and John Donne. This English teacher swooned.
Amy: Was there ever a time you thought about giving up on your writing dream? If so, what motivated you to keep writing?
Sarah: There was never a moment when I gave up on my writing dream, although there were a few times when I was frustrated and wondered if pursuing publication was worth the stress. But I knew I would never give up writing, because I couldn’t. I’d tried. I’d told myself for years I wasn’t talented enough to be a writer, and yet, even when I tried to do other things, I found myself stopping and writing from time to time. I couldn’t keep myself from writing. Scenes and sentences would float through my mind and I would hurry to scribble them down. When you’re a writer, you’re a WRITER – it’s what you do even when you know it might break your heart. But I am also very stubborn, so I continued to pursue publication, even on the days when it was hard.
Amy: I’m sure your writing success has inspired your students. What do you tell them about the ups and downs of publishing and pursuing their dreams?
Sarah: The one thing I want for all of my students is for them to be able to pursue their passions – whatever form they take – and I tell them that the only person who can stop you from pursuing those passions is you. I stood in my own way for a long time. But if it’s something you are passionate about, that will sustain you through the inevitable ups and downs. I did well in school, and I run marathons, and now I write books, and sometimes I can tell my students think it is because I am “good” at these things. I let them know up front that my life has less to do with talent and much more to do with hard work. I did well in school because I studied. I finish marathons because I train. And I write books because I sit down and write almost every day. I’m stubborn. I love books and reading and words more than almost anything – I always have. Books are my passion, and I will spend my life pursuing that passion. Stubbornness and love – that’s really what it comes down to.
Jenna Oliver doesn’t have time to get involved with one boy, let alone two.
All Jenna wants is to escape her evaporating small town and her alcoholic mother. She’s determined she’ll go to college and find a life that is wholly hers—one that isn’t tainted by her family’s past. But when the McAlister twins move to town and Jenna gets involved with both of them, she learns the life she planned may not be the one she gets.
Ian McAlister doesn’t want to start over; he wants to remember.
Ian can’t recall a single thing from the last three months—and he seems to be losing more memories every day. His family knows the truth, but no one will tell him what really happened before he lost his memory. When he meets Jenna, Ian believes that he can be normal again because she makes not remembering something he can handle.
The secret Ian can’t remember is the one Luke McAlister can’t forget.
Luke has always lived in the shadow of his twin brother until Jenna stumbles into his life. She sees past who he’s supposed to be, and her kiss brings back the spark that life stole. Even though Luke feels like his brother deserves her more, Luke can’t resist Jenna—which is the trigger that makes Ian’s memory return.
Jenna, Ian, & Luke are about to learn there are only so many secrets you can keep before the truth comes to reclaim you.
Sarah Guillory has always loved words and had a passion for literature. When she’s not reading or writing, Sarah runs marathons, which she credits with keeping her at least partially sane. Sarah teaches high school English and lives in Louisiana with her husband and their bloodhound, Gus. Her debut novel, Reclaimed, recently won a Silver Independent Publishers Award and is a finalist for the 2013 Foreword Book of the Year.