Sarah Aronson holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is the author of three books for kids and teens: Head Case, Beyond Lucky, and her newest novel, Believe. When Sarah is not writing, she teaches online classes at writers.com and is the cofounder and organizer of The Novel Writing Retreat at VCFA. She lives in Evanston, Illinois, with her family. She enjoys cooking, hot yoga, biking and hanging out in Chicago. She drinks way too much coffee. Find out more at her website: www.saraharonson.com.
What was your favorite book when you were a child?
The first book I ever truly loved was Harriet the Spy. I was obsessed with the idea of her and for a long time, kept a journal/spying notebook looking for conspiracy theories in my school, family, and community. I also remember reading the bathroom scene in Blubber about 100 times. But other than that, I was what we would now call a reluctant reader or what I call: someone who hadn’t found the right books yet. I enjoyed story from plays—reading them, performing in them, and watching them.
That changed when my family moved to England for a year. During that year, at 16, I was introduced to books like Wuthering Heights, The Mayor of Casterbridge, David Copperfield, and lots of Shakespeare’s plays. I found darker themes that captured my imagination. I became a reader.
I didn’t realize how much I had missed until I became a mom and began reading to my kids. They couldn’t get enough. And neither could I.
What’s your favorite line from a book?
There is no way I can list just one! Here are a few favorites. All of them taught me something about the craft of writing! (I keep a list of them, and sometimes, when I’m stuck, I read them for inspiration.)
"When Jamie saw him throw the baby, saw Van throw the little baby, saw Van throw his little sister Nin, when Jamie saw Van throw his baby sister Nin, then they moved. -Carolyn Coman, What Jamie Saw (This line has taught me more about writing than almost any other line!)
"If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. –J D Salinger, Catcher in the Rye
“There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.” –Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book
“The way it looks is not the way it is.” -Chris Lynch, Inexcusable
“On the afternoon of his seventh birthday, I set Bobby Clarke on fire.” -Gail Giles, Right Behind You
Who are your top three favorite authors or illustrators?
I love the books of Robert Cormier, Nancy Werlin, and Walter Dean Myers
Why did you want to become an author or illustrator?
When I was young, if you had told me that I would become an author, I would not have believed you. Back then, I wanted to be Barbra Streisand. Or Agent 99.
My writing life began in 2000, about the same time that I was reading book after book to my kids. I decided to leave physical therapy due to a back injury. I took a dare and decided to try writing. (This made my father, the economist, cry.)
What makes me laugh now: I was so naïve. I didn’t think there was any more to it.
When I began to study the craft of writing—at SCBWI events and then VCFA—that I realized just how much hard work I had signed up for. But at the same time, my commitment to my stories grew. I began to understand the possibilities of revision. I began to understand what my charcters wanted…and why they were so important to me.
Do you have any advice for future authors or illustrators?
1 – Say it out loud: I am a writer.
The world needs stories. You are one of the very brave people who is willing to share yours with others. The trick is: finding the best way to tell your story. This process takes time and patience. It takes hard work. By recognizing out loud that you are a writer, you give yourself validation that you are doing important, honorable work.
2 – Read! Read a lot!
Read in your genre. Read outside your genre. Read for kids and grown-ups. Read the newspaper. Read plays. Read poetry. Every time you read something you love, study it. Figure out what makes it work. Analyze the power of the right word in the right place. Keep an annotated bibliography. Understand what makes a book work for the kinds of readers you want to write for.
3 – Banish self doubt!
Ask questions of the text, the characters, and their motivation, but do not question your intent or abilities. Sit down in the chair and write. Good or bad—this is the job of the writer. It is a skill and a gift and a process. Your goal is to get a little bit done each day. Try everything!!!!
4 – Keep a writing journal.
Although each book offers its own ups and downs, by keeping a journal you will become aware of your own needs as you learn to write. For example: I know that I get my best ideas walking first thing in the morning. . . without my ipod. And that I always have a ‘crisis of story’ at about page 70. I have learned that I need to keep a notebook of interesting observations — or else I forget what they are!
5 – Join the conversation.
Share your work with friends. Read and critique their manuscripts. Discuss books! You don’t have to do this alone.
Trust your writing friends. They are people who will tell you when your story works and when it doesn’t. They are the friends who will help you when you are lost or struggling. My writing friends read everything I write, provide support, and make me laugh just when I need to most.
6 – Seek your own truths in story.
It doesn’t matter whether you are the kind of writer who imagines plot or character first. At some point, you need to decide why you want to tell this story. Why does it matter to you? Keep searching. What is it about the story or character or plot that comes from your emotional core? In other words: you must know who are you in this book.
7 – Celebrate!
Write a first chapter? Celebrate! Get to 100 pages? Celebrate! Send out your work? Receive a nice rejection? Receive a form letter rejection? Reward yourself every time you take a chance, and every time you meet your goals. This business is about making mistakes. It is all about ‘do-overs’. You need to write the wrong thing to figure out what the right thing is. So don’t save your big celebration for a launch party. When you learn something new, pat yourself on the back! You are on the journey. You are writing. You are a writer!