For the Artists Who Like to Remain Strictly Out of the Box
Sarah K. Stephens is a writer of Mystery, Thriller, & Suspense books. She earned her doctorate in 2007 and teaches a variety of courses on human development as a university lecturer. Although Fall and Spring find her in the classroom discussing the complexities of human behavior with her students, she remains a writer year round. Sarah lives with her family in a small Northeastern town where she can walk to campus from her home, dreaming up stories the entire way.
1.) When did you know that writing is what you were called to do? What is it about being a writer that you love the most?
I’ve loved writing since elementary school and my 3rd grade class with Mrs. Lippiatt, who taught me the importance of language in connecting us to each other. Words have the power to unite us as a family, a community, and a world. That’s what I love most about writing—the opportunity each of use as writers has to bring facets of life to the horizon for readers who may not have otherwise considered those experiences or perspectives.
2.) Can you tell us a little about your books and where our readers can find out more about them and you? What projects are you currently working on?
My debut novel, A Flash of Red, is a literary thriller set to be released in Winter 2016 by Pandamoon Publishing. Focusing on three main characters, A Flash of Red details the chaos that ensues when mental illness invades our most intimate relationships. Professor Anna Klein and her husband, Sean, are a young couple each struggling with their own misperceptions of reality. While Anna’s daily anxieties turn on the axis of her mother’s path into psychosis, Sean escapes to the alternate reality of love and sex offered online. When Bard, a student of Anna’s, develops his own obsession with the couple, their already unsteady world collapses with irrevocable consequences. Ultimately, A Flash of Red asks the question: What happens when we can no longer tell the difference between what we want and what is real?
I’m also working on several short stories this summer that examine the emotional violence women encounter in their lives, spanning from micro-aggressions to more significant and permanent harm. Readers can view my short story, Boys, in Five on the Fifth’s March issue and my newest story, In Celebration, in eFiction (Vol. 7). The Manawaker Studio’s Flash Fiction Podcast also features audio recordings of short stories, and two of mine have been featured there.
3.) What has been your most significant achievement as a writer thus far? How have you dealt with rejection within your writing career?
I’d say my book deal with Pandamoon was a definite point of celebration in my writing career, but I want to emphasize to all of the writers out there that simply getting words on the page every day (or when you can) is an achievement. It’s an act of bravery to take your stories and put them down into print and then even moreso to send them out to be scrutinized by others. So although we are all seeking recognition and acceptance for our work as writers, we need to remember that trusting in ourselves to devote time and energy to our words is an achievement in itself.
4.) Do you have a schedule for when you write? Do you outline your novels? How long does it generally take you to finish a novel?
I’m a marathon runner and I find that writing and training for races work in a similar fashion for me. Mainly, it’s about getting a certain word count each day or a certain amount of miles pounded out on the pavement. I know other writers might work differently and base their output on flow and plot. Although those factors certainly can play into my writing from day to day, when I’m in the muck of writer’s block or anxious about where the story is going, I find it incredibly reassuring to know that if I just get to whatever word count I set for myself each day, I will have something to work with when I head back to it again the next morning. With this approach, I can do a rough first draft of a novel in about 4-6months if I am writing every day. And then comes the editing. . .
5.) Where do you see yourself within your career in the next five years?
I would love to still be teaching at Penn State, hopefully promoting a second novel at that time, and writing about what I and my readers find compelling and entertaining.
6.) Do you believe that there is ever a point in life where it’s too late for an aspiring writer to become successful in this industry? Do you feel a late start would hinder their chances?
One of my heroes in literature is P.D. James, who didn’t publish her first book until she was in her forties. She went on to be a prolific and celebrated writer (to put it mildly), while still maintaining her job as a civil servant. She published her final book when she was in her 90s. I take great stock in James’s experience and trajectory as a writer—it’s never too late to tell your stories and have them reach the world.
7.) What’s the first book you ever read that really touched you emotionally and moved you? What’s the first book you read that made you know that you could do this for a career? What book are you currently reading?
The first book I loved was really a series: the Ramona Quimby books by Beverly Clearly. I just adored Ramona as a main character. Being a tomboy myself, I enjoyed seeing someone similar to me portrayed in exciting and engaging stories about family life.
The first book I read that made me think I could be a writer would be Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence. Wharton’s observations of social rules and the idiosyncrasies of human interaction are piercing and revelatory to the reader. I aspire every day to be half as observant in my own writing as Wharton.
And currently–I realize I’m a little slow to the party–but I’m reading Robert Galbraith’s The Cuckoo’s Calling.
8.) So many writers say that they hate reading their own work? Do you ever just sit down and curl up with your own book?
No, never! There are too many other amazing writers to be reading—my “To Be Read” list is huge.
9.) What are your thoughts about how the publishing industry is drastically changing? Are you more of an e-book person or a traditional book person?
Having grown up with only traditional books, I was hesitant at first to accept e-books. Holding a book in your hand just has a certain weight, physically and emotionally, to it that e-books can’t replicate. That said, though, I adore my Kindle now because I have books upon books at my fingertips ready to be explored. Whatever e-books have taken away from the aesthetic of reading, they’ve definitely made up for in providing greater accessibility to readers, which I think is rather important.
10.) I feel like so many of us writers, us artists in general, are made to conform to other people’s idea of what we should be. I think we creative types should be unafraid to be whoever it is that we feel we have the right to be. So what is your write 2 be? What unique quality is there about you, about your art, that you feel represents your authenticity?
I think it is the right to be sincere—to avoid facades or gimmicks or games to make yourself more palatable or intriguing and to instead present yourself in your natural state. The people who love me will tell you that emotional transparency and honesty are an integral part of my relational style. I live my life with the knowledge that the choices I’ve made are my own and are authentic to my belief system. Although different choices may have led to me becoming more successful, more marketable, or more attractive, I find great comfort in the knowledge that my life is entirely a reflection of who I am. The opportunity to make my life my own is one that I am thankful for every day.
Below are links to all of Sarah K. Peterson’s writings, from books, to blog posts, to short stories, and to personally connecting with her through Facebook or Twitter.
Pandamoon Publishing Blog: pandamoonpublishing.com/blog/
Facebook Page: Sarah K. Stephens
Publisher’s Announcement of A Flash of Red: https://www.prlog.org/12511761-pandamoon-publishing-signs-sarah-stephens-and-acquires-new-thriller-novel-flash-of-red.html
Pandamoon Publishing Site: http://pandamoonpublishing.com/pandamoon/index.html