Sunday 18 April 2010

Interview: Sarah Dessen

Sarah Dessen took the time this week to answer quite a number of my questions regarding her writing in general and the novel Lock and Key. She was lovely about it, responding within a couple of days which was both amazing and flattering.

Thank you again to Sarah for making this possible.

Of all the characters you have created, which one do you feel you relate to the most? Which one is most representative of Sarah Dessen as a teen?
I think that Halley from Someone Like You is the most like I was in high school. Sort of a quieter type, with a dynamic friend. Remy from This Lullaby is how I WISH I was. In high school, and now, actually. I envy her confidence and how she can handle just about everything.

How difficult is it to avoiding writing clich├ęs?
I'm lucky that I have a REALLY good editor who calls me on them. I think my biggest problem, though, at least in drafts, is not repeating myself. After eight books I get worried that a character or piece of dialog might be too much like something I’ve already done. So it’s a challenge to keep it fresh.

Abuse and neglect are heavy themes, what motivated you to tackle them in Lock and Key?
I was really interested in taking on a different type of narrator. Most of my girls are from upper middle class families, living in pretty solid environments. I was intrigued by taking a girl who WASN’T like that at all and dropping her into this whole new world. I liked the idea that you’d think it would solve all her problems—having a roof over her head, money, a family—but that it actually brought up a whole other set to deal with. Also, I liked the idea of my narrator having to sort of “save” someone else in order to save herself.

I love the ‘meet cute’ story of Cora and Jamie, what inspired that?
I just really wanted to show that Cora is a caretaker, and that she was not all cold, hard edges, even if she seemed that way on the surface. With Ruby gone, she clearly still had a loving, almost maternal instinct. Plus I felt it was important to see WHY Jamie and Cora were together, as they were so different: he’s so likeable, and she’s harder to know. So it was good to show how he’d first fallen in love with her, so the readers could see that part of her as well.

What motivated the choice that Cora and Jamie would be struggling with fertility?
I was trying to get pregnant right before I started the book, so it was on my mind. But also, it ties back to the idea of family. I liked the idea that Cora needed to mend her relationship with Ruby—her first maternal one—before she was able to become a mom to her own child. It just worked well on the page.

What was the CD making scene between Jamie and Owen like in your mind?
I imagine that Owen was incredibly opinionated, and probably suggested three times as many songs as Jamie actually ended up with. I have a feeling that asking him for music advice means getting an earful, literally.

What were you like as a teacher? What is the most important thing you imparted to your students?
Oh, God. I shudder to think how they would answer this question! I feel like I was so young when I began at UNC in 1998, so green….I had no idea what I was doing. I’d like to think that I really pushed my students to write, though, and to take their writing seriously. And I was really enthusiastic about pushing them through revisions, and helping them brainstorm how to fix things in drafts. I often got more excited than they did, I think, when a story came together. Really, though, I bet I will be more remembered for the kickball games I organized on the last day of classes. Those were fun too, though.

Do you ever intend to write a sequel for any of your books or are the character crossovers your way of revisiting them?
The crossovers I hope will let people know how their favorite characters are doing without me having to do an entirely new story. My experience is that sequels are rarely as good as the originals, and it’s my hope that I’ve left my characters exactly where they need to be, in a good place. That said, if I ever DO write a sequel, it will be to This Lullaby. It’s the only one where I’ve actually thought out what I would do, if I decided to go back to Remy.

You are left alone in the house of the guy you are interested in, do you snoop?
I would probably REALLY want to, but would not. I am a serious rule-follower, sometimes to my detriment.

What are the characteristics of a Sarah Dessen reader?
It’s really hard for me to say. I think that’s a great thing, though, that so many people of so many diftferent ages and interests all seem to be equally enthusiastic about the books. I feel so lucky that there are people out there who really get what I am trying to do.

Thank you so much to Sarah Dessen for taking the time to answer all my questions.


Loretta Nyhan said...

Thanks for this, Adele. I don't remember ever reading such an in-depth interview with Sarah Dessen.

(And I still have those podcasts on my iPod! I listen to them when I go walking.)

Robby said...

I love Sarah Dessen. I love this blog. I love your old blog.
This was a really great interview. You always ask such wonderful questions.
You're just so great, Adele. What's your secret?

Adele said...

Loretta - thanks. I shudder when I realise how many questions I pestered her with but there are some great questions in there. I definitely did my prep beforehand.

And sorry...listening to those podcasts...just sorry :)

Robby - Vegemite is the secret whahahahaha. You are too nice.

Stina said...

Thanks for the great interview. Lock & Key is one of my favorite books of Sarah's.

Jessica Love said...

What a great interview! I love Sarah Dessen so much. This Lullaby is my absolute favorite of hers, and it's the book that got me into reading and writing YA, so I particularly love that it is her favorite, too.

Unknown said...

OMG I love her and This Lullaby is my fave book by her!! AWESOME interview!! Thank you SO much!

Anonymous said...

I adore her she's so amazing. This was a fantastic interview & I loved reading it. :)

Just Your Typical Book Blog said...

I vaguely remember this interview from your other blog, but it was great reading it again! Thanks for re-posting it :)

I really hope one day she does want to do a sequel to This Lullaby. That is one of my all time favorite books and Dexter is still just so...*sighs*

Rosanne said...

Great interview. Lock and Key happens to be my favorite Dessen.

Heidi R. Kling said...

This may be the first Sarah Dessen interview I've ever read. I'm a long time fan--this was terrific. :)

Khy said...


Love the interview. Your questions are awesome.

BookChic said...

Loved this interview! Sarah is such a sweetie. Your questions were fantastic and very detailed. I hope to read more interviews from you sometime!

Sarahbotbonkers said...

This was a lovely interview. I really enjoy your posts and I really admire how you write. More powers to you, Adele. I wish I could be like you.