Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Under the Influence - Writer Spotlight: Sarah Blair

As part of my Writing Under The Influence series, I'm going to focus a spotlight on some fiercely talented individuals. The writers you'll meet influence and inspire me daily. And by influence I mean keep me toeing the line toward my goal.

Our first interviewee is my very first Critique Partner, and coincidentally, my other half. She's my writing soul mate and the peas to my carrots.

I could go on, but I'll let her to you in her own words. So, without further ado, here's Sarah Blair!!!

1.Tell us a bit about you.

Haha, I always feel like a weirdo talking about myself. I don't know what y'all are interested in knowing. I'm a Southern girl living in California with my family. I'm surrounded by men: a husband, a baby boy, and a boy dog. They are all so wonderful and I wouldn't trade them for anything, but sometimes I wish I had another female around so we could braid each other's hair and sing along with Mary Poppins or something. Oh, and I graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Tennessee with a Bachelor's in Creative Writing. So, I guess I kinda know how to write and stuff. I don't know how to do math at all. Don't ask me to build a bridge or anything.
2. Tell us about your book.
Oh, man. THAT question. The one that makes any writer freeze up at dinner parties and the biggest reason I avoided telling anyone I wrote for a very long time. THE SHIFTING DARKNESS is an Urban Fantasy about a young woman named Sidney Lake who is a supernatural investigator in New York City. It also explores the ideas of science and magic, and the blurred line between the two. (Angi note - It's so, so good. You should be sad you haven't read it yet.)
3. What inspired you to write THE SHIFTING DARKNESS?
I don't know that any specific thing inspired me to write it, except I do remember exactly where I was when I met Sidney. I was upstairs, a newlywed in a brand new home with very little furniture, and she just walked into my head, flashed a badge and said, "What have we got?" I kind of sat up and was like, "Ummm. I dunno... but how about we find out?" And everything else sort of tumbled out after that.
4. Do you have a process you follow when you write? Any funny quirks?
Not since I became a mommy. There's no such thing a process with a toddler around. As far as plotting goes, I'm a total pantser. At least with this book. Once I finished the first draft, I vowed to never go back and rewrite/edit further than one chapter behind what I'm currently working on. It took me about three years of writing and rewriting to get halfway through TSD before I realized that backtracking every time I sat down to write wasn't productive. After I forced myself to keep moving forward I finished in about three months.

Another thing I learned during the process was that I can't listen to music while I write. Most of my scenes didn't feel cohesive enough, there wasn't a flow to them (another reason for all the rewriting), and I finally figured out it was because I would choose a different song for each chapter and write the feeling of that song. It kind of felt like compiling a mix tape. There was a similar theme, but it wasn't meshing the way I wanted it to. Now I write to the ambient sound of the dishwasher, or Baby Einstein. I also have an ambient sound of a clothes dryer on iTunes. I get most of my really good stuff written to that. 
5. What brought you to your decisions about looking for an agent as your path to publishing?
Mostly it was because I know myself well enough to understand how easily I let myself off the hook on things. If no one else is involved in the process then it takes me forever to accomplish anything. I need to have that pressure in order to focus and stay on track. I need to have someone else saying, "This is the next step. This is the next deadline." Beta readers and CPs are AMAZING and I adore mine, but I need that higher level of feedback and direction that an agent and professional editor provide. Some people do great on their own and I think that's so awesome! I'm just not that type of person. I get a lot more accomplished with outside guidance. 
6. How has the experience been?
Long. And that's no one's fault but my own. Once I finished that first draft I put it away like I was supposed to, but I never had the first clue about beta readers or CPs. I was barely even on Twitter yet. I nitpicked and thought it was ready to start querying, but looking back on it now it was nowhere near ready, LOL! The first agent I ever queried requested a full and I had heart palpitations because I was expecting nothing more than a form rejection. Then my ego kicked in and I was like OH YEAH! I'M A PRODIGY THIS NEVER HAPPENS FIRST QUERY BABY! 
But no. 
They read it and said it didn't fit their list. Which, really is the best first rejection you could ask for, right? I was disappointed, but by no means discouraged.
So a couple of months later, I went to the Writer's Digest Conference and pitched live. HA! Yeah, I happened to be several weeks pregnant at the time and had morning sickness like crazy. I'm seriously surprised I didn't puke on any agents. 

They were all so nice! It was an extremely valuable experience, because it taught me that agents are people too. They don't just sit around using kittens to play air hockey on their lunch breaks, and reject people for funsies while they pig out on macarons. 

I got a lot of valuable feedback from the agents I pitched to, so I chose to revise based on that. It was a good choice, because that landed me an R&R which I'm almost finished with, so we'll see what happens. It's been quite a process, but with every process certain things have to happen in a particular order so I wouldn't trade my path for anything. As far as I'm concerned it's all unfolding the way it needs to in order for me to get where I need to be.
7. Any one song sum up a character or this story for you? 
I can't really think of any one song that sums up the book as a whole, but I have a couple of songs that I feel sort of remind me of certain characters. Like Sidney's theme is kind of White Zombie's "More Human Than Human" because... well... I could tell you the reason but then I'd spoil everything ;)

8. How long did it take you to write this book?
When Sidney walked into my head, I wrote the first chapter, but then I put it away for a long time. Years, actually. I was working on some stuff with vampires in it, and then I realized everybody was sick of vampires, so I decided to bring Sidney out and see what happened. From that point, it took a little over three years from beginning to end. 
9. Why and when did you know you wanted to be a writer?
The short story is that I got to college and realized I wouldn't have to take any math classes if I majored in Creative Writing. So, that's what I did. My original goal was to be a Forensic Anthropologist like Scully, but that required Organic Chemistry and filling out reports and who wants to do something boring like that when you can make up much more exciting stories about the same thing?

The long story is that I liked writing ever since the third grade when we had an assignment to write a story (I think mine was about a unicorn and a slide, and my teacher said that dialogue shouldn't have "Like" in it all the time because that might be how people talk but nobody wants to read it.) I was always better at writing and reading than math, and I'm an Aries who likes being good at things, so it was kind of a logical choice to make. 

Lois Lowry was also a huge inspiration. I'll never forget reading the end of THE GIVER and thinking... "That's the end? People can end a book like that? That's allowed? Well... maybe I could do that." It's still one of my favorite books of all time. I refuse to read the other books in the series because that ending is so perfect. There's something wonderful and beautiful about not knowing what really happens. The spring right before I graduated from UT Lois Lowry came to the Tennessee Theater. My mom and I went, and I got my copy of THE GIVER signed and got to tell her how much she inspired me. It was a really nice moment for me, but come to think of it she looked kind of confused. The words inside my head sounded really profound, but they very well could have been nothing more than ALASDUFOIREHTJKANERTWEOFGHDILSDFJA!!!!!!!!!!! 
10. How is it being on an R&R? Different, same, more/less pressure?
It's been incredible and terrifying. The notes I'm working from are incredible, and completely nail all the spots I tried to sail through or didn't quite have figured out. I feel like it's really helped me get down into the nitty gritty bits of the characters and really draw out some amazing stuff. It's made such a huge difference in how I see not only my book, but my CPs writing as well. It's taught me how to really get in and tear stuff apart. What I was doing before was NOT really revising, but I didn't know any better! I've learned so, so, so much from this. I'm really grateful for the opportunity.

That being said, Oh Lord, IT IS SO MUCH PRESSURE! Because as far as I know, it's a yes, and it's all up to me to screw it up. What if I change too much? What if I don't change enough? What if I take too long? What if I send too soon? What if I cut something the agent liked a lot? What if... what if... what if... 
And Twitter totally doesn't help on this front. All I see are these people landing agents and getting calls set up two days after they send out their MS, and that hasn't happened for me. Not even close. It makes me feel like such a loser. It makes me question if I'm really good enough, or if this agent just feels sorry for me and only offered to help as a goodwill charity project or something.


Five Fun Facts
Favorite food: Spaghetti with meat sauce and shaker cheese.
Favorite movie: Sense and Sensibility (The Ang Lee version with Emma Thompson) and Snatch.
Pets(how many, names): Java the chihuahua
Lucky number: 8
Best fortune cookie you’ve gotten (or make one up for us!): Hahaha, we bought some Rated X fortune cookies in Chinatown when we lived in NYC and surprised my Sister In Law. I can't remember what any of them said, but they were nasty and hilarious.

Isn't she fantastic?? Now remember, while you'll falling in love with her and that adorable smile, I introduced you. Thanks for stopping by the blog, Sarah!

Want to find out more about Sarah? Look here:


  1. Hi I love you!! And I am obsessed with the "ambient dryer" thing and desperately need it to be true. Please tell me it's true.

  2. Great interview! I love chatting with you on Twitter, but it was fun to find out more about you. (Not that I'll use it for nefarious purposes. Hahahaha!)

    1. LOL just don't let the minions get their grubby little mitts on the link!