In celebration of Sarah’s sixth novel publishing this coming Tuesday, we’re doing a special giveaway. One winner will receive all six of her novels. See the entry form below for details!
I can thank three real-life characters for inspiring my sixth novel with Penguin (Plume), GOODNIGHT JUNE. Their names are Carson, Russell and Colby, and they are my wild and wonderful sons, ages 7, 5, and 3.
I was a newcomer to the classic children’s book, GOODNIGHT MOON, by Margaret Wise Brown, when I received it as a baby shower gift before my first son, Carson, was born. I remember picking it up for the first time, and reading it to him, then a colicky infant. It was a right-of-passage of motherhood, in some ways. As he grew, he quickly developed an affinity for the little book with the bunnies, the great green room, the bowl of mush on the bedside table. The balloons, the mittens, the telephone.
And then my second child arrived, and my third. I read them the book every night, just as I did for Carson. I could (and can still) recite the book by memory. And sometimes I would, nodding off in the yellow gingham upholstered rocking chair in the nursery, with a baby boy in my lap. GOODNIGHT MOON was such a central part of my daily routine that it inspired a parody for Parenting magazine that I wrote called “Goodnight Mom.” (Google it, and you’ll find it.)
Eventually, my novelist brain turned to a bigger story: I began to wonder about GOODNIGHT MOON’s author, Margaret Wise Brown. What was she like? What sort of life did she live? I read several biographies of her life, and my fascination grew. She was larger the life (truly, a lover of life—she once spent an entire advance check for one of her Random House children’s novels on a New York City flower cart. She pushed it home and decorated every square inch of her apartment with flowers). My kind of woman. And yet, what was her backstory? What inspired her iconic work, adored by children (and parents) for decades? What was the real story of the ‘great green room’?
I set out to to answers these questions when I began writing GOODNIGHT JUNE, a novel ultimately inspired by motherhood, and my three little rascals. It all began in the nursery.
Sarah’s a busy gal, but we recently caught up with her via email to ask a few questions about life, writing, and what’s next:
She Reads: GOODNIGHT JUNE is your sixth novel (and congratulations–what an accomplishment!) and I’m wondering if the process of sitting down and writing a novel gets any easier with time? Or is it always an act of faith, a belief that if you show up and work every day the story will come together in the end? (Can you tell I just started another novel and I’m in that hesitant, restless place? Please tell me it gets easier.)
Sarah: Thank you! And, well, no, I guess I don’t think it gets tremendously easier. But, for me, my confidence has grown as a writer—in risks I’m willing to take in storytelling, in ignoring my inner critic or the exterior critics whoever they may be. I’ve gotten better at shutting off all of these voices and just delving into a story that excites me. It was my rule of thumb from the get go, and remains so today: If a story doesn’t haunt me by day and keep me up at night, I ditch it. I’ve given up on several novels (some full length) because I just didn’t feel the magic. And yet, every draft is an act of faith. But it’s those moments of “magic” I look for—the intersection of truth, authenticity, and wow, in storytelling.
She Reads: I think you once told me that you don’t plot out your novels in advance, that the process of discovering the story is half the fun for you. That is fascinating to me and I wonder if you ever find yourself not knowing where the story goes? If so, how do you find it again?
Sarah: Yes! I’m a bit of a literary hippie that way, I guess. But, I have several writing rules: I must have a clean desk. I must have a great title. And I must have a fabulous beginning and ending. I often write the last chapter first. There’s something about typing ‘the end’ initially that is so incredibly satisfying. But yes, I love seeing where a story takes me. It’s like getting into the passenger seat of a beautiful convertible on a warm night and just throwing your arms up and letting go and enjoy the ride.
She Reads: GOODNIGHT JUNE centers around Margaret Wise Brown’s famous children’s book, GOODNIGHT MOON. (I’ve read this book to my children so many times I could recite it in my sleep. Also, when I read the book to my youngest son, my older children still come sit by me and help him find the mouse on every page). Are your boys still in the stage where you do the majority of the reading? Or have they discovered books for themselves? Any family favorites?
Sarah: Yes, we look for the mouse still, too. My boys are 7, 5, and 3, and they love the mouse, the balloon, and, funnily enough, the “mush.” I read this book to them so many times in the yellow gingham upholstered rocking chair in the upstairs nursery over the years that eventually my creative mind began to envision a novel inspired by it. I miss those days (no more rocking babies to sleep), but we read together every night. They still love all of their old beloved picture books, but we’ve moved on to The Magic Treehouse series, which my 7 year old enjoys reading.
She Reads: You have carved quite a career for yourself since THE VIOLETS OF MARCH debuted three years ago. What would you like to be writing/doing three years from now? Five years?
Sarah: What an inspiring question! I am so grateful for the career I’ve been able to build, and I honestly jump out of bed every morning excited for what the day will hold. I do have some exciting goals for the years ahead, but if I can just still be writing the stories I love and interacting with readers in the way I do, I will be one happy author. Oh, and to see one of my books make it to the big screen would be pretty awesome too (I may or may not already have a dress in mind for the red carpet!).