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MFA Creative & Professional Writing

This Week’s Spotlight: Sarah Darer Littman

 

WCSU Mentor Sarah Darer Littman is an award-winning author of over 16 books for young people, including Fairest of Them All and Anything But OkayShe also wrote political opinion for fourteen years,with Hearst Newspapers and CTNewsJunkie.com.

Her first novel, Confessions of a Closet Catholic, won the 2006 Sydney Taylor Book Award for Older Readers. Her novel Backlash won the Iowa Teen Book Award. Sarah also teaches at the Yale Writers’ Workshop.

 

November 30, 2018 

 

Tell us a little bit about your genre. (I.e. why you write in this genre, how you discovered it, what you love most about it…)

My primary genre is contemporary realistic fiction for young adults – my Scholastic editor, Jody Corbett, calls me “The Dick Wolf of YA.” I’m particularly fascinated by the intersection of young people and technology – my last four YA novels have explored different aspects of how growing up in a technology driven world affects what is already a very tumultuous time, emotionally, physically, and hormonally.

I also write humorous middle grade, because I’m a reasonably funny person in real life, and my YA body of work didn’t reflect that.

I also wrote opinion columns for 14 years, and am still a politics and news junkie. I bookmark news stories I find interesting in a “book ideas” folder, and go back to that when I’m brainstorming.

I love writing for young people because inside this middle-aged woman’s body lives a strong, vibrant inner teen— an inner teen that still wants to believe that the world should be fair and just, and refuses to stop examining, questioning, and fighting until it is.

 

What is your opinion of the writing process? What is your process? Are all processes equal?  

Every writer has to find the process that works best – and what works best for one book might not work with the next. Laurie Halse Anderson (one of my writing idols) said that each book requires specific tools from your writer’s toolbox. I find it usually takes at least 20,000 words into a first draft for me to figure out which tools a book needs. Then there’s my current novel, which took three complete rewrites before that happened…

 

How do you deal with critics?

Being an opinion columnist for fourteen years was great preparation for Kirkus Reviews and GoodReads. Some of my book reviews might be a tad mean, but at least they don’t include rape threats or tell me I’m “using the American Way of Life to Destroy the American Way of Life and the Rest of Western Civilization in the process”!

It helps to have trusted readers who will give you constructive, honest criticism. If more that one of my trusted readers thinks something is a problem, then I know I have to figure out how to fix it.

Learning to be able to give and receive effective critique are mandatory skills for being a good member of your writing community.

 

What is something unique about you? Any hidden talents? 

I have an extremely eclectic resume, which includes financial analyst in NYC, finance director of a major dairy farm and cheese making enterprise in the rural English countryside (my “Green Acres” decade, for those old enough to remember that series), political opinion writer, author of middle grade and young adult novels, and writing teacher.

 

Any hidden talents?

I have a certificate in Tree and Woodland Management (with Distinction!) from Kingston Maurward Agricultural College in the UK, a souvenir of my decade as a farmer’s wife. Considerably more useful than the tails of Three Blind Mice.

 

Favorite writing quotes?

“Put your butt in the chair and write the damn book.” Jane Yolen

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” Anton Chekov

 

What is the most important thing about writing?

To put your butt in the damn chair and do it.

 

What do you most want to impart to students?

If you want to make a living as a writer, it helps to be versatile. I’ve been paid for business writing, political opinion, young adult fiction, middle grade fiction…and I’m hoping to extend that range to chapter books and picture books in the future.