After three ex-husbands, two successful novels, and one disastrous book she’d rather forget ever having written, Fiona Fields has hit a wall. Days once filled with critics gushing over her latest masterpiece have given way to endless hours spent lying on her living room floor in Lakeview Valley, the tiny North Carolina mountain town of her youth, and staring at her ceiling.
But after Fiona’s agent calls with an opportunity intended to drag her back into the land of the living, Fiona finds herself inspired by her ex-step-daughter, Karen, and she’s soon off and running with a brand new idea for a book and a brand new lease on life (sort of).
What Fiona doesn’t anticipate is long-buried family secrets revealing themselves and threatening to upend her newfound momentum. As she struggles to make sense of revelations about the life she thought she knew, Fiona will find that the past often shows up in the present in very unexpected ways, and that, try as she might, she’s not exempt from the 215-year-old Lakeview tradition of long-forgotten secrets coming to light in spectacular fashion.
I tracked down author Sarah Buchanan to grill her about her debut novel. Even upon first meeting, talking with Sarah is like talking with an old friend. She can tell a story about someone waving a gun at her small town newspaper office after disagreeing with a high school football article and you’ll be surprised to find yourself laughing along with your gaping. It’s that gift for telling stories of troubles with charming humor that has me most excited about her new book.
Have you always been a writer?
Definitely. The first thing I remember writing was a play when I was in 3rd grade that involved these fish puppets we’d made in art class, which was a smash hit during its limited run of one performance. My first major completed work was a 75-page or so *NSync fan fiction I wrote when I was 15, and which my high school boyfriend, Jason, had bound and printed for me. That thing is still on my bookshelf! I also have a journalism background (magazines, newspapers, online media, etc.) and have been running an oft-neglected food blog for about 5 years, “Sarah Cooks the Books.” Currently, I work as a technical writer, but that’s not even vaguely related to the type of writing I’ve generally done.
This book deals with the revelation of life-changing family secrets. Discovered any scandalous family secrets of your own?
One of my ancestors was hanged as a witch during the Salem Witch Trials, but that’s about it, and I’m pretty sure that happened because of a land dispute. If there are any deep, dark family secrets, they’ve remained well-hidden to this point.
In what way are you and your main character most similar and in what way are you most different?
We’re both writers from North Carolina who love a good pun and who find our own jokes screamingly funny even if no one else does. Especially when no one else does.
I think the main differences between us lie in terms life experience; not that I have no experiences of my own, but Fiona has racked up a handful of ex-husbands, has seen huge commercial success and the financial gains that go along with it, and has managed to navigate the waters of an especially difficult relationship with her parents, and she’s not that much older than me. As a result, she comes in with a lot of baggage and lot of stuff she maybe hasn’t dealt with in the healthiest ways yet. She’s more than a little self-destructive. My own life has been way more low-key. (I’d also like to state for the record that Fiona’s mother is not based on my own. My mom is great!)
The book is set in a small, North Carolina town. What inspiration did you bring from places you’ve lived to the book? Were there any particular slices of life from your own experiences that you put into the book?
Well, I’m originally from North Carolina, so the book setting was pretty well ingrained in me. The first part of my life was spent in a pretty rural area, and then we moved to a more suburban area, and then I lived in another rural area for a while, so the small town dynamic is something that has always fascinated me and was the biggest inspiration for the book. A lot of people have this idea of what that kind of place is like: everyone knows everyone, everyone is in each other’s business, etc., and they’re exactly right in thinking that, but the real-life towns have way more heart than outsiders might think. I wanted to celebrate that.
Whether things from my own life make it into my books is a question I get asked a lot, actually. It’s hard to write a whole story without inserting some aspect of your experience into it, so I guess there’s definitely stuff that inspired the story, but almost nothing is pulled directly from real life. I will say, though, that there’s one exchange between Fiona and another character that is a word-for-word replica of a conversation I had with my husband once, but I won’t say what it is. Leave a little mystery out there since my family history is so devoid of scandal.
Does the book have a particular theme that inspired you?
When I started writing it, I didn’t really know what it was about. I had the idea of one character and a single circumstance that happened to someone else that I found interesting, but not a whole lot else. It wasn’t until I actually finished it that I realized that the theme of family had come about, and when I realized that, I thought it was pretty cool. The theme of being born into a family but, ultimately, creating your own from people you choose to allow to be around you is something I feel really strongly about in my own life, so it’s not really surprising it showed up in my book.
What advice would you give to a young or new writer?
I have beaten myself up for years because a lot of writers say “Write every day. If you don’t write every day, you’re never going to be successful, you’re never going to finish anything.” I wasn’t able to write every day, and I felt like because of that, I was failing. My first piece of advice would be to not beat yourself up if your project is going slowly. If one day, you sit down and write 2,000 words, and don’t pick it up again for a month, it’s really okay. Work at your own pace (unless you have a deadline, obviously. Then maybe kick it up.)
Secondly, I feel that to be a successful writer, you have to also be a voracious consumer of words. Read constantly, and not just stuff in your particular genre. Also, watching television shows (scripted, not like the marathons of The Real Housewives that I’m guilty of) is great for learning to craft dialogue, settings, and stuff like that. Oh, and watching people and their interactions with each other can be really inspirational. Of course, my writing is really dialogue heavy, so listening to people and taking notes of their speaking habits is something I do a lot.
If you had to describe what inspires you in one word, what would it be?
I don’t necessarily mean the romantic, kissy love that so many songs, and books and movies are centered around. I mean loving what you do and wanting your work to be the best it can be; the love of people around you, supporting you while you do what you do; and the love of things that other people find inane, but that are the things that make your own, personal life worth living.
That Book I Wrote About Me will be available June 9, 2017. Pre-order your copy on Amazon.
Sarah Buchanan grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. She has worked as a waitress on a dinner train, a radio DJ, a preschool teacher, a journalist, and a technical writer. She now lives in Southern California with her husband and their cats. Her first completed work was a play written when she was 9 that was performed by several classmates and the fish puppets they made in art class.
Sarah’s debut novel, That Book I Wrote About Me, is the first in a series about the fictional small North Carolina town of Lakeview Valley.
Find her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sarahbuchananwrites.
Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/sarahwroteabook.
Track her progress in her year-long attempt to post one new photo every day on Instagram at www.instagram.com/sarahbuchananwrites.
If you too are a budding novelist, check out Online Resource Guide for Aspiring Authors.
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