If you’re like me, you love to pick the brains of all the book-lovers and writers you know.
To that end, I’m very nearly ecstatic to host my very first author interview here on the ol’ Wordsmithery blog. So, without further ado, please join me in welcoming speculative fiction author and blogger Sarah Potter, who recently published a new novel.
*Please note that green typefaces are for emphasis and were supplied by me (that is, Leigh).
Author walking in the wilds of the U.K.
1. Sarah, for those who might be visiting my blog and/or getting to know you for the first time, could you please introduce your own writing and other literary history, such as your own blog (and how long you’ve been doing that, etc.)?
Before answering this question, I’d just like to say a big thank you to you, Leigh, for inviting me to your blog for this interview. I can’t remember exactly when we stumbled upon each other in Blogland, but probably about two years ago. As fellow eccentrics, who enjoy exercising literary freedom writing speculative fiction, we gelled with each other from the start. And for those who don’t know, Leigh was beta-reader-in-chief for both of my published books, and a grand job of it she did, too.
In reviews of my work, people have used the word “quirky” so often that I’ve decided to make it my brand. Hence the recent birth of my Facebook fan page, “Sarah Potter’s Quirky Novels”. In other words, I slip and slide between genres, not to rebel against the pigeonholing of books into neat categories, but because that’s the way I write. The chunks of genre in my mixing pot include science fiction, fantasy, thriller, humour (both light and dark), snippets of romance, and the occasional eroticism.
I’ve written five novels, two of which I’ve indie published. The three unpublished ones are waiting for me to knock them into shape, armed with some invaluable, positive, and constructive feedback from publishers and literary agents over the years. I haven’t given up on the idea of traditional publishing, but just wanted a break from submitting material, in order to contemplate whether I could write a straight genre novel and, if so, what genre?
I started my blog Sarah Potter Writes in the last week of December 2011. It began mostly with haiku, which I’d been experimenting with on Twitter, and then moved on to include occasional flash fiction, or music-related stuff, as I’m a singer. Also, I got involved with various inter-blog weekly or monthly challenges. Then I took up photography and began posting my own pictures, mostly nature ones. In January 2014, I started a monthly guest storyteller flash fiction feature and my weekly Monday morning haiku feature, both of which have proved extremely popular and are still going strong.
2. Noah Padgett and the Dog-People is your second published novel, correct? For those not familiar with Desiccation (your first), what made you turn toward juvenile literature for your latest work?
Although these two novels were the first I published, they were my third and fourth ones written.
With Desiccation, I’ve never been able to decide if it’s a teenage or an adult novel. On Amazon, I have it under the browsing categories of science fiction (young adult) and urban fantasy (adult), with its readership age set at 15-18+. But with Noah Padgett and the Dog-People, I have it under animal stories/dogs (children) and action and adventure (children), with the age set at 10-18+. In other words, both of these works come under the umbrella of juvenile fiction but they are also crossover novels that will appeal to adults, too.
I never made a conscious decision to write for one age group or another, and suspect that my readers in main are aged forty-plus. With each of my five novels, I wrote the story that inspired me at the time, two of which happened to have juveniles as the main characters. As to whether this makes them primarily juvenile fiction, I’m still undecided. Certainly their Flesch reading-ease scores would indicate that this is the case, but some of the humour and references may go above some young people’s heads.
My three unpublished novels are definitely for adults, especially the last one, which is very controversial!
Sarah’s own dog (shown here as a puppy) inspired her latest novel.
a. Following on this question: was your own Labrador inspiration for any character(s) in Noah Padgett (such as Bluebell!) and, if so, how?
Yes, indeed, my chocolate Labrador was the main inspiration behind writing this story. At the time when I started on the novel, she was a puppy just like Bluebell and, whilst we housetrained her, my son and I took it in turns to stay with her in the kitchen and stay on hand to let her outside into the garden at a moment’s notice. Each of us would use the time to work on our laptop computers at the kitchen table, which had the additional positive result of teaching a puppy with needle-sharp teeth some important lessons, such as the fact that wires are not for swinging on, playing tug-of-war with, or chewing.
What triggered the story was a dream I had about my puppy disappearing and not being able to find her anywhere. I awoke from this dream in a terrible state of anxiety, imagining how terrible such a thing would be, which then gave birth to the main premise behind my novel: that a boy has his precious puppy stolen from him and he has to rescue her from an arch-baddie in another dimension.
3. Could you describe what your writing process is like? This is something that I, as a writer, am always curious to know. Or, alternatively, what is a typical day like for you, in which you do some writing?
I’m a pantser rather than a plotter, so I start with an idea and do any research on the trot. With my first book, a science fiction romance, I set it in a psychiatric hospital similar to the one where I used to work. Thus, I fictionalised a familiar setting and had as one of my main characters a student psychiatric nurse who falls into an inappropriate relationship with a weirder than weird patient. People say, “Write what you know”. Well, I know about psychiatry back in the late 70s and early 80s, and about those huge institutions, now mostly closed down; although I never had an affair with a patient!
Again, with Desiccation, I used both a setting and a time period with which I was familiar, having been at a boarding school for girls in the late 60s. Then I asked myself the question, what would have happened if my old school had come under attack by body-snatching aliens?
With my most recent novel, it started out as a 400-word piece of flash fiction with two characters, which grew into a 65,000-word novel because the setting and characters would not let go of me. The writing is very experimental, the plot complex, and, if I’d been of a weaker mental disposition, the writing of it could have given me a nervous breakdown. It involved such complex family trees and timelines that at one point I had to press the pause button on my writing and start plotting, or literally lose the plot. Such were my love-hate feelings towards it, that I drew my only consolation from the fact that George Orwell felt like this about his novel Nineteen Eight-Four, although unlike my book, nobody would have classed his one as a dystopian soap opera.
My typical writing day, when working on a novel, involves sitting at my desk and occasionally gazing out of the window to contemplate, or rummaging through research notes. This happens from Monday to Friday, give or take other family commitments, from 11am to 1 pm and then again from 2 to 3.30pm. These days differ from the times when I’m not writing a novel, which are much more fragmented and less inspired.
4. As you call him in your Amazon synopsis, there is a central villain in this book dubbed “mad entrepreneur Monsieur Percival Poodle.” My question is: why do you hate poodles? (Only kidding!) What in your background led you to describe (in spot-on ways, I must say) the Canis sapiens characters with the personalities, temperaments, habits, strengths, and foibles that you do?
I was raised in kennels — well, not literally, but my mother bred and showed dogs, so I was around them for most of my childhood. Then for about three years after leaving school, I worked in her kennels.
As for poodles, I don’t hate them; in fact, I know a wonderful white standard poodle who gets on just fine with my Labrador and isn’t villainous at all.
5. Backing up for a moment, Sarah, what would be (or is) your 30-second elevator pitch for Noah Padgett and the Dog-People?
You know, this question almost brought on an instant headache, until I realised that my book description on Amazon takes 30 seconds to read (if you’re a fast reader). So here it is…
The tale of a boy who fell into the paw-hands of a villain crazier than the Mad Hatter and more puffed up than Mr Toad…
Noah Padgett’s new stepmother treats him as the worst inconvenience in the world. She wants him to disappear out of her life, along with Bluebell, the nuisance puppy his father bought him for his birthday. Her wish comes true, although too fast for her to notice, after Noah clicks the wrong link on his computer at midnight.
Mad entrepreneur Monsieur Percival Poodle is the self-appointed ruler of Zyx, a dimension where Canis sapiens is the predominant species. Percival likes to collect alien specimens, and two of them have just arrived in his dimension from Earth. One is a primitive four-legged chocolate Labrador and the other a human boy.
Mercenary Lurcher Sergeant Salt works for the highest bidder and makes it his policy to extract maximum profit from jobs. This means selling his alien captives separately, however much distress it causes them.
Fate has already stolen Noah’s beloved mum from him, to replace her with a stepmother from hell. Now it seems that fate has struck again, by stealing Bluebell and leaving Noah to languish in a high-security hospital for criminally insane Canis sapiens, with no apparent means of escape and terrified for his precious puppy’s safety.
6. Merely a matter of curiosity for me, but something I’m wondering is did you ever consider making Noah Padgett a Naomi Padgett? In your novel Desiccation, the plot is centered on a girls’ school in the UK, so the main protagonist, Janet, is a teen girl–and the setting is some years earlier, whereas for Noah, it’s decidedly modern-day (ie, 2000 or later). Was it a conscious move on your part to make the next novel center on a boy exiting the pre-teen or “tween” years and entering teenage-dom full-fledged?
I always wanted a “Noah” and not a “Naomi”, except for one brief spell. This was after I’d finished the earliest draft and wondered, as a female author, whether my use of the first-person point of view for Noah might confuse children. In the end, I decided to rewrite the novel in the third-person. I also made Noah three years’ older than in the first draft.
7. Let’s dig into your writing process a little more. Yet another thing I am curious about, as both a reader and writer, is how authors arrive at titles, character names, settings, and so on. Could you briefly describe how it works for you?
I have a working title for each novel, but usually end up calling it something else. It’s quite fun deciding what to call my characters, but I usually google a name to check that it doesn’t belong to a famous axe-murderer or war criminal or somebody undesirable. As far as fantasy names go, I like to check that they don’t mean something horrendous in another language other than English. Recently, I watched the Shannara Chronicles [based on the best-selling fantasy series by author Terry Brooks] on TV and thought “drat”, now I must find another name for Shanastra, the fantasy kingdom in my sword and sorcery fantasy novel, as it’s too similar.
I think I’ve already answered the rest of the things in this question.
8. From whom and/or what (e.g., hobbies, past-times, work) do you draw inspiration, for writing, life, or anything else?
I’ve already answered this question, too, but you might find a few additional snippets on my blog at https://sarahpotterwrites.com/about/
9. Can you give us a sneak peek into what you might be working on next? A novel? A novella? Short story?
I’m not sure whether to give my sword and sorcery fantasy novel an edit and final polish, then indie-publish it. For me, this would be an experiment into whether a novel that fits into a definite genre is easier to market, or that marketing for an indie author is always a pain.
Alternatively, I could work on something new. I have several ideas, including a crime novel, a ghost story, and a literary classic/paranormal mash-up.
On the other hand, I might compile an anthology of flash fiction and poetry, using Japanese poetic forms.
But before any of the above, I’m going to submit my dystopian soap opera to a new publisher who’s interested in speculative fiction that’s controversial and diverse.
10. Anything really important that I’ve missed? Such as, do you plan any specials on your book or have any other things in the works related to Noah Padgett?
In November , the audio version of Noah Padgett became available to buy through Amazon or direct from Audible. A fabulous actor, Mil Nicholson, narrates the story with style, even managing to do different voices for all the characters. When I heard her recording for the first time, it was almost as exciting as having had a movie made of my book. At some point in the next few weeks, I will be interviewing her on my blog, so make sure not to miss that treat.
My Kindle Countdown Deal is to run from December 25 – January 1 on Amazon (US & UK only), throughout which time Noah Padgett and the Dog-People will be $0.99 (£0.99). Added to this, if you download the Kindle copy of my book you can get this offer for my Audiobook …
MORE FROM SARAH:
You can find all the info appertaining to Sarah’s published novels on her blog page https://sarahpotterwrites.com/publication-updates/, including links to previews, an audiobook sample, plus links to her product pages on Amazon and on Audible.
A full list of Sarah’s author links:
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SarahPotterWrites/
Amazon author pages: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sarah-Potter/e/B019A7QHO6/
Independent Author Network (IAN): http://www.independentauthornetwork.com/sarah-potter.html
Quick-links to both Sarah’s indie-published books:
Noah Padgett and the Dog-People (Kindle edition): http://getBook.at/Zyx