Sunday, May 10, 2015

Sarah Dessen Event Recap + Interview

Hey everyone!

I'm here today for a type of post I don't get to do very often—an event write-up! Indianapolis seems to get relatively few author visits compared to cities of similar sizes, so I haven't had the chance to meet many authors. But last week I got an email from a Penguin publicist, letting me know that Sarah Dessen, who's basically contemporary YA royalty, would be doing an event in my city. I knew I had to attend, especially when the publicist offered me the chance to interview Sarah before the event. 

So yesterday I emerged from my AP study cave (thankfully, calculus is over, but today was dedicated to AP human geography), thought up a few questions, and headed over to the nearby library that was hosting the author visit.

Just the first few rows of a packed room. Sorry for the
graininess—I forgot my camera at home and had to use
my mom's iPad camera.
One of the best parts of the event was the number of people there. The room was packed with fans who had come from all over the Midwest—Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio, and probably more. At the beginning of her talk, Sarah Dessen quipped that she was worried not many people would show up, since we were in "John Green territory," but it turns out there was nothing to worry about. I was ecstatic to see so many people coming out to support an author visit, and, of course, I loved talking to other contemporary YA fans.

After my interview with her—I'll get to that in a minute—Sarah Dessen launched into a short talk about her latest book, Saint Anything. She told us she was struggling with a difficult work-in-progress and had decided to take a writing break when she fell in love with the idea for her latest release. She waited awhile to let the concept simmer, but when she started writing, she got more excited about the story than she had been with any previous book.

After that, the floor was open for questions. Sarah gave some writing advice (if you're going to take a leap of faith and try to become a writer, she advised, do it when you're young and more willing to deal with a cheap house and a side job waiting tables) and talked about how she keeps her teenage voice fresh (she tries to avoid slang and references to technology, which can quickly become outdated). Then came a signing with a line that was still going strong long after I left the library.

But of course the most exciting moment for me was conducting a short interview before the event. It was my first time interviewing an author in person—my past interviews have all been via email—but everyone involved was too nice for the experience to be intimidating or awkward. Anyway, without further ado, here's the interview (please note that I paraphrased a bit since I hand-wrote Sarah Dessen's responses rather than voice-recording the conversation):
If you could pair up two of your main characters from different books—either romantically or as friends—which two would pick?
It's hard to say who I would pair up romantically because I feel like all my couples belong with each other—I can't imagine any of my couples with anyone else. But I think Remy from This Lullaby and Layla from my newest book, Saint Anything, would make good friends because they're both very bold and confident girls.

I've noticed that your books tend to mention characters and towns from your other books. Is there a specific reason for these references?
I started doing it because I was asked for sequels so much. There are so many series in YA, and people have gotten used to finding out what happens next. But I don't write series, so it's a nice way to wink at readers and thank them for wanting more of my characters. And those kinds of connections happen in small towns—I grew up in a pretty small college town, and sometimes you'll see a boy you had a crush on in seventh grade at the gas station. But it's basically a way to say thank you to readers.

Your readers love you because you stick to a specific type of book—realistic YA about family, friendships, and romance—and you do it so well. I know you've said you plan to stick to contemporary, but do you have any recommendations for books outside your genre?
I actually don't read a lot of science fiction or dystopian because it's hard for me to get into the plot. My husband tried to get me to watch Game of Thrones, but I had a hard time following the plot, and I kept asking him what was happening. But I do read a lot of adult contemporary—my favorite author is Anne Tyler, and my favorite book is A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. And I read a lot of picture books now too, since I have a seven-year-old daughter.

Now I have a few questions from people on Twitter. One of my followers would like to know, since you teach, take care of your daughter and write books, how do you balance your daily routine? [question suggested by @RyanBada]
I actually don't teach anymore—not many people know that. I stopped because I was teaching, I was writing—and I used to wait tables and write—and it got to be too much. Even now, I have a lot of really good help. I live in a small college town, and I have some great college babysitters. I can never believe celebrity magazines when celebrities say they don't have nannies for their children, that they do it all on their own. I'll always say that it takes a village.

It seems like a lot of your books are set in the summer. What is it about this season that appeals to you? And do you think writing a lot of summer books is a habit you'd give up? [another question from @RyanBada]
I like summer because, for me, summer was always a transitional period. Not so much as an adult, but when you're a teenager, you're growing so much and changing so much. So much can happen over the summer. And I just love summer weather. I could never live where you guys live—even North Carolina can get too cold in the winter. But the book I have an idea for right now—just a tiny idea—doesn't take place in the summer, and neither does Saint Anything. So I might have to write two books in a row set in different seasons.
Thanks so much to Penguin and the Indianapolis Marion County Public Library system for making this event possible! Have you ever attended an author event or interviewed an author in person? Let me know in the comments. 


  1. That's so cool that you got to attend this! I really want to read Saint Anything.

  2. Sarah Dessen is on my list of authors to meet. Everyone who does meet her talks about how amazing she is. Great interview! Summer does make a great season for books. :)


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