Sarah Lynn Novak is the author of YA novels Smacked and Voices. She also has two poetry collections, This One's for you: Quotes and Poems for Different Situations and Through The Cracks: Short poems written from a dark place.
Your bio states you're working on a new project titled “Triggered.” How has that been going?
Really well! I slightly tweaked the plot and the motive behind the anonymous antagonist "The Deliverer" so all the loopholes have fallen into place. No specific deadline yet but definitely want to have a first full draft completed by the end of the year.
Which form did you begin writing first, poetry or fiction? On the first draft, do you generally know what form it will take, or do you find that it crosses over?
Fiction. I was reading a ton of R.L. Stine books when I was 11 and loved all of his fun plot twists. So one day I just thought to myself, "I want to try this" and I wrote an awful short horror story about a haunted house. On first drafts in fiction, I always know what form it will take from the beginning (usually first person narrative). In poetry, I sometimes transition between rhyming and free verse depending on the tone of the poem.
As a poet, how important is accessibility of meaning to you? How do you balance making demands on readers with taking care of them?
It's hard because I know not everyone understands poetry and that's ok! But I feel like my poems are pretty easy to follow and I try to keep them short but still powerful. As for fiction, that's an entirely different challenge to balance what I want from the readers vs. what they want from me. My stories tend to walk a tightrope of inspirational and unsettling. I want the readers to feel everything but I don't want to completely bum them out either after they finish the book.
What's your schedule like when you're writing? What keeps you on track?
I mostly write in bursts when the mood strikes or a dialogue comes to mind. I don't really believe in word count or anything like that but I have lately made an effort to keep myself in the mood for longer periods of time. I'll listen to certain songs or watch certain tv shows/movies of the same genre to keep it in my head.
To me, Smacked and Voices seem to be very character-driven works, where the perceptions and reactions of the characters carry the story. How much time do you spend on developing characters? Did any of them surprise you on how much of the heavy lifting they could do?
I started writing Smacked when I was 17 so both of the main characters were developed from parts of myself. More-so, the character Juliana because we were both starting a new school in our senior year and struggling through a first bout of depression. Locke was developed more from observing other people in my life, imagination, and some very loosely related parts of myself. In Voices, Skye and Randy were created more from imagination, empathy, and twisted fun.
The one character that surprised me was Ivy from Voices who started out as a minor antagonist to Skye. As the story progressed, I ended up finding a way to tie her to both Randy and Skye in a way that i hadn't known until the middle of writing. I also feel that she developed into somewhat of an antihero but I'll say no more.
In your opinion, what is the most important thing to keep in mind when writing YA?
Teenagers are the hardest audience to keep interest and relevancy, especially in today's rapidly changing times. I think the most important thing is to be more empathetic to their way of thinking and their behavior, rather than be critical. And of course, remember that times are much different than when I was a teenager so it's not always a fair comparison.
Many readers comment that they deeply and meaningfully connect with your work. Do you have any advice for fellow writers on connecting with their audience?
Just don't be afraid to get personal. I've dealt with chronic depression off and on for a while and it often plays a big role in many of my books but the readers seem to relate to that the most, so I don't mind sharing it anymore.
Is there anything else you'd like readers to know?
Much of my content is quite dark but I never intend to glorify any of that. We live in society that is constantly telling us "Good vibes only!" and yet treating depression and anxiety as an aesthetic rather than an actual human struggle. People aren't getting a realistic sense of emotion anymore. I think it's important that we confront all emotions, good and bad, rather than masking them in endless false happiness or even worse, glamorization. I just want my readers to be more in touch with their internal selves, whether it's negative or positive, so that they have a better grip on how to cope with the bad emotions.
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Photo Credit: Sarah Lynn Novak