I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, and Madison, Wisconsin…but only partly. Sometime around the age of six or seven, I plunged into a book and never really came up for air. Oh, I went to school, walked my dog, loved my family…but I grew up as much in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth and Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain, Charlotte Bronte’s stormy moors and Jane Austen’s elegant drawing rooms, as I did in the Midwest suburbs.
I went off to college in Oberlin, Ohio, where I read as much medieval literature as they would let me. I also spent my junior year at Oxford, learned to read Old English, and was allowed to touch a twelfth century manuscript with my (GULP!) bare hands. After I graduated, I headed for New York and a job in publishing. I spent ten years there, finally becoming a senior editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books. A little while after my first book, The Dragon’s Son, was published, I made the painful decision to leave editing, which I loved, to concentrate full time on writing. And I left New York as well, to settle in Portland, Maine.
I’m still living as much in books as in the real world. The only difference now is that some of the imaginary worlds I get to spend time in are my own. This is my entirely unearned good fortune, and I only hope it will last the rest of my life.
SIX MINUTES WITH SARAH THOMSON:
Author Sarah L. Thomson joins LitPick for Six Minutes with an Author! Sarah is the author of nonfiction books, novels, picture books and poetry, all for children and young adults. Sarah’s YA books include Mercy: The Last New England Vampire and Deadly Flowers: A Ninja’s Tale, which will be released in April. Sarah grew up both in the Midwest and in the locations in the books she read such as J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth and Jane Austen’s elegant drawing rooms.
How did you get started writing?
I think that I began by rewriting my favorite books or TV shows or movies in my head and eventually on paper. If I wanted a new ending or if I wished a secondary character would get more play or if I wanted to imagine myself inside a story, I just began to redo it! After a while I was creating my own characters and storylines. That's the joy of being an author--you get to be in charge of the story. Turns out that's what I always wanted.
Who influenced you?
The easy answer to that is "everything I ever read!" Being a writer means being sensitive to what you are reading. But certainly there were books and writers who were powerful for me. Jane Eyre, The Lord of the Rings, and Dr. Seuss come to mind when I think about books I read growing up. Today I know that my writing is being shaped by many writers: the divine Jane Austen, the hilarious Hilary McKay, and the late, lamented Terry Pratchett, among others. No matter what I read, I hear echoes of it in my own writing. It's fun to see hints and shadows of the writers that I love coming out in my own prose.
Do you have a favorite book/subject/character/setting?
Oh, no, that would hurt the other books' feelings. I feel very tender about all of my books and characters--I couldn't pick a favorite! That said, I do have a bit of a soft spot for my villains. I'm a nice and polite and soft-hearted person, so it's wicked fun to write about characters who are fierce or ruthless--like Kata, my teenaged ninja in an upcoming novel, Deadly Flowers.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to be an author?
The best piece of advice I ever got about being a writer was this: "Finish." (It was said by E. L. Konisberg originally, I think.) Get into the habit of completing what you start to write.
Where is your favorite place to write?
In my office, on my wooden table. Best if the table is empty, with no extra projects on it--only a pile of clean paper (slowly growing shorter) and a pile of scribbled-on paper (slowly growing taller).
What else would you like to tell us?
Ideas are everywhere! A lot of people wonder and ask, "How do you get your ideas?" I think writers aren't the only people who get ideas--we're just the people who notice the ideas and hang onto them. If something makes you sit up and go, "Oh, wow, really?" that's probably an idea. I got an idea for one novel (Mercy) when I read about a young woman from Rhode Island whose friends and neighbors took her body out of a crypt and cut out her heart because they were convinced that she was a vampire. (I swear, it happened. In 1893.) Another novel (Deadly Flowers) came into being when I read a short paragraph about a woman in feudal Japan who ran a school to turn girls into ninjas. How could anybody resist writing about something like that?
Sarah, thank you for spending six minutes with LitPick! We love your advice to aspiring authors! We’re looking forward to the release of Deadly Flowers.