Last week I read Sarah Jio’s THE VIOLETS OF MARCH. In one day. Of course I knew that her second novel, THE BUNGALOW, was on its way, but considering I abandoned all my maternal responsibilities that day in order to suck down the book, I figured I better wait until everyone is situated back in school to read it. So, what I’m saying is…don’t be looking for me next Monday. Not kidding. 😉
The title of today’s interview, part of Sarah’s advice to writers, is so incredibly accurate. Sarah’s enthusiasm for her stories is obvious — on her website, on Twitter, and in our email exchanges before, during and after our interview. We all get wrapped up in the business of writing at some point, but I get the feeling that the spirit of writing is never far from Sarah’s grasp. That’s a lesson in itself.
Please welcome Sarah Jio to Women’s Fiction Writers!
Author Sarah Jio Says: When You’re Excited About Your Novel, Others Will Be Excited Too!
SJ: It was different in many ways. Since I already had an agent (and an editor), I had the luxury of making sure my idea was spot on (ie, saleable!) before digging in on the writing. After I got the thumbs up from them both, I began writing confidently. My editor read it in chunks along the way and made an offer on the book shortly after reading the final installment.
I found that while it took a good two years of writing an editing before I sold The Violets of March, my second novel, the second book (The Bungalow, which came out last week!) came to me with ease. I had learned a lot from my editor at Penguin and I put these things into practice while working on my second novel. Writing novels is just like anything else, the more you work at it, the better (hopefully) you get!
ASN: You mentioned to me in our email exchanges that coming up with tons of novel ideas is a chronic disease. Do these novel ideas just come to you or do you go looking for them. And, can we please bottle that disease and sell it?
SJ: Ha! Yes, it is true. I come up with more novel ideas than I can ever use. It IS a chronic disease! But, it’s a very fun disease to have. Truthfully, I love the idea-development process, which is why I find that I think of new novel ideas when I’m stuck on a plot point in my current project. It’s my writerly way of procrastinating.
In my life, I see stories everywhere. The Violets of March was inspired by a song. The Bungalow was partially inspired by my honeymoon in Tahiti, but also by a wartime journal my great uncle kept while in the South Pacific that mysteriously surfaced one day at my mom’s house. Blackberry Winter, my third novel (out in September) was also inspired by a song, of the same name. And The Last Camellia, in progress, and out in 2013, came to me while I was on a jog, admiring a neighbor’s bright pink camellia bush! I’m always looking out for my next idea. (
ASN: What are the key elements you include in your novels? (while published novels equals two — I believe sold novels equal six.)
SJ: I’m drawn to a variety of novels, but the ones that haunt me and hook me the most incorporate some angle of mystery and romance, if there’s a bit of history in there, even better! In my writing, I’ve naturally gravitated to a mix of mystery, romance and history, and it’s a combo that works well for me. I have two novels in print, two more sold and on the way, and three more in progress at the idea-development stage, and they all include some mix of these themes.
ASN: We talk a lot on WFW about not giving up the dream of being traditionally published — but we both know that’s not always easy. I read on your blog that you had an agent before you current agent, Elisabeth Weed. How did you stop yourself from becoming discouraged when things that had been going right started going wrong? (Obviously things have worked out wonderfully!)
SJ: Yes, I had a terrific agent, before Elisabeth, who ended up leaving the agency I was with and decided to pursue an entirely different career. This left me at a crossroads: work with her replacement or start over and find a new agent. I decided to take a big risk and take my new project (which was a very fledgling draft of The Violets of March) and find a new agency. It was scary to leave such a well-regarded literary agency, but in the end, it made sense for me to find an agent that was excited about my career in fiction, someone who would be a true parter with me. What everyone says about literary agents needing to be the right “fit” is so true. It’s really like a friendship or dating relationship in many ways—you absolutely must be compatible!
So I guess, for me, it was less about being discouraged and more about taking hold of the steering wheel of my career and driving it in the direction it needed to go.
ASN: What’s your writing process? Do you outline and synopsize or do write by the seat of your pants? Because whatever you do, it definitely works and you had two novels in 2011, you have one in 2012 and one in 2013. I think they call that prolific! 🙂
SJ: Thank you! I can tell you that my process drives my very logical, scientific-brained husband bonkers. But, he’s gotten used to my odd-ball approach to novel writing. First off, I write in bits and pieces of time when my children (three boys under the age of 5) are either napping or in bed at night (or out on a zoo adventure with daddy!).
When I sit down to start a story, I usually have a good idea of what’s happening in the novel—most of the major plot points are clear, the symbolic elements, and usually the ending (because I love to write the ending first!). Then, I just write and see where the characters take me. I check in with my notebook now and then to see if I’m sticking to the roadmap (usually close enough), but I find that I have the most fun and create the best chapters and characters when I just let them do the talking. Each time I open up the draft, new possibilities await, and I never really know what they’ll be!
ASN: What is your definition of women’s fiction?
SJ: Stories that matter to women, with strong female characters that we can relate to and discuss with our friends, sisters, and mothers.
ASN: What is your best advice to aspiring authors of women’s fiction?
SJ: My best advice is this: Only put effort into a story that you are truly interested in and haunted by. I hear of people plugging along at novels for years and years only to admit that they can’t stand their dreaded manuscript. To get an agent and an editor excited about your story, YOU have to be excited about your story. So the best thing you might do for your career is set your story aside, and think of another that truly grabs you.
I’ve given up on several starts to new novels because they didn’t captivate me. I figure, if I’m going to devote months of my life writing something, it better be entertaining for me. Sure, there are always times in the writing process where it is not blissful, but, in general, my rule is that my works-in-progress must keep me up at night. I have to feel semi-obsessed with them to know they’re going to be good. P.S. I’m currently obsessed with my work-in-progress, The Last Camellia, which sold to Penguin in the fall an will be out next year after my fourth novel, Blackberry Winter, is published!
Thank you for having me on the blog Amy Sue!
Sarah Jio is a veteran magazine writer and the health and fitness blogger for Glamour magazine. She has written hundreds of articles for national magazines and top newspapers including Redbook, O, The Oprah Magazine, Cooking Light, Glamour, SELF, Real Simple, Fitness, Marie Claire, Hallmark magazine, Seventeen, The Nest, Health, Bon Appetit, Gourmet, The Seattle Times, Parents, Woman’s Day, American Baby, Parenting, and Kiwi. She has also appeared as a commentator on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Sarah has a degree in journalism and writes about topics that include food, nutrition, health, entertaining, travel, diet/weight loss, beauty, fitness, shopping, psychology, parenting and beyond. She frequently tests and develops recipes for major magazines.
Her first novel, The Violets of March, was published by Penguin (Plume) on April 26, 2011 and was chosen as a Best Book of 2011 by Library Journal. Her second novel, The Bungalow, will be published on December 27, 2011, also from Penguin (Plume). Her third novel is in progress.
Sarah lives in Seattle with her husband, Jason, and three young sons.
Sarah’s website: http://www.sarahjio.com/
Follow Sarah on Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/sarahjio
Like Sarah on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sarahjioauthor