FRESH FROM THE INKWELL

INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR SARAH SANCHEZ

August 21, 2018

Tags: Nightwalker, The Portal Keeper, fantasy, writing life, motivation, trilogy, getting into writing, Ajax, series, writing advice, first book, print books vs ebooks, writing process, novel excerpt, work-in-progress, Texas, Utah

MY GUEST THIS WEEK IS SARAH SANCHEZ, AUTHOR OF "NIGHTWALKER" AND "THE PORTAL KEEPER." (FOLLOW LINKS AT TOP OF RIGHT-HAND COLUMN FOR DETAILS.)

TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF.

I was born in Dallas, Texas. I love Texas. The weather is crazy, but the people are friendly. I graduated from the University of North Texas with a BA in Spanish. Mexico is my second home. My husband is from Mexico, and I have family down there. I love the culture, the people, and of course the food. I have three wonderful children and I love hiking and spending time outdoors when I am not writing.

Fantasy is my preferred genre to write in. There are no limits in fantasy beyond my own imagination.

WHAT GOT YOU INTO WRITING?

I was never a huge reader when I was younger. I guess I just didn’t find anything that really grabbed my attention. It wasn’t until my early 20’s that I really started to love reading. I would go through series after series.

I never thought of myself as a writer. Term papers were hard to stretch out to the ten or twenty pages required. The thought of writing a book didn’t really enter my mind.

My first book began on a whim. I just wanted to see how long I could write for. This resulted in a completely juvenile story that will never see the light of day. It did teach me that I had the capability to write. I just needed practice and a better storyline.

IS THERE SOMETHING YOU LEARNED FROM WRITING YOUR FIRST BOOK?

Just to persevere. Keep working at it. Don’t be afraid of rewrites. Take your time and don’t rush into publication.

WHICH DO YOU PREFER? PRINT BOOKS OR E-BOOKS?

I probably read about 50/50. Ebooks have their advantage but I still enjoy having a physical book in my hand occasionally.

SHARE A SHORT EXCERPT FROM YOUR NOVEL

It was dark all around him as he struggled to catch his breath. He couldn't make out his hand in front of his face and had no idea which direction to swim in. Suddenly he was roughly pulled out of the water and tossed onto a hard surface. He coughed a few more times and tried to sit up. The floor rocked beneath him, and Ajax realized he was on a ship of some sort.

“Well, what have we got ourselves here?” a grizzly voice asked. “Spots, shine a little light over here, will you?”

Something buzzed by Ajax's ear and then a small but exceptionally bright light shined in his face.

He put up his hand, attempting to shield the beam from his eyes.

“It's a man,” someone called out.

Someone prodded him with a stick.

“Hey!” Ajax exclaimed, swatting it away.

"What were you doing out in the middle of Death Lake at this hour?”

Death Lake, that sounds promising, Ajax thought to himself.

“I'm looking for my friend,” Ajax answered. “Have you seen anyone else? Did anyone else fall?”

“Shut him up,” another voice called. “Get him down below.”

Something covered Ajax's face and then he was grabbed forcefully and carried to another location. He felt as if he were going down stairs. He was flung unceremoniously into a chair, and the hood was yanked off his head. He rubbed the back of his arm, where he had been gripped too tightly. It was dark in this new place too.

Slowly a lamp was lit, giving a little light to the area.

A rhinoceros stood at the head of a table, wearing a pair of striped trousers and suspenders without a shirt. He leaned forward. “How did you come here?”
Ajax scooted back in his chair, looking around the table. He must have really experienced a lot in the past week because the talking rhinoceros didn't amaze him as much as he felt it should.

THAT SOUNDS INTRIGUING, WITH A TOUCH OF THE ABSURD - A TALKING RHINO IN SUSPENDERS! AS YOU SAY, ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE IN FANTASY. TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR MAIN CHARACTER.

Ajax is just about to turn fourteen. He is a dutiful child who is taking on a responsibility that was never meant.

IS THIS A STAND-ALONE NOVEL OR PART OF A SERIES?

The Portal Keeper is book 1 in the series.

CURRENTLY, WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON?

I just finished up the second book in my YA Vampire trilogy. Nightwalker was just released in May. I am also working on the sequel to The Portal Keeper, I don’t have a title yet.

DO YOU HAVE PEOPLE READ YOUR DRAFTS BEFORE YOU PUBLISH? HOW DO YOU SELECT BETA READERS?

Definitely. I am still looking for more. Some authors don’t want too many eyes on their work. I am the opposite. The more eyes the better. It is hard to find good beta readers who will point out your flaws. But I have a few really good ones.

WHAT WAS YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE WHEN WRITING? DID YOU HAVE ANY WRITER'S BLOCK? IF SO, HOW DID YOU WORK YOUR WAY THROUGH IT?

I find working on several projects helps keep my mind flowing. I try to keep the number to three projects. I have found that if I get stuck I can jump to another project and then when I come back to it, I usually don’t have a problem finishing it.

WHAT WAS YOUR WRITING PROCESS LIKE?

I need background noise. Whether it’s the tv or good music. Then I usually just try and hammer out a couple of chapters based on an idea that struck me. If after that I think it's good, then I will start making up an outline and doing research if needed. Once I finish the first draft, I will reread it, make changes and then send it out to my beta readers.

WHAT ARE YOUR HOBBIES ASIDE FROM WRITING, IF ANY?

I enjoy hiking, not that there are many places to do that in Texas, but I recently got to hike some of the parks in Utah. There is some gorgeous scenery. I also enjoy baking, which probably doesn’t help my chocolate addiction.

A GIRL AFTER OWN HEART - TEXAS, HIKING, AND CHOCOLATE!
THANK YOU FOR SHARING WITH US, AND BEST WISHES FOR YOUR WRITING SUCCESS.

Death of a Sequel

July 2, 2018

Tags: sequels, the writing life, YA fiction, middle-grade mysteries, Secret of the Seventh Gate, Iran, Texas, expats, the writing process, plotting fiction

Those of you who followed the progress of my YA novel RIDDLE OF THE SAMOVAR via blog posts of 2014 (A-Z or Z-A) might be wondering whether the book has been published. I must confess that it was never finished. Less than halfway through, after an investment of several years' plotting, I admitted to myself - and to any who would listen - that I was flogging a dead horse.

For whatever reason - unfamiliarity with Texas high school culture in the '70s, being forced to fit events into a precise historical timeline (the Iran hostage crisis) or just plain busy-ness in my non-writing life - this was a failed romance. Much as I enjoyed researching the era and watching my characters from SECRET OF THE SEVENTH GATE start a new adventure, the time had come to close the drawer on all my notes for possible future use, or not.

This freed me up for other projects! I will have two books out this fall - a poetry collection, CATCHING THE TRADE WINDS, and an illustrated London alphabet, X MEANS TEN ON THE FACE OF BIG BEN.

T: TAMMIE TRAYLOR

October 12, 2014

Tags: friendship, junior high, middle school, permanent record, transfer student, lost files, fickle, clique, registrar, rivalry, school counselor, prejudice, small town, Texas, teen angst

Tammie Traylor bounces on to the page in her purple Buffalette uniform, popping watermelon bubble gum. Her hair is pulled across her head and secured with spray-net and two tight ponytails. Her voice is perky, ever ready with a cheer for Hickory Creek, be it volleyball, basketball, or football. Cheerleading is her life. She has moved on from the pursuits she and Jandy shared -- before the Grahams moved away.

"So what happened at Camp Mockingbird?" readers will ask, when I first drop the hint of a falling-out between the two girls in fifth grade.

I don't know myself yet! But the root of Tammie's resentment lies with Jandy's abandonment of her (or so it seems) when Clint Graham took a job in Iran. Like Jandy's Aunt Phyllis, the Traylors cannot fathom why anyone would travel so far to visit, let alone to live. What about the language? Food? Way of life? Religion?

"The world needs stay-put people," Shirley Anne Traylor tells Tammie, "and that's what we are."

A small part of Tammie, however, secretly wonders what it would be like to take that step, to have the courage to begin such an adventure.

By 1979, Jandy's adventure has come to an end. She feels like Alice ejected from the rabbit hole into reality, still getting her bearings. She tries to explain that the ex-pat community in Shekarabad was its own kind of world, neither Iranian nor American, but a mix of interesting people from several continents. Some of them have returned to their countries of origin, and Jandy longs to hear from them, because they understand.

The counselor fusses about incomplete grades. Classmates tire of her "harping on" or "harking back to" Iran. Former friends have changed, but accuse Jandy of changing. Teachers expose gaps in Jandy's knowledge of US History. Cousins under the influence of their mom, Phyllis Graham, rub it in about family celebrations she and Calvin missed out on.

How fair is it that Tammie does all the cheerleading she wants, choreographs ALICE, and helps out in the school office, while her mom (the counselor) can't find a time-slot for Jandy to take 8th grade Art? It's possible that Tammie misfiled Jandy's records accidentally. But how do we know it wasn't deliberate - either to get back at her for the Camp Mockingbird incident, or just to be mean? Somehow the conflict between the girls will tie in with the Riddle of the Samovar. I don't know how, but it will. My subconscious imp (as the late, prolific author Phyllis Whitney called him) is working on the case as we speak.

R: ROSE GARDEN and RIDDLE

October 3, 2014

Tags: Dolly Parton, roses, garden, paradise, Iran, Turkish delight, Paul Ruffin, Persia, Texas, 1979, spy science, archetypes, monomythic cycle, detective science, codes, ciphers, secret message, writing process, plotting

"I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden..." It is 1979. The counselor at Hickory Bend Junior High sings the latest Dolly Parton hit as she digs in her files for Jandy's grade reports. A long way from the rose garden indeed, Jandy muses. She and her brother had left their friend Maryam and dog Meshki among the lush, walled gardens of Shekarabad, Iran.

In the archetypical hero’s journey, circumstances alternate between ideal and unideal until all is resolved. Jandy sees Iran as ideal because after the initial culture shock (3 years before 7th Gate began) she immersed herself in life at the international school and enjoyed her friends, especially Maryam. So, although Texas is her birthplace, she no longer feels at home there. Foreign travel has broadened her perspective, and nobody but family understands. How can Jandy get back to the rose garden, literally or metaphorically? What makes a situation ideal? To what extent will she have to compromise?

Intertwined with the readjustment theme like thorns on a rambling rose are questions about the samovar. Who sent it, when will he or she collect it, and what's inside? A message in the brass neck of the vessel is written, drawn, or typed in a code that Cal must crack. I haven't decided on one yet. I like Pig Pen, which my friend Pat Cooper and I learned at the age of 9 or 10. It's fairly straightforward, but could make publication more tricky, involving images rather than a font.

An alphabet code is simpler to print. I can layers of intrigue and humor by having Cal look up Bible verses and getting in trouble from his Sunday school teacher, Aunt Phyllis, for talking in church. But is the sender familiar with the Bible? And what if a different translation is used?

Both my previous mysteries felt too tangled halfway through the plotting stage. There were so many possibilities, and not enough answers. But that's all part of the writing process. One year at a literary festival in Texas, poet Paul Ruffin advised us to "trust the process." His words are secured with magnets to my filing cabinet, visible from my desk. So, I will hack my way through the briars until I smell the Turkish delight fragrance of roses.

P: PHYLLIS

September 27, 2014

Tags: aunt, prejudice, family opposition, family tension, Islam, Big Tex, State Fair of Texas, Quran, Bible, Jesus, Son of God, overseas contract, ex-patriates, Texas, writing process, characters, antagonist

Jandy mentions Aunt Phyllis in SECRET OF THE SEVENTH GATE as a relative who fails to understand why Clint (Phyllis’s brother) would drag his family halfway around the world, even for a short-term contract. The school counselor, Shirley Anne Traylor, expresses similar views when trying to sort out Jandy’s grades in RIDDLE OF THE SAMOVAR.

Meanwhile in Iran, Maryam’s Aunt Simin is close-minded in matters of religion. “God is too holy to have a son,” she asserts, “and the Bible is full of lies.” My 2nd graders at a Christian school in Texas cried in horror when I read that part of my book to them. Blasphemy!

I haven’t decided how much of a role these aunts will play in the sequel. But I’m sure they will let me know soon enough.

L: LOBSTER QUADRILLE

September 15, 2014

Tags: quadrille, line dancing, Texas, Dallas Cheerleaders, Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll, choreography, immigration, Iranian, community theater, writing process

While Jandy Graham is content to paint and shift scenery, Maryam Darabi prefers acting and dancing. When the international school in Shekarabad, Iran, staged “Ali Baba” in 1978, Maryam played a slave girl, Morgiana [SECRET OF THE SEVENTH GATE]. She swayed and twirled in an ever-faster dance, until she was close enough to the wicked oil merchant to seize his hidden dagger. The school’s previous show had been "Alice in Wonderland" with Maryam in the lead role.

Fast forward to Hickory Bend, Texas, 1979, setting for the sequel, RIDDLE OF THE SAMOVAR. Jandy sees the local production of "Alice" as a way to help her friend get involved in the community, after the ordeal of fleeing Iran. But Tammie Traylor, a Buffalette cheerleader, has different ideas about the Lobster Quadrille.

Should it be danced with the French traditional four walls (lines) or just one, as in the new craze called line dancing? Another girl suggests the disco-inspired Electric Slide. Will the dancers dress as sea creatures, as per Lewis Carroll's book, or wear hats and boots like the popular Dallas Cheerleaders? As Jandy points out, they can be flexible, because this version of the story is already like no other, having been given a Texas twist by a local writer. She even considers a samovar instead of a china teapot for the Mad Hatter scene. But who has the final say on choreography? What about the music? Opera, zydeco, or twangy country?

I had fun researching the evolution of these dances over the decades.

H: HISTORY

September 6, 2014

Tags: Appomattox, Civil War, Persia, Texas, Esther's palace, Daniel's tomb, eighth grade, junior high, Art, Geometry, Riddle of the Sam0var, teenage angst

Having been to Daniel’s tomb, Esther’s palace, and other ancient Persian landmarks, Jandy Graham is no dummy regarding world history. But when it comes to US history, she is made to feel like a complete idiot by teachers and classmates at Hickory Bend Junior High.

Boring Warring embarrasses Jandy by asking her to spell Appomattox while her mind is on more interesting subjects such as art. She cannot tell him what a courthouse had to do with the Civil War. Time after time during her first semester back in Texas, gaps in Jandy’s knowledge are exposed like holes in her jeans revealing Mickey Mouse underwear. She enjoys learning about how ordinary people lived in previous eras, but can never remember dates of battles and presidents, unlike her brother Cal. “I’m not a numbers person,” is Jandy’s excuse.

“Didn’t they teach you anything at that school in Eye-ran?” the counselor asks, as she checks Jandy’s credits and finds them deficient in geometry.

Mom suggests the pastor’s nerdy son, a math whiz, to be her tutor. But who will help with US History if Jandy fails the final and has to re-take the class? That will mean she can’t take art next semester. Worse yet, she might not even graduate 8th grade.

While Jandy’s academic record is not the main problem in RIDDLE OF THE SAMOVAR, it plays into her despondency over leaving friends in Iran (especially Maryam) and failing to regain a foothold in her childhood home.

A IS FOR ART

August 16, 2014

Tags: A to Z, passion, art, eighth grade, junior high, blog challenge, work-in-progress, writing process, plot, characters, middle grade mystery, samovar, Persia, Texas, Islamic Revolution, Iran

Art is Jandy Graham's obsession. The first chapter of Secret of the Seventh Gate showed her walking home from school, hugging a sketchpad. Its sequel, Riddle of the Samovar, begins in a similar way. But now the Grahams are back in Texas, forced out of Iran by that country's Revolution, leaving behind her best friend, Maryam. The only bright spot for Jandy, as she readjusts to American life, is the opportunity to take art as an elective - but only if the counselor approves. Characters are not based on real people, but I do see a bit of myself and my daughter in Jandy's passion for art. It will drive the story and may help her solve another mystery with her brother, Calvin.