Thursday, 15 March 2012

Interview and Cover Reveal: Sara Wilson Etienne

Morning all - happy Thursday! Not too long to go until the weekend, phew. Lucky for me my working week has already ended; it's actually mine and my (long suffering) boyfriend's two year anniversary today, so we're spending the next two days celebrating, hooray!

I've got the awesome Sara Wilson Etienne here today to share the beautiful cover art of her debut novel, Harbinger, reveal the next illustration as part of her brilliant Follow the Path feature and after all that I've got a great interview to spoil you all with as well. Busy post, indeed!

I really am seriously excited about Harbinger. It sounds atmospheric and dark and and very unsettling - right up my street. We need more YA like this, people! I'm sure most of you have seen the cover for Harbinger but if you haven't feast your eyes below. This cover is stunning; there's so much to look at and take in and I cannot wait for my copy to arrive so I can see it for real. I know we're only in March but this is definitely one of my favourite covers of the year, just gorgeous.

Walk the Path! Explore the whole gallery of HARBINGER-inspired artwork at This is such an exciting and unique project, I really do urge all of you to click the link - I did and spent farrrr too long looking at all the amazing illustrations. It's made me so excited for the book and I think it's a wonderful way to celebrate the release of Harbinger.

Today's image is available below but click the picture for more information and to see a bigger version.

Follow Sara: @wilsonetienne
Visit Sara:
Watch the Harbinger book trailer:

And now, if all of that excitement wasn't enough, here's the interview I carried out with Sara about her writing process, Harbinger and some of her thoughts about the YA market:

Hi, Sara! In case any readers haven’t read the book yet, can you tell me a little bit about Harbinger?

Sure! I’m totally going to crib from the flap copy from Harbinger, because I like the way it reads.
Plagued by waking visions and nightmares, inexplicably drawn to the bones of dead animals, Faye thinks she’s going crazy. Fast. Her parents think Holbrook Academy might just be the solution. Dr. Mordoch tells her it’s the only answer. But Faye knows that something’s not quite right about Dr. Mordoch and her creepy prison-like school for disturbed teenagers.

What’s wrong with Holbrook goes beyond the Takers, sadistic guards who threaten the student body with Tasers and pepper spray; or Nurse who doles out pills at bedtime and doses of solitary confinement when kids step out of line; or Rita, the strange girl who delivers ominous messages to Faye that never seem to make any sense. What’s wrong with Holbrook begins and ends with Faye’s red hands; she and her newfound friends—her Holbrook “Family”—wake up every morning with their hands stained the terrible brown red of blood. Faye has no idea what it means, but fears she may be the cause.

Because despite the strangeness of Holbrook and the island on which it sits, Faye feels oddly connected to the place; she feels especially linked to the handsome Kel, who helps her unravel the mystery. There’s just one problem: Faye’s certain Kel’s trying to kill her—and maybe the rest of the world, too.

Talk me through an average day when you’re working on a novel. Do you have a set number of words you have to write per day or do you set yourself different targets?

I usually set myself weekly goals. A couple chapters a week, when I’m writing early drafts. More, when I’m revising. That way I can be more flexible with my schedule...if I get done early, I get rewarded with a day off! On the other hand, if I need more time, then I can work during the weekend too.

In young adult fiction in particular, it’s important that readers bond with the characters - what do you think is the most important thing to get right when you're creating a character?

Voice. I tend to write in first person, so a main character’s thoughts and dialogue set the whole tone of the book. What kinds of details do they notice? How do they describe things? How do they speak? In fact, dialogue for all the characters is crucial. Word choice, hesitation, something left unsaid...these are the things that make you fall in love with some characters and be wary of others.

What sort of research did you have to do for Harbinger? How did you go about doing this?

For Harbinger, I got to talk to archeologists, astronomers, speech therapists, librarians, and doctors. Strangely, I love’s all about finding that one little, bizarre detail that surprises you in a sea of facts. I always hit the books first, but my favorite way to research is to talk to the experts. Email is definitely my best friend...I’m not sure how writers did their research before the internet. More than that, I’m endlessly impressed by how generous people are with their time.

The YA book market is a competitive place, what do you think sets Harbinger apart from the pack?

Well, my favorite part about YA is that you aren’t forced to put yourself in a genre can create something new and unexpected. Harbinger is a thriller, a romance, a fantasy, a gets to play in all the genres.

Some writers take great inspiration from music while they’re writing. Do you listen to music while you’re writing? If so, what artists/bands do you like to listen to while you write?

I listen to the same music over and over while I’m working on something. While I was writing Harbinger, I listened to the Battlestar Galactica soundtracks... thundering taiko drums and epic crescendos... it really helped me see my world in front of me. Plus, Bear McCreary is a genius! With my new book, it’s the beautiful, bleak music of Sigur Ros.

Are you a plotter or a pantser? Have you always been this way?

A bit of both. I always know the beginning and end of my stories, so I can outline the skeleton of the story. But the middle is a surprise to me. And my stories evolve over many, many revisions, become something different than I ever imagined!

Can you tell me a bit about your journey with Harbinger? When did you first come up with the idea and what were the timescales involved between the first draft and the novel being accepted for publication?

When I came up with the idea for Harbinger, I’d just graduated from College of the Atlantic in Maine. I moved out to California, but I was still haunted by the rocky coastline and these castlelike old buildings on my college campus. Harbinger started out as a longing for a place and a time I no longer had, but it became a new world where I wanted to live.

In my first draft, written ten years ago, Harbinger was only 90 pages, was told from a different POV, and had almost no dialogue. Even though I didn’t know how to tell it then, the story stuck with me. And over the years, I picked it up again and again as I learned how to write, how to create three dimensional characters, how to get the complicated plot to play nice and make sense. And each time I rewrote and revised it, I found something new in the story. Something new about Faye. And as writing so often works, something new about myself.

How important do you think social media (i.e. Twitter/Facebook/blogging) is in today’s market for a writer?

I think it’s an amazing way to get real world feedback from readers. Writing can be such a solitary activity, so it’s wonderful to have this link with the outside world: to readers, other writers, editors. It’s like a giant conversation and, sometimes, it’s about your book! Of course, there are times when you have to tune out and go back into your writing cave to work. But it’s nice to know you have company whenever you need it.

What would you say is your worst bad habit when it comes to writing?

Well, right now, I’m trying to retrain myself to write first and check email later, so that I’m fresh and ready for the creative stuff. But email is such a flirt. It always promises such lovely things. Just stay another few minutes...just write one more...

Is naming characters important to you? What processes do you go through to come up with names for your characters?

Yes, I’m very careful with my main characters’ names, so I get them right the first time. A character’s name is such a symbol of their identity. But as my secondary characters evolve, I change their names over and over through the drafts. I borrow names from friends, baby books, even brand names I see around the house!

What did you hope to accomplish by writing Harbinger? Do you think you have accomplished what you set out to do?

Honestly, I didn’t set out to accomplish anything. I had a story and I felt compelled to to tell it. But the struggle is trying to get what is in your head down on paper so that other people see what you see. The best is when an agent or editor can see exactly where you’re trying to go, what you’re try to say, and can then help you get there.

Do you think your teenage years have influenced you as a writer? If so, how?

So much! For me, during those years, so much was out of my control. Parents told me what to do, school told me what to spend my time on, and the world seemed to expect things of me that I wasn’t sure I even wanted to do. As an adult, I get to make my own decisions, but this is never more true than when I’m creating a world of my very own.

There is a lot of argument within the young adult market as to what is appropriate for teens to read. Where do you stand on this matter? Do you think teens should be protected from reading about taboo subjects or do you think they should have the freedom to choose their own reads?

Well, in life, teens are dealing with pretty much the same crap adults are. So it doesn’t make much sense to me when people say they should be protected. Life is frightening and uncertain, maybe even more so for teens since they can’t always walk away from the situations they find themselves in, and stories are mirrors that tell us we are not alone. Other people have thought this, have experienced this, and they have survived!

Only a couple things bother me when I see it in YA. Books that handle violence lightly or casually...I’m not against showing violence in books, far from it, but I want readers to feel the weight of a character’s actions if they choose that path.

And books that end without hope. Life can already feel hopeless enough during those years. I don’t need happy endings, or hearts and unicorns, but I do think the role of YA is to show characters that find a way to survive and triumph, at least emotionally if not physically.

What books do you think we should be looking out for in 2012?

Well, a couple of ARCs I’ve read and loved recently are Struck by Jennifer Bosworth (coming out in May) and Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo (coming out in June). Both books have heroines that kick-ass and were fantastic to read! Another book I’m psyched about is Ten by Gretchen McNeil. It doesn’t come out till September but I love murder mysteries, so I can’t wait!

Aside from writing, how do you like to spend your free time?

Well, this year has been almost ALL about writing. But I love to run off and go camping, play games (all kinds...strategy and party games and more casual video games), and I love some good sci-fi/fantasy escapism—Dr. Who, Star Trek, and Buffy.

Thank you so much for your time, Sara. Before you go, could you tell me about any projects you have in the pipeline we can look out for?

Sure. I’m currently writing a new book working with the same editor... the wonderful Stacey Barney at Putnam. My new book is completely different. Different characters, different story, and that’s exciting. And scary. I lived inside the world of Harbinger for so’s strange to step into a new story. But honestly, there is nothing more fun than to get lost inside a world that you’re creating!


Blimey, bit of a bumper post, that one, I'm just knackered writing it up! I just want to say another massive thank you to Sara for a wonderful interview and letting me get involved in such a great feature, I really am grateful and now I can't wait for my copy of Harbinger to arrived to get started on it!

1 comment:

  1. And books that end without hope. Life can already feel hopeless enough during those years.


Thank you kindly for the comment, you sweet thing.