Friday, November 12, 2010

Friday Feature: Journeys Toward Publication and Beyond: Sarah Dooley

Welcome to another Friday Feature.  I am tickled to introduce Sarah Dooley.  I love her! Her depth and humor show through every blog post. When I stop by to read a post, I find myself laughing or crying. Or both.  

She's one of those people that I would just love to meet.  

And I loved her novel, LIVVIE OWEN LIVED HERE. Loved it. 

Let's dig right in, shall we?   

As a child, Sarah Dooley lived 24 different places, including an abandoned post office, a tent, and a red cargo van. She now lives in West Virginia with her partner and their assortment of dogs, cats, and horses. When she is not writing, she has the pleasure of teaching, and being taught by, children with special needs.

Sarah--your debut novel, LIVVIE OWEN LIVED HERE came out August 17th! Woo-hoo! Tell us a little about the book itself.

LIVVIE OWEN LIVED HERE is the story of a teen with autism trying to find a home for her family after an eviction she thinks is her fault.

What sparked your interest to write this particular book?

I wrote LIVVIE as part of a class writing project I required of my students. Because I was writing alongside many writers on the autism spectrum, and because my sister and niece both have forms of autism as well, I began writing from the point of view of a child on the spectrum.

How did you catch the eye of an agent, and what changed in your writing life after your agent came on the scene?

I would be lost without my agent. She provides guidance, support, and clarity as I navigate the publishing world, about which I know little. As for how I caught her eye, I just sent her a query letter and sample pages and I guess she saw something she liked.

Yay, another slush pile success story! What were revisions with an editor like? Was it smooth sailing once a publisher picked up your book?

LIVVIE was my first book, so I had the luxury of having about 15 people read it before I sent it to my agent. Then my agent helped to polish it some more. That meant it had already been through several revisions by the time it sold. After a relatively light round of revisions with my editor, the book was ready to go to the copy editor and beyond.
Because my second book sold before I wrote it, it was a lot less polished when I sent it to my agent and editor. My editor and I recently completed a round of revisions, and let me just say that I need to buy her a nice pen, because she's used up a lot of ink in the margins of this manuscript. But I'll say this, too: I'm in good hands. My editor is wonderful and insightful, and I trust her completely with this book. It's going to be a lot stronger thanks to her skill.

It sounds like you have a wonderful team behind you!  So, what has been your highest high? Your lowest low?

Although there have been a number of amazing joys on this journey, I think the very highest high was getting to tell my parents that the book had sold. I didn't have minutes on my pre-paid cell phone, so I had to wait until a school day to call them and tell them. My mother guessed halfway through my sentence what I was saying, and she finished the sentence with me. It was a very cool moment.

As for lows, last February, right about the time I got a peek at the amazing cover art for LIVVIE, I also got word that a cherished writing mentor and beloved friend had passed away unexpectedly and under tragic circumstances. For a long while after, it was difficult to get excited about Livvie or much of anything else. I mourned my friend and also the books she would never get to write. I briefly considered dedicating the novel to her, but this novel truly belongs to my students.

Sarah--I'm so sorry for your loss--I can't imagine.
Has anything surprised you on this journey?

Honestly, there has not been a moment of this journey that has failed to surprise me. I still stop in my tracks when I see my book on a store shelf. I elbow my husband, who is quite patient with my lingering shock. I point and whisper, “Hey, you know who wrote that?” And he rolls his eyes and hides a smile and says, “Who?” And I say, “Me!”
I hope it never completely sinks in.

I love that!  What are you currently working on?

I'm 30,000 words into a new YA novel, and all I'll say about it is that it's a little more fast-paced than my first two books. It's a blast to write!

What made you start to write seriously?

I've always loved to write, but I didn't always dedicate time and energy to it. After spending weeks preaching to my students about taking writing seriously, I started to hear what I was saying. When I jumped into the writing project alongside them, I jumped in wholeheartedly.

What is a favorite blog post that you have written?

My blog was better when I taught public school. I think this post about perspective is my favorite. It involves gym class, phonemic awareness, and mangoes.

What online resource have you found most helpful?

Verla Kay's Blueboards have been invaluable! But I never would have written my first novel if not for National Novel Writing Month, and I spend a lot of time on that site as well.

What has been your biggest trial in writing?

I have a very difficult time getting past page 30. I love writing beginnings. But around page 31, I tend to run out of steam. If I can make it to 45, I can make it to the end.

What tricks have you acquired to make you write or create when you don’t feel up to writing?

I like to use Write or Die by Dr. Wicked, set on kamikaze mode. I don't like to see my words disappear!

You've got guts, using the kamikaze mode! Sarah, what is your practical goal with your writing? Do you have a reach-for-the-stars goal that you would like to share?

My practical goal is to keep writing honestly. My reach-for-the-stars goal is to train my cat to move when I need access to my revision notes.

If you do train your cat, send me the handbook.  I have similar feline troubles!  If you could create the perfect place in which to write, what would it look like?

I've got it already. It's an L-shaped desk in the corner of my office, with a coffee pot on one side of my computer and a cat on the other. I mean, if I could hone it just a bit, the cat would prefer to sit on manuscript pages I've already revised, rather than the ones I'm still working on, but it's pretty close to perfect as-is.

If you could be a character in a book, and live within their world, what character would you be?

I think I would be Ginny from SUMMER PONY by Jean Slaughter Doty. In fact, I spent most of my childhood trying to be Ginny from SUMMER PONY. Some summer days, I still try.

What other distractions are in your life?

My life is rich with wonderful, worthwhile distractions. My partner and I got married this summer after six years together. I'm teaching in a new autism program and I love it so far. I've got a wonderful family, sweet pets, and I live in a beautiful city. Plus my apartment is only six blocks from the public library.

And, just because I’m curious, coffee or tea?

Oh, goodness, coffee. And lots of it. Did I mention that I do not have to get up from my desk chair to pour a second cup?

Heather, thank you so much for the great questions!

Yay, thanks so much for doing this Sarah! I wish you all the best, for you, and for LIVVIE OWEN LIVED HERE!!  Everyone, make sure to leave Sarah a question or comment, and she'll stop by to answer them. Then, make sure to check out her blog and website, facebook, and BOOK.  


  1. Great interview!

    Being a teacher and writer myself, I know how hard it can be. It is great that Sarah writes with her students!


  2. Hello Sarah and YAY for West Virginia! Whereabouts do you live? My ma grew up in Rainelle, so we made many many trips (still do) to WV. I so love it there.

    I also love that you don't want your shock to wear off. I hope I'm like that whenever I eventually get to see something of mine on a shelf that isn't in my house...

    And I'm with Heather on the cat training thing. Send me a how-to manual, I've got a few that need work...

    Summer Pony! I lived in that book. I'm a horse girl too. What kind have you got? Are they field ornaments, are do you still ride them? Write full time, or still have a day job?

  3. What a great interview, Heather and Sarah. I've got to cruise on over to Sarah's blog...and check out the book too! I love the success story and hearing that she was plucked from the slush pile.


  4. @Heather -- Thanks for the great interview! I love your blog and I'm tickled to get to hang out here today!

    @storyqueen - Thanks! What do you teach? I love writing with my kids, and recently talked my sister, a first-year teacher, into trying it as well. She's kind of mad at me now. But she'll be fine.

    @A. Grey -- How cool! I know Rainelle quite well. I grew up in the Summersville area, but I've got family all over the state.

    And how neat that you know Summer Pony! Did you also read Winter Pony? I still can't wish on a star (which, yes, of course I still do) without thinking about the opening scene where Ginny realizes she doesn't need to make a wish, because she's already got her pony. :)

    I've got a Saddlebred/Thoroughbred cross who is teaching me to jump, but I pretty much only ride once a week, because I'm still working and then writing on the side -- or writing and then working on the side -- however you want to describe it!

    @Kris --
    Thanks! I love that I get to tell people that good old fashioned cold-querying can lead somehwhere!

  5. Yay, Sarah! Thanks for being here! I want to know if you still write the first draft the same way, or if you have changed your method since writing your first book.

    LIVVIE was a NaNo novel, right? Do you still NaNo? Do you have anything you want to tell people who are NaNo-ing right now?

  6. I actually read WInter Pony first! To this day one of my favorite things is riding bareback in the snow. We go ever winter. My guy also pulls us in the plastic toboggan sled... very MacGyver, tied on with rope usually... but it's fun!

  7. great interview. great writer. great book.

    my biggest complaint with LIVVIE OWEN was that i couldn't stay awake to read it all in one sitting. (i should have started it earlier in the evening!)

    and, sarah, i love the avatar with you and the cat on your head. just wonderful!

    -- Tom

  8. Great interview!

    Heather stole my question! I'd love to hear what you have to say about NaNo and drafting novels now, compared to the first.

    Also, I totally appreciate your humor both on your blog and in comments I see around!

  9. Can I just add that I want to go live with A. Grey?

    And I'm wondering if she has room in her barn to host a writers retreat. Mostly kidding.

  10. Excellent interview. I love that her book was created while writing along with her students. What an accomplishment to share with her students!

  11. Great interview. I agree with Kelly. It's so cool her book was written along with her students. It's always inspiring to see someone write and work too. It makes me feel like I can do it too.

  12. This is on my to-read list. Thanks for the interview! I also have a tough time getting past page 30!

  13. @Heather Kelly -- I still fast-draft, whether or not it's November, but I do love NaNoWriMo because of the sense that we're all in this craziness together. My advice for NaNo-ers is just to have fun with it! Get on the forums and ask questions in the expert thread. Read the NaNoisms. They're too fun to pass up!

    @A. Grey -- That sounds amazing!

    @Tom M Franklin -- Wow, thanks! I love interfering with people's sleep patterns!

    The cat-hat in my avatar is Henry, who of course inspired Orange Cat. Sadly, my Henry-cat met the same fate, but he's memorialized forever in my novel!

    @Tina Laurel Lee --
    Thanks! I really do still write the way I did the first time, but I revise very differently. My first drafts are sort of skeletons of the finished novel, and then I go back through, rewriting and adding and fleshing out the story on every page.

    @Kelly --
    My students accomplished some amazing things that month. I've taught NaNo every year since, with similar results. It's a great project to do with students.

    @Natalie Aguirre --
    You can! Trust me, if I can work full-time and still write -- super-disorganized me -- then anyone can.

    @TerryLynnJohnson -- Glad to hear I'm not the only one who gets stuck at page 30! Here's to 31 and beyond!

  14. Late comment here... life got in the way...

    Alas Heather, I have no room for anything like a retreat... but if we could ever find a barn-type place OMG WHAT FUN!!!

    Which author Caitlin Brennan

    actually DOES have riding camps for writers! Some of the girls from Sirens have gone.... I have no idea of pricing, and it's in Arizona, but I've only heard amazing things about the experience...

  15. A. Grey--That writer's riding camp sounds fantastic! Thanks for the link. I am dreaming of a writing retreat right now...