From Sarah, With Joy

Writer querying two novels and some other word babies. I tend to effervesce.

New post every Monday

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

What Are You Reading?

To get recommendations for Christmas shopping, as well as just because and I love the library, I think its time to get some recommendations from you.

Here are some of the books I've read recently:

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

Quirky, well-written, disturbing, occasionally frustrating, and definitely sticks with you for a long time.

Where Things Come Back, Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Bigger than a Breadbox, The One and Only Ivan

Poignant, honest, delightful, sad, hilarious, wonderful

Ms. Hemple Chronicles

Weird, beautiful, funny, melancholy, and I will never EVER be a teacher

Right now I have checked out from the library The Night Circus and The Snow Child.

Your turn. What have you read lately, and what would you recommend?

Sarah Allen

Monday, November 26, 2012

I can't do this because...

It's scary.
I'm too tired. No, I'm REALLY too tired.
It's paralyzingly terrifying.
Someone else could do it better.
It makes me feel terrible about myself.
I feel ill.
It makes me want to curl up under my blanket in the fetal position and never stop.
The timing doesn't work.
My schedule is all complicated and wonky.
I don't want to. Really, really don't want to.
It's too stressful to be healthy.
Did I mention I'm terrified?

I get a lot of that going on in my brain. And I'm not the only one, I'm sure.

Excuses are easy. They are one thing I totally can do. I am brilliant at finding ways not to do things.

I've never thought of myself as a cowardly person. In fact I've normally been quite a brave person. Not for the past couple years.

I do not like being this way. In so many ways I want to go back to the naively ambitious and recklessly forward moving person I was in high school and most of college.

It's not like all the excuses are bad ones, either. I mean, terror is terror. Exhaustion is exhaustion. Time is time, health is health. Not in any way things to be taken lightly.

Here's the thing though. I've known for a while that the only way to get this seriously paralyzing terror out of my system is to force myself to just do the terrifying thing. In a lot of ways this move to DC has done that. New job, new place, new people, all of that comes with all the things I'm afraid of and starts the excuse train going through my head.

But it's been almost three months now, and I'm still alive. And not "in-a-mental-institution" alive either, but actually doing well and getting well-er. It's amazing to be on the other side of doing an impossible thing.

There are still some big, terrifying things coming up in my life. That's how life goes. But I'm thinking/hoping that I've jumped the first and worst hurdle, and that the future hurdles won't kill me either. I know that they're hurdles worth jumping, and in many ways that's enough to get you over.

Sometimes the things are small, like not wanting to cook dinner or go to a staff meeting or call that person you've been meaning to call. Sometimes its big--switching jobs, going to graduate school, moving across the country. Either way, the excuses are always valid and solid as cement shoes.

And I'm done with them.

I'm not saying this will change overnight. And I'm not saying the excuses can all just be ignored, either. Some, maybe, but many need to be addressed. So I'll address it and move on. Excuses are real, but its the people who move past them that accomplish great things.

I'm terrified.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

10 Books I am Thankful For

I hope you all are enjoying the start of the holidays! I'm missing out on my Utah snow, but the trees here in DC are absolutely gorgeous.

Simple post today. We all love books, right? But every once in a while there comes a book that is just so you, so exactly what you needed to read and in that way it really is life-changing. Here, in no particular order, ten of those books for me:


  1. Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
  2. Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson
  3. All the Little Live Things, by Wallace Stegner
  4. Bellwether, by Connie Willis
  5. A River Runs Through It, by Norman Mclean
  6. Persuasion, by Jane Austen
  7. Middlemarch, by George Elliot
  8. Little Dorrit, by Charles Dickens
  9. Anything by C. S. Lewis
  10. Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo
Gah, okay, that was surprisngly difficult, because I have like twenty more I want to put on the list. But this will do.

What books are YOU grateful for?

Sarah Allen

Monday, November 19, 2012

Describing Voices and Facial Expressions

Its really hard.

This is the part of writing that makes me jealous of actors. They say so much with just a flicker of the eyebrow, the teensiest change in inflection. When I try to do this in writing it comes across so much more clunky.

This particular aspect of description has been important to me lately, and here's why: I would so much rather show the emotion on someone's face and let that speak for itself than describe the emotion. It is so easy to dip into cliche when describing emotion. Emotion, particularly intense emotion, is one of those things that goes beyond words, and I'd rather just watch the scene and let the reader go on their own emotional journey. I loved Hemingway because that's what he did. Its also the reason half the class despised him.

So I've been trying to figure this out. Because describing voices and facial expressions can also get extremely cliche. And as I've been trying to pay attention to this in my reading, I've noticed that my facial expression approach is not a common one. Most writers do describe the emotion itself, and when its done well it is beautiful, poetic, and speaks to some universal human Truths. (Thank you F. Scott Fitzgerald)

But I like my faces. This is why I love good acting. The look on Niles' face when he tells Daphne he loves her. Meryl Streep's Julia Child blush or soft "That's all." Forrest Gumps broken face when he sees his son for the first time. Colin Firth King's Speech all the things.

How do you write that?

So I want to try an experiment. I'm going to give you a photo and a video clip. Distinctive ones, at least to me. How would you describe this face and this voice? What are your tactics?

And Go!

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Utmost a Writer Can Do

Patience is not my strong suit.

This is not new news. But it does mean that periodically I have weeks where I am anxious about everything, frustrated by slower-than-I'd-like progress and just everything. 

I have this image in my head of my ideal future. It involves things like a cute little house with a balcony and a large library, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel, a man with hair like Josh Groban, trips to London and a livable salary from my books. Every cell in my body is ready for this to happen. The livable salary part has to come before a lot of the other things, obviously, and I want to make sure I'm doing everything I can possibly do to make that happen, so I can get me one of these: 
Here is what I think a writer can do on a day-to-day basis, and I what I try to do:
  • Write. Obviously. 
  • Read. Fill your creative tanks in other ways too, i.e. art, film, gardening, other projects, etc.
  • Network. I try to keep up on my social media profiles for at least a couple minutes every day.
  • Submit. To everything. Contests, literary magazines, agents. I like having each of my stories out to at least two magazines, and now with my novel I am trying to have it out to somewhere around 5-7 agents at a time.
Those are the things I have come up with. Sometimes life gets in the way of these things, sometimes in an okay way (Disneyland), sometimes in a frustrating way (double shifts), but I try to keep these as a rule of thumb. I believe I can always get better at these things, qualitatively and quantitatively. 

But what else? I am trying to get a good schedule going with writing this novel. I'm loving my new friend library. I'm trying to keep up with the online stuff and now have my query with a handful of agents. What else would you suggest? Is there anything more I can be doing? Because if there is, I'm ready to do it.

Sarah Allen

p.s. Check out the latest on the vlog :)

Monday, November 5, 2012

3 Things That Would Make Me Buy Your Book

The interwebz is kind of a crazy place. It is an absolute zoo, and you have to have skill, honesty, and strategy to get your voice simply heard, let alone listened to.

Twitter and Facebook and every other social media platform is full of people shouting LOOK AT ME LOOK AT ME BUY MY BOOK HERE! I definitely understand the sentiment--we all have this dream and we are all doing everything we possibly know to do in order to achieve it. But has that arm waving look over here strategy ever worked?

So I tried to think about this: what would actually make me seriously consider spending my hard-earned money on the book of one of my Twitter/Facebook/Goodreads friends? What strategies would actually work on me as a buyer? I came up with three.

1. Proof of Goodness: If I already know you are a good, entertaining and interesting writer because I read your blog and your tweets, I am more likely to consider buying your book. This has definitely happened several times, where I buy a book purely based on a writers blog. So what does this mean for us on the writers side? It means pay attention to your social media accounts, if you have them. Be yourself, your best self, on Twitter and Facebook and your blog. Provide content as informative and entertaining as you can.

Another way proof of goodness might work is if you prove to me I would like the actual book. For example, if you post a quote from it that totally grabs my attention, or if I come across your summary and can't stop thinking about it. On the other hand, if you bombard me with quotes and summaries I'm probably not even going to read them. So put it out there where people can see it, but then act genuinely and naturally with the virtual community and they will find it themselves. That's much more satisfying for a reader.

2. Reciprocation: This may sound a bit scratch-my-back-I'll-scratch-yours, and maybe it is. But what I mean is that if someone leaves a nice comment on my blog or video, mentions me in a post or writes a nice review, I will basically always try to reciprocate. At the very least I smile while I check out their blog and twitter feed, which probably has the eye-catching book summary I was talking about. I've been turned into a life-long fan of certain writers because they were incredible enough to offer to read my work. That's kind of  a major deal, and I'm not saying you should offer chocolate and critiques to every blogger you find (I prefer white chocolate, btw). What I am saying is that kind words--a blog comment, a personal and sincere twitter mention, a review, a YouTube conversation--can go a long, long way.

3. Continued Correspondence: I guess this one boils down to determination and staying power. What I mean is this: I've found many, many good writer/bloggers out there that just don't seem to fit my taste on first impression. I enjoy their blog, their book blurb looks good, they occasionally tweet me or comment on the blog, but they are enough outside my genre or my first taste that it just doesn't translate into me really thinking about buying their book. But then a few weeks or months go buy of me continually enjoying their blog or videos, a few more tweets, something like that, and their name starts to stick in my head. Then the next time I'm at the book store I think of it and actually hold their book in my hands. And having their name in your head and holding their book can be a powerful incentive. So don't drop any bridges. Keep talking, keep corresponding, you never know when it will translate into a new fan.

I hope this helped. These are just the things that have brought me from a casual social media observer to an actual book buyer. What about you? Have you ever bought a blogger/twitter friends book, and if so, what made you shell the dough?

Sarah Allen


Friday, November 2, 2012

The Trial of Living in Time

Mortality is an interesting thing.

When I am having a hard time, going through something difficult, the thing itself usually isn't so bad. Work is tedious, agents reject me, rent is due, but I think in general we have it pretty good. The hardest part for me is the thought that my time is being used up on something so annoying or frustrating or difficult when I know what I would rather spend my time doing, and it is not that. On bad days (nights) the thought can almost make me panic, like I only have so many days and I'm feeling them being used up doing something I don't want to do. Like days are a stack of cards and seeing any of them stacked in the Bad Day pile seems like a drain and a waste.

Except I think that thinking is flawed. It is my gut reaction, and that's not going to go away soon, but I can at least try and change the thinking process in my head.

Days are not cards. Life is not an hourglass or a drip of water into a bucket. Existence is eternal, and I believe that. I don't need to panic that I am using up days away from my best friends (which I often do) because in a sense I will ALWAYS be with them. In fact, understanding for a tiny glimpse of time what it feels like to not have them presents the contrast to more fully appreciate it when I do, although to be honest the thought isn't terribly comforting on the bad days. But it will be, in the future.

While I think it is definitely possible to waste time, and that we should be doing our best with the time we have, getting into a panic about it is definitely one of the pointless/wasteful things to do. I think many times it comes down to attitude, and one thing we have to do with our time can be paralyzingly awful or manageably annoying or even surprisingly pleasant depending on how we approach it.

Time is hard. One of the hardest things in this life, I think. But its up to us to do something with it.
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