Can you tell your readers something about why you chose this particular topic to write about? What appealed to you about it? Why do you think it is different and your approach is unique?
I work at a university so I see a lot of college students through my days, weeks, months, and years. I get to know some of them and what they’re struggling with. The 21st Century Austen series are modernizations of Jane Austen books and she wrote about people in this same age group. Modernizing it means considering college students and how different they are from other adults and people the same age who don’t go to college.
Emma, the book that inspired Woodhouse Hall, is about a woman of immense privilege. She has the life she wants without having had to compromise like others around her. She sees herself as skilled at something she has merely been lucky to get right. It’s something common for all of us to understand and happens often in our early twenties. I want readers to see that mistakes and failures aren’t the end of the world but lessons that can help us make better decisions.
How long do you think about a topic before deciding to write about it? Do you have a set of notes or a note book where you write down topics that appeal before making a decision as to which topic this time?
Woodhouse Hall happened very quickly. I write my first draft during National Novel Writing Month events. There are three a year: the big one in November and then two smaller ones in April and July. I was going to write a different project in July 2018 but this idea suddenly came to me and I was able to write the whole thing in a few months. I did the research as I wrote and edited, talking to college students around me. From start to release day it took less than a year and a half to work on this book.
I do have a lot of journals and notebooks where I collect my notes, outlines, research, and character details. Each book will take at least one notebook.
How long does it take to research a topic before you write? And for this book?
Research is my bread and butter. I’m a research librarian so I can get lost in the research process because I enjoy it so much. How much time depends on the topic. If I know a lot about it, I don’t spend too much time. The research for Woodhouse Hall required a little research about how buildings are added to the national register of historical buildings and talking to college students about life in dorms. It didn’t take long at all. Another book is going to take place in a candy shop, which I know nothing about. It’s going to take extensive research that will involve eating candy!
What resources do you use? In general and for the last book that you wrote
The resources depend on each book. For Woodhouse Hall I was easily able to find a lot of resources online. The government puts up a ton of information about getting a building listed on the historical register. I also looked up blueprints of dorms and costs so I made sure plot points happened accurately. I like going to places and talking to people as part of the research process. It helps me understand context of things that happen and I get great stories to include. I can also see how people interact with each other in a setting.
Do you have any pets? Do they help you write?
I have a cat and a dog. Neither are helpful when writing. Sabine, the cat, wants to be left alone. Cedric, the dog, wants to be the center of my attention. He likes to sit in my lap, making it difficult to work. I have to leave the house everyday if I want to get anything done. It’s probably why I can write and publish books the way I do. When I go out to write, I can focus and just check items off my to-do list.
Do you have an unusual hobby?
It’s not unusual but I’m also a knitter. Before I decided to start self-publishing, I was doing so much knitting that I was creating my own patterns and still sell them online. I still knit, especially when I’m not writing. I try to make sure I knit at least one item for every story I write. I have so much yarn I just shop in my own house when I’m ready to knit something else.
If you could choose to live in another country/town – which would you choose? And why?
I love Paris and my plan is to retire there in thirty years. My plan is to continue writing full time while I’m there. I love Paris and have since before my first visit ten years ago. I love the food and history. Anytime I can manage a way to insert Paris into what I’m writing, I do. Phi Alpha Pi has a major scene happen there but not Woodhouse Hall.
Do you people watch to find characters for your books? How do you do this? What is the funniest thing you have seen that you have incorporated into a book? Or do you add some traits from your family and friends into your characters?
I do and it often shocks my friends how much I’m paying attention to everything. I was in Boston with some friends, walking to a chocolate shop for a tour. Behind us was a couple who had clearly been on a few dates but not that comfortable with each other. I walked between our two groups, listening to both my friends and the couple. Later, over lunch, we were talking about the couple and they were shocked at how much I had over heard.
Sometimes these things make it into books but usually I watch to see how people talk and what these things show me about them, even if its assumptions people will make. I often think about what people think about me when they see me in cafe’s working. These things work their way in to everything I write.
The funniest thing that ended up in Latkes of Love, specifically, was when a friend and I had lunch in Salem, MA during the Women’s Soccer championships this past summer. There was a guy at the bar there and he was far more enthusiastic than anyone else in the bar. I wrote the entire thing into a disastrous date for a character. I don’t want to spoil it but it was magnificent.
About the Author
Sara Marks is a librarian with two masters degrees and plans to never stop getting over educated. She likes the idea of having all the academic regalia she can ever possess. She cries at nearly every movie she sees (ask her about when she cried at a horror movie), but it’s full-on weeping for Disney animated movies. She loves reading nearly every genre but likes to write women’s fiction, romance, and even horror. You have to balance out the reality of the world if you’re going to be a hopeless romantic! Her heroines are women who don’t want the expected life, rarely worrying about their age, weight, marriageability, or fertility.