Allison's Book Bag

One of My Favorite Authors!

Posted on: October 28, 2013

One of my favorite authors, Sara Zarr, was born in Ohio but raised in San Francisco. Zarr attended high school in Pacifica, California, and later earned a degree in communications from San Francisco State University. She grew up as an Evangelical Christian, a faith with which she still associates though she lives in a predominately Mormon community.

I had an interesting childhood in San Francisco involving spies, orphanages, wagon trains, tornadoes, kidnappings, evil school marms, and re-enactments of popular Broadway shows and the movie “Grease.” You could say I had an imagination.

–Sara Zarr, Query Tracker Blog

At age twenty-five, Zarr met up with authors and agents in an IRC chatroom, who inspired her to attempt her first young adult novel. She set for herself the goal of having her first novel published before she was thirty. After a long culmination of little things, and a time when she’d been writing and submitting for about seven years, Zarr was ready to give up on writing and make a new plan for what to do with her life. Fortunately, she went to a weeklong workshop where she took a fiction class and mingled with a lot of other people who wanted to do what she wanted to do. The response to her work in the class was so positive she came away with new enthusiasm and determination. In her mid-thirties, after winning the Utah Arts Council best young adult novel of 2003, she was able to find an agent who successfully sold Story of a Girl.

Sara Zarr

Sara Zarr (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since that first sale, Zarr has become an acclaimed author. Her books have been variously named to annual best books lists of the American Library Association, Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, the Guardian, the International Reading Association, the New York Public Library, and the Los Angeles Public Library. She’s also been a National Book Award finalist and two-time Utah Book Award winner. In 2007, Zarr gave up her day job to become a full-time writer. In 2010, she served as a judge for the National Book Award. As of summer 2013, Zarr has also become a member of the faculty of Lesley University’s Low-Residency Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program.

Beyond these basics, most of the information I could find about Zarr focused on her reasons for writing for young adults, her Christian background, and the inspirations behind her various books. I’ll briefly tackle these one at a time.

WRITING FOR YOUNG ADULTS

Zarr explains to Confirm Not Conform, “I always say that I didn’t choose YA so much as YA chose me. When I first started writing, the story ideas all featured teenagers in the leading roles, and YA was sort of my natural writing voice.” As for why she enjoys the field, Zarr likes that young adult characters are experiencing situations for the first time. This allows an author to approach a story without the “layers of cynicism and weariness we accumulate in childhood”. Last, for Zarr, it’s rewarding and humbling, when a young reader says that an author’s book is the first that they have ever finished or that one of the characters in an author’s book said something the reader needed to hear.

CHRISTIAN BACKGROUND

Confirm Not Conform also interviewed Zarr about her faith, asking where did she start and where she is now. Zarr shared that she started in the San Francisco Jesus Movement of the 1970s during my childhood, “a fascinating combination of end-times theology and hippies with guitars”. Now she belongs to a small Presbyterian church, where people are “encouraged to ask and explore difficult questions rather than arrive at the comfort of answers”. Beyond that, her faith fluctuates and varies, which Zarr expects will continue to be true for the rest of her life. Sometimes her worldview is as simple as “there is a divine creative force and there is meaning in life,” while other times her faith includes the central tenets of the gospel. At times, she can read the Bible and feel angry, especially at the Old Testament. At other times, she can feel deeply spiritually connected, especially to the Pauline epistles.

Another interview: Walking Through Faith and Doubt

INSPIRATION BEHIND ZARR’S BOOKS

Zarr’s first published stand-alone novel, Story of a Girl, was a 2007 National Book Award finalist. It’s also considered by some to be on the edgier side of young adult. When asked by Query Tracker Blog, if this helped or hurt her career, Zarr replied that it was hard to say. Although there have been groups who didn’t choose it for their lists or collections because of content, Zarr believes Story of a Girl has found its audience, and emphasizes that, “I think it was well-received not because of its edginess or non-edginess, but because something about the character’s emotional journey resonated with readers in a way that feels true to them.”

MOTIVATIONAL QUOTE

To finish my write-up about Sara Zarr, I’d like to end with her explanation of a quote that motivates her. The quote, loosely paraphrased by her, is: “Talent is as common as house dust and useless as tits on a boar. What counts is hard work, perseverance, determination.” She once heard Barry Moser say something close to that at a conference.

I love it, because it eliminates the excuse of sitting around worried that you’re not gifted enough to write. There are lots of very talented people who never publish a word because they don’t have the hard work and perseverance part down. I’m not saying that talent plays no part in making good writing, but it certainly isn’t that important when it comes to having a career. Some of the worst books in the world are best sellers! I’m not saying go out and write a bad book. The point is: we all feel insecure about our talent or giftedness, and might waste years of our lives trying to ascertain whether or not we have the gene or the aura or the magic muse or whatever it is we think we have to have to give ourselves permission to write. There’s really no way to know what resources of talent lie within until you get to work and keep at it, always striving to improve and challenge yourself.

–Sara Zarr, Query Tracker Blog

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