Jazzy's Q&A with Sarah Epstein
I am lucky enough to have been granted an interview with the amazing Sarah Epstein, author of the YA hit, Small Spaces and now, Deep Water. You can read my review of Small Spaces HERE. Thank you so much Sarah for your insightful answers.
Small Spaces and Deep Water are both thrilling mysteries. What draws you to writing this genre?
Unputdownable mysteries are some of my favourite stories to read, especially if they are suspenseful and full of twists and turns. I admire books that keep me guessing and turning pages, and I always wanted to craft stories like that myself, even when I was writing short stories as a teen. I see myself as an entertainer, and I think about my readers constantly as I’m writing, how I can keep them interested, how I can surprise them with some new information or a twist they didn’t see coming. This is what I find so satisfying about writing this genre and why all of my books will always be very plot-driven as well as character-driven.
These novels are also about people going missing. Was this motivated by any true events?
Neither Small Spaces or Deep Water was motivated by any particular true event, but certainly lots of different true crime stories I’ve read or heard about over the years helped me grow these fictional stories in my imagination. I pick up inspiration from everywhere, and sometimes a news article, podcast, conversation or true crime show sparks an idea, and then my imagination starts asking what-ifs. This is usually where the basis for one of my story ideas will come from, once my brain starts pondering questions and spring-boarding off in different directions. It’s at this point I start writing down notes that I can return to later so I don’t forget anything.
Both books are aimed at young adults. Why do you write for this category?
I never specifically decided I would write novels for young adults, but when I sat down and tried writing a novel-length manuscript for the first time, it was a teenager’s voice and story that came through in my writing. I think it’s because the last time I’d done a lot of fiction writing was when I was a teenager. So it’s like my brain picked up where I left off, and I found that a teenage protagonist’s voice came through very easily. But I do have some ideas for picture books, middle grade and adult fiction too, so I don’t think I’ll always exclusively write YA.
In Deep Water, Chloe is an extremely strong character. Is she modelled off anyone in real life?
I see a lot of myself in Chloe, but my kids would say it’s mostly just the bossy parts! She’s really modelled on friends I’ve had over the years who are loyal and curious and stand up for what they think is right. I always enjoy writing active characters over passive ones because they are out there making life interesting with their opinions, their flaws and their big hearts.
What was your favourite book series as a teenager?
I was a teenager in the mid-80s and early 90s, and I loved series like Sweet Valley High and The Baby-sitters Club. But I also enjoyed darker books too, like the teen horror novels by Christopher Pike. They weren’t a series as such, but there were a number of them released in quick succession, all similar in style and scare level. These were the three series I couldn’t get enough of, and I’m sad to say I donated them all when I moved out of my parents’ house in my early twenties. I wish I still had them!
Do you have any role models and why do they inspire you?
I don’t really have role models, but I’m definitely inspired by other YA and kidlit authors and illustrators all around me. It’s really hard dedicating so much time, effort and hard work into manuscripts and not knowing whether or not they will be published, or, if they are, whether or not they will be successful. I admire creators who are knocked down with rejections and then pick themselves up again to keep going. I find that really inspiring.
What did you do prior to becoming an author?
I studied design at university and worked as a graphic designer for twenty-five years. The last decade or so before my first book was published, I ran my own design business from home while I was being a mum to my two boys who are now teenagers. Writing manuscripts while also running my own business and bringing up kids was a very busy and challenging time, but it also made me very organised, time-efficient and determined. Now I write full-time, but I still create art for fun and use my design skills in creating promotional material for my books.
So, what’s next on the agenda; what do we have to look forward to?
I’m working on several projects at the moment, including more YA, ideas for a middle grade manuscript, and also some adult fiction. I have something I’m working on which you’ll hear more about later this year, but for now I’m being secretive to keep you in suspense!
Which do you prefer to complete first – the book or the movie?
I always prefer reading the book first because I don’t want a movie to spoil all the major plot points – it’s always so much more fun to read those and then see how a movie interprets the story and characters. The only time a movie has slightly influenced my reading of a book is when I saw information about who had been cast for the first Harry Potter movie, and I’d only just started reading the books. From then on I pictured the actors as I was reading each character, which I didn’t really mind because I loved the cast when the movie eventually came out.
Apart from transport, if you were stranded on a desert island and got to pick one thing to bring with you, what would it be and why?
It would have to be a solar-powered laptop so I could keep writing stories. I’d have so much quiet, uninterrupted writing time, I wouldn’t want it to go to waste!