I can’t tell you how excited I am to have Sarah Zama here today! We met last year during the A To Z Blogging Challenge, through commenting on Alex Hurst’s Japan photo-essay collection and then on Sarah’s own series about the Roaring Twenties. Now, Sarah, who lives in Italy, is preparing to release her first book. Give In To The Feeling is a fantasy noir / paranormal romance novelette set in Chicago during the height of the Prohibition era. I’ve already read an “advance copy,” and I really enjoyed it! In fact, you’ll see a review of it in next month’s Recent Reads. 😉
For now, I’ll let Sarah tell you more about Give In To The Feeling in her own words. We’ll also talk about fantasy literature, her favorite writers, the Roaring Twenties (of course!), and her advice to writers who aren’t published yet. So, let’s dive in!
Q&A with Sarah Zama
Congratulations on the upcoming release of Give In To The Feeling! How do you feel now that you’re getting ready to publish your first book?
Sarah: It’s the most puzzling of sensations! On the one hand I worry, “What if nobody reads it? What if people do read it and hate it?” You know, all those kinds of questions you ask when you gather the guts to let someone read your story… only multiplied several times.
On the other hand, I’ve been so busy preparing the launch that I don’t have much time to dwell on those questions. And then, organizing this tour with all my friends and fellow writers is such a fantastic experience; that alone would be worth the effort. All of you have given me so much support. It’s the most amazing of sensations!
Could you tell us about Give In To The Feeling (without giving away spoilers, of course)? What can readers expect when they open to the first page?
Sarah: They can expect characters fighting for self-esteem and happiness. Dark secrets and shady situations. Noir atmospheres and of course – because it’s me – a touch of fantasy. This is the story of how Susie, who has lived a comfortable though secluded life since she came to America from China in the mid 1920s, discovers her worth, her self-esteem, and the right to take her life into her own hands and make her own decisions, whatever they may cost.
In the story, this takes the shape of a conflict between two men who are attracted to her for two very different reasons, but they turn out to be also two very different ways to live life. Self-discovering and soul-searching have always been themes that have fascinated me as a reader and as a writer. I like to explore those same themes.
Susie is the story’s protagonist, and a fascinating character. Tell us a little about her. What do you admire most about Susie?
Sarah: Her courage. When the story starts, Susie has lived in America for 2 years and has had a very good life with Simon. He’s the owner of the speakeasy where she is a dancer and had given her everything she wanted, even the carefree life American girls were exploring at the time. She thinks to be happy. She thinks she doesn’t need anything more. She thinks herself to be very lucky to have had the possibility to have a life which is far freer than she would ever have had in her homeland of China.
When she mets Blood in the club, things start to change. Blood doesn’t offer anything to Susie, but his presence, his very words, his company give to Susie that nudge she needs to look just a bit further and see a very different reality. And once she see that, she’s not afraid to look, but she faces it, putting all herself in it. This is what I like about her the most: She’s scared and confused, but she knows she must act if she wants to get something better.
Most of your unpublished work is of novel-length. However, Give In To The Feeling is a novelette, which is longer than a short story but shorter than a novella. How did you determine the appropriate length for this story, or did you have a general idea of its word count all along? Also, could you share one or two tips on how writers who typically work on novels can write shorter stories?
Sarah: I am writing a trilogy of novels, but to be honest, I’ve worked most of my life with shorter stories. I attempted novel length twice before the Ghost Trilogy, but I see now that those were very long stories rather than true novels.
I never know the length of a story before I finish it. The Ghost Trilogy was supposed to be a trilogy of novelettes when I first started working on it. I guessed things were going to be quite different when I ended up with a synopsis of the first story at 20,000 words. But before that, my stories tended to be between 6,000 and 15,000 words, I supposed that was the length that allows me to develop the characters in a way that is satisfying for me and gives the story breath enough to feel complete. I have written shorter stories, but those were always hard to write. And I’m in great awe of authors who can write stories that are a few hundred words long. I’d never be able to.
As for tips on writing shorter stories, the first is to concentrate on just one arc. That doesn’t mean the secondary characters shouldn’t be complete, but you should always be very aware of whose story you’re telling. Concentrate on that. If other characters have their own stories, keep them for another time. The same goes for your goal with your story. Keep the goal clear in mind, and don’t allow the story to look any other direction. As a friend of mine told me, short stories are about taking the main character from Point A to Point B. That’s the end of it.
I suppose that’s why short stories may be hard to write and why they are a completely different process from writing a novel. But they do teach you to be focused and essential in your writing. I’m very happy to have had a long experience with short stories before turning to novels, because I think they did teach me focus and essence.
You’re passionate about the Roaring Twenties and the Prohibition Era. Not only do you write stories set in that time period, but you also discuss them at your blog, The Old Shelter. What sparked your interest with this historical “cultural revolution”? Could you also shed some light on what aspects of the Roaring Twenties you share at The Old Shelter?
Sarah: There are two aspects I love about the Twenties. One is that those times were remarkably similar to ours. People had the same insecurities about the future and about what the present held for them. Their world was changing at a mind-blowing speed, and they had a hard time keeping up and adjusting. I think this is what’s happening to us now, too. So, when I talk about the Twenties, it’s very easy for me to draw similarities to what’s happening to us every day. Which is what stories should be about: Helping us decoding our life and coping with it.
The other aspect is a more personal view. In the Twenties, people were going from a very rural life to a very modern one. You could say that in many respects, past and present clashed in a very sharp way, and that’s a fantastic situation for fantasy stories, in my opinion. Where two very different realities meet and maybe clash, something interesting always happens on a storytelling level, and inserting a fantasy element is very easy. I suppose that’s because of the potentialities the mixing creates.
I’ve always thought train stations are amazing places for fantasy stories. So many different people meet; they are coming and going, they stop for a moment to chat and they never meet again, or maybe they decide to continue the journey together. So many things happen that there are countless possibilities to twist them just a little bit. The Twenties feel a bit like that to me.
Let’s talk briefly about your personal journey as a writer. When and how did you decide to take writing seriously?
Sarah: I suppose it was when I decided to switch from writing in Italian to writing in English. That was a very big decision, and it involved a great investment in time and education. It brought me to live in Ireland for a while. It pushed me to look for writing communities online, because nobody around me writes in English.
I made that decision because I realised the Italian market wasn’t particularly interested in the kind of stories I write. It was classic fantasy back then, but it’s even worse now with dieselpunk. I do believe that was the right decision for me, but I went through with it only because I firmly believed in it. I would have never come this far if I hadn’t been serious about my “career.”
What about fantasy makes it your favorite genre of literature? Why do you write it?
Sarah: That’s a tough one, eh? It’s a bit like asking why blue is my favourite colour, or why I prefer dark chocolate to milk chocolate.
Seriously, I believe that a great part of personal liking is involved, and there isn’t really a reason for that. But on a different level, I like the way fantasy allows you to twist things familiar to us into something unfamiliar enough to allow us to look at it in a different way. I’ve never believed that fantasy is escapism, not if it’s done right. I believe that all speculative fiction has a powerful potential to cause philosophical thinking, to force us think in a different way or consider things in a different way. And I really like that.
Which authors would you say had the greatest influence on your writing?
Sarah: When I was a kid, Stephen King and Marion Zimmer Bradley had a very important influence on me. I suppose King is where my fascination with darker matters comes from, and Bradley is where my interest for the innermost movements of the soul comes from.
Out of my teen years, I became really attached to David Gemmell. I consider him to be my mentor. I learned to tell stories and to build characters from him. His are the kind of stories I still prefer to read and write, stories of people who never give up and go against all odds, sometimes knowing they have very slim possibilities of success, but trying nonetheless. I own a lot to him.
Today, my favourite author is Sherman Alexie. I love the way he weaves the real world and the spirit world together seamlessly, in a way that makes one indispensable to the other. He writes fantastical stories that almost aren’t fantastical. And I love his prose. It’s so powerful. I know I’ll never write like him, but hey, I can aspire to it.
And I seldom cite J.R.R. Tolkien, because I don’t think about him as a writer who influenced my style, but I surely learned from him what fantasy is for me.
What made you decide to self-publish Give In To The Feeling? How was your experience with overseeing the production and publishing of your own work?
Sarah: It may sound stupid, but I decided to self-publish to prepare myself to be traditionally published.
Life has never been more complex for an author, I think. Today there are all sorts of expectations on an authors from so many directions: readers, publishers, agents, marketers. I still think publishing traditionally makes sense, and I do believe all authors will be hybrid in the future. But to come to that, we must be prepare. This means we need to educate ourselves on so many subjects. We need to know the process better than we ever did, because understanding the process will help us be of use to everyone working with us and will give us better possibilities of success whichever way we’ll decide to go with every single project.
There are friends who advised me to try and do as much as I could by myself, but I decided I wanted to hire professionals for every aspect of preparing my book. That was part of my decision of self-publishing. I wanted to work with professionals and see how the job would be different from just doing it myself. And believe me, it was worth it. Working with people who know the job professionally gives the possibility to learn so many new things, to see things in a different way, expand your experience, and become aware of other things that may have been on your radar but never really made it to your attention.
Was it expansive? Yes, it was. But the experience was priceless, and it may lead me on another direction next time. A new direction that will teach me even more. It’s an ongoing learning curve.
Any idea what your next writing project(s) will be? Are you working on something new right now?
Sarah: Well, the Ghost Trilogy isn’t done, although it is well on its way. So that’s certainly a project I’ll keep working on. And there’s another project I’m trying to pin down: an Italian woman, a folklorist, in 1920s Europe. This is a project very dear to me, even if it is still in an embryo form. Europe in the 1920s was as interesting as America, and, you know, it’s home.
What one piece of advice do you have for writers who haven’t been published yet?
Sarah: Try to learn as much as you can not only about the art of storytelling (which is first and foremost what you should be concerned about anyway), but also about the rest of the process. Publishing, marketing, organizing your stuff. Try to be your own boss, and you’ll be able to work with anyone in any field. I truly believe it.
Thanks so much for taking the time to answer these questions, Sarah. Best of luck with Give In To The Feeling and all your future stories!
Sarah: Thanks so much for having me, Sara. I’m so grateful for everyone’s support. It means a lot to me.
Sarah Zama’s Final Fast Five
- One Book That Changed Her Life: Wolf in Shadow by David Gemmell
- Fictional World She Wishes She Could Visit: Middle-Earth, of course
- A Fictional Character She Thinks Would Have Fun at a Speakeasy: Thomas Builds-the-Fire, from Sherman Alexie’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. We would both be so inept!
- Random Object(s) We’d Find at Her Writing Desk / Space: The DVD of Boardwalk Empire‘s first season, a few Michael Jackson CDs, and a little fortune keeper in the form of a ladybird from my nephews
- Three Things She Can’t Live Without: Books, my laptop, and chocolate
About Sarah Zama
A bookseller in Verona, Italy, Sarah Zama has always lived surrounded by books. Always a fantasy reader and writer, she’s recently found her home in the dieselpunk community. Her first book, Give in to the Feeling, comes out in 2016.
Find Sarah Zama:
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GIVE IN TO THE FEELING
Susie has never thought she might want more. More than being Simon’s woman. More than the lush life he’s given her when she came from China. More than the carefree nights of dance in his speakeasy.
Simon has never asked her anything in return but her loyalty. Not a big price.
Until that night.
When Blood enters Simon’s speakeasy, and Susie dances with him, she discovers there’s a completely new world beyond the things she owns and the things she’s allowed to do. A world where she can be her own woman, where she can be the woman she’s supposed to be. A world of sharing and self-expression she has never glimpsed.
But she’s still Simon’s woman, and he won’t allow her to forget it.
Soon Susie will discover there’s more than two men fighting over her in the confrontation between Blood and Simon. There’s a fight breaking through the wall of the real world, into the spirit world where Susie’s freedom may mean life or death for one of them. And if Susie gives in, she will lose more than just her heart and happiness.