Sarah Ockler is the bestselling author of six young adult novels: Twenty Boy Summer, Fixing Delilah, Bittersweet, The Book of Broken Hearts, #scandal, and The Summer of Chasing Mermaids. Her books have been translated into several languages and have received numerous accolades, including ALA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults, Girls’ Life Top 100 Must Reads, Indie Next List, Amazon Top Movers and Shakers, and nominations for YALSA Teens’ Top Ten and NPR’s Top 100 Teen Books. Her short works have appeared in the anthologies Dear Teen Me and Defy the Dark.
She’s a champion cupcake eater, tea drinker, tarot enthusiast, night person, and bookworm. When she’s not writing or reading at home in the Pacific northwest, Sarah enjoys hugging trees and road-tripping through the country with her husband, Alex. Fans can find her on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and at sarahockler.com.
10 Random Things
- I bought my first tarot deck in 2008 as research for Fixing Delilah. In that book, Delilah’s aunt reads cards, so I wanted a better understanding. Now, several years (and decks) later, I’m still hooked. I even do tarot readings for my characters, my writing goals, and to help me out of sticky plot issues. Tarot cards also make an appearance in The Summer of Chasing Mermaids.
- In my world, guacamole is always a good idea. Unless it comes in a jar. Jarred guacamole is never a good idea.
- I entered college intending to study criminal justice, thinking I’d become a juvenile defender. But late in my junior year when the clock was ticking on declaring a major, I was waffling. Uncertain and confused, waiting for my turn in the admin office to make that big declaration, I randomly grabbed a brochure from the rack on the major degrees offered. It said, “Majoring in COMMUNICATION!” in very successful-looking font. With nothing else to go on, I picked it. That’s why I have a degree in Communication.
- My favorite cuisine is Indian. I could seriously live on it. But this summer I moved to a town with zero Indian restaurants! There was one when we visited last fall, but it has since closed down. Had I known this, we may have altered our moving course. Now I’m going to have to learn how to cook it properly!
- I haven’t spoken French since high school, but sometimes I dream in French. I never know what’s going on in those dreams, but I think it’s a sign that someone wants to send me on an all-expenses paid trip to France. Anyone?
- My first car was a 1985 Toyota Celica GT with 130,000 miles on it. It had those pop-up headlights, which was cool, but one was fused upright, so it was always winking, and there was a hole in the gas tank so I could only fill up 1/4 tank at a time, which was less cool.
- I can’t stand cheap chocolate. I mean, I’ll eat it if that’s all there is, because CHOCOLATE, but still. And don’t even come near me with that Hershey’s Syrup, trying to pass it off as fudge. Just, no.
- I’m a bookworm, but I don’t keep many books. My shelves are stocked with a few old favorites and reference books. So if you come to my house and scan my shelves trying to get an idea of the kind of person I am, you’ll be misled (I totally do that in people’s homes, BTW).
- Once I decided to get serious about writing, the first writing class I took was on memoir and personal essay. Then I wrote a YA novel called Twenty Boy Summer, which really got people wondering! It’s not a true story though. Mostly not. At least 40% not.
- I collect sea glass, rocks, and pigs. Not real pigs. But real rocks and sea glass. I have a lucky three-legged writing pig named Chancho who sits by my computer when I’m drafting a new project. Chancho understands my process.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long have you been writing? Did you always want to be an author?
I started writing stories and poems back when I was still losing teeth and wearing tank tops without a bra. As for wanting to be an author, sure, that was always the dream –- but it was just that. A dream like becoming a princess without royal ties or an astronaut without NASA training. I didn’t think it was possible to become a real author until I was in the midst of completing TWENTY BOY SUMMER, and my husband helped me see the truth: that I am a writer, and that becoming an author is my dream, and the only one who can stop me from achieving it is me.
Who or what first inspired you to become a writer?
You know how they say it takes a village to raise a child? My writing inspiration is kind of like that. When I was a kid, my parents encouraged me to read anything I wanted, and to write my own stories (after I tried to get them to find a publisher for my E.T. fan fiction, circa 1982). Then, to cope with the horribleness of high school, I carried a journal everywhere I went, which became kind of a therapist and taught me how to observe and write in specifics. I also owe a huge debt of gratitude to other writers whose storytelling drew me into new worlds and made me want to create that same feeling for others.
But the biggest influence on my writing (and actually taking the steps to become a published author) was and continues to be my husband, Alex. One of the first times we hung out, he asked me if I was a writer. He saw it in me — the way I wrote emails, the stories I told, the way I’d get so excited talking about writing or books. Years later, when I was struggling with a full time job, graduate school, and trying to finish Twenty Boy Summer, wondering whether business school was the right path for me, Alex reminded me with this phrase: “You’re a writer.” Sounds simple, but I needed to hear it. I got off the corporate treadmill and finished my book. And now, whenever I’m struggling or doubting myself, Alex reminds me, again, “You’re a writer.” He makes me laugh every day too, which is important, and he accepts my writerly neurosis. It’s not easy living with me!
The point is, whatever your dream, all you really need is one person to really, truly believe in you, to support you, to hold your hand on the journey. And guess what? You can be that one person for yourself. It’s true. I’m so fortunate to have Alex in my life, but never doubt that you can be your own cheerleader and best friend.
What is your favorite part of the writing process?
I really love coming up with new ideas, because it’s always fun and exciting to work on a fresh and limitless blank page. But I think the part I get most excited about is the revision process, because it’s in revising that the truest core of the story comes through, stripping away the excess to reveal the jewel of a book beneath. At least, that’s the goal of revision, anyway. But whether I’m revising for an early agent draft or alongside an editorial letter, I find that revision is when I finally figure out what the book is really about, and it’s a great moment.
What’s the most difficult part of the writing process for you?
Finishing. Seriously. I’m so obsessive, constantly questioning whether I used the right words, said the right things, described everything in a way that perfectly translates what’s in my head to what goes into the readers’ heads. Finishing is scary and painful, and whenever I send a manuscript to my editor, it’s like I have to really talk myself into hitting that send button, even if I know I’ll have another chance to make changes. It’s a long road. The last mile is always the hardest, right? And my second favorite part, on a less philosophical note — writing the synopsis. I’m always like, “Well, it’s about this girl, and… stuff happens…”
Who are some of your favorite authors or literary influences?
Writing is so powerful… I truly feel that I take something from every author I read, whether fiction or nonfiction, young adult or middle grade or adult, science fiction or romance or… anything! But the authors who’ve most directly influenced my writing, both motivationally and stylistically, are:
- Jack Kerouac. His writing style is so full of life and soul and experience and craziness… reading his work is like going on a whirlwind trip where you don’t stop seeing and tasting and doing and just being until the very last day, and then you totally crash! His voice comes through with such passion and authenticity that I can’t help but be inspired (even though he pretty much burned out and drank himself to death. Um, don’t try this at home. But do read his books!).
- Anais Nin, Sylvia Plath, and Anne Morrow Lindbergh. I admire these diarists for the truth, beauty, and raw intensity of their writing. They were not afraid to be honest, sharing their private pains and joys with the world through their journals and letters. Each of them touched me in such profound ways that I become re-energized to write just from reading a few passages of their works. In fact, whenever I see one of Nin’s dairies in a used bookstore, whatever edition, I buy it — even if I already have the same one at home.
- J.R.R. Tolkein. A master story-teller, world-builder, and creative thinker from whom writers can’t help but learn.
- Sarah Dessen, Deb Caletti, and Laurie Halse Anderson. When I first started seriously exploring teen literature in a YA novel class as an adult, I studied these contemporary YA authors and was so inspired by their voices, character development, and head-on tackling of tough issues that I knew without hesitation that I wanted to write in this genre myself. I continue to look to these modern YA masters for literary guidance as they continue to reach out and connect with audiences through their compelling characters and stories.
- Maggie Stiefvater. She’s an author I’ve only recently discovered, and now I devour her words, her complex storytelling, the way she makes everything feel like a little bit of magic. There’s something truly special about her stories, and I continue to study them and the writerly wisdom she’s shared on her blog.
What are some of your favorite YA books?
The list is ever-growing, but right now, here are some of the top contenders:
- Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
- Things We Know by Heart and In Honor by Jessi Kirby
- The Raven Boys series by Maggie Stiefvater
- Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
- The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen
- Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood
- The Beautiful Creatures series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
- Red Glass by Laura Resau
- The Season by Sarah MacLean
- Everything ever written by Deb Caletti
I’m doing a book report on your book. Can you tell me your birthday / age / personal stuff about your family / the theme of your book?
I’m thrilled that you chose one of my books for your report–thank you! But, please let your teacher know that I don’t share personal information for any reason (and I encourage teachers to stop making this a requirement for book reports on contemporary authors). I’m also not going to do your homework for you (unless you want to write a book proposal for me, then maybe we can work out a trade)!
For more information about the book, including behind the scenes info and trivia, check out that book’s page on this site (under the “Books” tab). If you have a few other questions, and at least a few weeks before your assignment is due, please get in touch and I’ll do my best to answer!
Got a question that wasn’t covered here? Ask me!