Author Interview: Sarah Anne Johnson

by Jessica on October 7, 2014

Author, Sarah Anne Johnson, has just released her debut novel,
The Lightkeeper’s Wife!
She will be here to discuss & sign on Thursday, October 9th at 7pm but we were able to ask her a few questions beforehand.
Enjoy! See you on the 9th!

For more information on Sarah click here.

 

The Lightkeeper’s Wife is your debut novel! Congrats! How does it feel to have it out in the world where people can physically pick it up?
It’s astonishing really, to think that anyone can pick up the book and read it. I’m happy to be able to share the story after many years of writing. I’ve been Skyping with book clubs and engaging with readers who are excited about the book and have tons of questions, so it’s been a pleasure to connect with readers this way.

You’re an accomplished writer and have a few books under your belt already. Was there anything with a novel that was different from the non-fiction you’ve written? Is there anything you learned this time around?
The nonfiction books were interviews with authors, and they provided me with a solid education in writing. For each author, I read all of their books and anything written by or about them, so I really studied the author’s creative life. Then I had the opportunity to ask anything I wanted to about their writing techniques and their creative lives. What an opportunity! After conducting so many interviews I felt that my writer’s toolbox was brimming with good advice and information. I turned to my fiction with a keener eye and a lot of inspiration from the writers who were generous enough to share their time with me.

Has there ever been a time, when writing, that you got so stuck you were just beside yourself? How did you overcome that?
I just start deleting things that I know aren’t working, smothering my darlings, as the saying goes. This clears the way for what truly belongs. Also, the best piece of writing advice I’ve heard is from Ron Carlson. If you get stuck, don’t get up to get a cup of coffee or check the mail. Sit with the work for twenty minutes. You are sure to find your way in those twenty minutes. This is a discipline I enforce with myself and it really works.

Where did the idea for The Lightkeeper’s Wife come from?
The Lightkeeper’s Wife was inspired by a print I saw in the Highland House Museum in Truro, MA. Grace Darling was rowing into stormy seas to save a shipwrecked sailor, with her dress billowing in the wind and her hair whipping around her face. As a girl growing up on Cape Cod, I sailed with the boys, but we had no women heroes. In creating Hannah, I created my own hero.  When I started researching women’s maritime history, I came across women pirates. It intrigued me to know what would drive a woman to kill and survive on a pirate ship, and so Blue was born. From there it was a matter of exploring the lives of these two women and learning how they were connected.

Is this time period, 19th century Cape Cod, something that you’ve always wanted to explore?
I grew up in a family that was fascinated with early American art and antiquities, especially maritime antiquities, as we were a big boating family. When I visited the Highland House Museum, I felt like I was home. So many of the artifacts I knew from my childhood—shipwrecks and lifesaving gear and model boats–and I realized that this was my terrain. This was what I knew, and I loved the simplicity of that time as a setting.

How long did it take you to write The Lightkeeper’s Wife?
I wrote the book over the course of ten years, while I was doing the three interview books. Then I worked on it for two years with my agent. It’s been along process!

You’ve been involved with the Bennington College Writing Seminars MFA Program as well as Leseley University’s MFA Program.  What’s some advice you regularly give to writers?  
Read everything you can get your hands on that will inform your literary life. You are what you read, so chose wisely. Also, sit in your chair at your desk with your work. Inspiration happens when you’re writing, so set your writing time and stick to it.

How has being involved with those programs helped you as a writer?
It’s invaluable to be part of a creative community. One thing I learn when I’m at these programs is how much I don’t know, and this propels me deeper into the work and into my learning. I also met many wonderful writers who I interviewed in my books, and learned the most important thing that I know about writing. A writing life consists of not only writing but also of reading voraciously with your writer’s eye. Learning to understand what other writers are doing can help you better handle your own material and accomplish things that were previously beyond your grasp.

Who are some creative people that inspire you?
So many. I love the work of Louise Erdrich, Anthony Doerr, Emile Zola, Elena Ferrante, and so many others. I also find inspiration in looking at art and exploring the layers of meaning in a piece of work. I feel the creative energy when I’m walking in a gallery or museum and that energy inspires me.

Finally, what’s next? Are you working on anything right now?  
I’m working on a novel that’s due any day now.