Author Chat with Sarah Ockler (Author of Twenty Boy Summer)

Earlier this summer I RAVED about a book I had read AND an author I had met while in New York for BEA.  The book, Twenty Boy Summer, was such a  fun read and if you read my review you know I gushed…. and gushed…. and maybe gushed a bit more.

I had kept in touch with Sarah Ockler… anxiously anticipating her next book and around her busy life she found time to chat with me a bit about the first book, the second book…. and well… why now just see for yourself.

Please welcome Sarah Ockler.

Sarah Ockler

Well Sarah, I am so glad to have you here today.  I enjoyed Twenty Boy Summer immensely and I know many of the Book Journey  readers did as well.  Thanks for chatting with me today.  How do you take your coffee?

Sarah:  Soy milk, no sugar. If I’m out in a coffee shop, I’ll usually just do a plain soy latte.

Twenty boy summer was your first novel, how long would you say it took to write from the first idea, to the moment you had a publisher?

Sarah:  From idea to book deal? 8 years. But it’s not as scary as it sounds!
The idea for Twenty Boy Summer started developing a few years before I actually started writing it. I was working for the National Donor Family Council, an organization that supports families whose loved ones died and donated organs and tissues. I met so many grieving teens, and somewhere inside, I knew that if I ever wrote a book, I wanted to share a part of those stories. 4 years later, I started writing. 3 years after that, balancing  a full-time job, graduate school, and fear that prevented me from committing to writing a book, I finished. 3 weeks later, I had an agent. Less than 3 months after that, we sold the book. So really, once I accepted the fact that I was a writer, and that I *had* to finish the book, it all came together very quickly.

Wow!  I almost fell out of my chair when you said 8 years!  Would you say that time period was exciting, frustrating, or all of the above?

Sarah:  Mostly exciting, but there are always moments of frustration with any creative pursuit. Some days the ideas just don’t flow as well, or the story doesn’t seem to make sense anymore, or the self-doubt creeps in. But overall, it was an exhilarating time, and I wouldn’t trade any of the ups and downs! It’s all part of the process of writing a book.

I have heard some authors say they do not read reviews on their book.  Do you?

Sarah:  I read reviews when they first start coming out, but after the book has been on the shelves a while, I try to stay away.  I like to know how the book is being received by readers, and I also like to think about what I can do better for the next book. At the same time, reading reviews can be damaging, and they’re not a real indication (or definition) of a book’s success. What one person hates about a book, another person loves. What one person loves, everyone else hates. Some people will give a book a negative review just because they don’t agree with a character’s choices. Others will love it because they identify so strongly with that character. Others will love only the writing style, but hate the setting. Before I sold my book, I heard this advice from pubbed authors all the time, but I didn’t get it until recently: “Don’t read reviews. The best thing an author can do for her career is to just write the next book.”

That sounds to me like it was good advice.   What made you choose to write YA books?

Sarah:  I like to say that YA chose me. 🙂 It’s just the voice in which my stories come out. I think it’s partly because I was so expressive in my journals during high school — in many cases, they were like a best friend that never judged me, never scolded me, never dropped me. The issues, the emotion, the choices — all of those things from my own teen years really stayed with me. The first time I took a YA writing class, I read contemporary young adult authors like Sarah Dessen, Deb Caletti, Laurie Halse Anderson, and I knew that’s what I was meant to
do. I can’t imagine not writing YA!

I felt you really tapped into the teen vein.  When Anna and Frankie were going through the hard times, I hurt along with them.  I think this is a real gift for YA authors.  How do you feel you create such realistic young adult characters?

Sarah:  I think it goes back again to my own teen years. It’s such a time of intense emotion, and it’s always stayed with me. When I write teen characters, I basically revisit high school. I remember what it was like. I put myself in the character’s shoes and think, what would I have done here? What would my best friend have done?  What about my opposite, or someone I could never relate to?  What did that breakup feel like? What about that fight with my parents?  What about when that person died? What about that awesome party?  Then, I observe teens interacting today (not in a stalker way. Usually not anyway. 🙂 ) and see how the dynamics are, the language, the cues, the clothes. And then I mix it all up and write it. 🙂

I am so excited about your next book coming out in December of this year, Fixing Delilah.  Can you tell us a little about this book?

Sarah:  Fixing Delilah is very much a mother-daughter book. I remember having such a difficult, complicated relationship with my mother back then — I hated her. I loved her. I wanted to be just like her. I wanted to be nothing like her. I remember thinking that she must’ve been born a grown-up, because she clearly had no idea what it was like to be a teenager. I really wanted to explore that through Delilah and her family. The story opens with Delilah and her corporate workaholic mom
traveling to Vermont to settle her grandmother’s estate. After a
family fight 8 years earlier, no one had spoken to or about the
grandmother, and now that they’re heading back to the house after her death, Delilah struggles with her memories of what happened and the role her mother and aunts played in the estrangement. The story explores generations of women and all of the secrets, hopes, and fears mothers and daughters keep from one another, and how the assumptions and misconceptions can really tear us apart. There’s also a really cute boy in the mix, but I’ll let readers meet him on their own. 🙂

Oh I can not wait!  I have drooling over this book since I seen the cover, and that I know more about it, I am putting  the release date on my calendar.  What is coming up for you?

Sarah:  I’m currently working on another YA story about one girl’s struggle to find and follow her dreams, to see beauty in the places we call home, and to finally discover what it means to be part of something bigger than ourselves. Unlike Twenty Boy Summer and Fixing Delilah, this one is set smack in the middle of winter. 🙂 More details soon!

It is tradition that I ask each author I chat with to share a little known fact about themselves.

Sarah:  I always wanted to play the clarinet, but when it came time to pick instruments in 4th grade, the band conductor told me that since I’d probably need braces, I couldn’t play clarinet. Devastated, I picked the violin instead. I was actually pretty good, winning competitions and playing in the all county orchestra. But I always secretly longed to play the clarinet. I never ended up needing braces, but you know who did? The lead clarinet. Didn’t seem to interfere with her lead chair status in the least.

I quit violin in high school, but every once in a while I pick it up
again. I totally suck at it now. 🙂

Thank you Sarah for your time!  If you are ever in Minnesota give me a shout!

Me and Sarah Ockler, May 2010

Readers, you can find Sarah Ockler at her website, Sarah Ockler:  Making Stuff Up. Writing It Down.  and at the lovely new website The Comtemps which is a group of YA Authors who are passionate about realistic fiction.  Check this spot out there are author stories of the teen years, special events, book and they even have a fun challenge going on!

13 thoughts on “Author Chat with Sarah Ockler (Author of Twenty Boy Summer)

  1. Your new book sounds wonderful, Sarah! I love books about the mother/daughter relationship and all those “assumptions and misconceptions” that tear us apart.

    That is a fabulous cover, too.

    Great chat, Sheila and Sarah.

  2. Nice to meet Sarah. I am with Laurel, I love books about mother/daughter relationships and one that explores generations of women and their relationships is icing on the cake. Look forward it.

  3. Wonderful interview. It is great that you can tap into your teen years experiences and memories and use them so effectively in your writing. The teens today are enjoying all the paranormal reads out there, but there is also a desire for characters and stories they can relate to.
    I just checked the regional catalogue and I can’t believe only two libraries have TWENTY BOY SUMMER. I will be talking to our library director and telling her they need to get these two books.

  4. Thank you for the introduction to Sarah Ockler! That was a terrific interview Shelia! Alas, yet 2 more books that will be going on the TBR list. Thanks to your blog my list keeps growing and growing!

  5. Great interview Sheila. I bought Twenty Boy Summer the day you posted your review, but it’s still in my TBR stack. I can’t keep up with all of your terrific suggestions. Do you own stock in B&N? 🙂

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