Mondays + Writers = Finally something to look forward to!
Today’s Writer’s Handful is a conversation with Vermont writer, Sarah Ward, whose new book, Aesop Lake, was just released in paperback from Green Writers Press. This young adult novel is no light-hearted romp among the unicorns and fields of daisies, but instead tells a story full of the complicated relationships and actions young people are engaged in these days. Kirkus Reviews calls the book “A mindful dissection of how allied strength can combat hate.” Something, dare I say, we all might learn from.
Did you write today?
Yes. I edited a dialogue that I overheard at the 4th of July Parade. The dialogue was between a sarcastic father and his fourteen-year-old son. The boy was dressed in cargo shorts, a striped shirt and gold shoes, which his father deemed inappropriate, and proceeded to tease him for. The boy’s long curly brown hair was held in place with a reversed baseball cap, that could not hide his embarrassment and frustration. His only option was to jump on his skateboard and ride away. I’m not sure where I will ever use this scene, but it felt real, and impactful.
What’s the first thing (story, poem, song, etc.) you remember writing, and how old were you when you wrote it?
When I was in first grade, my teacher, Mrs. Partridge would ask all of us to put our heads on our desks and listen to the instrumental recording of Peter and The Wolf. It was my earliest introduction to classical music, and it flipped a switch inside of me that storytelling could be more than See Spot Run. Each character was represented by an instrument, and their voices were so distinct that I felt connected and inspired. After the recording ended we were given time to write in our journals. I was only six, but I had been reading since I was four, and had already begun to tell stories, and read books. Then I started writing my own stories for the animals in the story of Peter and The Wolf. I created new stories about what happened to the bird, the duck and other characters. While they were only a few sentences long, my teacher was ecstatic with every attempt I made, and hung them on the wall for all of the class to see.
What are you reading right now?
Four books. I can never read just one. 1. I’m reading an advanced reader copy of Barbara Kingsolver’s called Unsheltered, which I collected at the 2018 Book Expo in NYC. I absolutely love Barbara’s work, and own all of her novels and short stories in paper and audio. 2. Katherine Patterson’s Stories of my Life, that I picked up at her book signing last winter. One of my favorite children’s authors, and the author of my all-time favorite book as a child, Bridge To Terabithia. 3. Thea Lewis’s Wicked Vermont, which was just released this spring. Thea is another Vermont Author, and friend. I do my best to support other authors, attending their events, buying their books, and when I’m finished, I will write a review. I believe we all need this kind of support, and it builds good karma! And last, but certainly not least, 4. I’m re-listening to the Lord of the Rings, Trilogy. I’ve read this series every decade or so since my teens. I’ve listened to the audio version twice now, and absolutely love Rob Inglis’s voice. As soon as I’m finished with the trilogy I will sock myself away to watch the movies again, for the sixth or seventh time and love them just as much, but for different reason.
What’s the most important advice you ever received? (Writerly or otherwise.)
This past spring I was at the 2018 Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference, and I sat in on several panels about writing for young adults about challenging subjects. My new novel, Aesop Lake, takes on a hate crime against a gay couple, and one of my main protagonists, Leda, who witnesses the crime, has to choose between doing the right thing, or protecting her boyfriend and family. I asked one of the panelists, Sarah Aronson, how does she cope with negative reactions to her topics, since I’m assured that some will judge my book as too violent, anti-Christian, etc. (even though it is not), and Sarah’s response was, “as soon as this book is released, start writing the next one. Don’t get focused on any negative press, or the haters, because they don’t really matter. What matters is getting back to work, telling the next story that is ready to be written, and putting your energy into the creative process.” I can’t wait to do just that, as I’ve been thinking about my next novel for six months. I’m ready to go.
If your writing were an animal, what animal would it be? Because…
I think my writing would be best characterized by a lemur because it often looks pretty straight forward, but there is more to it than meets the eye. There are layers of meaning and depth beneath the story, just as a lemur appears to be just another primate, but actually is quite different than others. Many of my stories have a matriarchal head of household, and strong mother-daughter relationships, which is similar to lemurs, who are one of the few known primates and mammals to have females in a social dominant role. Additionally, their social constructs are challenging, and this is true of most of my stories, given my twenty-five-years as a social worker. I tend to write stories about the darker side of families, domestic violence, hate crimes, depression and homelessness, which are topics which affect families—and women—in particular.
Sarah Ward writes young adult fiction, poetry and journal articles in the field of child welfare. Over a twenty-five-year career as a social worker, Sarah has worked with young adults and families with harrowing backgrounds. She won the 2007 Editor’s Choice Award for the New England Anthology of Poetry for her poem “Warmer Waters,” and she is a member of the League of Vermont Writers since 2008. As a social worker, Sarah has published several journal articles, and was recently a co-author on an article published (December 2016) in Child and Youth Services Review titled, “Building a landscape of resilience after workplace violence in public child welfare.” In her limited spare time, Sarah enjoys a good book, a little yoga and a cup of tea in her home in Williston, Vermont.