Sixteen-year-old Dani is convinced she has nine lives. As a child she twice walked away from situations where she should have died. But Dani’s twin, Jena, isn’t so lucky. She has cancer and might not even be able to keep her one life. Dani’s father is in denial. Her mother is trying to hold it together and prove everything’s normal. And Jena is wasting away. To cope, Dani sets out to rid herself of all her extra lives. Maybe they’ll be released into the universe and someone who wants to live more than she does will get one. Someone like Jena. But just when Dani finds herself at the breaking point, she’s faced with a startling realization. Maybe she doesn’t have nine lives after all. Maybe she really only ever had one.
Seriously, you guys, how amazing does ALL THESE LIVES sound? But wait! If you think the story is awesome, come meet the author...
1. Welcome to Honestly YA, Sarah! As you may have notices, we always start with the same curiosity: What book spoke to you most during your teen years?
When I read The Giver in middle school, I was completely blown away. I had never read anything quite like it, and I remember marveling at the fact that a book set in a world so unlike ours could say so much about our world. For days, I walked around in a post-Fantastic Book haze – the first of many I’ve experienced so far.
2. Do you have a book (or books) that you reread regularly? If yes, what book or film and why?
I’m not much of a re-reader, but there are definitely books I go back to every once in a while just to flip through my favorite parts. The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen is one of them as is Jandy Nelson’s The Sky is Everywhere. As for movies, I can watch a favorite many times over. Some movies I’ve seen way too many times: The Notebook (because, Ryan Gosling), Once, Little Women, and The Cutting Edge movies, just because I like to keep things classy.
3. ("Toooe piiiick" *s*) Okay, so, what YA novel or novels have you read recently that you most want all your friends to read?
The books I’m most likely to push into people’s hands at the moment are Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell and The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. I think they are both funny, poignant and realistic novels that anyone who has ever been a teen and/or human can relate to!
4. That does it. I seriously have to get Eleanor and Park. And The Fault in Our Stars! Oh, how can anyone even say the title without clutching their heart? Right. Sorry. I swooned there for a minute. Back to the important stuff: What made you want to write teen fiction? Is there any link to the stories you read growing up?
I love writing teen fiction for so many reasons: the immediacy and urgency of the stories, the explosion of emotions, and because it’s the start of that really unique and difficult journey of becoming Who You’re Going To Be. I grew up reading anything and everything I could get my hands on, but if you were Enid Blyton, C.S. Lewis or Ann M. Martin, then you were my hero. I particularly loved stories about families growing up, whether they were stories about the Pevensie kids selling their souls for some Turkish delight or the Famous Five who spent their summers getting unnecessarily kidnapped. I definitely am still partial to stories about families, and I think that shows in my own writing.
5. I think it absolutely shows in your writing! You can especially see it in ALL THESE LIVES. Where did the inspiration for this story come from?
All These Lives is about sixteen-year-old Dani who believes she has nine lives. Tired of watching her twin sister Jena battle cancer, Dani embarks on a mission to get rid of all her lives, hoping one of them will be enough to save her sister.
I always knew All These Lives was going to be about sisters, one of whom was sick, and the other who was bent on doing everything possible to save her. Dani’s voice came to me very quickly and very loudly, but the story didn’t feel complete until the idea for Dani’s nine lives was born. And that came while I was making a completely procrastinatory playlist.
6. Oh, I love characters who are insistent like that! I have to say, this is the kind of book I would absolutely bawl my way through. How hard was it for you to get such a wealth of emotion onto the written page?
There were definitely parts of All These Lives that were difficult to write, but I have to say that in general, I find writing emotions to be the easiest part of my job as a writer. Getting medical information right, figuring out timelines and plot issues – that’s the hard part. Although that adage “write what you know” gets a bum rap these days, I think it’s perfect advice for writing emotions. We’ve all been sad, confused, lonely, afraid, etc, so I tried to channel that into writing the emotions in All These Lives.
7. A lot of ALL THESE LIVES has to do with the family dynamic, how the family as a unit handles tough times. How did your own family (either the one you were born into or your family of friends) react to the book?
My family has been really supportive about the book! I’m lucky in that they tend to be pretty supportive in general, but I’ve always been a little secretive/shy about my writing so very few people get to hear about what I’m writing until it’s finished and even fewer get to read it.
8. That's so great that your family is supportive -- lucky you! Here's a bit of non-luck, though cos I can't not ask this question: Young Adult Fiction Author and… Neuroscience? How do you balance such diverse skills? And what gave you the courage to pursue writing even while studying such an intense subject?
I’ve gotten that question a few times and I always find it funny because I don’t think of them as being all that different! Neuroscience is really simply the study of the brain (or the nervous system) and how it produces behavior; fiction is about people – characters and their behaviors. I’m really interested in the little oddities, quirks and characteristics that make us who we are, so I love learning about it, but I also love writing about it. Writing was definitely an outlet for me while I was in school – an opportunity to do something creative and escape into a totally different world. I also wasn’t seriously considering publication when I started writing; it was 100% for fun, which was good, or I’d have been too intimidated and self-conscious to write what I loved.
9. Thanks for sharing a little bit about how you started writing. We have a lot of aspiring authors here in the Honestly YA realm who are no doubt in the same place. Can you share with them a little about your journey to publication?
Sure! With absolutely no knowledge of the publishing world, I wrote my first novel and promptly stuffed it under my bed, where it is currently collecting dust bunnies. All These Lives was the fourth manuscript I wrote and the first I queried seriously. I sent out query letters to a handful of agents – one of whom is now my lovely agent, Suzie Townsend. Suzie requested the manuscript and, a few weeks later, called to offer representation. We spent some time revising the manuscript before it went out on submission. In March 2010, All These Lives went to auction and it (and my next book) were bought by Margaret Ferguson Books (Macmillan). My editor and I went through several rounds of revision before All These Lives was released in June 2012. It’s been a wonderful and scary journey!
10. What's next? Can you tell us a little bit about your 2014 release?
My next book is another contemporary young adult novel. We’re still in the process of revising, so I don’t want to say too much about it in case anything changes, but it’s called Something Beginning With You. It’s about two best friends who must deal with the consequences of a dare gone horribly wrong, and a truth that might destroy everything. We don’t have a cover or release date yet, but I’ll share details as soon as I have them!
Sarah, thanks for being so cool about answering our questions. Please be sure to let us know as soon as you have the details for Something Beginning With You -- sounds amazing!