If you haven’t heard of our new project, the On Fire anthology, this interview series will showcase our authors and their writing lives beyond their ignited tales. In Sarah Lyn Eaton‘s “The Last Seven Tribes of Ketchari,” a young Trekker and her people try to flee being hunted into extinction.
What is the best thing about being an author? What is the worst thing?
Truth? The best thing about being an author is getting to do the thing I love every day. It feeds me. Hearing back from readers that something in my story touched them is unbelievable—I get to do this thing I am passionate about and it’s meaningful to other people? It’s incredible. And I love writing. It’s the only way to get the stories out of my head. Once I have an idea it never leaves. After a while it gets crowded in there, and it becomes a need. I am never at a loss for story ideas. It doesn’t mean I know where they’re headed, but the seeds are always clear. Having the ability to do something I love is the best. The worst thing about it is not getting paid for the time I put into it.
Who are your favorite authors and why?
Some of my favorite authors are Charles de Lint, Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, Jeannette Winterson, Mira Grant/Seanan McGuire, Ray Bradbury, Connie Willis, Frank Herbert, Octavia Butler, J.K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins, in no particular order—and I know I’m leaving some out. These are all authors whose work takes me to new worlds, but also leaves me changed afterwards. Something in their stories spoke to me, woke something within me. I carry them with me long after I’ve put the book down.
What is the first book or story that made you cry?
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. It was the first book I read where a main character was lost, the first one I felt grief and loss over. I didn’t know that was a possibility in my books until that one. Reading became unsafe, more about exploration than escapism. And yet, even as I write this, there was an earlier book… We didn’t have a lot of money growing up but when the Scholastic Book Fair came to the school I was allowed to get a new one. A Dog Named Kitty, by Bill Wallace. I don’t remember it that well, but I remember crying so hard as a kid that I threw the book across the room. It gutted me emotionally, probably for the same reasons. I still have it in a box in the attic. I should give it another read.
How many stories have you written?
I have thirty-two finished stories, but only about a dozen of them that I feel are good enough to send out for submissions. I think most writers would agree that those early stories are more like writing exercises, learning the discipline of follow-through, and perfecting our personal story-crafting. I write a variety of genres, but writing the stories—even the bad ones—has helped me hone in on what genres are my happy places.
How do you deal with writer’s block?
I am always working on a few projects, at least. When I get writer’s block I’ll try working on another project for an hour. If I’m really stuck and deadlines loom, I get out of the house, away from the computer, and I go to nature. I get back to a simple thought… what does my character hope to achieve? How can they get there?
How do you choose your character’s personalities and names?
I don’t pick my characters. They find me. Most of my stories start with a moment where a character or set of characters reveal themselves to me. And then that moment reveals the scene that it takes place in. And then I roll the story out around them. What world do they live in? What’s happening in their world? I have as much fun discovering the details as I hope my readers do. This method allows me to hold tight to the character thread and what they’re seeking.
Do you use beta readers, and if so, roughly how many?
I only have a couple of reliable beta readers. When I mention that I need some I’ll get a dozen people who offer to read but when I send the story with my list of questions and say that I need a response in two weeks… I don’t hear back. Or if I do hear back, all I get is, “I liked it. It was good.” I know it’s not good. It’s a good start. But that’s what I need readers for. So much of the story, written and unwritten, is in my head. I need people to tell me where clarity or definition is needed. I’ve also discovered that writers make poor beta readers. Either they help you by telling you how they would write it, or they never get around to it because they’re busy writing their own stories. I have one really good beta reader that I keep in a locked room with an encrypted address. I even keep their gender hidden. That’s how valuable a good beta reader is.
What are you doing to market yourself?
I am learning to market myself but it is never going to be my strength. I grew up trying to dumb myself down to fit in better in my poor, working class town. Promotion was frowned upon for girls who were smarter than the boys. So, there is some unlearning of bad behaviors happening. But I created a public writer page. I have a blog. I have a number of people following me because of a traumatic accident I was in, and I update them about publications. Some days my marketing consists of simply admitting that I am a writer, and I have had some stories published. It’s strange to me to expect an artist who struggles every day to believe in their talent to be able to bluster through self-promotion in a convincing way. I’m a work in progress.
What advice do you have for beginning authors?
What I would tell beginning writers is simple. Write the story you want to tell. Hundreds of authors are writing stories they think people want. You have an opportunity to be a unique voice. Take it. Also…submit, submit, submit. If no one is reading your work, you’ll never get published.
Sarah Lyn Eaton is a writer who has survived both flood and fire. She lives with her wife and cats where the Susquehanna and Chenango Rivers meet. Her published stories can be found in Pantheon Magazine, as well as the anthologies Dystopia Utopia, Fracture: Essays, Poems, and Stories on Fracking in America, The Northlore Series, Volume One: Folklore, What Follows, and Elf Love. When not writing she can be found taking photos of fungus, collecting rock specimens, and mediating an end to the cucumber and bean plant turf war in her garden.
Photo Credit (c) “Wings” by ridikus