Interview with Sarah Wathen   2 comments

My interview today is with Sarah Wathen, author of The Tramp, which combines elements of psychological thriller with horror and back country myth.

Welcome, Sarah. Tell us something about yourself. 

I live in Orlando, Florida, with my husband Bill and six-year-old son Liam. I’m a stay-at-home mom, and the lucky wife of a man that is extremely supportive, not only financially but also with all aspects of writing and art making. Bill actually reformed his band, Her Last Boyfriend, to produce a full musical soundtrack for The Tramp. The theme song, “Bound Hearts,” is so perfect for my book that I get chills every time I listen to it. Now we’re parents and forced to play the responsible roles, but Bill and I have had so much fun working on this project together—the rockstar and crazy artist that first met ten years ago are back with a vengeance.

He sounds like a wonderful man. What led you to become a writer?

When I was twenty-six, I was in a terrible car accident that left a lot of residual damage—physical and emotional. As a way of working through my issues, a few years ago I decided to write a memoire about the experience of healing. I wrote in first person, present tense, and I revisited every second that I could remember from the moments before and after the actual crash (I was unconscious for hours). It was important that my story be accurate, so I described every sensation, fear, and pain in detail, from all the hospitals, surgeries, and drug-laden months of recovery. When Bill read it, he told me, “You know your art is pretty good, but you’re ten times a better writer than you are a painter.” I was freaked out at first—artist was how I had thought of myself for so many years. That’s who I was. That’s what I did. But when Bill asked me if making art really made me happy anymore (he suspected it didn’t and he was right), he asked the question that changed my life: “Well, why not just decide to do something else?” Why not indeed.

What was the first story you ever wrote and how old were you?

From about the age of five to eight, I was deeply involved in elaborate social networks of imaginary friends and enemies, which I invented with my sister. We lived in New Orleans at the time, and Rachel and I would hide out under the stairs in our backyard, constantly refining and embellishing the fantasy. We drew pictures and wrote character profiles of our favorites, like Violet and Afisha and Pekins. We formed warring clubs, the Tutu Group and the Plant Club, and wrote illustrated stories about their activities and exploits. My mom keeps the precious manuscripts safe, pasted into archival books.

TheTrampYou have a background in fine art. Are you the illustrator for the book?

Yes, the cover for The Tramp is based on a mixed-media painting of mine: watercolor, acrylic, ink, and gold leaf on paper. The painting was from a large body of work called “40 Paintings,” which I started for an instructional painting blog in 2008. The course was intended to help beginning artists find the inspiration that can be so elusive when facing a blank white page. The first stages of the paintings were loose and free, basically letting the paint do as it would. Next, I would find interesting forms and start to flesh them out of the composition. Finally, I’d decide what the imagery was and use ink or oil paint to finish out the environments or characters that had taken shape. The painting for The Tramp was completed years before I wrote the book, but it ended up being perfect for the story—the crumbling shack is a prominent stage in the book, and the odd little instruments relate to the music and art featured throughout the story. The way my painting and my book came together like that was more than serendipitous; it makes me wonder about all the stories floating around in our subconscious, pieces and parts of our dreams and passions, waiting to take shape at the right moment.

I’m going to drop you off at a remote Alaskan cabin for a month. It’s summer so you don’t have to worry about freezing to death, I’m providing the food and the bug spray. You can bring three books.What three books are they and do you actually read them or spend the time hiking the Alaskan wilderness?

Oh, thank you for the bug spray! I went to Alaska in the summer once to watch my sister run the Midnight Sun Marathon in Anchorage. The local joke was that the mosquito was the national bird—they were huge and plentiful!

They are! (Lela laughs).

On long, sleepless, sun drenched nights, I would definitely read books. I do love to hike, but I’m not much of an explorer, so a few hours during the day would be more than enough for me. I would bring a new book that I’ve never before read, probably something by an indie author who I’m planning to review. I’d also want to have a comfort book that I know I can lose myself in, and that has a heart-warning, thought-provoking ending. That would be A Prayer For Owen Meany, by John Irving. And since I’ll be there alone for a whole month, I’d have to add some good erotic fiction. My favorite lately almost makes me blush to admit because it’s quite exotic, but I’m gonna do it anyway: Tristan, by S. Legend.

What is something you cannot live without?

I can’t live without my splurge day. I try to be a healthy person, good mom, and upright citizen most of the time. But by Friday night I’m over it and all rules must go. I eat whatever I want, drink whatever I want, smoke a bunch of cigarettes, and the boy child spends the night at Grandma’s house. By Saturday night, I’m ready to be a good girl again.

The_Tramp_BannerTell us about The Tramp.

The Tramp is a modern love story, with an ancient haunting buried underneath. It’s the first book in a series of four, comprising the epic paranormal mystery “The Bound Heart Chronicles”, and a reader can expect to have at least one piece of the puzzle solved in each book. If the mystery of why the heart wants what the heart wants can ever truly be solved, that is…

At first glance, Candy was a pretty little seven-year-old girl like any other in Shirley County. She was prone to singing and dancing and splashing in the rain, in her yellow polka dot bikini and her favorite red galoshes. John was a normal little boy and he loved playing with his best friend, Candy. But their bond drew a darkness that had long stayed hidden in a small, southern mountain town. Sometimes the truth is in the things you can’t see.

Something happened all those many years ago, and it can never be forgotten.

But our story begins long after that, when Candy and John are teenagers.  John, caught up in the business of life, stops spending his summers in Shirley County. And Candy, hurt and lonely at first, moves on as well. She meets Sam, the new boy in town.  Even though she has never ventured more than a hundred miles from her home, she has never felt at ease there. Always at odds with her high school friends, her church, her family—and bored with her small town existence—she finds the adventure she needs in Sam. He is cool, confident, independent, and Candy likes that. He lives on the fringes of society, and perhaps she likes that, too. But even with Sam in her life, she is sometimes overcome with a sense of dread, like a shadow has passed, just on the edge of vision. And sometimes the truth is in the things you won’t see.

Something was awakened all those many years ago, that can never be undone.

When John finally does find his way back, it’s to a Shirley County that is much more disturbing than he remembers. He’s accosted by strange dreams and preoccupied with his grandfather’s visions—the evidence scrawled so frantically that the paper is ragged and torn. Howling animal masks and flailing human figures.Teeth sharp as razors. Wherever John tries to find reason in the madness, he’s blocked by evasion and dead ends. He doesn’t miss his old friend Candy’s new secrets, either. And John’s once comforting presence becomes unwelcome, when he uses the brilliant mind Candy has always trusted to turn up troubling information on Sam’s past. Despite the confusion of strained friendships, new romance, and high school intrigues, John and Candy begin to suspect something more sinister lurking amidst the days of football glory and the nights of clandestine rendezvous. And then there is a murder.

Sometimes the truth is what you must see to survive. There are dark spirits in the mountains of Shirley County, and one of them is bent on revenge.

What inspired this book?

When I decided to write full-time, I knew I wanted to write fiction. I put my memoire on the back burner. But, I had been writing non-fiction for so long (tons of art theory and criticism in grad school, plus design tutorials while I was teaching), and I didn’t know where to start. Bill, who I call “the idea guy,” came up with a handful of story possibilities that he had always thought would make a great book. The one I liked best was partly taken from real life; one of his co-workers was hosting an Italian foreign exchange student, and she lived in a small mountain town in Tennessee. That, together with Bill’s own imagination formed “the situation” that is the climax scene of The Tramp. So, Bill provided that one, key scene, and then I built the fictitious town of Shirley and all the people that live there, to make that scene happen.

Is the community represented based on a real place?

Shirley County is fictitious, but it is definitely based on a real place. It’s located in the Appalachian Mountains, vaguely in the Tennessee area. Before I even started my first draft, I researched the political and geographic history of this area—first, back to initial colonial settlers, and finally back to the ancient, indigenous “mound builder,” hunter-gatherer peoples that roamed Eastern North America as far back as 3500 BCE. Since my readers needed to “see” Shirley as they moved through the story, I also researched the flora and fauna of the area. I found images of the trees, plants and flowers, with descriptions of their smells and blooming cycles. I listened to recordings of an American Robin’s birdcall, the growl of a bobcat, and the strange yip-howl of a coywolf.

As soon as I really got into building the story, I realized I needed more information, in order to make the day-to-day life of Shirley County citizens seem authentic and meaningful. So, I researched local music, crafts, food, and legends. That was the best part! My favorite piece of new education is Old-time music; it’s different than Bluegrass, but played with some of the same instruments like fiddles, banjos and dulcimers. The dance that accompanies Old-time, buckdancing, is similar to clogging, but so uniquely American and absolutely joyful. You just have to hear it and see it, and I tried my best to create the experience through words in my book.

Tell us about Catchpenny.

Well, I have really fallen in love with Shirley County and all the people that live there. But, there just isn’t enough room in one book—or even in one long, epic story—to tell it all. Too many characters create too many tangents to make sense, and I even had to cut several from The Tramp to tighten it up. I also felt constrained to my genre, to streamline the intricate plot lines, interwoven histories and character relationships.

After working through several drafts of The Tramp (and while I was waiting on my editor again), I just wanted to write a simple romance. That’s where Catchpenny came in. One of the characters in The Tramp is pissed off at her son, Tristan (in no way related to the exotic erotic fiction I mentioned earlier): he dumps his long-term girlfriend and asks Meg Shannon, the town “sure thing,” to the Homecoming dance. Rumor has it, he just wants to get laid. Although the Homecoming dance is an important event in The Tramp, Tristan and Meg are side characters. Meg is only mentioned and never actually makes an appearance. But I thought, “Well, what is Meg really like and what about Tristan, who seems like a total jerk in The Tramp? What happens between them? What if all the nasty rumors are totally wrong?”

Catchpenny is the story of Tristan and Meg. It started out as a short little romance, but it has blossomed into a full-length coming of age novel. It will be released serially, in six parts (one part each month), in between book one and book two of “The Bound Chronicles”.

What are your literary plans for the future?

I adore writing. It’s what I want to do until I drop. I’ve got my hands full with this series, and that will keep me busy for a few years. Book Two of the Bound Chronicles, The Glamour, is already underway. I plan to extract a couple minor characters from The Glamour to create another serial offshoot novel, just as I did with Catchpenny. Also, there is a villain in The Tramp that I love to hate—she’s modeled after a friend-turned-enemy in real life and I think her story would be a fascinating one to tell. She’s actually a sociopath, and will make for an excellent anti-heroine, possibly in a new series, after I’m finished with Bound.

Anything else you would like to add?

Art and music is such a huge part of all my stories. I encourage readers to listen to The Tramp Soundtrack when it’s released in April. It’s more than just music—it’s a concept album that follows the story from beginning to end, with lyrics and instrumentation specifically designed for the characters. Also, look for my video trailer for The Bound Chronicles later this year—there will be plenty of art to see!

Make sure to follow my blog on WordPress, www.sarahwathen.com, because I’ll be posting artwork that is featured in The Tramp, as well as music links, playlists, and YouTube links to videos I used in my research.

Links, websites/social media, cover art, author pic

My blog: www.sarahwathen.com

Twitter: @SWathen_Author

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SarahLWathen

Her Last Boyfriend: http://herlastboyfriend.com/albums/2014-the-tramp-soundtrack/

 

Sarah’s interview with me is part of her Elite Book Promotions Tour. Follow the link for more details.

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/d4201899110/

2 responses to “Interview with Sarah Wathen

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  1. Thank you so much for this interview, Lela! It was truly a pleasure!

    Like

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