Sarah Nicole Smetana
author of The Midnights, out March 7
Author, I Never is a new segment in which I interview fellow authors about the writing process, breaking into the industry, and breaking rules. I ask some hopefully novel questions along with some of the old standards, and finish it up with a round of I Never to find out what cardinal writing rules we've broken.
Question the first: Sarah, when did you first know you wanted to be a writer?type publishing
Question the second: What has been your proudest or most exciting moment as an author so far?
I feel like every milestone brings a new proudest moment. First, I won a chapbook contest. Then I got an agent. Then, of course, the publishing deal. But honestly, the fact that I finished the book at all—I’m really proud of that. Part of me legitimately thought I’d be writing THE MIDNIGHTS forever.
I know that feeling. Question the third: At what point did you think to yourself "I've made it" or at what point do you think you'll feel that way?
I still don’t feel like I’ve made it! I don’t know if I’ll ever feel that way, tbqh. Although, when I finally see my book on the shelf in a bookstore, next to so many other books that I admire… I think I’ll feel like I’ve “made it” then, at least in some small way.
Question the fourth: Did any experienced authors or industry people mentor or give you helpful guidance on your journey to publication?
I studied creative writing as an undergrad, and then got my MFA, so I was constantly working with established authors. I didn’t ever have a single, true mentor, but I’ve been lucky enough to work with a lot of brilliant minds, each one bringing a new idea or perspective to the table. I have also done outside workshops, such as the Tin House Summer Writer Workshop, which offered access to even more amazing authors. Any chance you have to learn from other writers is great, I think—even if you don’t get tons of individual attention.
Question the fifth: Have you ever had a time when you've felt like giving up?
Actually, no. I’ve never wanted to give up. However, I have gone without writing for periods of varying lengths. The years between college and grad school, I hardly wrote at all. Right after grad school, while working and starting to pay back my loans, I often didn’t write. Sometimes months, sometimes years would pass. But I always wanted to be a writer. And if you want it, if you really want to do this thing, then you will find a way. Trust in yourself and your own pace.
Question the sixth: What was the most inconvenient time or place you were struck by inspiration?
I get a lot of ideas as I’m trying to fall asleep. I also get a lot of ideas in the shower, oddly enough. Really, though, I get snippets of ideas all the time, so I always make sure I have my phone handy to jot down the thought.
Yes! My phone is maybe my most valuable author tool. Question the seventh: Can you give us hint to help us find an "easter egg" or hidden item to look for in one of your books? Maybe an obscure clue if there's a mystery thread, or a reference you threw in to a favorite book or song?
Oh wow, there are so many little details! Since you mentioned books: In the early pages of the THE MIDNIGHTS, my protagonist, Susannah, is shown reading The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro for English class. This is a book that I read when I was in AP English Lit as a high school senior, and also the book I wrote my essay on for the AP exam. I don’t remember the essay at all, but I remember I got the highest score, and I’m still super proud of it—especially since I’ve always been bad at multiple choice tests, which means I must have written one hell of an essay!
I love The Remains of the Day! Okay, prepare thyself for the...
I Never Round
The basic rules of I Never, the author version- I state a generally established writing rule (or at least a norm). If you've broken that rule, state your guilt for the record.
I never made up a word in my manuscript, and stood by it during copyediting.
I haven’t done this. However, when I’m writing, I’ll sometimes use a word that sounds totally right, even if I have no freaking idea what it actually means. Then I’ll have to go look it up. And most of the time, I’m stunned to learn that I used it correctly! (Not always though.) The brain is so weird.
I never had an amazing idea right before bed, and decided sleep was more important.
GUILTY. So guilty. I have so many ideas when I’m trying to sleep, as mentioned above. And I have learned my lesson: if I do not write them down, I do not remember.
I never started a story with a character waking up, looking in the mirror, or in a bathtub.
I mean, haven’t we all?
Survey says: most likely. I never worked on two manuscripts at once.
Never! I don’t know how to be in multiple projects at once. The people who can do this amaze me.
It might be partially due to a specific combination of sugar attraction and distractibility. I never went several days or even weeks without writing.
I’ve gone years without really writing. It happens. It sucks. But you’ll get back to that place when you can. Don’t let the guilt swallow you.
I never wrote "for a long moment."
For a long moment, I thought about what my answer should be…
For a long moment, I contemplated your answer. I never cheated during NaNoWriMo.
I’ve never actually done NaNoWriMo. I’m just not a fast writer. I’m a tinkerer, always editing, adjusting, refining as I work. It’s not a super efficient way to do it, and I wish I could just get through a quick crappy draft. But… alas. I work how I work.
Thank you so much for appearing in Author, I Never! When and where can we look for, preorder, or buy your next or most recent book, and where can we follow you on social media?
Thanks for having me, Dana! You can find me on…
Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-midnights-sarah-nicole-smetana/1126314331?ean=9780062644626
Bonus question: If your book had a theme song, what would it be?
Sarah has a whole playlist at:
Unsurprisingly, music had a huge influence on THE MIDNIGHTS, and I loved thinking about it as though it were a movie soundtrack. What song would play during the opening shot? What song would play during such and such scene? But one of my favorites was: what song would play at the very end, during the final moments, as we leave Susannah and the credits start to roll? I always imagined that song would by “When My Time Comes” by Dawes. I can picture it so clearly. I get chills even thinking about it! Maybe one day.
DJ Spotify, your time has come!