2010 Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Conference: Sara Zarr

As part of our continuing series of 2010 Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Conference (www.foryoungreaders.com) faculty interviews with interviewer Carol Lynch Williams.

CLW: Sara, who has most influenced you as a writer?

SZ: I never think of influence as coming from a single person, but given all the studies cited about how important it is to read to your child if you want to raise a person who is not only literate but may also come to love books and writing, I’d have to give it up to Mom. She read aloud to my sister and me as far back as I can remember, and continued it well after we could read on our own. I think that helped me understand language, stories, and the power of imagination.

CLW: In list form, will you tell us how you got published?


  1. Wrote a book
  2. Got an agent
  3. Wrote more books
  4. Fired first agent
  5. Kept writing
  6. Got new agent, who promptly sold Story of a Girl – the fourth novel I’d written

CLW: Which character, that you have written, is most like you? Why?

SZ: Oh, I can’t choose one. They’ve all got bits of me in them, and at the same time, none of them are me. I feel kinship with all my narrators.

CLW: What are people going to learn in your class at Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers this year?

SZ: Self-editing skills, how to bring more layers to fiction, and also how to stay mentally healthy while pursuing a sometimes crazy career.

CLW: What is your best piece of advice to a new writer? To a published writer?

SZ: To new writers: Be patient. With the industry, yes, but most of all with yourself. It takes a lot of time and practice to find your voice and start to feel confident in your writing. It took me about ten years to get there. To a published writer: Practice a version of the AA Serenity Prayer with your career – seek the serenity to accept the things you can’t change—the tide of industry changes, the market, editorial taste. Strive for courage to change the things you can—your working habits, your relationships with colleagues, your attitude. And work with your agent to gain the wisdom to know the difference between what you can and can’t change.

CLW: What book do you wish you had written? Why?

SZ: There are so many books I wish I’d written. I have that feeling about every book I love. However, I’ll be mercenary and say I wish I’d written one of those books that has made the author millions of dollars. You know the ones I mean.

CLW: Thanks, Sara.

Sara Zarr is the acclaimed author of three novels for young adults: Story of a Girl (National Book Award Finalist, Utah Book Award Finalist),  Sweethearts (Cybil Award Finalist, Utah Book Award Finalist), and Once Was Lost (a Kirkus Best Book of 2009). Her short fiction and essays have also appeared in Image, Hunger Mountain, and several anthologies. She lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, with her husband, and online at www.sarazarr.com

Sara Zarr will lead the breakout session “The Author-Editor Relationship” on Tuesday, June 15, 4 p.m. with Jennifer Hunt and “Author Charm School” Friday, June 18, 3 p.m.

2010 Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Conference: Introduction, Kristyn Crow

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