First Draft: Behind The Podcast

by sarahenni on September 23, 2014

Sarah_logo_r2From July 1 to Sept. 5, I drove more than 6,000 miles and recorded more than 40 interviews with authors for what has become the First Draft podcast series. It was a lemonade-from-lemons desperation project, and one of the most insane things I’ve ever done. It made my mother quite nervous.

Many forces converged to make a great escape palatable: My marriage took a southward turn; after a couple close calls, my book did not sell; my day job is still a typical, dull day job; and I realized that being 3,000 miles away from my family and the Pacific Ocean for six years had taken a hearty toll on my happiness.

So I decided to do something that would shake up every corner of my life. Professionally, I love podcasts and wanted to know how to create one. Personally, I wanted to get out of the now-half-empty apartment I could no longer afford, and back to the best coast. Creatively, I wanted to let a big adventure open up my mind. A plan formed: Take a road trip (ending at my mom’s house in Seattle), and along the way meet and interview as many YA and MG authors as will tolerate me, to create a podcast series that is to authors what WTF With Marc Maron is to comedians. (No hubris involved in that comparison, nossir.)

The idea was scary as hell. At BEA I told Veronica Roth about my fledgling plan. Saying it out loud felt awful; the whole project sounded flail-y and weird and like flat-out lunacy. I started to feel the floor give way under my doubts. But then, with a shrug, Veronica said the thing that saved the entire venture: “Just say yes.”

BvcCgyBCQAE2JIKSo I bought a microphone, packed up my Prius, and started emailing every author I’d ever had a kind interaction with. (Bless you, Twitter.) So many of them responded ‘yes!’ that I was stunned. It was officially too late to back out.

June was spent watching the World Cup, packing up and storing all my belongings, prepping my Prius, and drowning in email. Then, at about 5 a.m. on July 1, I said goodbye to Hammer and hit the road.


The first leg of the journey took me to New Jersey, Long Island, then New York, where I stayed with my best friends (who provided lots of hugs, support, and wine). I bought a thick copper band to fit over my now-bare ring finger like a Band-Aid, where it stayed put all summer. I walked from Central Park to Soho and started to understand that monster of a city for the first time, and made a little piece of it my own. I struggled to find the right words to describe what I was going through, my heart and mind in a humidity-addled haze.

The last interview before I grabbed the LIRR to retrieve my Pirus (stored with the endlessly accommodating Kara Taylor) was with Libba Bray. The interview was a game-changer, and not just because Libba Bray is a force of nature. She was describing artists who create work with a truly singular sensibility (Wes Anderson or David Sedaris, for example), whose work manages to capture their worldview so well,”It’s like looking at the world with your head on its side,” Libba said. She mentioned her friend and bandmate Natalie Standiford – her work is infused so entirely with such a distinct point of view, Libba said, “I think Natalie kind of sees the world with her head slightly to the left.” And when I explained my endeavor to her, Libba smiled. What better thing than a road trip, she said, to set your head at a tilt?

The task at hand was crystallized: the road trip was not the creative thing itself. It was a catalyst, the experience that would challenge me to figure out what I wanted to explore in my writing. You can only tell so many stories in this one life. What will mine be?

IMG_5870From there, I went through New England, back to New York, and finally set my compass west. Through Pennsylvania, stopping at Fallingwater, to Asheville, N.C., to Nashville. I saw so much beauty, met so many amazing creative people and their families. Slept on so many couches, visited so many bookstores – including one that doubled as a champagne bar.

I felt myself growing anxious for the moment another writer sat across from me and I hit record. I didn’t quite understand why it felt so freeing until Myra McEntire summed it up: small-talk had been eliminated from my life. Traveling meant alternating between hours of alone time in coffee shops or driving, and intense hour-and-a-half-long conversations with authors I admire about things we care the most about. Myra had been looking to streamline communication in her life, too, as part of a search for authenticity. “I just don’t see any sense in wasting time,” she said. “I think it freaks people out – I know it does – just to get deep immediately. Just to say, ‘Here’s my stuff!’ But … to me, you can start at point pre-ABC, or you can start right with A.” In conversation with Myra I stumbled on the phrase that would become a kind of slogan for the trip:  My people; not my people. Hitting record gave me the chance to dive right in and see what camp someone fell into.

At this point in the trip, I started meeting with people I didn’t know, authors recommended by those I’d already interviewed. (“Are you going to talk to [author]? You have to, they’re the best!”) Truth is, these conversations – the ones that came out of nowhere, with authors generous enough to respond to my random tweets – were some of the most profound interactions of the entire trip. I started tearing up at practically every interview. These were my people, they spoke directly to my heart, and it was so beautiful to be welcomed into their homes, their coffee shops, their libraries.

resizeThen Kirsten Hubbard flew to Midland, Texas to meet me halfway through my journey. I got a speeding ticket in a one stoplight town, such was my desperation to get to her. That was when the music stopped and the Prius was filled with conversation. The interviews slowed down as Kirsten and I took time to explore the southwestMarfa, Texas; the Petrified Forest; Route 66; the Grand Canyon; Sedona, Ariz.; the Salton Sea; Salvation Mountain.

This part of the trip, more than any other, led my head to gently tilt. It’s easy to imagine extraordinary things in the desert.

In San Diego I finally had my reunion with the Pacific Ocean, and I left Kirsten at her house to head north. Los Angeles is a veritable warren of YA writers. I booked an AirBnB with an ivy-covered deck, record player, and no kitchen for 10 nights in L.A. to give myself time to meet with as many of them as possible.

The first stop was meeting with Tahereh Mafi and Ransom Riggs. They are perhaps the most in-love couple I’ve ever met, but they’ve both been married before. They literally and figuratively opened their arms and gave me such needed encouragement, I’m not sure I can express it. And Tahereh said something that I think I may tattoo on my eyelids: “You have to remember not to be selfish.” It’s a tall order.

The last haul of my journey – the Bay Area, Sonoma, Fort Bragg, Eureka, Portland – passed by in a blur. The more miles I ate up, the more momentum built up to finally get to Seattle. In fact, I cut my time in Portland short because, simply, I needed to be at home. (I was also disturbed by the number of men sporting mustaches and shorts prowling that city. What gives?)

When I parked my disgustingly dirty Prius in my mother’s driveway Sept. 5 (never did manage to make time for a car wash), I had driven more than 6,600 miles, interviewed 48 authors, and recorded more than 60 hours (a full two and a half days) worth of audio. I’m not the same person who left Washington, D.C. in July – I’m more inspired, more ambitious, more ruthless, more kind. And I can’t wait to share all the thoughts and wisdom of the people I met along the way with all of you.

Stay up to date on First Draft podcasts at the official website, or subscribe via iTunes or StitcherLearn how you can support the podcast here.

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I Get By With A Little Help

by sarahenni on March 31, 2014

It’s been a bit of a stressful time lately, with life and with writing. I’ve been trying to get some momentum behind drafting a new book (well… a new version of an old book, if you want to get particular), and the best way to do that is to spend some time with fellow writers. Thankfully a few confluent events brought a bunch of YA Highway ladies together in SoCal.

Our lovely San Diego host Kirsten Hubbard, and the delightfully pale Kate Hart

First thing? The Divergent movie, of course!

Debra Driza, Amy Lukavics, Stephanie Kuehn, Kate Hart, Yours Truly, Kirsten Hubbard, Sumayyah Daud at the movie theater’s bar avoiding actual teenagers until showtime.

I think it’s okay to admit now that I was super nervous for the movie. There was a lot of (well-deserved) hype! But I can honestly say the movie did right by my girl Veronica — and Insurgent already got the green light!

The settings were amazing, and Shailene rocked (the scene with her mom at the end? Tears). And, Theo James? Mmmm Hmmm. There was just a *teensy* bit of pressure on the guy (realizing a fandom’s perfect Four? Good luck!), but he completely nailed it. Also, his face.

Bye bye Pamuk, hellooooo Four.

Did you catch Veronica’s cameo in the movie? Neck tats! In a theater full of girls gasping and sighing over Theo (I managed to keep my fangirling [mostly] internal on that count), our row screamed in unison when she burst onto the screen. Such a badass!! So freaking proud of Veronica this weekend it hurts.

After loving the movie and toasting to Divergent’s success, we navigated north to L.A. to see the always gorgeous Tahereh Mafi, who was celebrating her recent marriage to fellow YA all-star Ransom Riggs!


Me, Kate, beautiful bride Tahereh, and Sumayyah!

I don’t think anyone needs me to tell them that Tahereh sweats style and breathes grace, so of course an event planned by she and Ransom was completely gorgeous, with personal touches that made the night totally unforgettable. And okay, I totally embarrassed myself with how hard I was crying, but all I have to say is: Two NYT best-selling writers crafting their own wedding vows? If you didn’t cry, you were basically the Terminator. I stand by my creys of joy. By the end of the night, everyone in the place was ready to marry either or both of those crazy cute kids.

Wedding Gif 4

Also, there was cake.

We stuck around the city of angels for another night to see The National perform at the Shrine Auditorium — an incredible venue to see a band that is ever-present in my writing playlists. Added bonus: they were debuting a documentary about the band, “Mistaken for Strangers,”  which was totally fantastic. The band managed to make a 5,000+ capacity theater feel intimate, and also, lasers.


Bloodbuzz Ohio

Live music is one of those things that never fails to energize me. Musicians get to connect to their audience in a one-on-one way that authors can only dream of, but being swept up in a 5,000-person singalong to “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” is the kind of transcendent moment that keeps me writing.

In fact, it’s a good thing I’m not a musician, because I’d just cry my way through that, too. Turns out I’m a big softie.

Anyway, the point is: There is just nothing that recharges the creative batteries like seeing fellow writers and kindred spirits, and remembering collectively what human experiences keep us plugging away at our laptops. It was a kind of alternative writing retreat; not a single word was written, but progress was made nonetheless.

What about you?? Have you been hanging with other writers lately? Seen or done something that reminds you why you keep writing? I wanna know!


Finally, Change

by sarahenni on July 30, 2013

imageFinally, things are changing.

I’m really excited to be able to share that my day-job situation is being mixed up. I’m not going to talk about the day job, old or new, in any kind of detail (I’m not about crossing my journalism and creative writing lives, and it doesn’t really matter). But after a long time battling inertia, weighing professional aspirations, and of course money stuff, I have found a new gig that will allow me to work from home.

I’m so, so happy. And I feel like I’m being given a chance to reboot my creative life.

I really like the coworkers I’ve had for more than four years now. The office is nice, the job was just fine, for a while I was even challenged to do some great work. But that fell away a while ago—years, really. I thought I could handle some monotony as long as I had time to write my book (and I did – I wrote three of them while working here*).

image_5This blog fell away. Some of my efforts with YA Highway fell away. Slowly even Twitter fell away, my lifeline to friends who would best understand a creative malaise. It was all I could do to get myself out of bed and to the daily grind of my office job with just enough juice left over to query and revise my manuscript. “How did I do all of that, once?” I found myself asking. “I must be so much busier now than when I was posting three times a week, or organizing the NaNoWriMo e-mail campaign, or tweeting with any degree of engagement or humor.”

Of course that isn’t true. Over the last year I lost the intellectual spark of my day-to-day work, and with it motivation and happiness. New challenges, novelty of experience, is necessary for many to feel happy, and I know that is true of myself.

It happened slowly, but at some point this spring I found myself bleary-eyed at work, upset at the total cliche I was for crying at work about the blah of it all. That was the day I started hunting for a new opportunity. With vigor.

The next step is scary! A new job covering a field in which I’m not totally comfortable. The challenge of working from home without driving myself, my cat, or my husband insane. But oh I miss blogging. And tweeting. And getting hair-brained ideas on morning jogs that I then have the energy to get home and pursue.

I thank everyone who has stuck with me as I slowly disappeared over the last year, and look forward to meeting new people with renewed energy!

What about you? Have you changed a job to spice things up before? Do you have any tips for working at home??

*For the record, I never, ever wrote creative fiction at my day job! I drew that line early and stuck to it.



by sarahenni on January 18, 2013

The main character in my WiP (and pretty much everyone else in the book, too) is in love with a fictional band I made up, formerly known as Idioteque 1 I’ve written so much about the band (describing their sound, nailing down their influences, creating a wildly charismatic frontman, even writing a fake interview with them) that this week I decided to do a Very Nerdy thing and create a playlist that represents the band’s debut album, which I named Behold! The Melon 2.

It started as kind of a lark, but actually I found making the playlist to be 1) fun (perhaps most importantly), but also 2) an interesting new way to engage with my book before I dive into yet another round of revisions and edits.

Anyway, making this playlist has had me dancing at my desk all week. If you enjoy noisy head-nodding rock, I think you might enjoy it, too. Take a listen:

What about you? Have you made up bands, books, or movies in your work? Have you made a poster, flyer, zine or anything IRL to go along with it? If so PLEASE link! I’d love to see it 3!

  1. They are pending another name, after astute beta reader and Much Better At Googling Necessary Stuff For Books Guru Lindsey Roth Culli pointed out that Idioteque is such a genius band name that it is, in fact, a real life band’s name. Grr.
  2. How 90s is that? I love it.
  3. And if not, I really encourage you to try!


RTW: My WiP Love List

by sarahenni on August 22, 2012

It’s Road Trip Wednesday day, a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway posts a weekly writing- or reading-related question and anyone can answer it on their own blogs. Check out their post for links to other Road Trippers’ answers!

This week’s topic is: Inspired byStephanie Perkins’ post on Natalie Whipple’s blog, what is your novel’s “Love List”?

(Why I Really, Really, Really Like You pad for sale by KnockKnock here!)

I’m so excited about this topic, because now is the perfect time for me to remember what it is about this book I love enough to get started on (dun dun dunnnn) revisions! Here are a few things about my WiP that keep me coming back:

Ken Burns and his effect

A girl wearing big glasses

Segway Polo

Untied Doc Martens that look like they’re eating someone’s legs

This picture of Eddie Vedder stagediving

Blue-green light filtered through an atrium

Modern shipwrecks

This image of a female drummer

Creepy yard gnomes

Keep Santa Cruz Weird

The way streetlights look at night after rain

Those are just a few of the things on my list… I’ll have to add this as a Scrivener file to check back on when motivation runs low!

What about you? What’s on your love list?


Horror Writing Playlist

by sarahenni on August 17, 2012

There’s something about fall. The leaves turning, the weather cooling, and one of my favorite holidays ever, Halloween. I’ve definitely been getting excited for fall during this sweltering August, and I’ve  noticed that a fever for Halloween and other spooky things has been popping up in publishing, too.

Agents: I want to acquire YA horror! Send me YA horror! Authors: write YA horror so agents can send it to me!! #HORROR #SayHorrorOneMoreTime
T.S. Ferguson
LOVE all these horror fans today - I smell a resurgence of it. Not too late to make 2012 the year of horror:)
Lindsay N. Currie
If you missed it yesterday, I announced the sale of two new books, including (dun dun dun!) a TEEN SLASHER:
Stephanie Perkins

The hunt for something scary is on! And to everyone considering writing a novel that errs on the creepy side (or anyone just feeling a little Halloween-y), I’ve started a playlist to get you in the right frame of mind.


What do you think? Any songs I missed?


Life at 75 MPH

by sarahenni on July 6, 2012

Recently Dr H and I hosted his grandparents here in D.C. In the car, en route to Dr H’s graduation ceremony, we were telling his grandmother (who, delightfully, goes by Ma) how much we’ve been doing lately, how busy we’ve been. We were tired and we’d be excited when the biggest events were over, we said.

She nodded, very understanding. But she imparted some casual wisdom in a Tennessee twang (as southern grandmothers are wont to do): “Don’t slow down.”

Other versions of this advice (Live for today! YOLO!) have never resonated with me that much. This came almost as a warning: Don’t slow down, don’t wish the big things were over. Don’t retreat from experiences in your own life. Live life now, and fully, and happily.

It’s been a crazy summer so far, but I’m glad for every big amazing thing, like Bestie Danielle getting married in a gorgeous vineyard ceremony (upper left picture). And even the small things like sneaking onto a little league field to have softball practice on the Fourth of July and barely dodging a storm front while floating a river. Piling laundry on the cat, trying a new recipe for mango glazed salmon. It’s all been fun. Busy, fast, relentless sometimes. But fun.

It’s tempting, but resist. Don’t slow down. (But eventually, be sure to write it all down.)


Ceremonies and Motivations

by sarahenni on June 4, 2012

Phew. I really did not mean to take that long of a break. It’s been a while, but some really exciting things have been happening ’round these parts. Like, “major life event” type things. First of all, Dr H graduated from medical school*.

This is Dr H playing the game: “Graduating med school? Or going to the Yule Ball?”

We had seven of our closest friends and family visiting so we could go to his graduation ceremony, which was incredible. The day after the last of our family flew out of town, we hopped in a car and road tripped to Kentucky, where Bestie Megan got married.

Pic taken by Jessi Arrington, designer extraordinaire (

I could not possibly be more thrilled about this marriage, and the wedding itself was an event of total, complete joy. My heart felt like this:

And her heart grew three sizes that day! (from How The Grinch Stole Christmas)

And both events—watching my ridiculously smart life partner get the honor he deserves, and seeing my best friend glow with love and pride as she walked down the aisle—are the kinds of ceremonies that serve as milestones of social human life. We crave moments like these, pit stops in the unceasing stream of life, to recognize that things have changed. The ceremony symbolizes something: these people set a goal, worked hard, and achieved it. (Marriage: Achieved! ha)

That had me thinking about rituals and rewards. (I mean, you know, I was also thinking about how much I love the people in my life. But besides that.) My writing journey so far has been a wild one. I’ve written three books, gotten this blog off the ground, joined YA Highway, gone to conferences. But some of the major celebratory events (signing with an agent, announcing a book deal) are still to be realized. Writing as a second job requires a lot, LOT, of hard work before there’s a payoff that, say, my great aunt Lenore** would be able to grasp.

So I’m going to set smaller goals, with smaller celebrations. Maybe I’ll make Dr H take me to Chevy’s when I finish this rewrite. (There isn’t much I wouldn’t do for a jumbo mango margarita.) Maybe I’ll try Jessica Spotswood’s practice of giving myself a sticker for every thousand words I achieve (I seem to remember this working really well in grade school). Whatever it takes, continue to set goals and achieve them. If you only look ahead to one ultimate goal that could take years to achieve, all motivation may soon be lost.

But when it’s time to celebrate one of those big things? Go after it. With bells on.

What about you?? What’s been happening lately? How do you celebrate writing achievements, big or small?
*Does that mean I was lying when I called him Dr H for the past three years? I would like to think I was being optimistically brief. I mean, Med Student Husband is just unwieldy.

** I totally do have a great aunt Lenore. Isn't that awesome? HI LENORE! (she's hard of hearing)


Writey Friends and Exciting News!

by sarahenni on April 5, 2012

I am way, way beyond excited to be writing this post right now. My amazing friend, critique partner, and the person who taught me The Ways of Tumblr Sumayyah Daud appeared in Publisher’s Marketplace today:

Sumayyah Daud’s debut BEGIN AGAIN, about a seventeen-year-old girl trapped inside a pseudo-reality of her own making, trying to discover what secrets she has locked inside her own mind, before it’s too late, to Julie Strauss-Gabel at Dutton, byAmmi-Joan Paquette at Erin Murphy Literary Agency (World).

I’m ecstatic. I’m thrilled. Above all things I’m so PROUD of Sumayyah for writing this incredible book!

That’s Sumayyah, with other super-ladies Kaitlin Ward and Kirsten Hubbard

I met Sumayyah when Suzanne Collins came to town, and for the last two years I have lured her to Shake Shack to get her crazy-smart opinions on Sherlock, Game of Thrones, and all things YA. I jumped at the chance to beta read for her, and guys, Begin Again knocked me out. I stayed up all night reading it.  I can tell you that:

  1. There is a boy. His name is James because he is perfect. And sorry but he’s totally mine, though Dawn and I may need to have a knock-down drag-out over this.
  2. There is a world and a story that is so beautifully created it will completely suck you in.
  3. Kiran. KIRAN. She is a strong, complicated, intelligent, awesome character that I can’t wait for you all to meet.

Congrats, girl. I couldn’t be happier for you. Next shake is on me!


Third Month’s a Charm

by sarahenni on March 2, 2012

I don’t know about you, but that February lasted just a little too long for me. It feels like March is really when 2012 is going to kick off, not to mention daylight savings and The First Day of Spring and spring break…etc etc! There’s also a pretty funny trend about March that I’ve noticed: people tend to use that month to challenge themselves to do things.

I mean, beyond March Madness (SO EXCITED), I’ve seen people participating in Mustache March, 30 Days of Lists*,Cory Jackson’s Change Write Now gears up for a second go-round, and my friend Jessica is doing her own 30 Days of Books personal challenge.

The challenge I am accepting, Barney Stinson style, was introduced to me by Katy Upperman and organized by this lovely Kiwi:

If you don’t want to follow the link, here’s the challenge breakdown. Take an image inspired by the prompt for each day and post it on Twitter, using the #MarchPhotoADay hashtag.

Fun, right? And pretty darned easy. I’m looking at it as a great way to do something creative every day BESIDES writing. Sometimes changing my thinking, ever so slightly, is the best way for me to get re-inspired.

So! Here was my Day 1 photo, “Up.”

(This isn’t one of those tortured artist pictures or anything. This is literally the view of my hotel room’s ceiling as I lay in bed yesterday. With the awesome filters on instagram, the shadow looked quite ominous and cool, I thought.)

What about you?? Are you challenging yourself to anything this March? Do you know of any other fun challenges? Do share! And if you’re doing the pic-a-day challenge, let me know!