Today we are joined by Sarah Chorn, author of Seraphina’s Lament, Book 1 of The Badlands, and the newly released Of Honey And Wildfires. Sarah writes stories packed with feeling and emotion and wonderfully crafted prose. We can’t wait for you to get to know Sarah, so sit back, scroll down, and have a great day!
About the Author
Sarah has been a compulsive reader her whole life. At a young age, she found her reading niche in the fantastic genre of Speculative Fiction. She blames her active imagination for the hobbies that threaten to consume her life. She is an editor, author, a semi-pro nature photographer, world traveler, three-time cancer survivor with hEDS, and mom to two rambunctious kids. In her ideal world, she’d do nothing but drink lots of tea and read from a never-ending pile of speculative fiction books. She has been running the speculative fiction review blog Bookworm Blues for ten years.
We already have your official bio, now we want to challenge you to describe yourself in ten words or less…Go!
Sarah Chorn is not an invasive species. Or is she?
Who or what are your inspirations when it comes to writing? Is it a particular author or authors, art, history, culture, current events, something else? How have they influenced your work?
I have studied art history for like… a hundred years (okay, an exaggeration, but I studied it for a long, long time in college). Art has always fascinated me because it’s so much more than the picture, the mural, the sculpture. If you don’t appreciate the parts that go into any one work, the effort, the vision, the medium, hell, even the thickness of the paint used and the texture it creates, you’ll never fully appreciate the bigger picture. And painters pick over each aspect of their artwork, from the specific shade of yellow, to the texture and thickness of the paint used in the upper-left corner right in that one spot.
I think, in a lot of ways, that inspires my writing. I want to tell a story, but I want it to be more than just a story. I want to paint a picture. The words are my paint, and the page is my medium, but I’ve always wanted my stories to paint a picture, to be as visually stunning as the story is interesting. I have always looked at writing like I look at one of Van Gogh’s masterpieces. It’s a picture, but I also very carefully choose all of the pieces that go into it.
What do you love about self-publishing and on the flipside what drives you nuts about it? What aspects of self-publishing do you excel at and in what ways do you struggle?
I love the freedom of self-publishing. I can write what I want, when I want, and release it how I want. That really pleases me. I enjoy toying with ideas, telling stories a bit differently. I’ve never been one who has stayed on the standard path, either with writing or anything else. Self-publishing lets me tell stories the way I want to. It allows me to defy the norm, and play with new ways to tell a tale.
On the flip side, I’m terrible at self-promotion. I almost never do it. It really gives me a massive amount of anxiety, to the point where I’ve basically walled off this entire aspect of my life. I don’t pay attention to sales, to ratings, or reviews (unless someone tells me I should look at one). I have no idea how my book is ranked. I do this because paying too much attention to that stuff sucks the joy out of writing for me. It also makes me a huge headcase. I discovered if I write, I have to only focus on the writing. This helps my psyche, but it does not help my books get exposure, so it’s a trade-off.
What does your daily writing process look like? What do you do to get in the writing zone? How many hours do you write or do you go for a word count? Tell us everything!
Well, I don’t write every day. Sometimes my health prevents me from writing. Sometimes I’m just not in the mood. I am totally against forcing myself to write if it’s not there. If the well is empty, don’t try to tap it. Wait a bit, and then try again later. Sometimes you just need a break to replenish your reserves and that’s okay.
However, usually certain music is what gets me into a thing, or reading a book, or watching a series on Great Courses. They’ll all get ideas buzzing and I can feel that creative part of me wake up and stretch. I put on my pajamas (only demon spawn don’t wear pajamas when writing), I slip in my earphones, turn on some instrumental music like Two Steps from Hell, and let it go. I don’t plot, and I don’t plan, so when I start getting that one feeling that something is there, and it’s time to figure out what, I’m never sure what’s going to come out. I’ve learned it’s best to just let it unfold.
I also don’t pay much attention to time or word count. I’m a pretty organic writer. I write when I can, when the mood strikes me, and until I feel tapped out. Word count, like paying attention to book reviews, kind of drives up my anxiety. It diminishes the joy in the art of writing, so I’ve long since learned to not pay attention, and just let the story flow and enjoy the act of telling it.
What do you think makes a good story?
Emotions, for me, are really important, not just in the books I write, but the books I edit (pointing out places where authors can punch up emotions is kind of my forte). I really love a story that makes me feel. When I get to a level where the author is making me cry, or making me actively angry, I know I’ve got a really good book on my hands. Reading an entertaining story is one thing, but unless the author makes me FEEL along with the characters, I’m always somewhat removed from what is going on. It might be entertaining, but it isn’t real. When I feel, powerfully, the story has officially walked across that bridge from fantasy, and it has become, while I’m reading it, my reality. Make me cry. That’s what I love.
Name a self-published novel that you love that you think needs more attention and tell us why.
I recently edited a book called Cradle of Sea and Soil by Bernie Anes Paz and I loved it. I absolutely loved this book. Bernie hails from the Caribbean, so he drew on a whole lot of his roots to write this book. It has some of the most interesting world building I’ve come across in a while, and opens up a series that is promising to be spectacular. It’s not only well-written and interesting, but it’s also OwnVoices, which gives the entire book an authentic feel that I just absolutely dug.
You do a tremendous amount of research for your novels. Walk us through what that looks like for you.
It’s kind of really an odd process. When I’m between books, I’m never quite sure what I’m going to write next. My brain needs a bit of a break, but I’m also hunting for ideas, so I go to the library and I just inhale the nonfiction section. I read literally anything I can get my hands on, and it’s totally random stuff. Like this recent nonfiction binge between books involved such gems as the Hidden History of Burma, Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia, Fentanyl Inc., and a book about octopuses, and that’s really just the tip of the iceberg. I think I’ve devoured around 50 nonfiction books right now before I felt an idea from a few of them lodge itself in my brain… before I felt that creative muscle stretches and says, “Okay, I’ve got it now. Now I’ve got a story to tell.”
So that’s how the idea forms. A lot of reading, and waiting for my brain to nudge me.
Then, once I get the idea planted and it starts growing, I have a more directed bit of research to do, and I dive down deep. I like basing my worlds on reality and historical events. I enjoy it when someone says, “I really don’t know if this is a secondary world or not.” That, for me, is exactly what I’m aiming for, to blend reality and fantasy in some weird mix that it can be either/or, depending on the reader. This, however, demands a TON of research.
Anyway, I have the idea now, and then I spend some time just thinking it over, trying to flesh it out, mentally poking at it a bit to see what this particular plant shows me as it grows. Then, I start more focused research. For Seraphina’s Lament, I had to do a ton of research about Stalin, Stalinisim, and the Holodomor. The second book in the series, which I’m also writing now, has demanded a whole lot of research into the Russian end of World War II.
For Of Honey and Wildfires, I focused a lot on the Wild West, the gold rush, the early history of the oil industry, gender roles in the Wild West, the role of early corporations in some of these corporation-controlled mining towns in the mid-1800s. Glass Rhapsody has made me look into these female-run towns that were all over the Wild West. It’s been really interesting.
For another of my current works in progress, I’m doing a lot of research on Tibet, and the Chinese annexation of Tibet by Mao’s troops, and Mao himself (I think I’m listening to the longest biography in the world about the man, to be honest. By the end of it, I have a feeling I’ll know him better than he knew himself. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but holy crap, this book.). I’m also watching a Great Courses lecture series about the history and evolution of Buddhism, and reading a lot of really ancient mythology, specifically involving cows.
What is one thing you’ve learned about yourself as a result of writing?
I never really realized how important it was for my books to be a way for me to deal with some of my own internalized emotions until I started writing them. Seraphina in Seraphina’s Lament has chronic pain, limited mobility, a crappy leg and a crappy back, like me. A whole lot of my pain, my limitations, my ability to come to terms with my own disabilities was expressed through the writing of her.
In Of Honey and Wildfires, a lot of Ianthe was developed from the turmoil that I felt when I was going through cancer. In fact, while this book is about a lot of things, I think most of it was my way of toying with a lot of the emotions I felt with cancer and chronic illness, the resolution, the defeatism, the pain, the love…
The Reason for Stars is turning out to be an interesting dive into motherhood, and disability.
I know every artist pours a lot of themselves into the art they create, but I don’t think I realized just how important it was for me put so much of myself into my writing until I actually started writing books. Each one, so far, has been an exploration of different aspect of my personal story.
If you could meet one of your characters for an afternoon around town, who would it be and why?
I’d really enjoy meeting with Elroy McGlover. He’s from Of Honey and Wildfires, as a secondary character, but he gets a POV spot in Glass Rhapsody and I’m having more fun writing him than I probably should. He’s such a glorious mess, really rough around the edges. I think he’d be great to hang around with for a while.
Your characters are wide-ranging, with mental health challenges and physical disabilities that feel so real. Why do you think it’s important to write characters with various challenges and how do you go about doing so?
Writing is really how I pour a lot of myself out and examine some of the stuff that’s been stewing deep inside of me. More than that, though, I think it’s really important for me to be true to myself. I want to see myself in the books I read, and so why not put myself there? I haven’t seen a book that deals with the kind of chronic pain and limitations that I deal with day in and day out before, and so I wrote Seraphina. I gave her my experience, and I let her be a hero, not because of her chronic pain and disability, but because disabled people can be heroes too, and we just don’t see ourselves that way in books very often. Because damn it, I am in a constant state of pain, and I feel like my body is regularly falling apart, but I deserve to be seen.
I want to change how we appear in the books we read. I get really sick of my experience being sidelined because it’s not convenient. Disabled people can wear the cape. We can save the day. We can be the focus upon which the entire story revolves. It’s time we get a bit of the spotlight… and so I made Seraphina, borne of my own experiences, and I pointed the light right on her. She is limited. She is in pain, and yet, she is still strong enough to shoulder the story.
Quite honestly, I’ve been amazed by the outpouring of letters I’ve received from other disabled people who relate to her. It’s really, profoundly touched me.
Ianthe and Cassandra were really a different nut to crack. Ianthe was a manifestation of a lot of my cancer emotions and fears. Cassandra was my way of examining how hard it is to watch someone you love suffer, know there’s nothing you can do to help them, and still love them through it, despite the agony that will likely come at the end of it all. I have had cancer three times, but I also have chronic illness (Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome), and I know it’s a certain torture for my family to watch me deal with all this stuff and be unable to do anything but be there.
Further, how many of us with cancer, chronic illness, disability are just… exhausted? Both resigned to fate, yet determined to fight it? You’re fighting a war you’ve been too exhausted to fight for years and years, and still you have to fight it because what other option is there? Because determination. Because love. Because life. Because. But god, you’re so tired, and so is everyone around you. That belongs in the books we read. That saga. That shared experience. That quiet war that so many of us wage, and yet rarely see in the books we read.
Sometimes it’s these quiet human dramas that someone needs to see, to read, to experience, to know they aren’t alone. This is the human story, and it’s not pretty, but it deserves a place in the books we read.
These are truths of life, and I just don’t see them in books often. A lot of the reason I write these characters, is because of that. Because we all deserve to see ourselves in the stories we read. Because disabled people can be heroes too. Because margins are boring. Because the quiet, intimate battles are the most dramatic ones. Because. Because. Because.
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