Welcome to the Spotlight – Sara Zarr!


I’m thrilled to be able to put a spotlight on awesome author Sara Zarr and her newest novel How To Safe A Life! If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I recently read and loved this book. I’ve loved all of Sara’s books, but this one I must rave about! Stayed tuned (below) to find out how you can win your very own copy of this book.

How To Save A Life by Sara Zarr

After Jill loses her father unexpectedly in a car accident, she turns inward, pushing everyone away, including her boyfriend and best friends.  When her mother announces her decision to adopt a baby from a stranger on an open adoption web site, Jill becomes even more closed off.

When Mandy arrives at Jill’s house, she thinks she’s making the best decision for her unborn child. Mandy knows exactly what it’s like to be an unplanned and unwanted daughter. She’s relieved to escape her mother and her mother’s boyfriend, and finds herself growing attached to Jill’s mother and home.

As Jill’s and Mandy’s lives become entwined, both start having second thoughts about their initial decisions/reactions. Matters grow complicated and they are both forced to make decisions they have been unwilling to face. This is a story of loss and gain, of family and love.

Spotlight on Sara Zarr:

What was the initial spark for How To Save a Life?

This was a first for me – the idea came from a writing prompt. The prompt is among many in the back of NAMING THE WORLD, a great craft book edited by Bret Anthony Johnston. It was one of those “spend 20 minutes writing a scene in which…” and it involved someone trying to talk his or her fifty-something mother out of adopting an infant. I did the prompt, set it aside for awhile, then thought, hey, that’s a story!

Jill and Mandy come from very different backgrounds with very different attitudes, and yet, both are dealing with grief/pain. They both felt so very real to me, their emotions were palpable to me. I ached for both of them, and cheered for them when good things happened. How do you get to know your characters?

Getting to know my characters is often the hardest and slowest part of the book-writing process for me. I usually don’t know them well at all until I’m done with the first draft. I’ve tried various exercises and tricks to try to do this more efficiently but I’ve come to accept that it’s just something I can’t get to any other way than writing through the draft. I think Robert McKee said something like “action is character”. A person’s character comes through by what they do (or don’t do). And I don’t know what they’re going to do when a circumstance arises until I’m in the moment. By the second draft, they are less strangers to me. My goal is to make them so real that I wouldn’t be surprised to run into them on the street. When I get to that point, I know I’m close to finishing.

That restaurant near the end of the book – sounds like a wild and crazy place!  Did you have a favorite teen hangout? What was it and what made it special to you?

Casa Bonita! Okay, that’s a real place on the fringes of Denver. It was actually immortalized in a South Park episode, which you can watch by Googling “Casa Bonita South Park”. I’ve eaten there more times than I care to admit. I mean, once is really one too many times. Anyway, the town where I grew up, Pacifica, didn’t have anything that would qualify as a favorite hangout. I’d have to say that my car was my favorite hangout. It was a 1978 Datsun I got for one dollar from people I babysat for. What made it special that it was MINE, the way my bedroom felt like a sanctuary, only this was on wheels. I think the same was true for my friends. We did most of our talking, laughing, crying, smoking–and of course making out–in our cars.

For more about Sara, check out her web site, read her blog, and follow her on Twitter!

Win a copy of How To Save A Life!

Just in time for the holidays, you could win a copy of this book!  I’ll be holding a drawing tomorrow and announcing the winner on Thursday.  All you need to do is comment on this post (for those of you reading this on a LJ feed, click here to comment and enter) by midnight Pacific time Wednesday, December 14th, and your name will entered in the drawing! Winner must have a US mailing address.  Good luck! And thanks for stopping by!


26 responses »

  1. Yay! I’ve been dying to read this book! Sounds so good. Love the interview. It’s great to hear I’m not the only one who doesn’t really know their characters until the end of the first draft.
    Thanks for the chance to win!!!

  2. I loved this book, too (so okay not to enter me in the contest, Debbi — just wanted to say thanks to you both for the interview. Interesting the novel began with a writing prompt — my students will love to hear that! We in New England are thrilled Sara will be speaking at the nescbwi spring conference. Debbi, you should come!!!!

  3. I loved this interview! How great is it that she came up with the idea for the story through a writing prompt? It was so generous of her to share the book where she got the writing prompt, too. I tweeted about this at @jeniw. Great interview!

  4. Such a fan of Sara’s…if I win, this book will be passed along to one of my reluctant reader kiddos who got through Sweethearts and turned a reading corner in her life because of it. 🙂

  5. Hi! It’s my first visit to your blog, which is fantastic! Kind of amazing that you were reviewing Sara Zarr’s book. I met her at a conference last year and just recently, another friend of mine recommended it. Since it keeps popping up everywhere, I think I’ll have to break down and buy it once and for all! 🙂

  6. Loved the interview and learning where the story comes from. I love Sara Zarr’s work! Can’t wait to read this one. I hope I win it! But I will read it any way. Thanks for the interview.

  7. Ok. Bummer. I’m responding anyway because I am a huge fan and really can’t wait to read this one, knowing that I can’t win, cause I’m in Canada…but that’s okay…still love you Sara! YAY!

  8. If Sara Zarr didn’t exist, we’d have to make her up, Her voice matters. Her stories are beautiful and real and heartbreaking and full of hope. Her writing makes me want to be a better writer. Thank you Debbie for caring aboit great books and great writers. We are all in this together.

  9. I read this book and wept at the end. I handed it to my younger daughter who wept in THREE PLACES of the book! (I must have a heart of stone.) My plan is to give this book to my older daughter for Christmas. Absolutely beautiful writing. When I count my blessings I remember Sara Zarr.

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