I am delighted to shine the spotlight today on debut YA novelist Sarah Tomp and
My Best Everything by Sarah Tomp (Little, Brown/2015)
Stay tuned below for a chance to enter a drawing to win your own copy.
Lulu Mendez is counting down the days till she can escape her Virginia town to start college in San Diego. When she learns her father has blown her college savings, Lulu is desperate to raise the funds to get away. How desperate? Desperate enough to shed her Good Girl skin to brew illegal moonshine and sell it along with her best friends. But they need to find someone to help them with this new venture. Along comes Mason, a boy with a past, and Lulu hooks onto him as he teaches her all about moonshine. Lulu falls for Mason and he does for her, but good judgment isn’t Lulu’s strong suit that summer as she makes some hard decisions. Will she get out of her small town as she hopes? And at what cost?
Spotlight on Sarah Tomp:
Please tell us what sparked the idea behind MY BEST EVERYTHING.
I thought I was writing a simple love story. It was going to be about a girl leaving town and a boy who’d just come home, set in a fictional version of my Virginia hometown. They would have one summer together before they each headed off in different directions. But then Lulu turned out to be this feisty character who didn’t believe in love. She was all science and logic, and desperately impatient to get out of town and do big important things. More than anything, I knew she was a control freak who had somehow lost control, but I wasn’t sure of the details. I just knew she felt awfully guilty, even for a good Catholic girl. I also knew Mason had a bad history with alcohol—and he kept making all these casual references to moonshine.
While I was working on the romance part of the story, my youngest son became obsessed with taking things apart. When I met a woman whose father owned a junkyard, I knew we had to take him to explore one. All of a sudden, I gave Lulu and Roni jobs working in a junkyard. Bucky was already working at his father’s gas station. So then when my kids were watching Discovery Channel’s Moonshiners and asked, “Is that what it’s really like in Virginia?” so many of the necessary pieces and parts for making moonshine were already in place. Lulu and I suddenly had this great solution as to how she was going to get out of town.
Fact is, there’s never just one idea that makes a story work. That’s why I say writing a novel is a little bit like making moonshine. A bunch of ingredients are thrown into the pot and start fermenting. It gets kind of messy for a while, and things are thrown out, but eventually all of it works together to create the final product.
What was the journey to publication like?
This was my third novel that I tried to find an agent for. I was oozing with self-doubt! But at the same time, I was really excited about this story. I’d had a wonderful time dreaming it up and hanging out with these characters I adored.
Once I finished the story, two of my trusted readers give me an enthusiastic thumbs up. So then I started querying agents. Again. Slowly. At that time author Nathan Bransford had a contest going on his blog where his agent, Catherine Drayton, was going to pick the best opening. I planned to enter, except then a friend happened to mention that Catherine gives really nice rejections—I decided to query her instead. I was desperate for a nice rejection!
Instead, her assistant responded almost immediately that she wanted to read the entire manuscript and three days later Catherine called and offered representation. A week later we went on submission and within the month we went to auction. It took a really long time for things to move quickly!
Lulu is desperate to raise money for college and to escape her small home town – desperate enough to do something illegal. How much research did you have to do on moonshine? What was the most fascinating thing you learned?
I had so much fun with the research! After watching several episodes of Moonshiners, I moved on to books—soaking up not only the process, but the lore and legend behind it. Early on I took a tour of Ballast Point Brewery and Distillery here in San Diego. Then, later, when I had a completed draft of the story, I visited Belmont Farm Distillery in Culpeper Virginia. They have a grand time making liquor in the spirit and tradition of old-time moonshiners. (And, it just so happened that Moonshiner Tim was there that day!)
Finally, once I knew my book was going to be published I went back to Ballast Point and had a personal tour and interview with their lead distiller, Derek Kermode. He was an enthusiastic—and generous—tour guide.
He was also the person who clued me in to the importance of yeast. I find it fascinating that so much of a liquor’s identity—both in flavor and strength—depends on the yeast. He sent me to White Labs who specialize in all kinds of yeast, but especially those used in brewing and spirit distillation. I love the care and passion that brewers put into their craft—they’re not so different from writers!
Okay, so Lulu had a rather unconventional way to raise money. What’s the strangest or most unusual thing you’ve ever done to make money?
How about writing? Does that count?
This is such a great question and I so wish I had an interesting answer! The truth is, I’ve never been properly motivated by money. And yet—or as a result—I’ve pretty much always had a job of some kind out of necessity. Sadly, nothing particularly glamorous or lucrative.
But My Best Everything is my second novel (the first is unpublished) that revolves around trying to make money in an unconventional way. The other one involved money for dares like streaking across the football field during half-time and selling voo-doo dolls, so yeah, my mind goes kind of out there when it comes to coming up with entrepreneurial ideas. Maybe I should start acting on these ideas! Except it never seems to quite work out as planned either…
Thank you so very much for having me on your blog, Debbi!
Thank you for being here, Sarah!
Sarah Tomp has a MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in San Diego with her family, but she learned to drive – and other important things – in the mountains of Virginia.
For a chance to win a copy of Sarah’s YA novel, follow the directions below!
1. Comment on this post. For fun, tell me what was the most unusual way you’ve made money. I’ve had quite a few jobs growing up, but probably the strangest way I made money was my first “job” when I was in elementary school. Our neighbor owned a recording studio or maybe rented recording equipment? Anyway, I was paid 25 cents for every reel I put together. In our family room, my sister and I set up piles of the metal reels, the plastic “spool” for the center, and lots of screws. I got pretty good at putting those things together quickly!
2. Comment by midnight EST Saturday, April 18th. A winner will be drawn at random and announced here on this blog on Tuesday, April 21st.
3. Entrants must have a U.S. or Canada mailing address.
Good luck and happy reading!