Meet Sarah Nicole Smetana.
Sarah Nicole Smetana grew up in Orange, California, where she wrote songs, played in a few bands, and successfully pilfered all of her parents’ best vinyl records. She received her BFA in Creative Writing from Chapman University and her MFA in Fiction from The New School. Currently, she lives in Brooklyn with her husband and their three-legged cat.
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Do you believe there is a “perfect” song out there? If yes, any advice on how to find it?
Honestly, I don’t think so, because songs (and most art for that matter) are far too subjective. There can be a perfect song to you—but even then, it will almost certainly come down to emotional context. It’s amazing how fully and intensely music can affect us, and yet it’s often because of the way certain songs or lyrics can speak to our present experience. When we’re heartbroken, for example, we don’t usually gravitate toward songs about the exciting possibilities of a brand new love. Instead, we go for the dark, gritty, devastating tracks. We seek the songs that draw out the emotions we’re already feeling—songs that both justify our feelings, and commiserate with them.
So, do I think there’s an inherently perfect song? Not really. Can there be a perfect song for you in a particular moment? Absolutely.
I saw you mention an alter ego while browsing your ABOUT page. Care to share in more detail how your alter ego shapes you as a writer?
That’s a really interesting question. I don’t know how other writers feel, but in a way, I think the act of writing is just one long series of trying on alter egos. I am embodying every single character I write, so at any given moment, they’re all me. Or, I’m all of them—which is kind of the most incredible thing in the world, when you really think about it. And also one of the greatest responsibilities.
Is there a song, or songs, you listen to while writing?
I actually don’t listen to music while I write. I have playlists or particular songs/albums that help me get into the mood of a scene, and so I’ll listen to music throughout the day, on my commute, etc. But when I actually sit down to write, I tend to do it in silence. I also read aloud a lot as I’m working, to hear the rhythm and flow, and music isn’t very conducive to that.
What was the hardest thing (scene, line, etc) in your upcoming debut THE MIDNIGHTS?
The beginning. Seriously. Beginnings are so important, because they’re tasked with drawing the reader in, defining the story, introducing the characters, laying the foundation of setting—and because they have to do so much work, they are so, so difficult to nail down. For THE MIDNIGHTS, I must have started this book over half a dozen times, at least. And even once I finally found the story that I wanted to tell, I still hadn’t found the beginning. My beginning now is the third version of this version of the story, and for the longest time, it was actually chapter 3.
Tell us your journey on querying and now publishing, THE MIDNIGHTS. How did it come to be?
I studied creative writing in college, and then got my MFA, which is a pretty basic route. After that, though, my path was a little unorthodox. I never actually queried.
I met my agent at a conference, during agent speed dating. She was my last speed dating session of the day, and one that wasn’t even supposed to be mine (a friend was sick so I took her spot). I sat down and started babbling, because I had no freaking idea how to pitch a book I was only half finished with, and I could tell that she was totally uninterested in the nonsense I was saying. But, I happened to have these little chapbooks with me, from a contest I won with an excerpt from the novel. And while I continued blathering nonsensically about a story I didn’t even totally understand yet, my agent began reading. A minute or so later, she looked up and said, “I want to read the rest of this. Send it to me.”
So I did. I signed with her shortly thereafter. I worked on the book for another two years or so before we sent it out on submission. I got a lot of rejections, as most of us do, but ultimately found an editor who was the absolute perfect fit.
Write a fun fact about yourself.
When I was a kid, I was really into video and computer games. I actually think that these games were the first form of storytelling that I responded to. I was particularly obsessed with the work of this groundbreaking female game designer named Roberta Williams, who developed these incredible (for their time) fantasy adventure games. My all-time favorite was called King’s Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella, about a princess who gets sent to a fantasy land to save a fairy, defeat a witch, and find a magic fruit to save her dying father (her father was the hero of the first two games in the series). If I’m not mistaken, this was one of the first adventure games that featured a female lead; the princess was doing the saving, instead of being the one saved.
I played The Perils of Rosella over and over and over, enamored with the world, fascinated by the characters. Everyone you encountered had a full story, even if you only glimpsed a sliver of it, and Rosella’s own story changed depending on the choices you made. It blew my mind. Every single little detail mattered, the same way it would in a novel.
Fun fact about one of your favorite things.
Does my cat count? She’s definitely my favorite thing. She has three legs, and is absolutely bonkers. She has at least a dozens of nicknames, including: Monster, Little Monster, Monster Mash, Sneak Attach, Night Terror, Col. Bananas, and Little Tostones. (Her real name is Cisco.) She’s afraid of plastic bags and brooms.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with the readers today?
Nope! Just my eternal gratitude for everyone who’s read or is interested in reading THE MIDNIGHTS. This is truly the book of my heart, a seven year long journey, and I could not be happier to finally share it with all of you! Thanks for having me on the blog!