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Likely Stories

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Keir Graff and editors from Booklist's adult and youth departments write candidly about books, book reviewing, and the publishing industry

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Monday, April 1, 2013 9:46 am
Hostile Questions: Sara Zarr
Posted by: Daniel Kraus

HOSTILE LOGOLittle-known fact: Before Sara Zarr became the beloved National Book Award-finalist author of Story of a Girl, How to Save a Life, and The Lucy Variations, she was a pirate known only as “Sarazar,” and the southeastern seaboard was interminably terrorized by her jolly band of peg-legged buccaneers. Even during her dastardly life of crime, Sarazar was renowned for her deep, sympathetic insight. Legend says that even those poor souls at the end of her cutlass could not help but hand her starred reviews for her cunning swordplay and swearing.

Ay, me hearties, it will take a mighty force indeed to scuttle this bilge-sucking scalawag!

I wouldn't pay a cent over 4 cents!!!

          I wouldn’t pay a cent over 4 cents!!!

Just who do you think you are?

It depends. Sometimes during the Winter Olympics I watch the competitive snowboarders and think: “I could do that.” Other times, I might be walking through the subway and see a busker and think: “I know at least five chords on my guitar and can sing in tune; I could do that.” I like to give lots of advice to friends and pretend I’m a semi-pro psychologist. I also suspect I could probably win some kind of race for political office or at least a church chili cook-off. But if action is reality, I’m just a writer and thinker and obsessor who tweets too much.

Where do you get off?

The people in my head with whom I’m having imagined anxious relationships scream this at me all the time, sometimes in dreams. As a semi-pro psychologist, I can say that this question comes from within because none of my friends or acquaintances are actually asking me this (except you). Like many writers, I have a deep-down suspicion that I’m a fraud always on the brink of being found out, that all my success is a terrible administrative error and I am to be pitied above all mankind for buying into the delusion that anything I do is of interest to anyone but me and my husband and my parakeet, Peanut, who really only wants more millet. So, yeah, where do I get off?

Lucy VariationsWhat’s the big idea?

Okay, here’s the big idea that can sound like a little idea in scope–i.e. it is not High Concept, as we say in the biz–but in consequence I believe it’s everything. Are you sitting down? The big idea is that everyday life holds extraordinary meaning. That the accumulation of all the little things that make up our common experience and the tiny and bigger connections we make with others all matter. Ordinary life is… ordinary life, and it’s enough. There’s beauty and drama and epic triumph and pain and failure and joy and redemption. It’s all right here. You don’t have to be a published writer or a reality TV celebrity or a high-achiever or rich or look like a model or be a pre-teen YouTube sensation or have all your teeth to be a part of it. That’s a big idea. I didn’t come up with it, though. I just kind of noticed it.

What is your problem, man?

My main problem is the reality of the space-time continuum in tandem with my limitations as me in a human body. I would love to be able to write for six or eight or ten hours a day, six days a week, with great focus, and still be a sane person who is not slowly getting heart disease and alienating everyone around me. My body and soul are high-maintenance. I need eight or nine hours of sleep and there’s all this stuff I can’t eat and I have to do my back exercises and get fresh air and sometimes I get anxious and waste whole days crying over imagined conflicts with people I love or the well is dry and I just need to sack out on the couch and watch a season of Mad Men and YOU KNOW, WHO HAS THE TIME?? I also have a major problem with commercials that feature children doing voiceovers that are obviously scripted for adults. And car exhaust.

Haven’t you done enough?

No! I’m 42, and figure I have only 20-30 good working years left if I’m very lucky. Even with the best habits, I don’t think…hey wait a minute, that’s actually a really long time. I haven’t done enough yet, but maybe there’s hope that I will.


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