My genre is best described as literary psychological thriller. It’s interesting--I don’t feel as though I chose the genre ahead of time, but the story of Anna, Sean, and Bard evolved with my writing into a thriller as I moved further into the narrative. I knew I wanted to focus on the devastating emotional stakes that play into any long-term romantic relationship, and when Bard’s character emerged in my mind, I knew that the story was going to take on an element of menace.
As a reader, I love thrillers, especially those that play more with the mental landscape of their characters and how perceived threats can emerge in what, at least at first, appear to be very ordinary lives. The mundane aspects of life are great contexts to introduce animus, because the assumption so often is that they are benign. But our most intimate relationships—those with our spouses, our children, our friends—also offer excellent, and sometimes unexpected, breeding grounds for conflict and contempt, and I try to capture that undercurrent in my writing.
What do you find most challenging about the writing process, and how do you deal with it?
Having to sit still and get the words out—that is one of the biggest challenges I encounter. I would much rather be in motion, moving through the world. Thank goodness I at least have a standing desk now!
When and where do you do your writing?
Although I have a desk in the basement of our family’s home, I typically write at our communal desk in our family’s living room, preferably in the morning when I’m not teaching and the children are already off to school. I brew a big carafe of French press coffee, boot up the computer, and get to work. Our pit bull, Jasper, keeps me company while I write. After a few hours, he also offers a great reminder to take a break by nuzzling my legs with his (very cute) nose—time for his walk!
What have you learned about promoting your books?
I’ve found the best way to promote yourself as a writer is to promote other writers you admire. In the online realm of social media and blogs, ‘paying it forward’ by bringing attention to fellow writers you admire often comes back to you in dividends when they reciprocate with the same courtesy. Readers are often turned off by self-promotion, but respond with enthusiasm when they see writers supporting each other.
What are you most proud of as a writer?
I’d say my book deal with Pandamoon Publishing was a definite high point in my writing career, but I want to emphasize to all the writers out there that simply getting words on the page every day (or when you can) is an achievement. It’s an act of bravery to offer up your imagination, your memories, and your emotions for scrutiny, which is essentially what all writers do, regardless of genre or format. So although we want recognition and acceptance for our work as writers, we need to remember that trusting in ourselves to devote time and energy to our words is an achievement in and of itself.
If you could have dinner with any writer, living or dead, who would it be and what would you talk about?
Jessica Francis Kane, author of The Report and the short story collection, This Close. I would love to sit down with her and talk through a few of her short stories (or, in an ideal and timeless world, all of them!). American Lawn, for one, really embedded itself into my mind--I’d love to get her perspective on the piece and how she came to write it.
About the Author
Sarah K. Stephens earned her doctorate in Developmental Psychology and teaches a variety of human development courses as a lecturer at Penn State University. Although Fall and Spring find her in the classroom, she remains a writer year-round. Her short stories have appeared in Five on the Fifth, The Voices Project, The Indianola Review, and the Manawaker Studio’s Flash Fiction Podcast. Her debut novel, A Flash of Red, will be released in December 2016 by Pandamoon Publishing.