First Frost by  

An Exclusive Interview with Sarah Addison Allen
Author of First Frost (St Martin’s Press, 20 January 2015)

Columnist Anna Roins

First Frost
by Sarah Addison Allen

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New York Times best-selling novelist Sarah Addison Allen did not plan to revisit the characters from her first novel, the whimsical Garden Spells (Bantam, 28 August 2007). It was by popular demand she returned to the comfort of the “Waverley world.” In her latest book, First Frost (St Martin’s Press, 20 January 2015), Claire, Sydney and Bay are now ten years older and dealing each with their life challenges. However, what they know about themselves, their family and their special ‘gifts’ begin to fracture, when a mysterious stranger shows up in town.

With her usual finesse, Sarah Addison Allen has created another page-turner infused with hope. If you enjoy stories that touch upon magic-realism, romance, and food, then you are in for a treat.

“I think third person, being rich in perspective, allows for a full-bodied book.”

AUTHORLINK: Ms. Allen, thank you for your time today so that we may discuss your latest release, First Frost. It’s a stand-alone book that continues the life stories of the characters in Garden Spells, your New York Times bestseller.

In both these books, you have a wide range of characters each narrating their points-of-view in third person (limited). They are only aware of what he or she thinks, senses and feels at the time. What made you decide to use this perspective?

ALLEN: I think third person, being rich in perspective, allows for a full-bodied book. Having many points of view allows the reader to be immersed in a story. But it’s not a structured process for me, and it came quite naturally, writing in third person. It was simply the best way to tell the story I wanted to tell.

AUTHORLINK: One of the main characters in your book, Bay, believes she ‘belongs’ to a boy in her high school, Josh. At first, it is without any expectation of a romantic denouement on her part. Do you believe it’s possible that people attach themselves to others because of a strong sense of ‘belonging’– separate from the standard connections like familial, romantic or platonic?

ALLEN: Absolutely. Whether it’s relationships or causes or ideals, I think we gravitate toward things that ground us in an identity, making us not so alone in the world.

“. . . even when you know your destination, and even though you know the road by heart – the fun is still in getting there.”

AUTHORLINK: Interesting perspective. You once said, “I think, by this point, my readers know they’re going to get a happy ending out of my books…Happiness is hope. And that’s what I want readers to take away.” This is lovely! How do you manage to make your books suspenseful without depressing readers like so many best-sellers do today?

ALLEN: I’ve found that, even when you know your destination, and even though you know the road by heart – the fun is still in getting there. That’s what I try to do, have fun with it.

AUTHORLINK: The covers of your books are spellbinding. Do you have any input in their overall design? Do you believe people still judge books by their covers?

ALLEN: I have the art departments at Bantam and St. Martin’s Press to thank for those covers. There are so many facets to creating a successful cover. I’ve been fortunate, with my last few books, to be allowed in on the process a bit. It’s a wonderful glimpse into another avenue of creativity. Because a cover is the first thing a reader sees, yes, I think there is an initial judgment – all the more reason to make that first impression a good one.

AUTHORLINK: Where do you get your information or ideas for your books? What do you think makes a good story? How many books had you written before Garden Spells, (along with Tried and True published by Harlequin on 1 June 2003, with your pen-name Katie Gallagher)?

ALLEN: I start with an idea and then I see where it goes. It’s not the most productive way to write, and I’ve often thought of how much time I would save if I could just plot out a book beforehand. But I need to wade through many revisions before I find my real story. I wrote dozens of manuscripts before I wrote Garden Spells. That was the first book I wrote in which I truly trusted my voice and my process, and I think that makes all the difference in creating a good story.

“It’s hard to give credit to anything so horrible, but cancer changed my life completely.”

AUTHORLINK: Dozens? Incredible. You were diagnosed with cancer in 2011 and have been in remission for three years, which is truly wonderful. How horrible it must have felt to be given that diagnosis. How has it affected your lifestyle choices both physically and emotionally? Does your writing reflect these choices, if any?

ALLEN: It’s hard to give credit to anything so horrible, but cancer changed my life completely. I’m in a much better, happier place. Although cancer didn’t change what I write about, it did change how I approach writing, now with much less anxiety. Life is too short to live it miserable with worry. Start enjoying it now.

AUTHORLINK: Good advice. Thank you for sharing that with us. What does your family think of your writing? What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?

ALLEN: My family is amazingly supportive. I call them my unofficial PR team. My mom will chat up my books to strangers in the grocery store, over the cantaloupe display.

I have a lot of quirks, which I’m sure surprises no one. I’m very superstitious, and some of my favorite family superstitions, like putting a penny on an open windowsill to get rid of ghosts, ended up in my book The Peach Keeper. And I always write in WordPerfect, never Word. I think it brings me luck.

AUTHORLINK: Wonderful. How many drafts do you work on before you show your novel to someone for feedback/editing? Who is that someone?

ALLEN: Always at least two drafts. Sometimes as many as four. My agent and my editor are my first readers.

AUTHORLINK: Do you feel there is an absence of good quality romance novels and movies out there?

ALLEN: We usually find what we’re looking for, both in real life and entertainment. The best movies and books to me are the ones that successfully incorporate at least some romantic relationship into them. I think it’s hard to create a story that resonates with people without that very human component. It’s like trying to make a cake without sugar.

AUTHORLINK: That’s a gorgeous analogy. Now for an existential question, in your opinion, what is the difference between being alive and truly living?

ALLEN: Love.

“Most criticism doesn’t feel personal to me. If you’re in this business long enough, your skin gets thick, . . .”

AUTHORLINK: What a perfect answer! How do you handle personal criticism? Do you feel vulnerable like most writers or do you try to learn from the experience? Alternatively both?

ALLEN: Most criticism doesn’t feel personal to me. If you’re in this business long enough, your skin gets thick, and you learn to filter out the extraneous. Some people love what I write. Some, it’s not their cup of tea. I get that.

AUTHORLINK: Are you working on anything right now? Tell us a bit about it.

ALLEN: I’m at work on my new novel, and it is as frustrating a process as always. Which is a good sign.

AUTHORLINK: Ms. Allen, we wish you every success for First Frost, your future projects and, of course, your continued health!

ALLEN: Thank you! It was a pleasure.

About the Author:

New York Times bestselling novelist, Sarah Addison Allen, brings the full flavor of her southern upbringing to bear on her fiction. Her big break occurred in 2007 with the publication of her first mainstream novel, Garden Spells, a modern-day fairy tale about an enchanted apple tree and the family of North Carolina women who tend it. Booklist called Sarah’s accomplished debut “spellbindingly charming.” The novel became a Barnes & Noble Recommends selection, and a New York Times Bestseller.

With 2 million books now in print and translated into 30 languages, Sarah continues to serve fantastic and familiar fiction she describes as “Southern-fried magic realism.” Her books to date are: Garden Spells (2007), The Sugar Queen (2008), The Girl Who Chased the Moon (2010), The Peach Keeper (2011), Lost Lake (2014) and First Frost (2015).

About Anna Roins:

Anna Roins was a Senior Lawyer with the Australian Government Solicitor in Sydney before she embarked on a career in writing seven years ago. As a freelance journalist, she has contributed to articles on social and community issues and edited a number of books, websites, and dissertations. She has continued her studies in creative literature with The University of Oxford (Continuing Education) and the Faber Academy, London.

Anna is currently writing her first novel and is a regular contributor to AUTHORLINK assigned to conduct interviews with best-selling authors.

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