Sarah Weeks is the author of Save Me a Seat (co-written by Gita Varadarajan) and Pie, two Sunshine State Young Readers Award favorites. Sarah is the author of 55 books for children and teens, including So B. It, which was chosen as an ALA Best Book for Young Adults and was adapted into a major motion picture. Weeks is also the author of dozens of picture books, including the recent Glamourpuss, and chapter books including the Oggie Cooder series, the Guy series and the Boyd series. She lives in Nyack, New York and teaches at The New School.
The author will host two events as part of our Sunshine State Author Series — a Meet the Author event at the Alafaya Branch on Wednesday, April 25 at 6:30 p.m. and a writing workshop for young authors ages 9-14 at the Windermere Branch on Thursday, April 26 at 3:30 p.m. Staff member Sarah Q. had the opportunity to speak with Weeks about how she got into writing and her process for writing books.
Sarah Qronfleh: When did you first start writing? Who was your reading/writing influence growing up?
Sarah Weeks: My mother was the first big influence on me as a writer. At first I would dictate my stories to her, but when I was around three-years-old she taught me how to make my letters and sound out words so that I could write down my stories myself. My sixth grade teacher, Mrs. West, was the first person outside of my family who told me I should consider becoming a writer. Many years later, I went back to visit her at my old elementary school in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and she still had one of my poems in her desk drawer. I can’t tell you how much that meant to me.
SQ: Save Me a Seat alternates between the voices of characters Joe and Ravi. What made you and Gita Varadarajan decide to write the book this way?
SW: Gita was my student in a writing workshop at Columbia University’s Teachers College. For one of her assignments, Gita wrote a short story in my class about a boy who moves from India to New Jersey and what his first day in fifth grade was like—that was the jumping off point for our book. I created the character of Joe, and we began talking about how these two characters might see the same situation from different points of view.
SQ: Save Me a Seat is told with plenty of humor while also addressing tough subjects like bullying. How did you find a balance between the two?
SW: I’ve been writing books for young readers for almost 30 years. One of my personal goals has always been to create stories that tackle difficult situations without pounding those messages over the head. Humor is a great way to soften the blow!
SQ: You’ve written pictures books, chapter books and novels for young readers. Do you have a type of book that you enjoy writing the most?
SW: I enjoy aspects of each of the genres I write in. They say that variety is the spice of life, and I think that holds true for writers as well. The part of my brain that likes figuring out the arc of a picture book or creating a rhyming text is quite different from the part of my brain that loves creating characters that might make a third grade reader laugh out loud, or a fifth grade reader tear up with emotion. Writing in a range of genres also enables me to visit every grade in a school when I do author visits.
SQ: When do you write? Do you stick to a schedule or wait until inspiration comes?
SW: Gita likes to write late at night but I am a morning person. When we were working on Save Me a Seat, I would get up in the morning and run to my computer to see what she had sent, then I would spend the morning responding to it with ideas and suggestions for what might happen next. We also spent many hours talking on the phone. We liked to read our work out loud to each other—a great way to work on making dialogue sound natural.
SQ: Is there a character from one of your books that you enjoyed or found the most fun to write? Is there a character that was more difficult for you to write?
SW: I have a fondness for all of the characters in my books. Each one carries pieces of my heart with them through the pages. I enjoyed writing Heidi, from So B. It, because she is such a deep thinker, but I also thoroughly enjoyed writing Oggie Cooder from my book, Cheese. I love Perrima, the grandmother in Save Me a Seat! Hands down she was my favorite character to create and write dialogue for in that book. Gita was shy at times about writing some of the horrible things that came out of Ravi’s grandmother’s mouth, but I had a blast thinking of insulting things for her to say, like when she accuses Americans of being beef-eating, divorced cowboys. Youch!
SQ: When you’re not writing, what other hobbies or activities do you enjoy doing?
SW: I love to read, of course. I’m also an avid baker. I am nuts about our dog, Mia, and spend a lot of time playing with her and trying to figure out what she is thinking. I have to admit, I’m also a reality TV fan, especially Project Runway and Top Chef.
SQ: What advice would you have for a young person who wants to be a writer?
SW: I don’t encourage kids to write books with the intention of being published. There’s plenty of time for that later down the line! For children who wish to write stories, the very best advice I can offer is to read, read, read. It also helps to have people to share your writing with – family members, teachers and classmates.