Thursday, February 17, 2011

Learning to Swim & more from Sara J. Henry

When any novel hits the stands, the author often can be found doing a blog tour around cyberspace. Many of the tour stops will involve interviews. The questions can be pretty standard and are great ways for fans to learn about the debut novelist and their book. However, many authors don't enjoy answering the questions and worry that they are not making their book sound interesting enough. The trick to answering questions and getting the attention of a potential reader is not just to tell them about the book (although that is important), but to give them a piece of yourself. With that in mind, our own debut novelist Sara J Henry is answering questions here with the hope you'll learn something interesting about her and see that answering interview questions can be fun.

So – congratulations on your very soon-to-be-released debut novel, LEARNING TO SWIM (which will hit stores on Feb. 22, 2011). Do you want to tell us about it or would you like to talk about your passion for Home Depot instead?

Sara: No, it’s Canadian Tire I dearly love. I once won fifty Canadian Tire dollars at the gas station in a scratch-off game, which was so wildly exciting I nearly got the “math skill” question at the end wrong (added, I think, so it’s not considered a game of chance).

I found this lovely description of my book in Ottawa magazine, and adapted it a bit (there seems to be a Canadian theme here, but only part of the book is set in Canada):

While standing on the deck of the Lake Champlain ferry bound for Vermont, Troy Chance sees a small boy tossed over the side of a ferry going the opposite direction. Without thinking, she jumps to his rescue, setting off a chain of events that see her embroiled in a kidnapping plot with tendrils in the Adirondacks and Vermont as well as Ottawa and Montreal.

I should probably point out that Daniel Woodrell said, “From the grabber beginning to the heartfelt conclusion, LEARNING TO SWIM is an auspicious debut.” And that Michael Robotham called it a “moving and insightful psychological thriller.”

What’s the first thing you did after getting ‘the call’ that your book sold to Crown?

Sara: Here’s the thing: we had several offers, which sounds exciting, but it meant some agonizing decision-making, which I didn’t actually complete until the wee hours of the morning. So pretty much the next thing I did was go to brunch with Quinn Cummings, which sounds so LA-ish and unlike me (Quinn, I should point out for readers younger than 40, was nominated for an Academy Award when she was 9), but I happened to be in LA at the time, and Quinn is a wonderful writer and one very cool lady.

Which character in your book would you like to invite to Thanksgiving dinner to torment your family?

My family would torment the guest, if we did Thanksgiving dinners. Who would be the most amenable and entertaining dinner guest? Possibly Simon.

What’s your favorite and least favorite foods to eat at a family dinner? (Now is the time to specify so that your family has no excuse not to feed you well next time!)

Sara: I will not eat hominy, which I was forced to eat as a child. No, hominy is not grits – although a type of grits is made from ground hominy. Hominy is corn that has been soaked in lye (to preserve it – hello! we have freezers now) and it’s just about the nastiest form of human food in existence. I also do not eat cooked beets, which I find disgustingly flabby. Or sauerkraut. Or olives or anchovies. Or buttermilk. Or liver, which besides being unpleasantly smushy, concentrates the toxins in whatever animal the liver resided in. Ah, I’m shivering in disgust as I write this.

Do you like to have music or some kind of background noise when you write or do you require absolute silence?

Sara: I am abhorrently ignorant of music and that will be my project for the next year – to introduce music into my life. For the time being, my “music” is birds singing, crickets chirping, chipmunks chattering, and my dogs making all sorts of canine sounds.

If you had a time machine, where and when would you go?

Sara: I would go back and plead with my father to go to the doctor sooner, to pursue treatment more aggressively, to tell him how important he was in my life so that he would not die far too young, and he would be here to see my novel coming out.

Who is your favorite author to hang with at a conference bar? And speaking of bars, what is your favorite drink? (I know your fans want to know what to buy you when talking about your book!)

Sara: My favorite hanging-with author is hands-down Reed Farrel Coleman, whom I met at one of Lee Child’s parties at Bouchercon, and has become a wonderful friend and “mentor” (I put it in quotes because having a mentor makes me feel about sixteen). But gosh, I had a lot of fun at Bouchercon San Francisco hanging with Daniel Woodrell, too, and some others. But Reed is my #1 hang-out bud.

I am almost as appallingly ignorant of drinks as I am of music, but I like good red wine, and sometimes rum and diet Coke.

What are you most looking forward to about being a published author and what’s next for you?

Sara: I think the best part has already happened – that I think of myself as a writer and writing as my job now, and now squeeze other things around writing instead of vice versa. And of course all the absolutely wonderful people I have met and the writing family that has welcomed me.

I’m finishing up my second novel as we speak, the sequel to Learning to Swim. And have books 3 and 4 worked out in my head, and am eager to start on those.

And the most important question of all – is Elvis really dead?

Sara: In Tennessee, and in people’s hearts, he lives on forever.

Like her main character, Troy Chance, Sara lived in Lake Placid, New York, and worked as a sports editor at The Adirondack Daily Enterprise. Sara’s website is, and you can read her first chapter here.

Questions were posed by ITW Debut class of 2010 author Joelle Charbonneau (Skating Around The Law, Minotaur Books)


Tracey Devlyn said...

Hi Sara,

Welcome to The Thrill Begins! I had such a fun time reading your interview. What sparked the idea for writing LEARNING TO SWIM? Anything in particular?

Sara J. Henry said...

I'll copy an answer here that I gave to someone in another interview: I was visiting the area and driving along the shore of the huge Lake Champlain on a cold and misty day and for some reason envisioned a woman standing on the deck of one of the ferries and seeing a child fall into the water from the other ferry - and then diving in to rescue him. Then I had to figure out how to write an entire book around that one scene. And how to write a novel in the first place!

Joelle Charbonneau said...

Hi Sara! Congrats on Learning to Swim and thanks for visiting us here at The Thrill Begins! I can't wait to read your debut:)

Rochelle Staab said...

Hi Sara! Congratulations on your release next week. Are you managing to breathe through the excitement? What is the first thing you'll do on release day?

I'm excited to read your debut. I love the scene on the ferry that inspired you to write the story. And learn to write (I relate.) Isn't it amazing and wonderful how a small moment can change your life?

Unknown said...

Loved this interview, Sara! And here I thought I knew everything there was to know about you . . . Can't wait to pick up my copy of your book!

Sara J. Henry said...

Thanks, Joelle, Rochelle, and Karen! I'm actually too busy to be excited, as I'm finishing up the sequel to this book now plus planning some signings and other events - but I imagine on launch day (which is at Partners & Crime in NYC on Feb. 23 - everyone is invited!) I'll be pretty excited.

Carla Buckley said...

Wonderful interview, Sara, and congratulations on LEARNING TO SWIM! I love the title--was it what you named your story from the very beginning, or did you have to work toward it?

PS--I abhor kiwi. I once had a nightmare that I was forced to eat kiwi mushed up with dirt and stones, so that pretty much killed it for me.

Sara J. Henry said...

Carla, no, I had a very cute title and series of titles planned revolving around the main character's last name, Chance - and then Michael Robotham told me it sounded like the Bobbsey Twins and that it had to go. I actually queried using the title RISK (thinking it sounded more thrillerish) but my agent preferred LEARNING TO SWIM, an alternate title someone who knew the book well had suggested. (I feared people would think it was a learning to swim manual, especially since I used to write fitness books, but so far we seem to have escaped that!)

Tracey Devlyn said...

Sara --

Thanks so much for the fun conversation. Be sure to enjoy release day next week!

Tracy March said...


I'm late to the party here, but I enjoyed your interview. I learned something about your book, which sounds fascinating, and about you--fascinating, too!

Congratulations on your release. Wishing you great success and happiness!

Tracy March