If you’re into realistic YA, Sara Zarr’s new book, THE LUCY VARIATIONS, is a must. Sara is a National Book Award Finalist, and her other books include STORY OF A GIRL, HOW TO SAVE A LIFE, and SWEETHEARTS. When I was fortunate enough to attend a workshop with her last year, I not only learned ways to improve my craft, but I also found out what being a writer really means.
Sara provides excellent insight into her characters–and fleshes them out brilliantly. The protagonist in THE LUCY VARIATIONS is also near to my heart; I played piano for many years, and while I enjoyed it at times, it always felt like something that was chosen for me, like eating broccoli.
Not only does the book release today, you’ll have a chance to win your own copy by leaving a comment (don’t forget to include contact information, so we have a way to get a hold of you if you win).
That was all before she turned fourteen.
Now, at sixteen, it’s over. A death, and a betrayal, led her to walk away. That leaves her talented ten-year-old brother, Gus, to shoulder the full weight of the Beck-Moreau family expectations. Then Gus gets a new piano teacher who is young, kind, and interested in helping Lucy rekindle her love of piano — on her own terms. But when you’re used to performing for sold-out audiences and world-famous critics, can you ever learn to play just for yourself?
National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr takes readers inside the exclusive world of privileged San Francisco families, top junior music competitions, and intense mentorships. The Lucy Variations is a story of one girl’s struggle to reclaim her love of music and herself. It’s about finding joy again, even when things don’t go according to plan. Because life isn’t a performance, and everyone deserves the chance to make a few mistakes along the way.
Here are Sara’s answers to some of my questions:
I love the premise of THE LUCY VARIATIONS. Where did the idea come from and what do you want readers to take away from the story when they’re finished?
The idea has been stewing for a long time. As far back as the late 90s (well before any of my books were published), I had this girl in my mind who eventually became Lucy. In one version, she was an athlete in a family of musicians and spending Christmas on her uncle’s farm, suffering from insomnia, and befriending a cranky boy with a broken leg. Now, I know it’s difficult to see how this relates in any way to the eventual outcome! But trust me when I say they’re related. That’s the mystery of writing. Sometimes our stories take long and winding roads; sometimes they present themselves almost whole cloth. So there was that, then thirteen or fourteen years later here I am having a kind of creative crisis and midlife crisis and wanting to explore that, as well as the idea of mentorship, and I’d found the right story for this girl. As for what readers take away: I always say that my primary hope is that readers have a great reading experience. Beyond that, I think there’s some good stuff in this book about the importance of occupying your life and paying attention and giving yourself to what you love.
Such a good lesson; characters and stories will come out when they’re meant to–and sometimes those answers won’t come until the proper time. As a Bay Area native, I was excited to learn the book takes place in San Francisco. Does the setting impact the characters and/or the plot? If so, how?
Setting is always important. In this particular story, Lucy is from a wealthy family with recent European roots. I knew she should live in a city that has a thriving culture, where she could fully live her life as a professional musician and child of privilege. Since I grew up in San Francisco, it made sense to me to put her there. My own experience of SF was much less glamorous, but I knew some people who lived in that world and the amount of money floating around always boggled me. Most of my stories have been about characters not from privilege, so it was a new interesting challenge to write from a different worldview. Lucy feels quite a bit more entitled than most of my previous characters, but I still wanted to feel sympathetic to her particular challenges and make sure the reader does, too.
Always a challenge in shaping characters: making them flawed, but also heroic. On your blog, you conduct a regular podcast, “This Creative Life,” in which you interview authors. What have you learned and/or enjoyed in these sessions?
Those conversations with other creative people are always so encouraging to me. Other people’s experiences remind me that I’m not alone, I’m not nuts, and give me a chance to focus on the non-business aspects of this vocation and career. I also hope, with the podcast, to give those same reminders to whoever needs to hear them.
It’s great when something that encourages you also helps others! There will be a book tour for THE LUCY VARIATIONS from May 8-17. What tips, if any, do you have regarding the balance and organization of travel and promotion efforts?
It’s hard! I always feel like I should be doing more, promotionally, and I also always think I should be writing more. I do notice that I’m better off making sure I get in at least 90 minutes of creative/writing time just for me, especially when it gets busy. Otherwise I start to feel sad and restless and disconnected from myself. At the same time, you always want to do everything in your power to help your book find readers. When I’m actually on tour and doing the traveling, I don’t even attempt the 90 minutes of writing. I try to make good sleep and good eating and stress management the “big rocks” during that time, and just obey my schedule the rest of the time. When my first book came out, I did notice I was getting really stressed and over-preparing for speaking and whatnot. I finally realized: I’m an expert on me and my books. I don’t need to get all stressed about this way in advance and make index cards or anything. Now I basically make a deal with myself that unless it’s some big conference talk, I’m not allowed to even think about it until the day before.
It’s wonderful you were able to find a process that works for you–and it sounds like you’ve found a good rhythm! I also saw that you will be at this year’s ALA (American Library Association) conference in June. What role do you envision librarians having in the future of books and publishing?
Well, without libraries and the people who work in them, we’re screwed. That’s really how I feel. The public library system is one the major things that makes possible the tenets our country was founded on. As more and more channels of information are commercialized and sponsored and corporatized and monetized, and as the gap between the rich and the poor increases, free and open access to information and literature will be more important than ever.
I couldn’t agree more! Thanks, Sara, for an excellent interview!
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