In June you will strech your literary path with an eleventh book. How has Sarah Dessen changed as a writer since That Summer, your first novel, was published?
Well, I hope I’ve become better! I know that I have learned a lot. Every book teaches me something about my process, and they are all challenging in one way or another. I think, in my mind, the books have gotten more complex since THAT SUMMER. With your first, you are just trying to tell one good story. As you get more experience, you’re able to widen that story to include a few others in the book, as well.
In your full bio on your website you mention that becoming a YA writer was kind of involuntary. It also seems undeniable that realistic fiction is your genre of choice, as opposed to many YA authors who prefer fantasy. What attracts you of realistic teen novels?
I think I’m just writing what I know. I’ve never been much of a reader of fantasy, and I think you write what you, personally, enjoy reading. I wasn’t very happy in high school: it was a confusing and sort of sad time for me. I have a feeling these stories help me work that out, one different (and happier) ending at a time.
In This Lullaby, Just Listen and Keeping the Moon, the three novels that have been translated into Spanish so far, you deal with topics such as anorexia, dysfunctional families and self-esteem. What do you think young readers seek when they read this type of novels?
I think readers are just looking for things that maybe they recognize or can relate to in the books. All three of those issues are things teens often do deal with during the high school years. I know that as an adolescent I found a lot of solace in the fact that someone in a book was sort of like me, even in some small way. It made me feel less alone. I hope that my books can do that for other girls.
Talking about future projects, which issues would you like to explore in your next books? Have you ever thought about writing other genres?
I never really know what I’m going to write next until it comes to me. By book number twelve, I have to be really careful I am not repeating myself. I can’t really think of writing in another genre unless it was to step forward a bit, into adult fiction, with an older narrator. A lot has happened to me since high school! So we’ll just have to see what happens.
In your biography you tell how inspiring your memories, your friends from school and even the city where you live are. How do you think your experiences as teenager have affected your books?
In my group of friends, I was always the one who remembered everything. The stories, the boys my friends and I dated, all the details. So I think a part of me was always filing them away, although at the time I wasn’t sure why. As I said above, high school was not a very good time for me in many ways, but I think the end result was a lot of things still feel very close. It’s not hard for me to get myself back there on the page, and I’m probably still trying to work things out.
Your first two novels were merged for the big screen into a single movie, How to deal. Could you tell us a bit about that experience and if it will be repeated?
I had so much fun with How to Deal! It was my first two books, adapted into one script, so I knew it wouldn’t be totally faithful to the storylines of either novel. That said, I loved the entire process, from seeing the script as it came together to getting to go to Canada and be on the set while they were filming. It is still on TV fairly often here in the U.S. and it makes me so happy whenever I am flipping channels and find it. I’d love to do another movie, but so far no one has been that interested. I am always hopeful, however!
We would like to finish this interview asking about a detail that has caught our attention: in your bio you say you spent some time teaching writing. What would you highlight about that experience? Did it help you improve as a writer too?
Yes, I taught at my alma mater, UNC-Chapel Hill, in the creative writing program. I loved it. I had great students, and I think they taught ME just as much about writing as I did them. The main thing it did for me, though, was forced me to really stick to the same things I was teaching them. I couldn’t ask them to be disclipined, and work every day, and really dedicate themselves and not do it as well. I’m hoping I’ll get to teach again. Maybe some day! Thank you very much for taking the time to answer our questions, Sarah. We are huge fans of your books and can´t wait to publish this interview in our magazine. Thank you so much for this! It was so fun.