Please welcome Sarah J. Schmitt to The Qwillery. It's a Wonderful Death is published on October 6th by Sky Pony Press. Please join The Qwillery in wishing Sarah a Happy Publication Day!
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?
Sarah: I started writing when I was in fourth grade. I was obsessed with the Choose Your Own Adventure Books mainly because I could control the outcome of the main character. Because I have a slightly dark and twisty soul, I would often see how quickly I could get the character to the most horrific death. After a little while, I realized that I could do the exact same thing as a writer. This is actually ironic because, as I grew in my writing, my style developed to be very character driven, and the “people” I wanted to control and manipulate now drive my plot instead of the other way around.
TQ: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Sarah: I’m more of a plotster. For about a month or two before I start writing, I really work on trying to get to know my characters. When I pre-write, one of my primary tools is a Beat Sheet based on Blake Snyder’s book Save the Cat. I plot out 15 key points in my novel (there’s the plotter in me) and then set my characters on a connect-the-dot mission. I have yet to write a story where the characters don’t go rogue and replot the course. (The pantster side of me.) I actually encourage my characters to figure out their own course by using a choose your own adventure mentality when the story comes to a major crossroad. Sometimes my character plays it safe and sticks to the course I’ve laid out and sometimes they don’t. I really love to see what happens when they don’t. Muwahaha… oh, sorry… dark and twisty soul, remember.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Sarah: The beginning and the end of the first draft. LOL. I hate a blank page. Every time I start something new I have this moment where I wonder if I can still write. I wonder if I used up all my creative collateral and am just a poser of a writer. And then I start writing and I realize I don’t completely suck at this writing thing and It’s A Wonderful Death wasn’t a fluke. Then there’s the end. Confession time: I am horrible at certain aspects of grammar, especially commas. And, when I write the first draft, I don’t edit as I go. So, when I get to the end a new manuscript I grab a red pen (okay, maybe three pens) and a huge coffee with money for a few refills and get to work. I hate editing, which is not to be confused with revision, which I love.
TQ: Describe It's a Wonderful Death in 140 characters or less.
Sarah: An unexpected soul collection. A mean girl who probably deserved it. A chance at redemption that will leave U with so many feels it's crazy.
TQ: Tell us something about It's a Wonderful Death that is not found in the book description.
Sarah: From the description it seems like the book is going to be a hilarious look at a mean girl who gets her just desserts, and to a great extent it is. But it’s also a book with a deep moral core and more than a few scenes intended to have the reader laughing and crying in the same chapter.
TQ: What inspired you to write It's a Wonderful Death? Is this a novel that a parent and tween/teen can read together?
Sarah: There are two things that inspired me to write IAWD. The first was from the craft perspective. I had already written not one by two full length books that were the first of a series about saving the world from certain doom. They were fun books to write but I was submitting them as the waves of paranormal and dystopian were descending on the reading shore. I was a little frustrated. So I decided to take inspiration from one of my favorite show and stop trying to save the world and focus on the cheerleader. (BTW, what does everyone think of Heroes Reborn. I’m still on the fence.)
Sorry for that squirrel moment. The second thing that inspired me was the idea that, if someone was given a chance to repeat their worst moments and make different choices, how would it change their future. That’s about the time the lightbulb turned on and RJ was born.
As for reading together, this book is actually perfect for that. It has a lot of instances that could spark conversations between parents and tweens/teens. In fact, my personal advice to my friends is that the book is fine for 4th and 5th graders to read but only if they read it with mom or dad. It’s a clean book but the themes are a little too intense for the younger ages.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for It's a Wonderful Death?
Sarah: Other than various names of angels and some mythology, I actually didn’t do much research for IAWD. The story didn’t really call for it, but I have done others where, if I don’t have an FBI file, the Bureau should be ashamed. LOL. Just kidding. (Said for the purpose of any Intelligence Agency that might stumble upon this interview.)
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Sarah: Easiest? I actually don’t think there was a character that was easy to write. I spent a lot of time layering in more and more details even for the “smaller” characters and that took a lot of “what if” questions. However, the character I had the most fun writing was Death Himself. This guy is complicated and yet, on the surface, he comes off very cavalier. I love how he walks into a room and regardless of what’s going on, he has this attitude of “I’m here, the party can start.” The hardest character to write was RJ. And not because I didn’t know her well enough, quite the contrary. I knew I didn’t want RJ to turn into a goody-goody after going through her trial and the tests. I wanted her to still have that snark and sass but I had to find a way to merge that with the person she was becoming. There were LOTS of dialogue changes in the first few drafts and even in the first pass pages.
TQ: Which question about It's a Wonderful Death do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Sarah: The question I would love to answer is why I start the book out with RJ already dead. In fact, some people have said they wish they had more information about her before she died. However, I thought that if they saw her in her very flawed mean girl state they might not have the empathy to keep reading. And the key to following RJ on her journey is realizing that even though she’s not a nice person, she still got cheated. I wanted readers to root for her from the beginning not say, “She totally deserved what she got.”
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery lines from It's a Wonderful Death.
“You can’t expect a seat at the concert if you don’t buy a ticket.” Madeline Quinn
“My babysitter is one of the most famous men from the Bible. There is no way this ends well.” – RJ Jones
TQ: What's next?
Sarah: Now I spend a few months pre-writing for the next novel so I can hopefully come up with characters and plot as fun as It’s A Wonderful Death. In the meantime, I’m off to promote It’s A Wonderful Death and hopefully get a well deserved massage!
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
It's a Wonderful Death
Sky Pony Press, October 6, 2015
Hardcover and eBook, 320 pages
Seventeen-year-old RJ always gets what she wants. So when her soul is accidentally collected by a distracted Grim Reaper, somebody in the afterlife better figure out a way to send her back from the dead or heads will roll. But in her quest for mortality, she becomes a pawn in a power struggle between an overzealous archangel and Death Himself. The tribunal presents her with two options: she can remain in the lobby, where souls wait to be processed, until her original lifeline expires, or she can replay three moments in her life in an effort to make choices that will result in a future deemed worthy of being saved. It sounds like a no-brainer. She’ll take a walk down memory lane. How hard can changing her future be?
But with each changing moment, RJ’s life begins to unravel, until this self-proclaimed queen bee is a social pariah. She begins to wonder if walking among the living is worth it if she has to spend the next sixty years as an outcast. Too quickly, RJ finds herself back in limbo, her time on Earth once again up for debate.
RJ is a snarky, unapologetic, almost unredeemable, very real girl. Her story is funny and moving, and teens will easily connect with her plight. Prepare to meet the Grim Reaper, who’s cuter than you’d expect; Hawaiian shirt–wearing Death Himself; Saint Peter (who likes to play Cornhole); and Al, the handler for the three-headed hound that guards the gates of Hell. This cast of characters accompanies RJ through her time in the afterlife and will do their best to gently shove her in the right direction.
Sarah J. Schmitt has bachelor’s degrees in political science and psychology as well as a master’s degree in higher education administration—and she has always loved writing fiction. She is a K–8 school librarian part-time and a youth service professional for teens at her public library. Sarah currently lives with her husband and two kidlets near Indianapolis, Indiana.