Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Interview with short story writer Sarah K. Stephens

Today I'd like to introduce you to Sarah K. Stephens. We’re chatting about her recent psychological thriller story “Boys” that was published in the March 2016 issue of Five on the Fifth, her upcoming novel, and more.

Sarah K. Stephens earned her Doctorate in Developmental Psychology in 2007 and teaches a variety of courses in human development as a university lecturer. Although Fall and Spring find her in the classroom, she remains a writer year-round. Her debut novel, A Flash of Red, will be released in Winter 2016 by Pandamoon Publishing. 

Welcome, Sarah. What do you enjoy most about writing short stories?
I love the opportunity short stories provide for exploring an idea or topic within a limited space. It forces you as a writer to be even more attentive to your wording, structure, and plot and helps you practice efficiency with your writing. You need to captivate your readers quickly, and that forces you to hone your writing skills in a way that is different from novel-writing, where the goal is more to take your readers on an extended journey.

Can you give us a little insight into a few of your short stories – perhaps some of your favorites?
My story Boys is a commentary on how universities have responded to sexual assault on campus, including the use of an emergency alert texting system that notifies subscribers that a sexual assault has occurred. My concerns with this system are that it can lead to desensitization towards the issue of sexual assault, and that the effects of these systems do not seem to have been thoroughly assessed. The story examines three young men who proceed to kidnap a woman walking home from campus. They believe this woman witnessed them committing a minor traffic crime, and the plot proceeds from there, the alert system playing a major role throughout the story.

Another story, The Cloth, focuses on a young Syrian priest who is struggling with his faith in the wake of his father’s brutal death, as documented by the photos of detainees smuggled out of Syria.

In Celebration depicts a young divorced woman who travels halfway across the world in hopes of proving that she deserves a better life. I can only say that it doesn’t end well.

What genre are you inspired to write in the most? Why?
I am most drawn to realistic fiction. It seems, after summing up some of my short stories above, that I prefer to write about the dark corners of our human realities. I’m fascinated by the process of human connection and seek, through my writing, to reveal just how tenuous our ties to each other can be.

What exciting story are you working on next?
Right now I’m working on a story called Breast Bones. The main character is a woman past middle age, unmarried and coping with the process of entering old age and the humiliation that is often attached to it by our culture. She represents many unseen women, who live their lives without recognition or appreciation for who they are as individuals.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
When I finished a working draft of my first novel, A Flash of Red. It’s now contracted with Pandamoon Publishing and will be released in Winter 2016.

How do you research markets for your work, perhaps as some advice for writers?
I read once that, if you try to write a novel that fits a particular hot market, it will inevitably be out of date by the time you are ready to query it. Instead, the advice was to write what you are passionate about, and that authenticity will be a more valuable marketing tool than any particular niche or trend.

The truth is that good writing is good writing, regardless of genre or topic. What I’ve tried to do as a writer is to address issues that I care about, and to improve as a writer each day.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I often get writing ideas while I’m walking home from campus after a day of teaching. I have to rush home so that I get the idea down on paper before I forget it!

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
An archaeologist—I was obsessed with Ancient Egypt and King Tut’s tomb.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
I often think about my writing ideas while I’m running in the morning—it’s a little treat I look forward to each day, and it helps me get through my workout!

Thanks for being here today, Sarah. I look forward to having you back to chat about your novel!

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