The Divining Wand

Discovering authors beyond their pages…

Sarah McCoy: Why I Write

March 14, 2012 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

[In mid-January The Divining Wand had the pleasure of featuring Sarah McCoy (The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico) a week before the release of her second novel The Baker’s Daughter and before her hectic book tour. Although much was learned about the author in The Revealing of Sarah McCoy, the true core of Sarah’s heart and personality shines through in today’s guest post.]

Why I Write

It may surprise some to learn that for a greater portion of my childhood, I was a desperately shrinking violet. I hid behind my mother’s skirt at church, fretted over attending schoolmate’s birthday parties, took my Christmas presents to the farthest corner of the room to unwrap at family gatherings. Social settings made me anxious.

My mom, an elementary school teacher, administered the Myers-Briggs exam, which I was more than happy to do alone at the kitchen table. To no surprise, I scored on the far side of Introversion. I wasn’t much of a talker, but that didn’t mean I didn’t have plenty to say. I felt things— deeply. Some days I thought I might burst with glee or sadness, pride or shame, love or hate. But spoken words were never my thing. They spilled out too fast, too haphazardly, out of control with my tongue in the way. In addition, I had something of a temper. We jokingly credit my Puerto Rican-Irish heritage, which may have doomed me from the start. Where some might’ve erupted in a cathartic purging of whatever it was that weighted their spirit, I imploded, burning with tears I found hard to fully express. For years, I felt as if my mind were a great torture chamber—a water tank of emotions, only I was no Houdini.

All of that changed the day my mom put a blank page on the table and handed me a pencil with the instructions, “Write it down, Sarah. Write down what you’re feeling.”

I can still vividly see that clean, white paper and smell the newly sharpened pencil shavings.

Write it down. Write anything I wanted? I thought it might be a trick, so I wrote the word we weren’t allowed to use in the house. “I hate…” I pushed so hard on the page that the letters appeared debossed. Then I stopped to think about it. Did I really ‘hate’ or was it something else—anxiety, frustration, suffocation. I couldn’t put an exact finger to my feeling, but I knew I’d written hate just to test the page, to say what I was forbidden to speak and see how it felt. I didn’t like it.

I flipped my pencil and erased. Gone. You couldn’t do that with spoken word. Once out, it blistered reality like a smoldering match head against skin. But writing allowed me time, space, a chance to express and reexamine, to create and mold until my feelings showed themselves true.

I began again: “Once a girl named Clara lived in a little house in the dark forest…” I wrote a story, and by the end was unburdened, lighter, and eager to share what I’d written with my mom, dad, and family so they would know how I felt. So they could understand that I wasn’t mad at them. I was just this—there—in the story. I’d discovered the key to unlocking myself.

Why do I write, you ask?

Because even now, in my thirties and married, the pen is still my key. It’s the only way I know to open. I write about the things that keep me up at night. The emotions that feel so large and consuming that if I don’t write them down, I might burst. Yes, I’m no longer the shy girl. I’m comfortable speaking about my feelings and opinions; but 99 percent of the time, I’ve already written them out in my journal or my stories. I write to understand my world. I write to connect with people. I write to find and express my truth.

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Sarah McCoy is the author of THE BAKER’S DAUGHTER and THE TIME IT SNOWED IN PUERTO RICO. THE BAKER’S DAUGHTER was praised as a “beautiful heart-breaking gem of a novel” by Tatiana de Rosnay and a “thoughtful reading experience indeed” by Chris Bohjalian. It is a Doubleday/Literary Guild Book Club selection. Sarah has taught writing at Old Dominion University and at the University of Texas at El Paso. The daughter of an army officer, her family was stationed in Germany during her childhood. She currently lives with her husband and dog, Gilbert, in El Paso, Texas, where she is working on her next novel.

Join Sarah on Goodreads, follow her on Twitter, and become a friend/fan on Facebook.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Drifting House by Krys Lee — in a random drawing — to anyone who leaves a comment on the post, What and Why Krys Lee Writes by 8:59 p.m. EDT tonight! The winner will be announced here tomorrow.

The Revealing of Sarah McCoy

January 17, 2012 By: larramiefg Category: Profiles, Q&A

Author Sarah McCoy (The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico) draws upon the unlikely connection between her past (Germany) and present (El Paso, Texas) residences to create the historical novel, The Baker’s Daughter available next Tuesday, January 24th.

Here are a few selections of glowing praise for the book:

“A beautiful, heart-breaking gem of a novel written just the way I like them, with the past coming back to haunt the present, endearing heroines and a sunny, hopeful ending. You’ll wolf it up in one delicious gulp.”
–Tatiana de Rosnay, international bestselling author of Sarah’s Key and A Secret Kept

“A sensitive, multilayered novel, this is a moving examination of the effect war and the politics of exclusion, have on the human heart.”–Amanda Hodgkinson, New York Times bestselling author of 22 Brittania Road

“A haunting and beautiful story… Spanning sixty years, and taking on forms of human cruelty and indifference ranging from the Nazis to modern-day immigration reform, McCoy forces us to examine the choices we make. I was riveted from start to finish.”
– J. Courtney Sullivan, New York Times bestselling author of Commencement and Maine

The Divining Wand has scheduled a visit from Sarah McCoy on Wednesday, March 14, 2012 but — for now — let’s meet the author through her “official” bio:

SARAH McCOY is author of the novel, The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico. She has taught English writing at Old Dominion University and at the University of Texas at El Paso. The daughter of an Army officer, her family was stationed in Germany during her childhood. She calls Virginia home but presently lives with her husband and dog, Gilbert, in El Paso, Texas. The Baker’s Daughter is her second novel. She is currently working on her next.

Interesting background, don’t you think? Well then it’s time for the following upclose and personal Q&A with Sarah to know her even better.

Q. How would you describe your life in 8 words?
A. My God, I can’t do it in 8 words! I’m the lady who gets cut off by people’s answering machines. Please stay tuned: Still a work in progress. How’s that? Or Hold on tight: I’m just getting started, y’all! Does ‘y’all’ count as one word?

Q. What is your motto or maxim?
A. Everything has a purpose. Hold tight. Have faith. Keep watch. Miracles are a breath away.

Q. How would you describe perfect happiness?
A. I believe “perfect happiness” exists in every moment. We just have to open our eyes and look to find it. Even in the midst of terrible tragedy or great personal struggle, there’s the laughter of a child or the bloom of a flower. Reminders that perfect happiness is more constant and eternal than our pain.

Q. What’s your greatest fear?
A. I’m not sure I have a greatest so much as a bunch of little fears that stand on each other’s shoulders until they look like a giant. They range from developed, strong demons to skinny, weak ones: fear of failure; burrowing animals; fear of rejection; nightmares where my teeth fall out; having my privacy invaded; fear that my dog will run into a scorpion or tarantula or rattlesnake in the backyard; worry over the safekeeping of my family and loved ones scattered so far from me; packing anxiety when traveling; fear that my husband won’t ever know the depth of my love for him… Big and small stuff I can’t control no matter how I try.

Q. If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose to be?
A. Home. Wherever that might be at the time. Home is where my husband is, where my writing desk stands, where my puppy sleeps. Don’t get me wrong, I love traveling, but part of the great appeal is the homecoming, snuggling into the quiet of my house and recounting the excitement of where I’ve just been. When I’m home, I’m happiest.

Q. With whom in history do you most identify?
A. Oh, I identify with different individuals at various points in my life journey so I’d be hard pressed to pick just one. Recently, I was in Santa Fe and took a tour of the Georgia O’Keefe Museum. I felt such a kinship to her: her passion for her art and struggle to make a way in the industry; her relationship with her husband and her work; her love for unusual spaces that whispered vibrant stories; her appreciation for the power of femininity.

Q. Which living person do you most admire?
A. On a personal level, my mother, Eleane. I know it’s cliché but every day she never fails to be superwoman. She reminds me that love is transformative and not even the stars are out of reach. She reminds me that there is a higher power and we, a high calling.
In the writing world, Toni Morrison absolutely blows my mind. I want her to be my fairy godmother, sprinkle me with her blessings, and let me sit in her presence. As well, my dearest friend Sheri Reynolds is such a force of love and support in my life. I’ll never be able to fully tell her how much I cherish her.

Q. What are your most overused words or phrases?
A. “Just.” I don’t know why I just can’t seem to get just out of my dialogue. I have to comb it out of my writing. It makes the prose drag. I blame my Virginian roots.

Q. If you could acquire any talent, what would it be?
A. Being able to lean forward and touch my toes. I know, nearly everyone on the planet has this talent and I don’t. It’s been a lifelong frustration starting with the Sit-and-Reach Test in elementary gym class. Either my arms or too short or my legs are too long, but something is off.

Q. What is your greatest achievement?
A. Writing and publishing my novels.

Q. What’s your greatest flaw?
A. Being a perfectionist, Type-A, control freak.

Q. What’s your best quality?
A. Once I trust and consider a person a true friend, I brandish my sword to champion and defend that person. Faithful till death.

Q. What do you regret most?
A. Too often taking out my perfectionist, Type-A, control freak-dom on my husband.

Q. If you could be any person or thing, who or what would it be?
A. Can I cop out of this question by saying I’m just fine being who and what I am? I’ve never subscribed to the “grass is always greener” philosophy. If my grass isn’t green, I assume the neighbor’s probably isn’t either. I’ll stick with what I got.

Q. What trait is most noticeable about you?
A. Are we talking physicality or personality? If we’re going with physicality then I’d say my height. People who meet me in person are always surprised by my short stature. My husband calls me his wee pocket pixie. My grandmother is about 5’ tall. My great grandmother was 4’11’’. These are the trees from which I come.

Q. Who is your favorite fictional hero?
A. Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables. She reigns supreme in my imagination.

Q. Who is your favorite fictional villain?
A. Briony from Atonement. Though technically not a villain, she’s the complex heroine that points a wrongful finger and sets tragedy in motion. You want to hate her, but you love her because she made a mistake. One terrible, youthful mistake, and haven’t we all made one or two of those? Such a great character.

Q. If you could meet any athlete, who would it be and what would you say to him or her?
A. I’ll admit, I’m not much on the sports celebrities. I guess I’d pick Nadia Comaneci. I was a gymnast in my youth, and she was my ultimate. I’d ask her if she wanted to grab a cup of tea. Nothing brilliant. Now my second choice would be Landon Donovan. I’d want to meet him so I could brag to my husband, an ex-college soccer player who is absolutely obsessed with the sport.

Q. What is your biggest pet peeve?
A. People who talk about nothing (the weather, the light fixtures, the salt and pepper shakers on the table—you get the picture) in an attempt to fill every moment of sweet silence.

Q. What is your favorite occupation, when you’re not writing?
A. This is a difficult question because I don’t fancy anything as much as writing. Hmm. I’m going to go out on a limb here: according to my friend Jenna Blum, I could make a mean nickel as a gift wrapper. I do love putting together pretty packages.

Q. What’s your fantasy profession?
A. Exactly what I’m doing: writing novels. I’m living my fantasy and pinch myself every day.

Q. What 3 personal qualities are most important to you?
A. 1) Loyalty, 2) Authenticity, 3) Independence

Q. If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your days, what would it be?
A. Up until this Christmas, I would’ve said crab, but I learned you can have too much of a good thing after a week of seafood binging while back east… Shoot, who am I kidding? The answer is still king crab legs!

Q. What are your 5 favorite songs?
A. 1) “Stardust” by Nat King Cole, 2) “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot like Christmas” by Johnny Mathis, 3) “Anne’s Theme” by Hagood Hardy for the film Anne of Green Gables, 4) “You Don’t Own Me” by Lesley Gore, and 5) “Amazing Grace.” (Yeah, it’s an eclectic list. Each one moves me powerfully in a different way.)

Q. What are your 5 favorite books of all time?
A. While I have a plethora of books I consider favorites, I’ll go with five plucked from my “fundamentals” list: 1) Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, 2) Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare, 3) The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald, 4) Nine Days Queen by Karleen Bradford, 5) The Awakening by Kate Chopin. Note: Austen’s Pride and Prejudice should be in there too.

Genuine, insightful, and most thoughtful/appreciative, Sarah has a great deal to share. You can join her on Goodreads, follow her on Twitter, and become a friend/fan on Facebook.

Also, since The Baker’s Daughter becomes available in bookstores next week, you might want to “see” the author on her Book Tour.

For an extra bonus, enjoy the novel’s Prelude and Chapters One – Three.