At New 32 we love shining a light on other artists. This blog post kicks off our series Indie Artist Spotlights, where we highlight one independent artist that we really admire. Up first, it’s Sarah Jane Singer, author of The Wall!
First, tell us a little about yourself!
I’m an editor by day, writer by night, living in Central New York with my four cats and a whole bunch of Funko Pops! When I’m not writing, I’m usually watching Star Trek, reading tarot, or cooing at bees in my backyard.
Next we’d love to hear about The Wall. What should people know about your book?
The Wall is a queer, Jewish-inspired fantasy about a young woman who triggers a curse by running away from home. It features a lion companion, a mysterious archer, and a spooky forest!
Everyone who writes books (or creates art of any kind) has their own unique process; what is yours? Does it differ from book to book or do you have something that works for you across projects?
My stories usually start out with a “what if?” Sometimes it’s specific, sometimes very broad. For The Wall, I had this fairly specific question: “What if a young woman ran away from a home she’d never left before and had to face dark magic she never knew existed?” For my work in progress, the idea was a much broader, “What if Jewish people, but make it high fantasy?” and it’s sort of snowballed from there. After that “what if?”, I write a few chapters, which are more brainstorming than anything else. That freewriting helps me figure out my voice for the book, get a sense of the characters, and do some preliminary world-building. Then, I pause my writing and do some outlining. I’ve gotten much better about thorough outlining recently, which, as a degenerate pantser, I have to begrudgingly admit is very helpful.
What inspires you? Not just what inspired The Wall; what inspires you as a creator?
Representation! Growing up, I would headcanon random characters as Jewish because I seldom saw Jews on the page, especially in fantasy. I would be like, “That character has curly hair? Jewish! That character’s family structure reminds me of mine? Jewish!” And now, as I’ve discovered more of my own queer identity, I want to see that on the page as well. And I specifically want to see it in fantasy because that’s the genre that’s closest to my heart. I want to see Jews and queer folks be the chosen ones, get the magic powers, have the epic adventures. I want us to be the heroes. So that’s what I write.
Everyone who creates art wants something different from it; what were your goals with writing and publishing The Wall?
From inception to publication, I worked on The Wall for a whopping eight years. It’s a story that’s incredibly close to my heart, and I badly wanted it out in the world. I queried for about two years, received about a dozen requests from agents for the full manuscript, and ended up with no offers of representation. I got really discouraged, and my confidence as a writer took a major hit. So I finally said to myself, “You want this book out there? Put it out there.” I honestly expected to only sell it to friends and family. I was fairly certain I’d never earn back what I invested financially in the book, but that didn’t matter. I needed to know I could do it. I needed to hold my book in my hands. And here I am.
What other professionals did you include in the creation and publication of The Wall? What was that process like?
I hired a developmental editor, a proofreader, a designer for both the cover and interiors, a web developer, and two artists who made some fantastic preorder perks for me. I had a dear friend and professional editor do the dev edit, and I used work for hire sites to find the other professionals. It was a pretty major investment, but I’m glad I did it because all of these people’s work really elevated my book and my online presence.
What are the benefits of being an indie creator, from your perspective? What are the hard parts?
The biggest benefit is the creative freedom. I’m so glad I got to commission my own cover and ensure that it fit my vision of the book. I’m also a bit of a control freak, so having my hands on the reins throughout the process was very comforting to me. I would say the hardest parts were finding professionals I felt I could trust, which takes a lot of legwork and research, and the upfront costs, which can be very hefty, especially since you’re really not guaranteed a return on your investment.
You’re an editor in addition to being an author; what’s it like being on both sides of the process? Do you feel like your work in one realm shapes your work in the other?
Being an editor has given me a lot of insight into writing as a craft. It’s so much easier to evaluate things like structure, story beats, flow, etc. when you’re looking at someone else’s writing. And giving feedback on those and so many other aspects of craft has improved my own writing as well. It’s also given me a lot of insight into the publishing industry, which will definitely come in handy if I choose to traditionally publish a project in the future. Conversely, being a writer helps me get into my authors’ heads better when I’m editing them. I feel like it gives me a strong sense of where they’re coming from with various creative choices, and it helps me give the best constructive feedback I can.
One thing I loved about The Wall was the horror undertones that are woven into the worldbuilding and the prose. What is your best advice for someone who wants to work in that space?
I love playing with the overlap between fantasy and horror. I took my inspiration from fairytales and folktales, which are often so dark! My advice would be to read lots of different versions of lots of different fairytales and try to pinpoint what it is in those stories that gives you goosebumps. It’s often not what you’d expect. For me, at least, it’s not the outwardly gruesome, like the stepsisters mutilating their feet in Cinderella or the evil queen being forced into red-hot iron shoes in Snow White. It’s the things that are just a bit off: the woods that seem to shift the minute you turn your head, the crow that looks at you just a little too knowingly, the dark waters that hold your attention a little more than they should. Also, watch Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth.
Julia is such a rich character, and her arc is a really compelling coming-of-age story. We see her discover herself alongside the world outside of the wall. How do you go about developing your characters?
The first thing I do is think about how to make my characters unlikeable! Then, I try to get the readers to sympathize with why. Julia is, if you ask me, a little annoying. She’s very naive, and, especially in the first act of the book, she makes a lot of choices that make me want to scream, “Use better judgment!!” So my goal is for readers to go, “Omg, seriously?!” but at the same time to think, “Well, she’s led a really sheltered life. I guess it makes sense.” And then I hope that early moment of connection sort of propels the reader/character relationship forward through the narrative.
What’s your best advice for creatives, especially indie creators?
I’m going to give two pieces of advice because I’m indecisive! First: network! And I don’t just mean make random industry connections. I mean find the writers and industry professionals out there who you really feel you could be close with. Support them, cultivate real friendships. You shouldn’t expect your relationships to be transactional, but you’ll find that once you make those deep connections, you’ll learn a lot, support some awesome people, and receive a lot of support in return. My second piece of advice might sound cliche, but it’s true: no one in the world can tell your story but you. So keep going!
Where can people find you online, and most importantly, where can they buy your book?
Check out my Linktree for my website, social media accounts, and links to purchase The Wall! https://linktr.ee/SarahJaneSinger