Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Art & Activism Interview: Sarah Diemer

I am delighted to begin this new series of interviews and guest posts on art and activism. For those of you who don't know, I am doing a series of interviews and guest posts on the subject of art and activism--two topics very near and dear to my heart.

This first interview is with Sarah Diemer, who (whom?) I "met" online through a series of serendipitous connections. Actually, it was me clicking on links that led to links that led to her beautiful writing, then me clicking on "buy" and getting her book, The Dark Wife.

But before I go on and on (and on) as I am wont to do, here is Sarah in her own words!

NM: I was struck with how beautiful the language is in The Dark Wife. You have some gorgeous use of imagery and emotional layering. Can you give us a sense of what have you done to hone your craft? What would you say has been the most helpful method of improving your writing?

SD: Thank you so much, that is so kind of you to say. :) I was home-schooled my entire life, and wrote about five hours a day, every day, growing up. I read voraciously and was just so completely obsessed with the craft of writing from a very young age--I wasn't normal in that regard! *laughing* I was also co-leader of the writer's group in our city for...I think five years, six years? Working so closely with my peers and on so many different projects during that time really pushed me to be able to put out the best work I'm capable of, and to always reach for that level.

NM: Wow, that's a lot of writing! :) When did you first realize you wanted to write stories and have them published?

SD: I was six. I'd written a story about a unicorn--and illustrated it! I sat down with my little sister, who--at that time--was two, and I told her very, very seriously: I am going to be an author. *laughing* I still remember that ridiculous moment, this little girl I was, being so serious. I had that same moment again, a little more seriously, when I was twelve. I'd just written this TERRIBLE BOOK, a fictional account of WWII involving magic, and I told my mother, very seriously, "this is the first. I'm going to be a published author someday," and she knew I meant it.

NM: The Dark Wife is a retelling of the Demeter/Persephone myth. Can you tell us what led you to rewrite the story, and why you picked *this* story, in particular?

SD: As a Pagan woman, Persephone is my matron Goddess. I've been obsessed with her story since I was very small, but it upset me. She's kidnapped and raped and held against her will--hardly empowering stuff. As a lesbian woman, I began to reclaim the myth to something feminist, something that I could relate to. I truly believed that this story was open to new interpretation, that the story could and should be retold and reclaimed, so I set out to do it.

NM: I love that! I believe one key role of good fiction is the reshaping of imagination and retelling/reclaiming myths is so much a part of that. What are your thoughts about the future of publishing? Personally, I am very excited about the possibilities! :)

SD: I am, too! :) Now, more than ever before, as authors and writers, we have so many choices and so many opportunities before us. I believe that traditional publishing will never die, but I believe that the landscape of publishing before us is a new one of independent, self-publishing and traditional publishing working together. Times are changing, and it's exciting how much possibility is now presenting itself to us!

NM: I couldn't agree more. Do you have any tips or suggestions for writers who might want to go the indie publishing route, but don't know how, or are nervous to take the plunge?

SD: I always have a little difficulty answering this question, because I believe, whole-heartedly, in self-publishing, but I also don't want to sit here and yell through a megaphone that it's all tinsel and diamonds and step right up to your six figure publishing year of self-publishing bliss and unicorns. ;D Self-publishing is HARD work, and it requires a work-ethic that the puritans would have commended (oh, those puritans!), and a LOT of energy and tenacity. If you're the type of person who loves crunching numbers and designing book covers and talking about your book tirelessly and you have a very outgoing personality, you will do well with self publishing. If you're daunted by the idea of doing anything but writing/editing a book, self-publishing is not for you. So consider these things--if you believe in your story completely, think you have what it takes (and you MUST believe you can do it, what you believe is a self fulfilling prophecy in any creative endeavor!), then you do. Do it. :) Self-publishing has been the most rewarding thing I've ever done (and I lied--in my self-publishing, there ARE unicorns, but they're part of the stories. ;D).

NM: GREAT advice. Those are sage words of wisdom, dear readers. Sarah, do you think The Dark Wife could be used in a classroom setting? In what ways might the story be of use to educators?

SD: Absolutely! It's a feminist retelling of a very not-so-feminist myth, so educators could use it in feminist or mythological studies, the changing roles of women in history, or even in a creative sense, reclaiming myths and changing them to create something you can relate to. In a minority setting, it could be read and discussed, as to why it's important that queer stories are told, and why it's important that straight people read them (empathy toward minorities, etc.).

NM: You deal with some pretty heavy issues in The Dark Wife, and you might be aware that the topic of sex and violence in books for young adults is a hot button topic with passionate opinions on both sides. What are your thoughts on this?

SD: We were all young adults once, and we all know what we were thinking about/feeling. As as a lesbian teenager, I was one big roiling ball of hormones and angst and walking-drama-and-tragedy-my-straight-best-friend-will-never-know-I-love-her. Teenagers, gay and straight, use expletives, have sex, explore themselves with adventure and prose and story-telling and all of these wonderful things, and the stories that we put out that reflect them need to reflect the rich variedness of their experiences. Sex, swearing, etc. is part of the young adult experience, and they see violence in their everyday lives. If a story is stripped of the inherent truthiness of life, teenagers are going to notice, and it won't touch them. I want my stories to touch them, to reach them on the level that they're at, not try to sugar-coat their story.

NM: Speaking of speaking to teenagers, what has been the response to TDW from young readers?

SD: It's been...wow. Outstanding. Staggering. Humbling. I have been told that this little story made a girl have hope about life again. I've been told that this one young girl now had the courage to come out--something she never thought she could do--because of THE DARK WIFE. One girl read it and said she finally believed she could find a girlfriend, could now find the courage to do it. It's given hope and courage and the belief in something better to young girls, and that of all of the responses and ways that it's changed MY life, is the most rewarding, the most amazing. That my book touched people on such a deep, changing level is the most wonderful thing I could ever know. I'm so grateful that these girls told me how much it meant to them, so grateful that they were so touched, and so deeply humbled that it helped them in any way.

NM: Where can readers purchase your books?

SD: You can get them on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords in both print and eReader versions. You can find all of the links on my site, http://www.oceanid.org

NM: If you had one message you could go back in time to give to your 17-year-old self, what would it be?

SD: You're gay, and you're a writer, and you're trying to do this crazy thing: write gay girl stories that everyone will love. People are telling you that's impossible, people are telling you that because you're gay, you're less than. None of this is true. Some day, you'll find out that your stories about gay girls will change lives, and you need to keep writing them, and you need to keep believing in yourself. You're gay and you're awesome and you need to remember that when everyone else tells you differently. (And that goes for every seventeen year old [or any age] gay boy or girl reading this. <3)

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