This month’s Jen’s Jewels Sarah Jio addresses this very topic in her debut novel THE VIOLETS OF MARCH. It’s the story of a newly divorced woman Emily Wilson who is suffering from the fall-out inflicted by her cheating ex-husband. With nowhere else to turn, she seeks refuge with a relative on serene Bainbridge Island. One of my Top 5 Picks for the summer, this talented novelist is sure to be one of fiction’s next rising stars.
As part of this interview Plume, an imprint of Penguin Books, has generously donated five copies for you, my favorite readers, to try to win. So, don’t forget to look for the trivia question at the end. And as always, thanks for making Jen’s Jewels a part of your reading adventure.
Jen: As a debut novelist, your career is just taking off. So that my readers may have glimpse into the life of the woman behind the words, please share with us a brief overview of your educational and professional background.
Sarah: Thank you for having me on your blog, Jen! A little about me: I’ve come to the fiction world by way of magazines. I am the health and fitness blogger for Glamour.com, and a frequent contributor to magazines including Real Simple, Glamour, Health, Redbook, and many others. I have a degree in journalism and pretty much have always had a pen in my hand.
Jen: As a freelance writer, you have contributed to various major magazines such as Redbook and Glamour. Please describe for us your “Ah! Ha!” moment when you decided to take the plunge and become a novelist.
Sarah: I knew from an early age that I wanted to write novels, but finding the right idea was tough. I considered a lot of stories, and wrote one novel, in fact, before The Violets of March. But it wasn’t THE novel that spoke to me and grabbed my heart the way Violets did. At first it was hard to juggle magazine work with fiction, but I found my groove. I’d work on magazine projects by day and fiction at night. I still keep that schedule.
Jen: Your poignant novel THE VIOLETS OF MARCH is a captivating story set on the beautifully serene Bainbridge Island. First of all, how did you arrive at the premise? And, do you have ties to the island?
Sarah: I’ll never forget when the idea for Violets came to me—while on vacation for Christmas at my sister’s house in San Diego. I had been mulling several novel ideas, but when the inspiration for Violets hit, I knew I had to write it. As for the island, yes, I grew up just over the bridge from Bainbridge Island, and spent many happy hours playing on its shores as a child.
Jen: The novel is actually a story inside a story. In terms of nuts and bolts, how did you go about constructing the dual storyline? Did you write an outline first? Or, did you simply just allow the novel to take on a life of its own?
Sarah: I allowed the story to free flow, which is how I always love to write, but when things got a bit tangled, my husband (ever the scientific mind) encouraged me to make an outline and use note cards to organize the plot threads. I did this, begrudgingly, but it really helped. Now I outline all of my novels (I’m working on my third) and it works well for me. I still allow myself to veer off course when I want to, but the outline provides the roadmap to keep me on track.
Jen: At the beginning of the book, Emily Wilson, a bestselling author, is coming to terms with her marital separation due to her husband’s infidelity. In what ways does her personal life mirror her professional one?
Sarah: That’s an interesting question, and a good one. Emily’s career and her marriage are sort of floating along aimlessly, numbly. She’s become vacant in both. It’s as if she’s stopped participating, almost.
Jen: In order to fully wrap her head around her present situation, Emily decides to take off to her Aunt Bee’s house on Bainbridge Island. What makes her seek comfort from this woman rather than her own mother?
Sarah: I think it’s because she identifies with Bee more than her mother, with whom she has a complicated relationship. She and Bee have more in common than Emily really knows, and that comes out later in the story.
Jen: Often childhood memories evoke a sense of calmness that can be quite healing during difficult times. In particular, why is Bainbridge Island a special place for Emily?
Sarah: The island is her “happy place,” the place where she has the fondest, warmest childhood memories. Readers, I hope, will feel her letting go of her worries and tensions almost immediately when stepping off the ferry. This is the sense of comfort and calmness I hoped to evoke. It’s funny, when I leave the hustle and bustle of the city (I live in Seattle) and take the ferry over to the island, where I still have family living nearby, I always feel that same sense of calm.
Jen: Upon her arrival, Emily finds a diary hidden in a dresser draw that dates back to 1943. Why does she not share this discovery with her aunt?
Sarah: I always felt that Emily felt a little guilty about reading the diary, as anyone would probably feel about reading a diary that isn’t her own. Emily, I believe, new the diary had some connection to her aunt Bee, and she didn’t want to ruffle feathers or bring up any part of her aunt’s painful past.
Jen: In what ways does Emily feel as if she and Esther, the mysterious woman who wrote the diary, are spiritually connected?
Sarah: One of the great pleasures of working on this story was being able to draw connections in the story between past and present. Along the way, Emily begins to see little glimmers of the diary in the present day—landmarks, words, people, even flowers. She pieces together the mystery by noticing the clues around her, and, in doing so, she forms a connection to Esther, the diary’s mysterious author.
Jen: During her stay, Emily rekindles a relationship with a former flame as well as sparks another one with a newfound beau. Is her sudden interest a knee-jerk reaction from being rejected by her husband Joel? Or, is it a path to self discovery?
Sarah: Yes, Emily has two men put in her path shortly after she lands on the island. I felt that confronting past relationships and embarking on new ones needed to be a part of her journey and path to healing.
Jen: Who is the stronger character Bee or Emily? And, how so?
Sarah: While both are strong in their own ways—Emily in her curiosity and Bee in her wisdom, I think that Bee wins. She’s kept a lot of secrets for a very long time—that takes a lot of inner strength.
Jen: Let’s switch gears now and talk about the promotional side of the book. First of all, please take us on a tour of your website, highlighting special points of interest.
Sarah: My web site is part blog, part professional site for my magazine and novel work. I try to update the blog portion as frequently as I can, which is never often enough, and post news about my novels. It’s fun to share the latest news—like last week, when I got to share that my second novel, The Bungalow, was sold in Germany!
Jen: Do you participate in Author Phone Chats? If so, how would my readers go about scheduling one?
Sarah: I would love to phone in for book clubs! Interested readers are welcome to email me at [sarah AT sarahjio DOT com].
Jen: Are you currently at work on your next novel? If so, what can you share with us?
Sarah: Yes, I recently sold my second novel, THE BUNGALOW, to Penguin (Plume) and it’s coming out in April of 2012. It’s a very special story to me, about a woman, who at the very end of her life, receives a letter that forces her to confront the bittersweet memories of her time in the South Pacific during the war, particularly an unfinished love affair, an unspeakable tragedy, and the mysterious beach bungalow at the center of it all.
Jen: Thank you so much for taking the time to stop by and chat with my readers. I highly recommend THE VIOLETS OF MARCH to all of my readers. It is a fabulous read! Best of luck in the future!
Sarah: Jen, thank you so much for your kind words and support. I can’t wait to share THE BUNGALOW, with you. More to come on that, soon!
I hope you have enjoyed my interview with Sarah. Please stop by your favorite bookstore or local library branch and pick up a copy today. Better yet, how would you like to win one instead? Okay, be one of the first readers to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org with the correct answer to the following trivia question.
What is the name of Sarah’s next release?
Later this month, I will be bringing to you my interview with New York Times bestselling author Rachel Gibson. You won’t want to miss it.
Until next time…