Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Sarah Zachrich Jeng Interview - The Other Me

Photo Credit: Megan Brown

Sarah Zachrich Jeng grew up in Michigan and always had a flair for the morbid and mysterious (for her dad’s thirty-fifth birthday, she wrote a story entitled “The Man Who Died at 35”). She had a brief career as an aspiring rock star before she came to her senses and went back to school to become a web developer. Sarah lives in Florida with her family and two extremely hyper rescue dogs. The Other Me is her first novel.


Tell us about THE OTHER ME!
THE OTHER ME is a speculative thriller about Kelly, an artist who’s attending her friend’s opening when she is suddenly transported into a different life where she never followed her dreams. In her new life, instead of going to art school, she stayed near her hometown in Michigan and married Eric, a guy she knew in high school. She has to figure out how and why this happened, and whether it can be reversed.

Alternate reality is the hook, but the book is also about fate and the choices that make us who we are, who gets to be protagonists in real life as well as fiction, and how much toxic masculinity sucks for literally everyone.

What was your inspiration behind this story?
It’s hard to go into too much detail without spoilers, but the original spark was me wanting to write about a common wish-fulfillment trope from an alternate point of view.

  • I arrive at the gallery and the crowd swallows me, a forest of elbows and shoulders and plastic cups of cheap wine.
  • A while back I dated a guy who liked to say he didn’t know why people even celebrated birthdays. So you’d made it through another year—big deal. It wasn’t as if it was an accomplishment. He was one of those people who are always trying to prove how little they care about things, and I, dazzled by good hair and carefully cultivated body funk, took way too long to pick up on it.
  • Success is more of a magnet than sentiment. People hope it’ll rub off.
  • Even as a grown-​ass woman, I maintain the instinctive, ironclad belief that nothing too awful can happen to me with my father around.
  • Men always want to make an emotional decision seem rational.
  • What I’m searching for is some emotional connection to the life I find myself living. But even with my entire history laid out in front of me, I’m unable to feel that it’s mine.
  • There’s nothing in his behavior I can put my finger on, and God knows I’ve been extra-​paranoid this weekend. But the thought rises from the dark bottom of my brain, cold and quiet and utterly certain. He knows something about what happened last night.
  • He’s always been good at anticipating my wishes. A curio I admire at an art fair will show up under the Christmas tree, or I’ll mention my car has a blown taillight and the next day it’ll be fixed. I appreciate it, but his diligence makes me feel a sneaking guilt. A better wife would stalk her husband, looking for opportunities to please in return.
  • The people we love, it’s hard to see them as more than constructs of our own longings. To see past our own desires to the people they actually are and love them anyway.
  • In art school, we learned that failure is not an end but a beginning. You have to give yourself permission to stumble on the way to figuring things out, because that’s the only way to push boundaries. It’s the same with technology: failure is a step on the path to innovation. Of course, underlying that tenet is the expectation that eventually you succeed, or else fade into obscurity, which has always been my biggest fear. And now I know why the prospect of being ordinary scared me so much: not because it’s unpleasant, but because it’s so easy.
Why is storytelling so important for all of us?
Stories of all kinds help us understand the worldviews and feelings of people who aren’t like us in a visceral way. Without simplifying a complex problem, they can make it more understandable. They can help us make sense of our own emotions and circumstances. And even the most plugged-in person needs an escape into a different world sometimes.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
Since my book’s not out yet, I haven’t had that many interactions with readers, though I’m looking forward to that aspect of being published. During the year leading up to my debut, I’ve been lucky enough to find a great community of fellow debut authors online. We celebrate each other’s successes and commiserate about the inevitable disappointments, and while my family and friends outside of publishing have been really supportive, it’s meant so much to have a group of friends who understand exactly what I’m going through.

  • 1. The original title of THE OTHER ME was THE NICE GUY. My publisher thought it sounded like a rom-com (which it does!) and asked me to change it.
  • 2. I first wrote THE OTHER ME as dual POV, alternating between Kelly’s perspective in the present and Eric’s starting from when they met in middle school.
  • 3. An early draft of the manuscript with the dual POVs had more than 120,000 words—it was way too long!
  • 4. The book went through many revisions and most of the middle and ending were completely rewritten more than once.
  • 5. The first scene I conceptualized in detail was the one where Kelly walks from the gallery in Chicago into her surprise party in Michigan. It’s one of the few scenes that didn’t change very much.
  • 6. Things I used, at various times, to keep track of Kelly’s different lives in the book and the discrepancies between the versions of her: spreadsheets, hand-drawn diagrams, Airtable, bulleted lists, mind mapping software, my brain
  • 7. I’ve never lived in Chicago, but I always wanted to move there when I was younger (maybe an alternate version of me did!) and I’ve spent a lot of time there visiting friends.
  • 8. The Michigan settings in the book (Andromeda Creek, where Kelly grew up, and Davis City, where she and Eric live) are fictional, because I wanted the freedom to make things up, but they are very much inspired by real places near my hometown (I grew up just outside of Flint).
  • 9. When Kelly says “Meijer’s” instead of “Meijer” to refer to the original superstore of the Midwest, it’s intentional. She doesn’t like ranch, though (Michiganders will get that reference).
  • 10. One of the most fun things about having THE OTHER ME published has been hearing early readers’ takes on the book. It seems like everyone pulls out different insights and things that resonate with them personally.
What else are you currently working on?
I’m writing a speculative suspense novel about two very different women who had a close but toxic friendship in college, and what happens when their lives intersect again years later. It looks at identity, revenge, online fame, and how people deal with their life plans not going as they hoped (spoiler alert: badly).

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
I love hearing about the different aspects of the book that people relate to. I hope it makes them think about turning points in their own lives or what they would do in a similar situation to Kelly’s.

What part of Kelly did you enjoy writing the most?
Kelly’s extroverted and not at all hesitant to talk to strangers, which is the complete opposite of me, so I really enjoyed writing that aspect of her personality.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
I would introduce Kelly to Edna Pontellier. I think they’d have a lot to talk about.

Two lives. The one you wanted. The one that wanted you.

Her birthday should be like any other night.

One minute Kelly’s a free-spirited artist in Chicago going to her best friend’s art show. The next, she opens a door and mysteriously emerges in her Michigan hometown. Suddenly her life is unrecognizable: She's got twelve years of the wrong memories in her head and she's married to Eric, a man she barely knew in high school.

Racing to get back to her old life, Kelly's search leads only to more questions. In this life, she loves Eric and wants to trust him, but everything she discovers about him—including a connection to a mysterious tech startup—tells her she shouldn't. And strange things keep happening. The tattoos she had when she was an artist briefly reappear on her skin, she remembers fights with Eric that he says never happened, and her relationships with loved ones both new and familiar seem to change without warning.

But the closer Kelly gets to putting the pieces together, the more her reality seems to shift. And if she can't figure out what happened on her birthday, the next change could cost her everything...

You can purchase The Other Me at the following Retailers:

1 Winner will receive a $10 Amazon Gift Card.