Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Sara Bennett Wealer Interview - Grave Things Like Love

Photo Content from Sara Bennett Wealer

Sara Bennett Wealer grew up in Manhattan, Kansas (the “Little Apple”), where she sang in all the choirs and wrote for the high school newspaper. She majored in voice performance at the University of Kansas before transferring to journalism school and becoming a reporter covering everything from house fires to Hollywood premieres. She now works in marketing and lives in Cincinnati with her husband, two daughters, and a growing menagerie of pets. When she’s not writing, you can find her at the ballet, or obsessively watching ballet on YouTube and Instagram.


Greatest thing you learned at school.
It sort of depends which part of me we’re talking about. Artsy fartsy theater me learned confidence and all sorts of amazing music repertoire from singing in the Chamber Choir, performing with the show choir, and taking semi-lead roles in the high school musical. (I rarely got a starring role, rather I carved out a niche playing bitchy divas – wonder what that says about me!)

Writer me learned how to think critically and write a damned good thesis, then revise, revise, revise thanks to incredible English teachers (including my own mom!)

Social me learned, in retrospect, how to be a better friend and not such a loner. I say retrospect because the lessons from the somewhat fraught relationships I had, especially with other girls, really only came to me years later. There’s so much I wish I’d done differently when I was in high school!

When/how did you realize you had a creative dream or calling to fulfill?
When I landed the role of Alice in Wonderland in the third grade musical. I thought my calling was to be onstage and followed that into college, where I majored in voice performance before coming to my senses. I had a nice voice. I did not have a voice to build a career on, nor did I have the stomach for constant auditions and rejections. (So it’s kind of funny I ended up writing novels – a field where rejection is pretty near constant.)

I switched to journalism and worked as a reporter for several years, until I ended up on a suburban beat covering zoning board meetings and house fires. One evening I had a revelation: If I didn’t write something based only on my own ideas and not assigned by a section editor, if I didn’t write something creative and not in any way related to my day-to-day reality, I was going to have a Very Bad mental health crisis. I literally got up from the couch, opened a new Word doc and started writing a YA novel.

That novel didn’t go anywhere. It was Very Bad in its own right. But I kept writing YA books because it was feeding something I desperately needed to stave off anxiety and depression. At a certain point I felt like I might be good enough to try for an agent and see if I could get something published. I suppose I’ve found my real calling because GRAVE THINGS LIKE LOVE will be my fourth book to come out with a major imprint.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
Honestly, just being able to say I’ve done it. Having something with my name on the shelves of my local bookstore is such a great feeling. With all of the rejection and disappointment and uncertainty that publishing brings, simply being able to call myself an author is huge.

Has reading a book ever changed your life? Which one and why, if yes?
I remember reading THE HOUSE OF MIRTH in my early 20s and just sobbing at the ending. I don’t exactly know why I related so much to Lily Bart—maybe because I grew up relatively privileged but experienced a bit of imposter syndrome as I tried to make my way in the world. Lily’s loneliness and growing isolation from people who might help her, her pride and her vulnerability, just shredded me. I don’t know that it absolutely changed my life, but it’s the first time I can remember being that moved by something I read.

Can you tell us when you started GRAVE THINGS LIKE LOVE, how that came about?
Remember I said I hated being a reporter? I REALLY hated covering transportation for a little newspaper outside of Pittsburgh, PA, right out of college. While on my beat, I discovered a family-owned funeral home in one of the small riverside communities. It was in this huge yellow Victorian house, and I was fascinated by how the family lived upstairs and ran the business downstairs. They let me spend several hours with them as I prepared for what I thought would be a feature story. But then I ended up moving to Missouri for another job. I always remembered that funeral home, though, and wondered what it would be like to be a teenager in that setting.

I actually started writing GRAVE THINGS a few years ago. I’d finished the first draft of my last book, NOW & WHEN, and the first line of GRAVE THINGS sort of just came to me. “There’s a dead body in my house…” The book went through a lot of revisions and took what felt like FOREVER to complete, but that first line, and what I learned about family-owned funeral homes as a young reporter, stuck with me.

What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating your characters?
I’m always surprised by how characters take on a life of their own. It’s very easy for people who know an author to say, “Oh that character is based on you,” or “I know that best friend or love interest is based on so-and-so.” A character can be inspired by a real person, but very quickly they start doing and saying things that are uniquely them. I don’t want to get too “woo woo” about it. I think it’s part of the bigger creative process of making a story arc satisfying and engaging. That alone creates completely unique situations that the characters have to live in, and each character has to make new things happen, and soon they don’t resemble anyone I know at all.

  • 1. I had to delete a scene I really loved about dog poop during a funeral. My main character, Elaine, is looking for ways to set her family’s funeral home apart from a competitor, and she gets the idea to offer a “therapy dog.” But all she can find is a farm dog, and when she debuts it at a funeral, the dog has a nervous stomach and stinks up the place. I might find a way to put that out as a supplement somewhere because it was a lot of fun.
  • 2. A lot of random facts about my book have to do with names. For example, many of the dead bodies are named after my daughter’s Latin teachers. (Nothing personal, Latin teachers! We love you!)
  • 3. The town of Dodson was named after my college roommate and best friend.
  • 4. I originally killed off Miles, who got resurrected as a love interest when I decided to revise. It’s much better this way. Dead Miles was a real downer.
  • 5. The whole book was sort of womp womp in its first iteration. Elaine was a loner who was embarrassed by her family’s business. There was no ghost hunting. There was very little romance. Giving myself permission to have fun with the story helped it blossom.
  • 6. There are nods throughout to one of my all-time favorite TV series, Dark, which you can see on Netflix. I’m on a personal mission to get more people to watch this show. It’s soooo good. Watch it and then read my book and try to spot the references.
  • 7. While I didn’t grow up in a town as small as Dodson, my parents did, and I still have family in small Midwestern towns like it.
  • 8. Elaine has anxiety, as do I, and she manages it much the way I do—medication, mindfulness, and working to understand that it’s a part of life. Our brains operate a little differently, and we need strategies for dealing when they decide to take us in spirals of worry.
  • 9. Elaine is a fangirl, which is something I have a lot of experience with. I’m probably dating myself, but I was really active in Lord of the Rings fandom back in the day.
  • 10. The residents of the nursing home where Xander’s dad works as a chef are inspired by people I know. Look for the reference to Cincinnati-style chili!
What is the first job you have had? 
My very first job was as a teen model for Dillards at the mall in Manhattan, KS. My second job was as a singer for a big band that played nursing homes. I would sit on a stool, wearing a “gownless evening strap” and play marracas, standing up every now and then to croon “Mack the Knife” or “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree.”

What is the first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning?
How much I want to go back to sleep.

What is your most memorable travel experience? 
I’ve been lucky to travel quite a bit. Taking my girls to England, Scotland and France, their first time overseas, was wonderful. I also had some amazing trips to Rome and Barcelona that I’m convinced were so good because I didn’t want to go. They were work trips, I wasn’t looking forward to them, and I ended up surprised how much fun they were.

What's your most missed memory? 
Both of my parents have passed away, and I miss them every day.

What do you usually think about right before falling asleep? 
Often it’s how I’m going to solve a plot problem in a book, and I have to tell myself to quit it or I won’t be able to sleep!

If you had to go back in time and change one thing, if you HAD to, even if you had “no regrets” what would it be? 
I’d love to go back and do high school and college over, but I would want to know then what I know now.

First Love? 
A sweet guy named Jarrett. He was the best first boyfriend. I still have the locket he gave me for my 16th birthday with his initials inside.

First Heartbreak? 
Also Jarrett. All lovely things must end, and when we decided to break up it was very, very sad for 16-year-old me.

What event in your life would make a good movie? 
Maybe having my parents die, each within a few days of the other. It would be a really sad movie. I can think of more events that would make good sitcom episodes – like the time our cat got away when we took it to the vet and ran off into the neighborhood and we found it a month later just a few houses away, just listening to us call for it.

What is one unique thing are you afraid of? 
I don’t know if it’s unique, but I’m terrified of heights.

A contemporary YA romance with a paranormal twist: what happens when in between trying to decide which boy is the right boy, a girl finds out the funeral home her family owns might be haunted?

Elaine's home is a bit . . . different. It's a funeral home that has been in her family since the 1800s--and it's why everyone calls her Funeral Girl. And even though she's lived there her whole life, there are still secrets to be found.

When Xander, a cute new boy with a penchant for ghost hunting, arrives in town, Elaine feels an instant spark. His daring and spontaneous ways help her go from Funeral Girl to Fun Girl. Then there's Miles, Elaine's oldest friend, who she's starting to see in a completely new light.

After Xander convinces her to stage a seance one night, Elaine discovers that her home might be haunted by a kindred spirit--the daughter of the funeral home's original owner. But who wants to be haunted by the dead when there are boys to spend time with? After all, you only live once. . . .

You can purchase Grave Things Like Love at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you SARA BENNETT WEALER for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of Grave Things Like Love by Sara Bennett Wealer.


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