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By Nicola Hassapis, Guest Blogger
Pop City Life blogger Nicola Hassapis Fall 2016 breakout YA novel

Author Sarah Glenn Marsh’s debut novel Fear the Drowning Deep was released by Sky Pony Press on October 11, 2016. Set against the mystical backdrop of the Isle of Man in 1913, this YA book follows protagonist Bridey as she grapples with her fear of the ocean (hence the title), encountering a supernatural threat and a blossoming romance in the process. The novel draws in readers from the first page when a drowning victim is discovered on the beach, “her dark hair wrapped around her neck like seaweed,” and the mysterious circumstances surrounding the young woman’s death (which echo the demise of Bridey’s own grandfather years earlier) keep the reader engaged and intrigued, with Marsh’s vivid descriptions painting an evocative picture of Manx living.

I interviewed Sarah Glenn Marsh about how she chose the setting for Fear the Drowning Deep, the most challenging and enjoyable aspects of writing her first novel, who she would cast in a film version of the book, her tips for unpublished writers, and more.

Guest Blogger Nicola Hassapis Interviews FEAR THE DROWNING DEEP Author Sarah Glenn Marsh

Nicola Hassapis, Guest Blogger
Pop City Life

Sarah Glenn Marsh, Author
Fear the Drowning Deep

First of all, congratulations on your debut YA novel, Fear the Drowning Deep! Tell us about the journey you took to get to this point! How long did it take to write, edit, and find a publisher for the book? Now that you’ve gone through the process, what advice would you give to unpublished writers eager to get their work out there?

Sarah: First of all, thank you! I’m so excited to be on the blog today, and I can’t wait to share Fear with readers at long last, 3 years after I started working on it!

The book had an interesting start, because it wasn’t one I queried agents with; I was actually in the midst of drafting it when I was offered representation for another YA project, but it was clear even back then that this book was meant to be my debut! It took me from about May to October of 2013 to write and edit it, so about 6 months, or maybe a little more!

Finding a publisher took a bit longer, because the book’s paranormal elements made some publishers wary. I was so grateful when, after several months on submission, my agent and I connected with Sky Pony on the book!

Probably my favorite part of the process was getting the call about the offer of publication; it felt so absolutely life-changing, and I can still remember my energy, excitement, and ultimate exhaustion after sharing the news with my husband, family, and closest friends!

As for advice to unpublished authors, I’d offer this:
1)      Be in it for the right reasons (the love and sheer joy of storytelling!). That way, when terrible things happen on the journey to publication–and they WILL happen at some point, to everyone, in some way–you’ll have your love of storytelling to carry you through the hard times.
2)      Be prepared to stay in this for the long haul. Learning to bounce back from rejections is a slow process for some–like sensitive little me!–but it will happen in time. The thing is, it could take years to get an agent, and then several more years to sell a book, and then there’s the 1-2–year wait from publication offer to seeing your book on shelves. This isn’t an overnight thing for anyone, even those who do land agents quickly.
3)      Make some great writer friends. You’ll carry each other through the publishing process, offering support when things are tough, and celebrating each other’s successes will become some of your best memories! The writing community on Twitter in particular is so welcoming, and you can learn a lot by interacting there.
4)      Lastly, believe in yourself. Learn all you can from everyone else who’s done this before you, but always trust your instinct when it comes to your own stories. That’s how you’ll stay true to your voice and your vision.

[Check out Abigail Gehring’s post for a glimpse into the publishing side of this extensive process of bringing a book to life!]

Nicola: Fear the Drowning Deep takes place on the Isle of Man, an island located between Ireland and England, in 1913. What prompted you to choose that time and place?

Sarah: When choosing my setting, I had only a vague idea for a story in mind—a girl, afraid of the ocean, who has to save her town from something terrible in the water. I figured it would add tension for someone afraid of the water to live on an island. So as I looked at maps, I came across the Isle of Man, which I’d never heard of before. The first time I saw it in pictures, I thought, “This is a place where magic could happen.” What stood out to me is that it’s beautiful and rugged enough to be something out of a fantasy land, and the culture there is steeped in centuries of lore. It’s the sort of wild, untamed place where anything seems possible, and the more I read about it, the more I envisioned my story unfolding there on the rocky cliffs, among sea birds and starfish. The Manx culture and landscape really helped shape the story!

As for the year, this particular time felt right to me for Bridey’s story (my main character) for a number of reasons. First, it was a year after the sinking of the Titanic, an event which confirmed Bridey’s worst fears about the ocean. Second, this was a time in which there was very little technology on the Isle (relative to other places in the UK, which were quicker to adopt new tech). This was also a time when many on the Isle still upheld rich old traditions, and some still believed in the existence of fairies. All these things combined made 1913 on the Isle of Man feel like a distinctly magical time to tell a story of monsters and first love!

Nicola: While writing the book, what was the biggest challenge you faced? What aspect(s) did you enjoy most?

Sarah: As for challenges—Bridey is so scared of the ocean that I often felt terrible about the things I was subjecting her to! I’d say that was the most difficult part of writing the book overall; I came to love all the characters (OK, maybe not Mr. Gill…), and I often felt bad about ruining their lives (something I’ve since gotten over in my subsequent books… consider yourselves warned!).

As for the aspects I enjoyed most—the first thing that comes to mind is researching the mythology for the story. I had a great time learning about and shaping what Bridey would be up against in her fight to save her town! I even ordered a book of Manx fairy tales direct from the Isle of Man, as well as reading some books online that were first published in the 1800s, all for the sake of crafting cool mythology.

Another of my favorite aspects was writing all the scenes between Bridey and Morag, the town’s supposed witch! Morag’s dialogue was super fun to write.

Nicola: You incorporated several different themes into the book, including mystery, romance, mythology, and platonic and familial dynamics. How did you go about balancing those elements and deciding which to bring to the forefront and when?

Sarah: To answer this, I have to give a lot of credit to my editor, Alison Weiss [see a blurb from her in this post from Skyhorse Publishing employees]; she really helped me balance the various elements, and I’m thrilled both with how it turned out and with how much I’ve learned in the process! I’d say the biggest key to balancing these elements was making sure the mystery remained at the forefront of all else, because it’s the hook that drives the story forward and keeps readers turning pages.

Nicola: Fear the Drowning Deep is filled with vivid descriptions and compelling characters, so it’s easy to imagine the story playing out on the big screen. If the book were ever made into a movie, are there any specific actors you would want to cast?

Sarah: I would definitely want Maggie Smith (of Harry Potter fame; she played Minerva McGonagall) to play the town’s supposed witch, Morag!

For my main character, Bridey, I’ve always pictured her as Elle Fanning (Dakota Fanning’s younger sister).

And for Fynn, I could see Logan Lerman doing a great job (of course, he’d probably be too old for the role by the time the movie came out, ha!).

Nicola: You also write picture books. How does that process compare to novel-writing? When it comes to penning novels and picture books, do you have a preference?

Sarah: The interesting thing about picture books is how an author has to convey so much with very few words; in YA, of course there’s far more space to get ideas across. In picture books, too, authors have to be mindful that the illustrations should tell part of the story, while in YA, authors are trying to paint a picture for their readers without any visuals.

I honestly don’t have a preference, because the processes are so different that I feel like I can’t compare them! It’d be like choosing between, say, bananas and pizza!

What I love is how I can switch between the two; after working on a YA project, I’ll focus on picture books for a while. They’re rewarding but different creative processes, and between them, I’m never bored or “stuck” because I can always find something to work on!

Nicola: You’ve written a YA horror short story that was published in an anthology last year, and you’re working on a YA fantasy duology set within an original world. What keeps drawing you to YA?

Sarah: What appeals to me so much about YA is that when you’re sixteen or seventeen, the world is so full of possibilities, and every choice made at that age feels so huge—from romantic ones to decisions about school and work and other things that shape your future. Too, I love how YA appeals to teens and adults alike, because its coming-of-age themes are so universal, and today’s YA certainly doesn’t shy away from thoughtfully exploring dark and complex topics. In short, YA has a lot to offer everyone!

Nicola: And lastly, how do you approach the actual act of writing? Do you like to write in a particular place or at a specific time of day, and do you prefer silence, music, or other background noise?

Sarah: I’m one of those writers who needs silence when I work; if I listen to music while I’m writing, I get too distracted and just want to sing along! But, I like to listen to music before I write, to establish a certain mood for a scene. With Fear in particular, I listened to a lot of Méav Ní Mhaolchatha’s album Silver Sea, which is partly in Gaelic, partly in English, and a little in French as well; it helped establish a perfect atmosphere for [a] windswept, mysterious island town where my characters live.

As for time of day to write, I treat writing as a 9-5 job, which means that from 9-5, I’m sitting at a table with my laptop working on writing related things—whether that’s brainstorming, drafting, revising, or yelling at my computer screen (kidding on that last one, mostly!). As for location, I sometimes write in my office upstairs, surrounded by my favorite books, signed posters, and random nerdy things like my Lord of the Rings and Sailor Moon action figures; more often, I write in our sunny living room while sharing the sofa with a couple of my cuddly rescue dogs and listening to my baby bird sing!

-Nicola Hassapis, Guest Blogger
Pop City Life

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Nicola Hassapis is a writer and editor within the business, entertainment, technology, educational, and pharmaceutical spheres. You can find her TV recaps, reviews, celebrity interviews, and more at PopCityLife.com. Raised in the UK, Nicola earned her degree in print and multimedia journalism from Emerson College in Boston, and she has since lived in Philadelphia and Manhattan. She’s a big fan of the Cheshire Cat.

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