Friday, March 4, 2016

The Writer's Voice: Where Is Sarah F. Henson Now?

Thanks for joining me for this second installment of "Where Are They Now?" Sarah F. Henson also participated in TWV 2012--I remember loving the voice in her awesome entry, PLAYING WITH FIRE--and though she signed with an agent not long after, she only just announced her first book deal last month. I wanted to ask her about that process and what she learned along the way, and she graciously agreed.

KV: Congratulations on the sale of DEVILS WITHIN! What is it about, and what inspired you to write it?

SH: Thanks, Krista!! And thanks for having me on the blog! I still can't believe this is all really happening! My book, DEVILS WITHIN, is about a teenage boy named Nate who was raised in a white supremacist compound, and flees after killing their leader--his father--in self-defense. Now living with his estranged uncle, he struggles to overcome the racist beliefs he was taught since birth, while hiding from the violent men who want him dead.

The idea came from a news article I read, so this story is basically inspired by real events. In real life, the boy was ten and the shooting wasn't in self-defense, but point blank while his father slept. I remember reading the headline and wondering what had to happen in a kid's life for him to reach that point at such a young age. That led to a lot of unsettling research on modern white supremacists, where the hate groups are located (every state except Alaska and Hawaii), how they recruit, and the methods they use to terrorize people--all topics I explore in the novel. So while my book is a complete work of fiction, everything is rooted in fact. (If you want more information, I have some resources on my website,

KV: Tell us about the submission process. Did it move fairly quickly, or did it take some time? And if it took some time, what did you do to stay sane? :)

SH: Whooo boy, the submission process! It took some time. Right around seven months. Staying sane is a lot easier said than done! I did different things to try to keep my mind off of it--started writing new stories, and spent a lot of time working on projects around the house. My husband and I are about to start the adoption process, so we spent a chunk of those months painting and installing new hardwood floors ourselves (never again!). But nothing completely distracted me.

What helped most is the agented author group that I'm a part of. It's a collection of wonderful authors (put together by the awesome Natalie Parker) all of whom, at the time, also hadn't sold yet. Finding other writers in the same stage of the process as you is incredibly comforting. You have to keep so much of the submission process quiet; I would've gone crazy without a place to open up and vent and commiserate!

KV: A quick note to my readers: I loved the idea of Natalie Parker's agented author group, so I asked Sarah for more information. She sent me a link to Agented Author Hook-up, so if you're at that stage of the process, definitely check it out!

Now tell us about getting the good news, Sarah. Were you aware of Sky Pony's interest, or did the offer come out of the blue? And how did you find out?

SH: Let me just say that getting the news was probably the single most exciting day of my life. Seriously. My husband looked at me and said, "You weren't this excited when I proposed." Which is true, but in my defense I knew he was going to propose at some point--I never knew I'd ever actually get published. This has been my dream since I was four. Not exaggerating. So yeah, big deal!

I'd known the editor (the amazing Alison Weiss!) was interested since way back at the beginning of November, but I didn't let myself get too excited. I've come close before. Then in mid-January I received THE email. When I saw the word "offer" I literally screamed, almost dropped my phone, then cried. Then we went out for celebratory chocolate, haha.

KV: Once you officially accepted the offer, what were the next steps? And are you working on edits now?

SH: The weeks after accepting the offer were a whirlwind! A week later, my announcement hit Publishers Weekly, which was really cool, but also a little overwhelming. After months of silence, I couldn't suddenly shout it to the world. It's still a little surreal. I joined a debut group, the Swanky 17s, took author photos (no one warns you for how weird it is to have someone come in your house and take pictures of you. I'm lucky that a friend is a fantastic photographer, but it's still strange!), and set up my author website. Now, as with everything in publishing, I wait. My editor (still can't believe I can say that!) is a freaking boss and has several books slated for my release season, so no edit letter yet. I'm good with that, though. It gives me time to absorb everything and work on my next book.

KV: This isn't your first rodeo, so what did you learn from all those other times around that helped you survive this one?

SH: Definitely not my first go at it! This was my fifth manuscript, and the third to go out on submission, so I was prepared for the process, but also more nervous than I had been with the others. I poured so much into this story. It's the first time I've ever felt empty after finishing a manuscript and I can honestly say it's the best thing I've ever written. Which means I was sooooo nervous to go on sub--more so than before. With each previous rejection I've known I could do better. With this one, I felt tapped, and overcome with this fear that my best wouldn't be good enough.

Those previous rejections helped prepare me, though. I was more ready this time around, so the close calls and flat out nos weren't as crushing as I thought they would be. Through everything, what I've learned is that you can't control the process, or how editors will react, or how long everything will take. All you can control is you, how much you push yourself, and how well you write.

KV: Any last words of advice or encouragement you'd like to share with us?

SH: Look, this business is tough. You have to have thick skin to survive. So my advice is to learn how to take criticism and rejection and use it to make you better. It took seven years of writing and rejection before I finally obtained my dream of a book deal. I tallied it up right after I announced my deal and I've received over 120 rejections over five manuscripts (counting both querying agents and subbing to editors). I can't tell you the number of times I thought about giving up, but I couldn't let myself. If you really want to obtain your dreams--whatever they are--you can't give up.

Well said, Sarah. Thanks again for coming back and sharing these insights!


Anonymous said...

Congratulations on the book deal, Sarah! This sounds like an intense topic, but I look forward to reading it and supporting Team Krista :).

Sarah said...

Thanks, Michelle!! It was definitely intense writing it! (and go Team Krista!).

Unknown said...

So excited for you Sarah!! Your book sounds awesome. I can't wait to read it! #TeamKrista4ever

Sarah said...

Thanks, RC!! : )