Janet: Welcome, Sara, and thanks for taking time to join us. Congratulations on the publication of your first novel!
Sara: Thank you Janet! It has all seemed incredibly surreal since I got the call seven months ago that I had won the contest, but it’s also been very, very exciting.
Sara: The Watcher is the story of a journey. After a traumatic experience that changes her life forever, Kathryn Ellison has to find her way back to God and to the man she loves. Along the way she learns the importance of forgiveness and is able to find healing and peace. Which she is going to need as she is about to face the greatest test of her faith and trust as the man who has haunted her dreams for twenty years begins his own journey to track her down and finish the job he started twenty years earlier. Her daughter is on a quest of her own, to find the father she knows nothing about, and her search threatens to thrust both her and Kathryn back into terror again. The story is told from the viewpoint of a unique narrator, one of the many characters in the novel that represent God’s passionate love for us and his promise that we are never alone.
Janet: One of the distinctive things about the novel is the unseen narrator—the Watcher—and her companions, Grace, Faith, Hope etc. I appreciated the Watcher’s humour and her observations about humanity. At what point did she join the story in your mind?
Sara: This book, then titled UnBroken, was actually shortlisted for The Best New Canadian Christian Author Award through The Word Guild in 2008. It didn’t win that award, and was subsequently rejected by several publishers. When the Word Alive Press contest came around again, I sat down to seriously consider how to handle the biggest problem with the manuscript, which was that it took place over twenty years, a timeline more suitable to a sweeping epic than a suspense novel. I wasn’t sure how to shorten that up, until one morning in church (a great place for writers to get their inspiration, apparently) the pastor was reading Romans 5:1-5: “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
It suddenly struck me that all of these things are the “states of being” God desires for us, and as I pondered that it occurred to me that maybe I could add a narrator to the book that wasn’t actually human. It was kind of a crazy idea, and I had no idea whether or not it would work, but I decided to just play with it and see what happened. Putting in the narrator meant chopping up the book and mixing the scenes all around and then fitting them back together like a jigsaw puzzle, but it enabled me to shorten the timeline from twenty years to six days.
All of that happened about three weeks before the deadline for the contest which was kind of scary because it meant I was working on the book right up until the day it had to be mailed in, and didn’t have a chance to have anyone else read or critique it, so even when I sent it in I had no idea whether or not it worked, but I guess (hope) it does.
Janet: I think the narrator and the looking back at key pieces of the puzzle works really well. It’s not the standard format these days, but a straight-time narrative of the 20 years would feel choppy—or be huge. This way accomplishes something else too. We don’t experience Kathryn’s trauma as a complete shock. There are enough hints and glimpses first that we’re prepared. The novel is pretty intense in places, but you did a great job of portraying the pain without traumatizing the reader. Where did the story idea come from?
Sara: I’m not entirely sure, to be honest. Thankfully not from anything I have ever personally experienced. I have completed three novels, and each time the story has been given to me. In this instance, the whole storyline, characters, everything came to me while in church one Easter Sunday morning. I went home and wrote out the first draft in a few weeks. When I showed it to an editor, however, I was reminded that, while God may give us the stories, he doesn’t do the work for us. It took five years of writing, rewriting, editing, polishing and more rewriting to get the novel to this point.
Janet: Definitely true, there’s a ton of work involved. Good thing most of it’s fun. Do you have a favourite character in The Watcher?
Sara: I think my favourite character, although not necessarily someone I completely relate to, is the narrator, or the watcher. She is a delightful, sprite-like figure (in my mind, anyway), with a deep commitment to her creator and her charge, Kathryn. She also lends humour to the novel and often makes me laugh out loud. I don’t really relate to her boundless energy and desire to always be moving and doing and active, although I completely get her obsession/addiction to coffee.
Janet: She makes a delightful narrator, and I really enjoyed her. She kept me guessing at her identity to the very end, and she had some great lines. As the author, as well as delivering a compelling read, what one key thing do you want readers to take away when they’re done?
Sara: The truth that I would most like to see readers get from this novel is that, no matter what they may be going through, whether or not they can see any purpose or point to their suffering, even if they are doubting or questioning or angry at God, the one thing they can grasp hold of and cling to is that they are never alone.
Janet: I’m so glad God never abandons us, and that He can bring good out of horror if we let Him. I know the novel just released, but what has reader response been like so far?
Sara: You’re right, The Watcher just came out a couple of weeks ago, so most of the responses I have received so far have been from family and friends. Given that they are not the most objective readers, I’m still overwhelmed and grateful for the positive responses to the book. Many have said they couldn’t put it down and they were intrigued with the storyline, and by having to guess the identity of the narrator. Several have said the book made them laugh and cry, and any time an author hears that their reader has been moved to that extent it is extremely rewarding.
Janet: Rewarding indeed! What got you started writing?
Sara: As far back as I can remember, reading and writing have been two of my greatest passions. I practically lived at the local library as a kid (still do, actually). There are two defining moments that I can remember vividly that I think really ignited my passion to write. The first was going on a class trip in the fourth grade and having to do a write-up about it afterwards. Mine was the one selected to go into the newsletter, and I can still remember how it felt to see my words in print, and know that others were reading them and learning something from them. It was a powerful feeling and made me want to do more of that. About a year after that I can remember walking up and down the aisles of the library one day, running my hands along the spines of all the books and thinking, all these people published a book, it can be done. I can do this. Although it has taken a few years to realize this dream, I know that without a doubt God had planted it in my heart even then.
Janet: Thanks for taking time to chat with us, Sara. We’ll wrap this interview up next week. [Click here to read part 2.]