I believe I have loved author Sarah McCoy since we first connected on Twitter. When her latest novel, The Baker’s Daughter (see my 400th review) came out, I desperately wanted to be part of her celebration. I’m so thankful she obliged with an interview that was fun from beginning to end. For the record, I have not only never been to New Jersey, I’ve never seen even a clip from Jersey Shore. That’s pure Sarah. Ha!
Literate Housewife: Sarah, it’s a pleasure to interview you on the auspicious occasion of the publication of your second novel.
Sarah McCoy: It’s such a delight to be here. Thanks for having me, my Noke sister.
LH: Now that it’s been a few weeks, how are you feeling? Did you approach this event like an old pro or did you feel akin to a bride on the eve of her wedding?
SM: Total bride! My husband might even call me a book bridezilla. I was anxious and excited… and anxious. I don’t think it gets any easier your first or your tenth time at the publishing rodeo. You’re strapped in atop the bull. The crowd is waiting. The buzzer sounds and off you ride—holding on for dear life and praying you don’t look as terrified as you feel. So it might’ve been my second book, but it was only my second book. I’m hoping by my third or fourth, I’m able to rein in the insomnia and nerves better.
But, yes, weeks later I’m feeling much more in the groove thanks to fantastic book reviewing friends like you who’ve championed The Baker’s Daughter and me. That’s meant the world. Ya’ll have been like my bridesmaids: helping me prepare and dress for the big day; oo-ing and awing with me; providing words of friendship and reassurance; holding my hand when I started to tremble; encouraging me that everything looked beautiful, everything was in order, everything was perfect; and most importantly, reminding me that the launch day was just one day. Forever is what counts. And it moves me deeply to know this book has found forever love with each and every reader.
LH: We first bonded over a bottle of Mad Housewife wine and Roanoke. Do you view me as crazy wino living in the boondocks?
SM: You are a Mad LitHousewife, for shizzle! I’ve tried not to be a stage-five clinger but I wicked love your tweeting heart. We won’t be sloppopotamuses, but we’ll drink the wine and beat up the beat in your kitchen. (For translation, please reference The Jersey Shore dictionary. Not that either one of us has any tie to New Jersey—or at least I don’t think we do.)
LH: In all seriousness, I am always so excited to meet a new friend when we have something in common. When I attended Dickens of a Christmas this year, I felt like I had someone I could share the experience with.
SM: As did I! You were so good to send me delicious snippets of the parade. I felt like I was there with you, too. When I was studying at Virginia Tech, my roommate (one of my dearest friends to this day) and I would drive to Roanoke every year for the Dickens Christmas festivities. We’d get roasted chestnuts, listen to the carolers in their costumes, and stop in at Mill Mountain for tea. It was one of our favorite traditions and most cherished memory of our college years. So to meet a fellow book-loving lady who not just knew about the parade but enjoyed it as much as I did, well, it was kismet.
LH: How did you first come to learn the exact nature of what a Hokie is? How have you gone about explaining your Hokie status to friends and family?
SM: My freshman year at Virginia Tech, our dorm RA gathered all the girls in our hall for a little college 101. We were given pamphlets on how to tell if your friend or roommate was suffering from alcohol poisoning, another on how to connect the Ethernet to our computers, a list of on-campus dining halls, and the definition of a Hokie. Yeah, the really critical stuff. So I learned then that the term “Hokie” originally came from a fight song. We were the “Gobblers” until the 1970s when the football coach decided he didn’t like that mascot and started calling the turkey bird a “Hokie bird.”
Luckily, Virginia Tech football has done extraordinarily well so a greater percentage of the United States population knows what a Hokie is. I don’t have a clue what I’d say if I had to explain it to say… my Puerto Rican relatives. I can hear them now in their beautiful Latino accents, “Hoa-Kay? Que es un Hoa-Kay?”
LH: When did you decide that you wanted to be an author? Were there any other careers you considered along the way?
SM: I always knew I wanted to write in some capacity. I think a person’s proclivity begins to show itself as early as elementary school. I got A’s on my English papers and D’s on my math. I knew the right side of my brain was stronger when during one afterschool math tutorial I make the numbers into characters. I.e. “#1 and #2 were husband and wife with baby #3 and a dog #4. They were a happy set until one day their neighbor #5 came over complaining that #4 was barking too loud…” and so forth. After an hour of sitting over my addition and subtraction worksheet, I’d accomplished hardly any sums, but oh, boy, did I have a cool story about my numbers. My math teacher was furious.
In college, I majored in Journalism and Public Relations because I thought if I majored in English I’d be reading Shakespeare and writing 50-page papers on English theory. I figured I’d already read and loved most of Shakespeare’s writing so why would I ruin my devotion by critically nitpicking? Years later, sitting in my MFA creative writing courses doing just that, I thought fate highly ironic—or extremely wise. Because by that point, I wasn’t nitpicking, I was studying the prose and learning for my own body of work.
LH: Paint for me a picture of an author’s perfect day.
SM: Hmm, a perfect day. We’re fantasizing here, right? Okay then, I’ll go with it… In my perfect dream day I’d write THE END on my next novel and the heavens would lace the pages in gold dust with hardly a revision necessary. I’d hug the manuscript and send it off to my publisher who would fall out of her chair with love and devotion. I’d make a cup of tea and the phone would ring. My amazing agent! Telling me that my most recently released book is a New York Times bestseller and the rights have been sold to every country on the globe, including Hollywood. In particular, Ryan Gosling is gaga for it and wants to star in the movie version. Oh but it’s there’s an auctioning war because Anne Hathaway wants to option the film rights for herself. As the author, I’d get to simply sit back and smile, which I would then. Big. I’d pick up my dog Gilly and snuggle him and ask him if he wanted a chewie in celebration. Then I’d go outside and pick lilies, roses, and hydrangeas from my garden (because in this dream I’d have a garden and not El Paso sand). I’d put them in my kitchen so I could smell could mingle in with chicken and veggies roasting for dinner and the crustless lemon chiffon pie cooling for dessert. Perfection.
This day, of course, would never, never, never happen. So in my reality, I take each hour and look for a moment of perfection. There is always one: the sun shines for one minute longer than it did yesterday because spring is coming; someone posts a lovely five-starred review of one of my novels; Gilly chases his own tail then wobbles to a merry heap; a reader tells me how much my stories have touched his/her life; one of my brothers calls and makes me laugh to tears; I write—in the zone—on my next book for 7 hours straight; my husband smiles at me like we’re 18-year-olds again… moments of perfection. They add up to a day.
LH: How similar or different was the process of writing The Baker’s Daughter from The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico?
SM: Vastly different. I wrote my first novel, The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico, as my thesis project for my MFA in creative writing. I had the luxury of a fabulous thesis advisor, bestselling author Sheri Reynolds, who was my trusty guide through the process. Additionally, my world was much more chaotic then. I was writing the book, newly married, and completing all the doodads of my English masters program. So it was all in all a completely different creative process.
For The Baker’s Daughter, I was on my own, 2,000 miles away from everything and everyone I knew in Virginia. El Paso was a remote and wondrous territory where I found myself writing for hours on end; researching online and at the El Paso Library; at the characters’ beck and call and submerged in their fictional world. I discovered I write best like that. I’m much more tapped into my character’s psyches. That kind of “cut off from everything” doesn’t work for some writers. The creative process is so unique to each author and to each book! In The Baker’s Daughter, the idea spark came from the people I bumped into around El Paso: a bakery owner, an old woman selling bread at a German festival, troops on Fort Bliss, neighbors, etc. The solitary nature of West Texas turned out to be the richest ground for me to then cultivate the story on the page.
The novel I’m currently working on examines the concept of parenthood. Much more of a psychological study, the book is about a husband and wife fractured by desperation and disappointment in their attempts to be parents. I’m captivated by the idea of nurturing—what it means to be a mother or a father outside the conventions. My couple moves to a new town in a last-ditch effort and meet a crazy cast of wonderful townspeople who help them redefine the definitions of mother and father. They must make monumental choices regarding betrayal and forgiveness, life and death, which ultimately shape their future. To be completely open with you (as I know I can be since we’re friends), inspiration for this novel came from my own life and from walking closely beside good friends and family members as they struggled with parenthood/fertility issues. I think this is a subject everyone confronts in some way. It’s a human instinct: to nurture; to love; to foster a future.
LH: If there is one thing you’d like every reader to know about Elsie, what would it be?
SM: Oh, I wouldn’t dare speak for Elsie. She’s a firecracker and I believe she imparts everything we are ever meant to know about her in the novel. As the author, I just hope people embrace her as I have—the light and the dark sides of her.
LH: When are you moving back to the Noke, chica? We need to restore Mini Graceland together!
SM: My dear, you can go ahead and RSVP me to that Mini Graceland jamboree. I am so there. But before then, we’ll be seeing each other at my Richmond reading at Fountain Bookstore. I may just strangle you with the girth of my hug. Be forewarned.
I’m raising my Mad Housewife wine glass now: Proust to a wonderful visit with you, my LitHousewife friend. Thanks for having me over, and I hope you enjoy reading The Baker’s Daughter!