Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Eleven Up: Interview with Sara Bennett Wealer

My interest in Sara Bennett Wealer's YA novel, RIVAL, came from the synopsis on her website, which I've posted below.  Having been a theater geek in high school, I could relate to the rivalry.  But, like you, I've had to wait until today to get my hands on it.  Now forgive me, but while you spend time here, I have a book to read.

Meet Brooke: Popular, powerful and hating every minute of it, she’s the “It” girl at Douglas High in Lake Champion, Minnesota. Her real ambition? Using her operatic mezzo as a ticket back to NYC, where her family lived before her dad ran off with an up and coming male movie star. 

Now meet Kathryn: An overachieving soprano with an underachieving savings account, she’s been a leper ever since Brooke punched her at a party junior year. For Kath, music is the key to a much-needed college scholarship. 

The stage is set for a high-stakes duet between the two seniors as they prepare for the prestigious Blackmore competition. Brooke and Kathryn work toward the Blackmore with eyes not just on first prize but on one another, each still stinging from a past that started with friendship and ended in betrayal.

“This book gets it exactly right – friendships, envy, and the fact that you can never truly know another person.”  Sara Zarr

KL:  You sang in high school musicals and studied voice in college.  How did you incorporate those experiences into RIVAL?

SBW:  I tried to work in some of the great songs I’ve had a chance to perform over the years, thinking readers might want to check them out. In fact, I’ve got clips of many of the pieces at my website, here: ttp://www.sarabennettwealer.com/fun_who.shtml. I also wanted to communicate how it feels to sing—how great it is, and also how stressful it can be when you need to be your best and your body sometimes just doesn’t play along! Brooke, for example, has a scary episode when she thinks she might have developed nodes on her vocal chords. I went through something similar and had to do vocal therapy to get myself back in shape.

KL:  Do you listen to music when you write?  

SBW:  I can’t listen to music while I write – not even classical music. It distracts me too much! Instead, I like to explore music while I’m driving.  When I find something that speaks to a novel I’m working on, I’ll put it in hot rotation and play it with the volume turned way up.

KL:  Tell us a little about your path to publication:  good, bad, wonderful…apocalyptic?

SBW:  My path to publication was rather long and bumpy, like a lot of authors’. I started writing almost 10 years ago, a first novel that really was terrible. I then wrote RIVAL and used it to land the first agent I queried, but we ended up not being a good match, so I wrote another book and found my current agent, Holly Root. We came so close to getting a deal with that new book, but the deal fell through, so we put it aside for awhile and went back out with RIVAL. Erica, my current editor, liked the book and gave me notes. I did two revisions, and then HarperTeen made an offer. With all the ups and downs, I’ve been blessed to have people who believed in my work, and I’m proof that persistence and hard work pay off!

KL:  What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned since becoming a writer?

SBW:  The most surprising thing I’ve learned is that nothing really gets easier. I don’t mean that to sound negative—believe me, I appreciate what a big deal it is to see my book in print, especially with a house like HarperTeen! But the challenges don’t end when you land a book deal, especially with my current genre, which is contemporary realistic. If you care about your book and your career as an author, then you worry about things like reviews, sales, next projects, and any number of other issues that can put a damper on your debut experience if you let them. This is a business, with all the ups and downs that come with being in the marketplace. I know few authors who haven’t had their share of heartburn-inducing experiences, but it’s hard for writers who haven’t landed a book deal yet to understand that. We tend to think getting an agent and then a contract are the big hurdles to clear. But for most of us, that’s really just the beginning!

KL:  What is next for you?

SBW:     My next published piece will be an essay in an anthology called DEAR BULLY, which will be put out by HarperCollins in the fall. I’ve got two new projects that are currently making the rounds, and I’m working on a semi-dystopian project, plus a book that has what I consider to be a supernatural theme. I’m busy!

KL:  What one word do you think describes you best?

SBW:  Tenacious.

KL:  If you knew the apocalypse was approaching, and you would be stranded on a desert island, which book, piece of music, and snack food would you take with you?

SBW:  Book: The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
              Piece of Music: Beethoven’s Ninth, the “Ode to Joy”
                Snack Food:  Potato chips and onion soup dip

KL:  Last words?

SBW:  I’m just thrilled and honored to be realizing a dream. And I’m so grateful to the people who’ve helped me, to those who’ve already read RIVAL and loved it, and to my wonderful family and friends for all their loving support. I feel fortunate indeed!

RIVAL will be on shelves today, February 15, 2011.


  1. I love that this is something we haven't seen before! I'm definitely attracted by the musical element!

  2. Wow, this sounds really good! Will add to my TBR pile. :)

  3. Hey there - thank you so much for having me! /waves to the Apocalypsies/

  4. Sara! Where's GLEE??? Okay, I'll say it. You have to watch ten episodes of GLEE to get anywhere near the depth of character and conflict and frienship in RIVAL. This book is incredible and so... so... SO real!!