Sarah Elle Emm is the author of the Harmony Run Series, a young-adult fantasy and dystopian series, released in May 2012 by Winter Goose Publishing. (Prismatic, May 2012, Opalescent, February 2013, Chatoyant set for release August 2014, Nacreous release TBD) Her debut fiction novel, Marrying Missy, an Amazon Best Seller in marriage, was published by Bird Brain Publishing in October 2011. Sarah is a graduate of The University of Evansville, she has lived and worked in Mexico, Germany, England, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and has traveled extensively beyond. Her love of journal writing, travel, and multicultural experience have all influenced her novels. Sarah lives in Naples, Florida with her family. When she’s not walking the plank of her daughters’ imaginary pirate ship or snapping photos of Southwest Florida scenery, she is writing.
Hi, Sarah. Whenever I interview people I like to delve a little into their background to find out what makes them, well … them. With that said, thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. I’m certain your readers will be happy to learn more about their favorite author!
So, let’s start with the basics… You mentioned in your bio that you’re an “Evansville, Indiana native.” Stated like that, I can only presume you enjoyed living there. Would you share some of your experiences with us? As a child, what did you do for fun? Were there any unique hobbies? What was growing up, in a fairly large city, like for you?
I definitely enjoyed growing up in Evansville, a city founded along the banks of the Ohio River in southern Indiana, and I suppose you could say, growing up in a river town is fairly unique. My childhood revolved around the river. One of my earliest memories of family time is Dad fastening my life jacket and tossing me into the murky brown, turbulent currents of the river and forcing me to learn how to water ski. Yes, I said forcing. Dad, always the adventure seeker, wanted my siblings and me to try everything. And Dad has a wicked sense of humor. When he tossed my older sister in the same water a few years before me, he started chanting the theme music to JAWS; you know “da-dum-da-dum-da-dum,” over and over and told her to make sure she got up out of the water on the first try. Mom always found his fear tactics amusing or maybe she just couldn’t control him, so she encouraged us to conquer fear alongside her. By the way, he made her jump in and learn to ski in that same water the year they got married.
Once I conquered my fear of the Ohio’s undertow and learned how to water ski, I loved the river. We spent every free moment there either skiing, tubing, wake-boarding or swimming. We did a lot of swimming in that nasty water and loved every second of it. My grandpa from north of Evansville always referred to my siblings and me as river rats, and we didn’t mind at all. I admit. I’m a river rat through and through. Some of the best memories I have are from my river days. We went on boat trips and locked through dams as we traveled the Ohio and often went by boat for dinner to restaurants like the local favorite, “Dog Town,” located along the river banks.
When the family wasn’t on the river, we were seeking adventure elsewhere. White water rafting in West Virginia, hiking through mountains in Whistler, Canada, scuba diving and snorkeling in the Virgin Islands, camping, and house boating on a lake in Tennessee, were just a few of the things we did for fun. On summers we spent at the lake, Dad would travel back and forth for work, and Mom would stay alone with us in the middle of an inlet, where Dad would secure the boat to trees along the shoreline. We didn’t have phones, internet, or TV. Once a day, Mom would drive us by speed boat into the local dock, about a fifteen minute trip, and we would call Dad using a pay phone just to check in. Mom would protect the boat from invading raccoons in the middle of the night with a broom, (we never had any weapons), and nudge copperhead snakes away from our boat during the day with that same broom. We wouldn’t bathe in fresh water for weeks and would jump in the lake, get out, lather up with shampoo, and jump in the lake again. That was our bath. At the end of the summer when we’d go home and shower, we’d wash off most of our “tans” AKA dirt.
When we weren’t traveling we still had fun in town. Dad built tree houses for us in our backyard (two to be exact), and we played hard all day outdoors. The Hadi Shrine Circus is in Evansville every Thanksgiving holiday, and my grandpa at one time hired the acts. We spent every Thanksgiving afternoon watching the circus and getting to go backstage and meet the performers before getting together for a family feast. Dad plays drums and the bagpipes, so we went to a lot of rock-n-roll band gigs, and marched alongside him in bagpipe parades nearly every Saturday. Sundays, we’d be at church where Mom taught Sunday school and sang in the choir. Mom has the most infectious laugh, and she is known to lose herself hysterically laughing from time to time.
I’ll never forget the year she was in the Christmas play at church, and the three wise men messed up their lines so many times. Mom was sitting in the middle of stage and just started laughing uncontrollably. The entire congregation was speechless at first, waiting for her to pull herself together, but then a chain reaction started. Mom had the entire place hysterical, laughing to the point of tears, for a good ten minutes before the show could go on. The pastor hugged Mom after and thanked her for providing the most memorable and entertaining Christmas play he had witnessed in his entire career. So, yes, growing up in Evansville was a blast and I proudly call myself a native, but to be honest, I believe my parents could have made any spot on the globe exciting.
In perusing your bio, I did notice that you have traveled extensively. Did you and your family travel when you were younger, or did this desire to travel come from books you might have read?
As I touched on briefly, my parents took us everywhere. Whether the five of us were piling in the Dodge Ram van to drive twenty hours to the Florida Keys or driving four hours to the lake, we were on the go. We went to St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands many times, and also to British Colombia, Vancouver Island, Toronto, Niagara Falls, and many places around the U.S.A. I remember looking through Dad’s old photo album from one summer he spent backpacking through Europe, and I definitely wanted to do something like that. When I was twelve, I got my first opportunity to go overseas. Mom accompanied as a chaperon on an educational tour of Germany and Austria, and that’s all it took. Suddenly, I needed to go back to Europe, and I had the travel bug bad. If there was a study abroad opportunity through school, my parents encouraged me to apply.
I was accepted into the Indiana University Honors Program when I was sixteen and spent that summer living with a German family in Krefeld, Germany. That was followed by a summer studying in Puebla, Mexico, with my university and then a semester in Grantham, England. While in England, I traveled to many British cities, but I also explored other countries, such as Spain, France, Italy, Switzerland, Scotland, and Austria. Later, I traveled with Eastern Tennessee State University to Germany for the summer. After I finished college, I lived in Freiburg, Germany, for six months and attended the International House. A few months later, I flew to Mexico. During my one year in Mexico, I lived in Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta, and worked in a coffee shop, taught English, learned Spanish, and volunteered in an orphanage.
When I met my husband, Charles, we discovered we had a “Crucian” connection. He had spent many years working on the island of St. Croix, where the natives are called “Crucians”, and where my family had spent a decade vacationing. The next thing you know, I’m moving with Romeo to St. Croix and getting married. We lived in St. Croix for one year and then St. Thomas, for another year. Before moving to Naples last year, we spent a year on Sanibel Island, and I promise you, I don’t want to move ever again. But you can’t take the travel bug out of this girl. Next summer, my husband is taking me and the kids with him as he teaches cooking classes on a cruise ship traveling around Greece. I can’t wait to cross Greece off of my bucket list.
Are there additional places/countries you have visited that aren’t listed in your bio? Which one is your favorite, and why? (As an aside, I’ve been planning to visit Sanibel Island myself. Are the beaches truly covered in shells or is that completely exaggerated)?
First off, to answer your question, Sanibel Island, where I spent one year, is definitely worth the visit. Yes, there are shells everywhere. Sometimes you’re not sure they are, but then you wade into the water a little and can feel them in the sand. You can collect quite a variety, or even visit the Shell Museum, which is huge and full of shell history and information about the various types found around Sanibel. Sanibel is eighty percent wildlife refuge also, so be sure to visit one of the refuge centers to go hiking and see exotic birds, bob-cats, reptiles, manatee, and even alligators. Or maybe you’ll be lucky, as I often was, and have an alligator or three cross the road in front of you.
As I rambled about earlier, I’ve traveled to a few places, but let me be thorough … I’ve visited Denmark, where my best friend, Sonja, is from, Holland, Canada, Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, England, Scotland, Mexico, Grand Cayman, the Bahamas, and the U.S.V.I., including St. John. Some of my favorite cities are Bath, London, and Cambridge, in England and Freiburg and Munich in Germany, and Sevilla, Spain, where I had front row seats to a Flamenco show.
Probably, my favorite country I’ve visited so far is Italy. I’ve only been to Milan, Florence, Rome, and Venice, but I’ve traveled back to Italy on three separate occasions. Venice just really stood out in my mind as unforgettable. I loved when I went to mail postcards how water was lapping into the post office. Venice is on water, and the architecture is amazing with canals and bridges connecting the city. It’s like stepping into a painting, which reminds me, one of my favorite things about Europe in general is exploring art museums and seeing classics from history books up close in person. It’s magical.
So, childhood came and went; you graduated from high school and when you decided to further your education, you opted for The University of Evansville. This brings up two questions for me. Firstly, why did you stay in Evansville versus a campus further away from where you grew up? Secondly, why a University versus a College?
Well, I love my family, so to be honest; I wanted to stay close to home. I could visit my parents and grandparents whenever I wanted, meet up with them for Sunday family dinners, and find time to go cruising down the river with them too. Also, the University of Evansville has a tremendous amount of study abroad opportunities, including the British manor and campus they own in England, Harlaxton College, which I mentioned I attended for one semester. So, I actually spent a great deal of time out of the country while earning my college credits and degrees. Another reason I suppose I ended up there was because my grandfather and dad both attended UE before me. My grandpa actually attended UE when it was called Evansville College, before it became a university.
To answer your second question, I never really considered universities versus colleges. I only wanted a program big enough to get my four year bachelor’s degree and one that meant I could keep traveling.
Sarah, I have found that almost every single author has had a love of reading begin at a very early age. Do you remember when and how yours started?
While I can’t recall the exact moment I became obsessed with reading, which I certainly was, I do recall one of the first books that left an impression on me… The Secret of the Mansion, a Trixie Belden mystery by Julie Campbell pulled me in from the start, and I remember feeling as though I were part of the story and wanting to have that feeling again. I remember making the connection while reading it that words strung together in sentences on paper could actually take your imagination to wonderful places, and I wanted to not only keep reading but also write my own stories one day.
Some of my favorite childhood books were A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter, (who was an Indiana author by the way), The Upstairs Room by Johanna Reiss, Freedom Train: The Story of Harriet Tubman, Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren, and The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis.
I’m also guessing that somewhere along the way, you discovered the joys of writing. When did that happen?
My mom was always writing short stories in her notebook or on her typewriter, and I remember walking past her typewriter when she wasn’t sitting behind it and feeling this urge to go over and create my own story. Blank sheets of paper had the same effect on me, and I finally attempted my first story on Mom’s typewriter at age seven. I didn’t get very far, being distracted by the adventures to be had outside my door, but I wrote my first poem that year. In my heart, from age seven and on, I always knew that one day, if I had it my way, I’d write my own books. Over the years, I kept travel journals and wrote short stories, and I finally finished my first novel-length story in my late twenties. I’ve been writing ever since.
Moving on to your books, it looks like you have published three, with a fourth currently in the works. Let’s talk about Marrying Missy first. What sparked the idea for this novel? Based on what I’ve read, this looks like a fun read. Did you enjoy writing it? Being that this was your initial book, did you have any issues arise due to lack of experience and/or know how? (And … I just have to share that I chuckled at the name of the publishing company. Love it).
Marrying Missy was the second novel I actually completed although my first to be published. I wanted it to be fun, like chick lit, while at the same time giving people a seriousness that is found in some women’s fiction. It is a story of an unlikely friendship, set in the days leading up to a wedding.
The main character, Tate, and her best friend, Missy, come from different backgrounds, which often lead to disputes between them. The story follows Tate as she struggles with her own marriage and the impossible demands of Missy as the wedding approaches. Some of the themes are marriage, prejudice, racism, loyalty, and materialism, but at the heart of the story, the main point I wanted to leave with readers is that we should think about how we judge people around us.
Missy’s character is an extreme example of how each of us, in our own ways, can be quick to assess strangers based off of appearance alone. Missy doesn’t just hate a certain group of people. She hates everyone who isn’t exactly like her. And as far as inspiration for this story, I suppose I’ve met one too many “Missy” types on my travels, and I have witnessed prejudice in a multitude of settings and countries. I wanted this to be a fun read, but one that might make people take a moment to think about how we treat one another.
I too had to laugh when I first discovered the publisher, Bird Brain Publishing, but felt certain they would have a good sense of humor, which you’d have to have to appreciate this novel. Even though they are a small press, I felt quite impressed with their knowledge and handling of my manuscript from the editing stages to publication. I am so happy they were the ones to publish my first novel.
Your next book out was: Prismatic, which is not only the first book of the Harmony Run Series, but also a YA (young adult) read. Did anything prompt the change from adult to YA? Being that this is part of a series; did you experience any difficulty with the writing, the plot, and/or knowing how/where to end each book?
I think YA is such a popular genre for adults and teens alike, and as an adult I enjoy reading YA from time to time. I wasn’t sure I ever would try writing in this genre, but then one afternoon I dozed off on my loveseat and had this crystal clear dream about the teenagers from the Harmony Run Series. I woke up and literally ran to my kitchen table and opened up my notebook and started filling it with notes about the characters and the plot. I had never been so inspired to create a story. So, I guess I didn’t really a have a choice. I had to write this YA series.
Knowing where to end each book hasn’t really been an issue. I’ve just gone with my instincts, but I have to admit, this has been the most challenging and rewarding story I’ve ever written. Though I want each book to leave the reader satisfied and excited, each book is ultimately part of a puzzle that won’t be complete until the end of book four, which I am currently writing.
Opalescent is the second book of your series, and also your most recently published. The books/series sound quite interesting (even though I’m no longer a young adult) and I’m curious if you have based any of the characters on people in your life? How fun is this series to write? Will you continue writing YA books once the “Harmony Runs Series” is completed, or will you vacillate between the two genres?
The main character is a multiracial girl named Rain and the cast of characters are from varying cultural backgrounds. The main message in this series is that is doesn’t matter what we look like on the outside, we’re all just humans. The story deals head on with racism in a futuristic segregated dystopian society, and it is important to stress that this series is about good overcoming evil and love and hope finding a way.
While none of the characters are based on people specifically, many friends, family, and experience have all helped shape the characters. Unfortunately, I’ve seen and heard a lot of racism around the world, and it has bothered me my entire life. I never understood why anyone would teach their children that one skin color or one religion or one culture was better than another. It was brought to my attention growing up, that my family is a little more diverse than the average family. I have cousins, nieces, and relatives that are Korean, Caucasian, Middle Eastern, African American, Mexican, Multiracial, Taiwanese, and I have German, British, and Welsh ancestry. I’ve witnessed and heard of too many ugly incidents my family and friends, especially multiracial ones, have dealt with, and it makes my heart hurt.
Other inspirations for this story were the Holocaust, apartheid, slavery, post WWII division of Germany, Checkpoint Charlie, and present day concentration camps in North Korea. I grew up learning about history and my travels allowed me to visit certain places like concentration camps and Checkpoint Charlie, which helped mold the world of the “Harmony Run Series.” When my own multiracial children were born, people made comments about my daughters; suggesting they weren’t white or black enough and asking what kind of baby doll they would identity with since they aren’t one specific “race.” The subject was brought up by strangers at the grocery store; even trying to figure out what ethnicity their dad is since something about them was “different” than me…
I guess shortly before I had that dream that I have previously mentioned, I was toying with the idea… What if I wrote a story where multiracial characters could help teach the world about how we treat one another? I know it’s just a fiction series, but I at least wanted to attempt to get the conversation started. It really, truly does not matter whether we are purple, pink, blue or orange… And, I honestly believe that.
This series has been so much fun and very intense to write. I genuinely care about these teens unlike any characters before. I think about them all of the time, and since this series has taken me literally years to write, I’ve thought about them a lot. When I’m finished with the fourth and final book, which I am writing now, I will be sad. No doubt about it. However, I have already started taking notes for another YA fantasy I plan to write. I also still enjoy women’s fiction, and I’ve written one suspense manuscript, yet to be published, so I am keeping myself open to writing in a few genres.
In closing, is there anything else you would like to share with our/your readers? Words of wisdom? Funny happenstance?
Well, I don’t feel as if I’ve reached a point yet where I can dish out ‘words of wisdom’ per se, but … I’ll leave you with one of my favorite inspirational quotes.
“It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” ~ George Eliot
I just love that. I keep it beside my desk. For me, it gives me a feeling of hope. It’s never too late. Thank you so much for taking time to interview me!
You’re so very welcome Sarah. I truly enjoyed learning more about you and your experiences as well as seeing your concern for others voiced so passionately.
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