Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to shine our Friday spotlight on fiction author Sara Novic. Sara, can you please tell us briefly a little about yourself and your writing?
I’m a novelist and a professor of Deaf studies and creative writing. I was an Emerson undergrad, got my MFA at Columbia, and now live in Philly with my family.
Where can people find your work? (Besides Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester–though they should totally check here first!)
It seems like you can get True Biz pretty much anywhere at the moment, which is completely a wild feeling to me. I’ve even got a few “airport sighting” messages from friends. But yes, your favorite bookstore is the spot. Or find links to things online at http://sara-novic.com/writing
How can we follow your work and share your awesomeness?
Find me screaming into the void on Twitter @novicsara, or posting pictures of books and dogs on Instagram at @photonovic
For readers unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe what you write? What can readers expect from True Biz?
My writing always centers around questions about identity and language and what it means to feel at home in the world. My novels Girl at War and True Biz are quite different stylistically, but at their cores, they are both asking these questions. From True Biz, people can expect a coming of age story and a coming of middle age story. They will probably learn about a culture and community they haven’t thought about much before, while feeling some familiarity with the teen and boarding school antics, too.
What was the biggest challenge in writing and putting out True Biz? How did you overcome that challenge?
The hardest part about writing True Biz was figuring out how to differentiate between English and ASL on the page. The difference was important to the plot and characterization because many of the characters in the book are code-switchers, and which language they have access to or choose to use at a given moment has meaning. But ASL is also obviously a three-dimensional language, so to render it in a 2-D format is to flatten some aspects of it. I tried all kinds of different versions of ASL dialogue, including playing with the transliteration of ASL syntax, which for some might feel like the “obvious” answer, given that the syntaxes of the two languages are so noticeably different. However, I worried that hearing readers would see the differences and assume ASL is a “broken” or lesser language than English, when really it is an extremely rich and vivid language, and especially for the deaf characters in the novel, is the clearer of two languages. That’s how I settled on the spacing of the signed conversations in the novel, a system I like to call “visual dialogue tags.”
What piece of advice would you want to share with other writers?
When I studied in the MFA program at Columbia, we spoke a lot about the idea of “containers,” essentially finding the right structure and scaffolding for a given story. (Heidi Julavits ran the first-year seminar there and I believe this was her term, and it’s a really good one so I have carried it forward to my writing students.) The idea is basically that you can tell a compelling story without thinking much about its “container,” or you could write something all container with nothing inside and have it be aesthetically lovely, but you can’t write something really great without considering how those two things inform one another. Like, you could put your coffee in a Ziploc bag and take it work with you, but wouldn’t it be better if you had a thermos?
Do you have any favorite foods or drinks that must be in the vicinity (or must be avoided) while you’re writing or editing a piece of work?
I went to college in Boston, and so the desire for Dunkin’ iced coffee (no matter how cold it is outside) will no doubt remain with me forever.
Thanks so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer our questions, Sara!